Get to know ‘I Am a Pebble’ directors Yasmine and Maxime
I Am a Pebble is a short film created and directed by the students of ESMA, short for École Supérieure des Métiers Artistiques. Having already generated Oscar buzz as the film made the international film festival rounds to near universal acclaim, the students of ESMA are getting fitted for their Oscar attire as the film is now officially in the running for Best Animated Short.
As industry professionals worldwide continue to applaud the film for its razor-edge 3D tale of an otter who considers rocks his family, the future looks promising for the next generation of French filmmakers.
Awaiting the final selection on December 21st, we were lucky enough to sit down with Yasmine and Maxine from ESMA to gain more insight into the film as well as their own bright plans for the future.
Can the two of you tell us what first got you interested in filmmaking?
Yasmine Bresson: I’ve always liked people telling me good stories. I have great childhood memories with my uncle, who is a very good storyteller, telling me about old legends, The Hobbit or the film The Werewolf of London.
And so, whether it is through books, films, or short films, storytelling always had a great place in my daily life.
Maxime Le Chapelain: I didn’t see a lot of movies as a kid but boredom, friends and Windows Movie Maker made me draw, film, edit over the years, so sharing those creative moments and the results were important to me and still are today.
What are some of your favorite films?
Y : There are a few films that are absolute perfection for me, such as Beasts of the Southern Wild, Some Like It Hot, Paterson, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, and Donnie Darko.
M: The films that I have been able to watch several times and which have really led me to filmmaking are Youth, Another Earth, The Tale of Princess Kaguya, and Whiplash.
How did you decide to formally study filmmaking at ESMA?
Y: After 4 years in Paris studying graphism and fine arts, we searched for a 2D or 3D animation school with my companion. We wanted to join a school that would provide us with the necessary knowledge to work in the field of animated film. At that time I also wanted to get closer to my family, so when ESMA Nantes accepted us, the geographical parameter was a big plus, so we chose to go there!
M: I wanted to tell stories and do it in the best possible way, so I looked for technical skills and discovered ESMA by accident in a TV report. Seeing the results of the studies in their films, I knew I would learn enough to be free to do whatever I wanted with them.
What is the most valuable thing you’ve learned from ESMA so far?
Y: Our year group is very united, we spent four intense years helping and supporting each other. The training at ESMA was stressful and tiring, but we have lots of good memories all together. Animation is all about teamwork, and sticking together and helping each other is essential.
M: These years at ESMA have taught me to put effort in the right place and the importance of working conditions, as animation requires so much work and time, you have to really slow down and build a solid base in your work, your team so as not to fall into something automatic and soulless by haste.
Now let’s talk about your short film I Am a Pebble. Where did you get the concept for the film?
M: It all started with a simple note on an otter playing with a pebble that she considers her equal, and also the rivers in my countryside that I love for their calm and all those mossy stones. Then while discussing with Yasmine this pebble became a family of pebbles and thus, we turned around questions of identity, how familiarity and compassion can appear anywhere, even with a simple pebble.
Was it challenging to work on a project with multiple directors?
Y: I’m not comfortable creating a story on my own, group chats were really ideal for me. The whole making of the film was based on constructive discussions, we were keen to keep a good atmosphere and to be attentive to each other, with the aim of building the best possible film for all of us.
Sometimes it took a long time to find the right way to tell things, and when the deadline approaches it’s always stressful to have to take the time to achieve your goals, but we knew how to trust each other, and delegate the different tasks. from production to each team member to remain efficient.
M: I don’t have much to add, taking the time to communicate was key as well as defining specific roles early.
What was your biggest challenge while creating the film?
Of course there was the “painterly” look of our film. At first when we chose this graphic style, it really was a bet, because we had never done it before and we didn’t even know if we could get this render in 3D, but we wanted to try.
But beyond this technical aspect, we struggled with how to tell this story, like how to build a dramatic scene with one of the main characters being unable to do anything and the other one being unable to speak. It was necessary to make the way Bubble perceived the Pebbles understandable for the audience.
As we thought of the story like a children’s book, we could have used a narrator, but as the story is only about Bubble and the Pebbles, we decided that only them would tell the story.
Writing was essential to define characters, but mostly it provided us a structure to place Bulle’s disillusion at the right moment, to make her progress, and face reality. But the true writing was during the storyboards by making the unwritable thought process visible through framing, staging and acting.
What do you hope audiences take away from I Am a Pebble?
We hope that they will be able to find a beautiful way of looking around them, to find warmth in sad stories and a desire to be careful to life, to nature, to themselves and others in their changing, complex and contradictory nature and all they can express.
The film has been making quite a buzz at festivals. What would winning an Oscar mean for the two of you?
We are very happy that our story pleases people! We put so much love in our characters and we are very attached to them. From Bubble and the Pebbles to each little insect, each of them has a unique story and a personal narrative arc. We tried to tell their story in the best possible way, and now they travel around the world and meet people, and we are deeply touched.
Being Oscar-Qualified is already a huge honor for us, and if the film manages to go even further it would be mind blowing!
Can you talk us through your creative processes when you’re starting a new project?
As we are still new to filmmaking, our processes can seem a bit chaotic as they involve taking notes in every corner of the page, sketching out random stuff, taking long walks, looking at past work, sharing ideas and observing reactions, collecting thousands of inspirations of designs, compositions, colors, acting, watching films.
Then finally, one day, we make a couple of illustrations and draw a storyboard of a scene, building the film little by little until it feels right to us and is understandable for others.
Where do you both find your inspiration?
After music, paintings, films, philosophy, well…curiosity, inspiration comes from our relationships, with others, with ourselves, trying to unravel our feelings, questions and struggles we went through or are going through.
Then there is this openness to creative and happy little accidents, asperity, sparkles of life that highlight the fragility of obviousness.
Finally, discussions are really important as they are occasions to share and to confront your world with other’s, find new ideas, and on top of that, spend a great time sharing a common imagination.
Can you tell us anything about what you’ll be working on next?
Y: For now nothing in particular in this domain, working is already very time consuming, and in my free time I prefer to enjoy other hobbies.
M: There will probably be birds.
What are your five year plans?
M: Writing, painting, making another short film or two. My only plan is to slowly grow artistically to enjoy this long journey by making what I love and continue to love it.
Y: I have been working at Nobody Studio since I graduated. It’s a new studio in Montpellier, we are working on various productions, such as short films and cinematic trailers. We are very well there, and I plan to stay.
What are some of your biggest dreams in filmmaking?
M: I’m sorry for Walt Disney but I have no dreams, I have goals and prudence, I respect the craft and do whatever makes sense to me and makes me happy.
Y: Working on I Am a Pebble was a great moment, and I really hope to take part in other meaningful productions.
Do you think animation will be a major focus for both of you moving forward?
Y: As it is my livelihood at the moment, yes!
M: Definitely yes. Animation as a medium has these qualities of endless forms, exploration, teamwork, and slow pace that I only want to see what can come out of it.
If you each had to choose just one film to watch for the rest of your life, what would it be?
Y : I’ve always struggled with this question, because watching a movie over and over would inevitably make me hate it in the end. I think that the films that we dislike or that we find bad are very important because they resonate with those who touch us, and to isolate the most beautiful masterpiece would inevitably diminish it. But I can answer with the film that I watched the most, and of which I know whole sections of dialogues, it’s Willow by Ron Howard.
M: Scooby Doo because it was my only DVD when I was a kid and I’ve watched it too many times. I wouldn’t watch it again but if I can only choose one film I prefer to take this one to remember that time when I didn’t need much.
What other 3D short film stories would you like the students of ESMA to tackle next? Let us know in the comments!