Student CG Artists Dominate Siggraph Fest Awards

A strange thing happened on the way to SIGGRAPH 2007. Its prestigious Computer Animation Festival, which, since 1999, has been an official qualifying festival for the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences Best Animated Short Film award, announced their 2007 awards, and two of the top three films come from students-and all of them from Europe.
"Ark," by Polish student animators Grzegorz Jonkajtys and Marcin Kobylecki, won Best of Show; “Dreammaker,” from Leszek Plichta at the German Filmakademie Baden-Wurtemberg, won the Jury's Award; and Francois-Xavier Goby, Edouard Jouret and Matthieu Landour – all students from Supinfocom in Valenciennes in France – won the show’s Award of Excellence for “En Tus Brazos.” These winning animated films were selected, out of a record-breaking 905 entries, for exemplary use of computer-generated imagery, animation and storytelling.

This isn’t the first time that a student at Supinfocom in Valenciennes, France has brought home the gold. It’s an indication of something the big Hollywood animation houses have long known: spectacular animation talent is being cultivated abroad. Shelley Page watches the animation students at Supinfocom Valenciennes (among other schools) quite closely, and she’s the European Representative for DreamWorks Animation.

“I was so impressed with the quality of work coming from Supinfocom that I started researching the school,” she says. “Especially with French films, the artistic quality is high.” [See Q&A with Shelly Page]

Is there something to be learned from how animation is taught there? I went to Supinfocom Valenciennes to observe the students at work, understand the school’s process in developing animation artists, and look at the student work being done in Europe as showcased at the E-Magiciens Animation Festival, an animated film festival for student work.

First, some history. Valenciennes is a lovely city, close to the major northern-France metropolis Lille, and just a 45-minute bullet train ride away from Paris. Steel and textiles were its main industries – but when the industries crashed, so did the city.

To save it, the Valenciennes Chamber of Commerce made serious investments in new, clean, digital industries. Now the city is home to Supinfocom, a prestigious animation school; SupinfocomGames, a high-level school for gaming; and the Institut Superieure de Dessin, a digital-design academy where students specialize in product design, transportation design and digital design. The city also sponsors an incubator for new digital businesses. The transformation from a rust-belt town to a digital-content-creation center is evident by the growing number of computer graphics and animation companies in the region, the number of Supinfocom students who find professional work in France, England and the U.S. (among other places), and the large crowd drawn from all over Europe to E-Magiciens.

It's a success story – Hollywood recruiters visit to scout talent and NVidia has a presence, providing technology and supporting the E-Magiciens festival. “They approached us to use our technology and asked us if we wanted to be involved,” says Nvidia Worldwide Marketing Manager, Digital Film Group Laura Dohrman. “When I saw the quality of the work, I thought, 'Absolutely, I want to be involved.' And when the students graduate, they can say, 'I use Gelato.' It’s a skill they can embrace and take worldwide."

Supinfocom Valenciennes accepts only 20 percent of applicants and draws a sizeable international contingent, with students from elsewhere in Europe, South America and, when I visited, China. Classes are small – two groups for each year with a max of 20 students per group – and teachers are almost all working animation professionals, many of whom commute from Paris.

The emphasis is on creating a strong foundation in art skills and art history, and every student can animate with pencil and paper before he or she touches a computer. The students develop and pitch ideas, then work on the winning concepts in small teams. This reality-based training pays off in the real world.

Many final-year Supinfocom projects end up in Siggraph’s Computer Animation Festival. You might remember “Overtime,” the moving paean to Jim Henson, another Supinfocom Valenciennes senior project, by Oury Atlan, Thibaut Berland and Damien Ferrià©, all of whom are now working professionals.

For more information, you can reach the school at and E-Magiciens at