ANNECY, France — After a highly successful first five months, France’s Ecole Cartoucherie Animation Solider (ECAS), an inspiring prototype for an affirmative action CGI animation school, looks set to be copied in at least one other part of France.
Its founders, TeamTO president Guillaume Hellouin, and school day-to-day head Carole Toledo, are also in conversations to export the model for the maverick animation school, the first free vocational school to provide 3D animation training in France.
Launched in mid-January, L’ECAS aims to offer a second career chance to young French people from socially-marginalized and low-income backgrounds who simply have a natural flair for animation.
Sited at Bourg-les.Valance’s La Cartoucherie animation cluster, one hour’s drive south of Lyon, the school is run in partnership with, and on the campus of, world-renowned animation school La Poudrière. La Cartoucherie is also the site of TeamTO’s second state-of-the-art French studio, directed by Toledo.
The free-of-charge school is currently offering an intensive seven-month course to 31 animation students, who passed an online drawing test, accessible with a browser, smart phone or tablet, suggesting strong animation skills potential, regardless of prior academic qualifications. A second, more sophisticated and complex 4-hour computer test, followed by a personal interview, held near to potential students’ homes, helped whittle down candidates to the selected 31. Courses have been run by animation professionals, each teaching for six weeks at L’ECAS. Its students were also able to attend La Poudrière classes. They were also screened some of the greatest animation films ever made and were also supplied with low-cost accommodation.
Five months into the course, all the 31 students are on track to find professional employment at TeamTO’s La Cartoucherie animation studio from August, said a delighted Hellouin, who presented early L’ECAS results with Toledo at France’s Annecy Animation Festival on Wednesday. “The students are animators, and they’re good animators,” he said, beaming.
Until being selected for L’ECAS, most students faced a future of low-income employment at best.
Now, in a first expansive move, L’ECAS has struck an agreement with Studio Redfrog, an animation studio and production house in Lille, north-east France, for Redfrog to launch a same model school from next year, in collaboration with Rhinoceros. Deal was announced at Annecy by Hellouin and Studio Redfrog CEO Lahcen Bahij.
L’ECAS is also raising money to launch a similar school in the Ivory Coast’s Abidjan which has a small animation industry that is looking to grow in scale and quality, again to provide students with advanced culture industry skills which will serve them, and country’s economy, for the rest of their lives.
“A non-profit organization, L’ECAS can be a kind of open-sources program that other entities can access,” said Hellouin, adding that it had created a protocol which, provided other entities agree to – free-of-charge tuition, diversity, for example – allows them to access the software, data base, and courses of L’ECAS for a very small fee.
“We are doing this for political and economic reasons, the latter to help the animation industry grow,” said Hellouin.
The project was developed in collaboration with the French Employment Agency and the local region in an effort to expand the pool of domestic creative talent for the booming French animation industry, which currently has near to zero unemployment, by recruiting from unconventional sources.
“We need more skilled workers to expand the animation industry, and want to provide jobs to people who could benefit from that, making a living, but just don’t have the skills,” added Patricia de Wilde. “Solutions that work are very often grown from the bottom up, grass roots initiatives.
Hellouin said L’ECAS is considering expanding its training from animators to modelers, lighters, compositors, and line producers, becoming “a school which can teach any position in the pipeline.”
He concluded: “I knew L’ECAS would work. But now we can show the world we were right.”