History of French animation

The History of French animation begins in the xix th  century when France pioneered in subsequent patents to the invention of the Cinematograph . It mainly earns its spurs in xx th  century when French filmmakers arise in counterpoint hegemonic Disney .

Throughout the century, France sees the establishment of a serious and solid animation industry, but projects sometimes struggle to find funds and must then limit their ambitions because they suffer from disrepute compared to cinema in taken real views. Critical and commercial successes such as The King and the Bird (1980), Kirikou and the Sorceress (1998), The Triplets of Belleville (2003) or Persepolis (2007), however, allow to consolidate the reputation of the genre.

Nowadays, French animation films tend to merge into international co-productions to share the financing burden. If the commercial success of French-language films remains to be qualified at the international level, the skills of animation technicians, trained in prestigious schools such as Les Gobelins , remain internationally recognized.


On October 28, 1892 , the French Émile Reynaud (1844-1918) puts an end to an invention that he carried in him during fifteen years, by proposing to a paying public his ”  Luminous Pantomimes  “, within the framework of his Theater optical the Grevin Museum welcomes the basement of o  10 boulevard Montmartre in Paris. The “Luminous Pantomimes” are the first animated cartoons of the cinema , painted directly on the film, 70 mm wide (composed of gelatin squares protected by shellac), and projected on screen in front of the gathered spectators. The Optical Theater thus inaugurates the first large-screen projection of images giving the illusion of movement. Each Pantomime lasts from 1 minute 30 to 5 minutes (at the time, the first films of the cinema, produced by Thomas Edison and made by William Kennedy Laurie Dickson , last from 30 to 50 seconds, the films that will later be shot by the Lumière brothers will be just as short). Are preserved of these pantomimes: Poor Pierrot (1892), and Around a cabin (1894) 1 .

In April 1906 , is an American, James Stuart Blackton (1875-1941), who directed the first cartoon on silver film in cinema history: Humorous Phases of Funny Faces ( fun Phases funny figures ). The film lasts 3 minutes, it is drawn in white with chalk on a blackboard. The letters of the title are also animated. “This process was called in France” American movement “. It was still unknown in Europe 2  ” .

In 1908 , the French cartoonist Émile Courtet , known as Émile Cohl (1857-1938), took this process and made the first French cartoon on 35 mm photosensitive film  : Spooky  ; This film is screened for the first time on August 17, 1908 and announces the work of an imaginative and creative filmmaker.

Paul Grimault (left) and André Sarrut (right), at the time of their collaboration within Gemini .

One of the most famous French directors of animated feature films is Paul Grimault (1905-1994) with films such as La Bergère and the Chimney Sweeper , better known in his second version entitled The King and the Bird , which are noted worldwide for the quality of their animation. In the 1930s, Paul Grimault appeared as one of the precursors of French cartoon: he founded in 1936 the cartoon society Les Gémeaux with André Sarrut , which proves to be the first of national scale. Moving away from the aesthetic frameworks that the Walt Disney influence then imposes worldwidehe is at the origin of a new school of cartoon, which pushes the reflection and the allegories, in particular philosophical, beyond a only childish public 3 , 4 . The time is indeed that of the supremacy of Disney, that Grimault against punctually by his first collaboration with the poet Jacques Prévert  : their short film Le Petit Soldat (1947) receives in 1948 at the Venice Film Festival the International Prize tied with the Disney Melody Time .

In 1973 , René Laloux (1929-2004) produced, according to the drawings of Roland Topor (1938-1997), La Planète sauvage , the first French feature film to receive an award at the Cannes Film Festival with the Special Prize of the jury, the same year. He renewed the experience with the cartoonist Mœbius , with whom he directed Les Maîtres du temps , released in 1982 .

But already there are economic problems, with the narrowness of the domestic market and the cost of production and manufacturing in France . At that time, French investors generally consider that animated films are intended only for a young audience (which limits even more the market). To solve profitability problems, most French productions are produced either in co-production, or in subcontracting part of the work to other countries.

Le Rêve , painting by Douanier Rousseau (1910) whose style served as inspiration for the visual world of Kirikou .

