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The Student Academy Awards chooses "Les Chaussures de Louis" as a finalist!

For their final-year project in 2020, students Théo, Marion, Kayu and Jean-Géraud directed the film Les Chaussures de Louis (Louis's Shoes). It was selected as a finalist in the Student Academy Awards, a student film competition held by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

What gave you the idea to tell Louis’s story?

We came up with the idea after seeing an interview with Josef Schovanec. He’s an autistic philosopher, writer, and radio commentator. In the interview, he talked about the way he personally sees and interacts with the world. The social norms in our world are foreign to him. This struck a chord with us and we wanted to tell Louis's story, the tale of a child who doesn’t see the things around him the same way other kids do. It was a chance for us to contrast Louis's reality with the one in his surroundings, which many times is devoid of all meaning.

What kind of research did you do while developing the film to see things from the perspective of autistic people? 

As we were writing the script, we watched a ton of interviews with Josef Schovanec where he would decipher our social norms and explain why different things were impossible for an autistic person to understand. We also talked with non-profit groups and people in the field to make sure we weren’t being too cliché or missing the point. We gained a lot of anecdotes from these talks and the interviews that really helped us and inspired the events in the film. They also guided us when it came to writing the voice-overs. The script originally had Louis doing the voice-overs, but there were words and expressions that didn’t fit with how he expresses himself. Louis was explaining his views using words that weren’t really his own, so by speaking with those people we were able to find a way for Louis to express himself.

Unlike many 3D final-year films, you chose to include spoken dialogue with the voice of a young child. What did you like about working on that part of it?

We really liked doing a deep dive into Louis’s head, which is something we usually do when creating and designing a character, and making it move. But this time we also had to find the right words, ones that Louis would say, and he's a kid who doesn’t think like other kids around him. What was challenging yet interesting was the voice-over as written on paper took on a whole new dimension when we said it out loud. So we would frequently go back and forth between writing and the recording studio to try it out, then edit the voice-over to see if it fit the character. Sometimes, we'd switch between them three times a day just to change a few words because some of the phrases still didn’t sound exactly like Louis. In the end, we really loved being able to add that dimension to our film. It helped us give even more life to Louis.

What do the blue shoes in the film mean?

The shoes play a pivotal role in our story. They are the common thread. For Louis, his shoes keep him connected to the world. In order to feel more comfortable, he has a very specific ritual with his shoes. Some people on the spectrum have repetitive “self-stimulating” habits that help them focus their energy and improve concentration in surroundings that aren't always easy for them to understand. We were extremely pleased with the symbolism of linking this ritual to shoes because shoes represent walking, a pathway, etc. This film only looks at a slice of Louis’s life. He still has a lot of hurdles ahead, but his shoes will always be there to start him on the right foot.

Could you tell us about designing the characters and the environment, explain how it shaped your vision of the film?

The story is told through Louis’s eyes. So we created the environment accordingly. We decided to go with a “doll house” concept and thought about how a child would design it. The mental palace, that place where Louis is most comfortable and that illustrates his way of thinking. We planned the space in a very organised way. Anything that belonged to Louis has a special place that's practical and logical for him. But it's the opposite at the old school, which Louis sees as more hostile and intimidating. It's an disorganised, darker place where the materials are much starker.

We decided to stylise the characters like this because we wanted to build empathy between the character and the viewer. Rather than a realistic character, we aimed for creating a character that sort of resembles a toy to make you think of childhood. Yet we wanted Louis to seem alive and real, which is why we gave him and his hair a very tactile texture and made them realistic. Louis's eyes are also very important. They represent his personality, two little black dots looking out at an incomprehensible world. This type of stylising meant we could avoid the sentimentality trap, and it gave us some really compelling potential for animation.

How did you divvy up the different tasks during production?

The four of us each have different motivators and specialities, so it was pretty easy sharing the tasks.

  • Théo: Animation/Rigging/Editing
  • Kayu: Storyboard/Layout/Modelling/Texturing/Lighting/Rendering/Compositing
  • Marion: Modelling/Sculpting/Texturing/Grooming/Lighting/Rendering/Compositing
  • Jean-Géraud: Modelling/Texturing/Animation/Sound Design

Do you have any advice for other students who are starting to direct their final-year student film?

Clearly define each person’s role from the beginning so there are no surprises during production. Do regular updates of what was done during the day so you can adjust the schedule if needed because production delays can creep up on you, but the deadline doesn't change.
Right from the start, identify your short film’s biggest challenges and arrange the production schedule accordingly. For example, we absolutely had to record the voice-over as early as possible. We had a dummy voice-over from the very first animatic because the voice-over set the pace for parts of the montage. So we had to have it in order to accurately time each of Louis’s shots and movements. Once we approved the animatic and dummy voice-over, we recorded the final version (at the time, only two animation shots had been approved). We couldn't record the VO later on because we would definitely have had to re-animate the shots to match the VO.

