Béatrice Cantin on creating memorable characters in Auguste et Percival


Béatrice Cantin on creating memorable characters in Auguste et Percival

Every year, students participating in the animation program at Cégep du Vieux Montréal produce incredible work for their end of year thesis films. Considered to be among the best (and most affordable) animation courses in the world, Cégep du Vieux Montréal is a school in Quebec which has gained international attention. Toon Boom Animation took the opportunity to highlight projects from the course and interview the creators behind them.

Auguste et Percival caught our attention for its fairytale setting, appealing characters and highly imaginative animation. From the mind of graduate and animator, Béatrice Cantin, the charming and nostalgia-soaked short film will be familiar to those who grew up watching beloved Disney cartoons and other classic films. Béatrice weaves together influences, such as the Art Nouveau style, with cues taken from some of her favorite illustrators.

We spoke with Béatrice to learn how she gave Auguste et Percival its magical sensibility and her two namesake characters their unique personalities. She talks us through her process, taking her concept from Storyboard Pro through to Harmony, as well as some of the tools and techniques that she used to give the film its dreamy, retro feel. Béatrice also shares her experience as a student of the animation department at Cegep du Vieux Montreal, with some motivating words for aspiring students of animation.

Auguste et Percival is currently screening in film festivals, but you can see clips from the film in Béatrice Cantin’s demo reel.

Please introduce your short and its characters, Auguste et Percival…

Béatrice: In an old library, Auguste, the main character of a children’s book, is looking for the next book of his series when he unexpectedly meets Percival, the library’s rat. This is a project we did 100% on our own. From the scenario to the compositing, we really went through every single step of the production. 

The story changed a lot before becoming what it is now. I started out with the simple idea of having a book character step out of his book and slowly built around it. After that came the rat, who was first a god-like creature, then a librarian, and he ended up being a lonely rat somehow stuck in this library and dreaming of adventure!

Although the film is only 38 seconds, I really loved developing the characters and the universe around them. I tried to make the world feel fairytale-esque and old in style to make it feel almost nostalgic. And I based the colours of the film on old paintings I found had a warm feeling to them.

I really liked developing the character’s personalities. Auguste is arrogant, but also a coward. He judges people fast and it’s why he get so scared of the rat at first.

I made Percival to be kind of unaware of people’s boundaries. He is very enthusiastic and doesn’t know how to read a room. I feel like having a really genuine rat and a hero faking confidence made for a fun little duo.

Character designs for Percival (left) and Auguste (right). Design documents provided by Béatrice Cantin.

How did you come up with and approach the design of the two namesake characters?

Béatrice: I designed Auguste to look like a classic little children’s fantasy book protagonist. I wanted his design to be vaguely related to art nouveau, so I actually based his design off of a colourful beetle and used art nouveau shapes throughout his design I wanted him to look magical and put together as he is the main character of his story so I opted for clean rounded lines and rich colours.

For Percival, I wanted him to be slightly unsettling since Auguste is scared of him in the beginning. I still wanted him to look cute, but things like his oversized eyes and red rectangular pupils helped convey the little spook I wanted him to have! I also opted for more angular shapes than Auguste. And I wanted Percival to look a little ragged, and like he belonged with the library, while Auguste belonged with the book.

There was a lot of exploration before I settled with these designs but I’m quite happy with how they turned out!

Pose exploration for Auguste. Design documents provided by Béatrice Cantin.

How did you approach the background art for the world the two characters step into?

Béatrice: The background in the book is a multiplane. I separated the background into 5 different layers, which I moved on the Z axis in Harmony to make it look like there was depth in the background when the camera moves! All was drawn in photoshop and then imported into harmony! I wanted the book background to feel 2D since it’s a book illustration but still have depth since the characters are running in it so a sketchy style with a multiplane was the way to go!

What software did you use on this short?

Béatrice: I used Storyboard Pro for the storyboard, Photoshop to colour in the backgrounds that I drew in Harmony, and Harmony for just about everything else!

Were there any software tools or techniques that proved helpful on this project?

Béatrice: The quadmap node was really useful for animating the book opening and closing. Redrawing the cover every two frames would’ve been a nightmare but it was really easy to do with the quadmap! I also used the quadmap on the opening door, which I separated into three pieces — door, window and handle — for the fake 3D look.

Other than that, I’d say 90% of my compositing was made by slapping a colour selector, a colour scale and a few gradients in the scenes. Quite simple nodes, but they really bumped up the quality of my film!

The quadmap node in Harmony Premium allows artists to skew an image, creating the illusion of 3D movement. Stills provided by Béatrice Cantin.

What effects did you use to create the atmospheric fantasy lighting when they open the door?

Béatrice: It’s quite simple! I added a blurry version of the book illustration behind the door with a bloom node, and the light effect is actually just an animated pink-ish round gradient that gets cut by matte-resized and blurred versions of the characters to create a back-lighting effect! I also animated colour scales on the characters to darken them when the light comes in! 

Do you have any advice for animating to an orchestral score, like we can hear in the short’s soundtrack?

Béatrice: If you’re getting an original piece, I highly suggest animating first and then telling your composer which part of the animation you want highlighted in the track. I really wanted music that reacted to the animation rather than a melody playing in the background. However, If you already have an orchestral piece to animate onto, I would suggest really analysing the song and identifying what sounds you’d like to choreograph the animation to! Really stick to the timing of the song for the little old-timey effect and just accept the instruments as movement enhancers! 

Early character design explorations provided by Béatrice Cantin.

Are there any key inspirations behind Auguste et Percival that you can share?

Béatrice: I was really inspired by the old Disney movies I used to watch as a kid, especially the many adventures of Winnie the Pooh and Over The Garden Wall. So I really wanted to channel the classic nostalgia with a weird little twist. I got the idea for my film while looking through old E.H. Shepard illustrations and although my film doesn’t look like his drawings, they were also definitely a huge inspiration.

What has it been like studying at Cegep du Vieux Montreal?

Béatrice: It was incredible. The teachers are really good and absolutely passionate about animation and the people I met through the program are going to be lifelong friends. We all helped each other out and everybody was incredibly kind. Everyone just really wanted every film to be the best it could be and it was really encouraging.  The animation department of the Cegep du Vieux Montreal really is a special place and I’m really glad I got to be a part of it for three years. You really have to love it though because it’s quite a draining program, but if you’re up for it it’s worth it 100%. 

Any advice for other aspiring animators and students?

Béatrice: First off, film your own references! I know everyone tells everyone this tip, and it’s really embarrassing, but it actually really helps. Second, explore different styles. It’s really important to be able to respect a project’s style in the industry. Lastly, go for it and have fun! You got this.

Production stills from Auguste et Percival were provided by Béatrice Cantin.

  • Interested in seeing more work from Béatrice Cantin? You can find Béatrice’s portfolio on ArtStation and follow her projects on LinkedIn.
  • Interested in using Harmony for your thesis film? Students can qualify for up to 84% off Toon Boom Animation’s software.

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