The success of French animation owes much to that of the Franco-Belgian comic strip ; Tintin , from 1947 with animation in volume, The Crab with the Golden Claws of the Belgian director, Claude Misonne , then, the cartoon Tintin and the Temple of the Sun of Raymond Leblanc , in 1969), Asterix from 1967 with Asterix the Gaul of Ray Goossens , Lucky Luke from 1971 with Lucky Luke (renamed Daisy Town) of Ray Gossens and Morris . Later, Michel Ocelotwho has already adapted different French tales then from different countries, realizes Kirikou and the Sorceress, inspired by African tales.

The success of Kirikou and the Sorceress greatly benefits French animated cinema over the following years: by showing that a French animated feature film can be very profitable, it encourages investors to take projects underway more seriously. and draws the attention of the public, whereas the directors had previously very difficult to finance them: it is the Kirikou effect. Interviewed by Le Monde in December 2004 , Stéphane Le Bars, General Delegate of the Union of Animated Film Producers, indicates 6  :”Since then, there has been a real revival of feature film production. (…) In 2003, five of the seven French cartoons were among the fifty most viewed films of the year . The success of Kirikou and the Sorceress is a posteriori in a series of French animated films such as Sylvain Chomet’s Les Triplettes de Belleville (2003) and Persepolis by Vincent Paronnaud and Marjane Satrapi(2007), which have both critical and commercial successes, both in France and abroad; these films are worth to the know-how of the French animators to be recognized at the international level, and contribute to represent the French culture abroad 7 .

French animated films have gained international recognition and rank at the top of the European ranks. And even with the development of computer science, French animation at the best level 8 . France is the first producer of animated films in Europe, and holds the th  place in the world, behind Japan and the United States 9 .

The studios

Main article: List of French animation studios .

One of the most famous French animation studios is ”  La Fabrique  ” founded in 1979 by Jean-François Laguionie (disciple of Paul Grimault ) in a former spinning mill of the Cevennes . Michel Ocelot , future author of Kirikou , stays there for a moment. To fight against the escape from work outside Europe, La Fabrique is associated with three studios (German, English and Belgian). Thanks to the co-production between these three countries, we see the birth of a second feature, The Castle of the Apes , a humanist fable that is reminiscent of the spirit of the Master, Paul Grimault .

There are other well-known studios, such as ”  Folimage  “, founded in 1984 by Jacques-Rémy Girerd , director of the short film L’Enfant au grelot and the feature film La Prophétie des Frouilles .

The Armateurs studio is located in Angoulême at the ”  Image Center  ” (center for research, training and animation production). He produced Kirikou and the Sorceress , The Triplets of Belleville , as well as the short film The Old Lady and the Pigeons .

Notes and references

  1. ↑ Marie-France Briselance and Jean-Claude Morin , film grammar , Paris, New World ,, 588  p. ( ISBN  978-2-84736-458-3 ) , p.  38-39
  2. ↑ Georges Sadoul , history of world cinema from its origins to today , Paris, Flammarion ,, 719  p. p.  407
  3. ↑ Piero Zanotto, ”  Brief History of V animation: England and France  ,” Sequences: The film magazine , o  46,, p. 46-50 ( read online  [ archive ] ).
  4. ↑ Press Kit 2013 , p.  8.
  5. ↑ Vincent Avenel, ”  It is written in the books: the kings marry shepherdesses  ”  [ archive ] , (accessed May 2, 2015 ) .
  6. ↑ “Cartoon: the French touch” article by Nicole Vulser in Le Monde December 22, 2004.
  7. ↑ Sébastien Denis (2007), p.  187.
  8. ↑ Article Images: why the French are popular  [ archive ]  “of 3 December 1998 in the Nouvel Observateur
  9. ↑ ”  The triumph of French animation  ”  [ archive ] , on Telerama , (accessed November 19, 2015 ) .