How many hours do you think you spent on this film?

Our time was spent working toward a single goal to create a world that came as close as possible to what we imagined. So it’s impossible to estimate how many hours it took because we were extremely demanding and strict with ourselves. Doing this film was probably a once-in-a-lifetime chance, so we didn’t want to miss this opportunity. We managed to finish the film on time, even despite the lockdown! What’s more important than the number of hours you put in is completing the film on time and being happy with it.

Your film won great acclaim in the festival circuit. Do you think it may help raise awareness about the difficulties autistic people face, especially in schools?

We would love it if the film gained an audience in schools to help kids understand the difference, and in non-profits that work on autism. We actually already had an opportunity to do this by entering the film in the REGARD Education Festival. This festival screens film programmes for 18,500 pupils at schools in Quebec.
We also showed the film in Ronan’s classroom (Ronan did the film’s voice-overs) and at a school that had started a self-soothing programme for children on the autism spectrum. Showing the film in schools sparked some very interesting conversations between us, the pupils, and their teachers. We wanted to show the film again at other schools.

Have you received any feedback from people who have watched your film?

We have got some great feedback from audiences, including from people dealing with autism. But we still feel a bit sad because Covid sort of stopped us meeting the audience at this year’s festival.

How did it feel being a finalist at the Student Academy Awards?

It’s a very strange feeling being on the finalist list. We didn’t think our short film would get so far, and never dreamed of being a finalist at the Student Academy Awards!

Could you tell us how attending MoPA prepared you for this ambitious project?

We were well prepared by working on many productions before doing the final-year film because every production has different challenges, plus the number of team members and the length change. All the productions we did at school gave us a leg up and that’s something you have to try to work on because it helped us to manage the scheduling better despite the inevitable mishaps. The big difference was that the total length of production stretches over a bit more than a year in 5th year, which is really a test of endurance.

Why did you choose to go to MoPA?

  • Théo: I chose to attend MoPA because when I took the entrance exam, it was the school whose final-year student films impressed me the most.
  • Kayu: I had worked at the Annecy [International Animated Film] Festival before attending MoPA, and that experience inspired me to get into animation. I wanted to go to a school where students were required to make a film every year and taught us to be directors. The student films from MoPA really amazed me, so I decided to go here.
  • Marion: I chose MoPA after seeing the final-year student films from past graduating classes. I wanted to do the same thing.
  • Jean-Géraud: I wanted to study animated films. MoPA had made some excellent films and the alumni gave it really positive reviews. I applied to the school without knowing if I had what it took to get in, but in the end I was able to attend MoPA!

Why did you choose a career in animation?

Théo: When I was little, I would try to understand how animated films were made, how they made the characters move, and that passion drove me to start a career in animation.
Kayu: Animation encompasses every art media. Making animated films makes me feel free. There are so many possibilities to make the images in my head a reality and bring them to life. I love the fact that being an animator means working like a soldier while thinking like an artist. I want to master that mindset and work like the animators I look up to.
Marion: I’ve always loved writing, films, and drawing. For me, animated film is the perfect mix of these fields. It’s a way of telling stories where you control everything, from the staging and actors to the set design. You have to create every element to make them come alive. The power of this medium never ceases to amaze me; you can make inanimate objects come to life. 
Jean-Géraud: When I was doing my advanced technician's certificate, I was lucky enough to do an Erasmus work placement at Zorobabel in Brussels. I worked on several films over there and saw every stage of production. During that work placement, I developed a desire to work on animated films.

Could you tell us what you're working on now?

Théo: I’m a rigger at Blue Spirit in Angoulême.
Kayu: I’m a lighting and compositing artist for visual development at Xilam Animation working on a Netflix series, and I’m also a freelance illustrator.
Marion: I am currently a character modelling/texturing artist at Blue Spirit in Angoulême working on a Netflix series.
Jean-Géraud: I've worked on several contracts for Brunch Studio in Paris as a modelling/surfacing artist and I’m waiting for upcoming projects.

What are your plans for the future?

Théo: I’d like to keep working and gaining experience as a rigger to one day become a Rigging TD.
Kayu: Working at a professional studio has taught me so much, as have my personal and freelance projects. I hope one day I can blend these two experiences together and be a director.
Marion: I want to pursue my career as a character modelling/texturing artist and learn more about the inner workings of studio productions. I still love writing, so I hope I can get more into that as well.
Jean-Géraud: I would like to keep pursuing my current career, keep gaining experience and expertise so I can work on increasingly bigger and challenging film projects.

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