Canada’s leader in animated pre-production is teaming up with one of France’s premier animation studios in a bid to address the chronic shortage of storyboard artists on the market.

House of Cool (“Ferdinand,” “Trollhunters”) is lending its expertise to France’s Ecole Cartoucherie Animation Solider (ECAS), a free-of-charge non-profit CG animation school established by TeamTO (“Mighty Mike”, “Angelo Rules”) in 2018, to expand its scope to storyboarding.

The brainchild of TeamTO founder and president Guillaume Hellouin, ECAS has trained some 95 students over the past three years. Nine out of ten have gone on to work in the animation industry. All are offered a contract at TeamTO and most choose to work there, while some have taken on jobs in other studios in France and Canada.

For Hellouin, House of Cool was the obvious partner when it came to creating the new course. “They are the pre-production gods in feature film – they’ve been working on a bunch of blockbusters. Storyboarding is their specialty,” he enthused.

Asked how they will bridge the geographical divide, Hellouin said: “That is the magic of COVID-19: For more than a year we have learned how to work remotely. There will be online classes a couple of times a week as well as weekly masterclasses with very seasoned storyboard artists. And HoC are very keen to send some lead storyboard artists to France for a couple of months to be on site with the students.”

The selection process is currently underway to choose up to 16 students for the first storyboarding course, which is set to start this September in France’s Valence, where TeamTO has one of its studios. The course will last around seven months.

House of Cool co-founder and president Ricardo Curtis said teaming up with TeamTO was a no-brainer.

“We have had a long relationship with TeamTO and have been talking for many years about teaming up to create some sort of program that would address the chronic shortage of qualified artists in the industry, but most acutely, storyboard artists.

He added: “We were very impressed with what they were able to accomplish with training on the production side, so it was only natural that when they were ready to move into pre-production training that we would partner with them.”

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ECAS, House of Cool Inc. and TeamTO Courtesy of Koko Media

The partnership is part of House of Cool’s ongoing push for diversity. For Curtis, it’s a win-win deal.

“At House of Cool diversity is a key part of our success. We need storytellers that are extremely talented but also have unique points of view. This means that reaching beyond our North American talent pool is an absolute necessity to keep our stories fresh and authentic,” he explains.

“This partnership strengthens our bond with TeamTO, it expands the reach of House of Cool’s internal training program to places where we did not have visibility – we get the first look at fresh artists (in France and the E.U.) before anyone else in the industry.”

Just like the animation school, the storyboarding training program is open to candidates from all walks of life without any previous qualifications or experience, who are selected on the basis of natural ability and talent. Hellouin says this is where House of Cool’s expertise is invaluable.

“The talent we’re looking for is the ability to tell a story. I’ve been selecting animators for almost 20 years, but choosing someone who can tell a story efficiently is different. House of Cool knows how to select someone who knows how to write a story.”

Funding for both courses comes from regional grants, France’s Valence-Romans agglomeration, which is home to ECAS, the French unemployment office and TeamTO itself.

TeamTO plans to add a technical training course on data management to the curriculum in 2022 that will take place in its Paris studios.