General works on animation

  • Olivier Cotte , 100 years of animated cinema , Dunod, 2015, 416p. ( ISBN  9782100728411 )
  • Giannalberto Bendazzi ( pref.  Alexandre Alexeieff), cartoons, animated films (1892-1992) , Paris, Liana Levi,, 704  p. ( ISBN  978-2867460739 , record BNF  FRBNF35473260 )
  • Olivier Cotte , Once Upon a Time , Éditions Dreamland, 2001 ( ISBN  2-9100-2777-5 )
  • Jacques Kermabon ( eds. ), From praxinoscope to cellulo: half a century of animation in France (1892-1948) , CNC ,, 351  p. ( ISBN  978-2912573407 , record BNF  FRBNF41307134 )
  • Raymond Maillet , The French Cartoon , Lyon, Lumière Institute , coll.  “Premier-Film”,, 128  p. (Appendix BNF  FRBNF34912544 )
  • Amélie Gastaut , The animated advertising film in France 1912-2007: (DVD + booklet 28 pages) , Chalet Pointu,, 28  p. (Appendix BNF  FRBNF41212093 )
  • Raymond Maillet , The French Cartoon. 100 years of creation, exhibition catalog, 23 June-16 October 1982, Museum-gallery of SEITA , Paris, Museum-Gallery of Seita ,, 66  p. (Appendix BNF  FRBNF34690954 )
  • René Laloux , These moving drawings , Paris, Dreamland ed, 1996 ( ISBN  2910027082 )
  • Radio (France Culture): “The French animated cinema” by Paule and Jean-Pierre Pagliano (Cinema Tuesdays, November 14, 1989).

Emile Cohl

  • Valérie Vignaux ( dir. ), 1895. One thousand eight hundred and ninety-five , vol.  53: Émile Cohl , Paris, French Association for Research on the History of Cinema, ( ISBN  978-2-913758-54-4 , read online  [ archive ] )

Paul Grimault

  • Paul Grimault ( pref  Jean-Pierre Pagliano), Traits of memory , Paris, Threshold ,, 256  p. ( ISBN  2-02-014048-9 , record BNF  FRBNF35482454 )
  • Jean-Pierre Pagliano, “Paul Grimault”, Editions Lherminier, Paris, 1986 (reissue at Dreamland, Paris, 1996, ( ISBN  2-910027-00-7 ) )
  • Jean-Pierre Pagliano, “The King and the Bird”, editions Belin, Paris, 2012 ( ISBN  978-2-7011-4998-1 )
  • Press kit: The King and the Bird ,, 15  p. ( read online  [ archive ] ).

Robert Lortac

  • Valérie Vignaux ( dir. ), 1895. One thousand eight hundred and ninety-five , vol.  59: Marius O’Galop / Robert Lortac. Two pioneers of French animated cinema , Paris, French Association for Research on the History of Cinema, ( ISBN  978-2-913758-60-5 , read online  [ archive ] )

Marius O’Galop

  • Valérie Vignaux ( dir. ), 1895. One thousand eight hundred and ninety-five , vol.  59: Marius O’Galop / Robert Lortac. Two pioneers of French animated cinema , Paris, French Association for Research on the History of Cinema, ( ISBN  978-2-913758-60-5 , read online  [ archive ] )

Ladislas Starewitch

  • Léona-Béatrice Martin and François Martin , Ladislas Starewitch 1892-1965: the cinema makes the dreams of the imagination visible , Paris, L’Harmattan , coll.  “Visual fields”,, 484  p. ( ISBN  2-7475-4733-7 , record BNF o FRBNF39042592 )

René Laloux

  • Fabrice Blin, Chaumont, Pythagoras, 2004, 190 ( ISBN  9782908456431 ) .
  • Xavier Kawa-Topor , The Wild Planet , edition The Children of Cinema, collection “Notebooks on …”, 2005, 40 p.
  • Eric Leguebe, The Wild Planet , in Phoenix 29, 1973.

Michel Ocelot

  • Luce Vigo and Catherine Shapira, Kirikou and the witch of Michel Ocelot , Les Enfants de cinéma, collection “Notebooks on …”, 2000, 40 p.
  • Xavier Kawa-Topor , Princes and Princesses by Michel Ocelot , Children’s cinema edition, “Notebooks on …” collection, 2003, 40 p.

Florence Miailhe

  • Marie Desplechin , Florence Miailhe, Florence Miailhe: Chronicles from Here and Elsewhere , Arte Éditions, 2007 ( ISBN  2-913545-48-3 )

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