Episode 175 — Noëlle Triaureau, Vis Dev Artist and Concept Designer


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Episode 175 — Noëlle Triaureau, Vis Dev Artist and Concept Designer

Hey, everyone!

This is Allan McKay. Welcome to Episode 175! I’m speaking with Noëlle Triaureau. We’re resuming the Podcast on January 1st, 2019. I’m excited for this year. I have so many surprises lined up! This year is going to be epic! (To join my VIP Insider’s List, please go to www.allanmckay.com/inside/).

This Episode with Noëlle is really inspiring. Noëlle’s background is in concept art and visual development, for so many productions! I think it’s really interesting to dive into both her artistic career and her business background.

Let’s dive in!



[00:40] Have you ever sent in your reel and wondered why you didn’t get the callback or what the reason was you didn’t get the job? Here is the thing: Most of us think that we can put our latest work on our reel, add some music — and get the job. A lot of us aren’t aware that the majority of reels sent to a studio are skipped through and sometimes never even watched in the first place.

Everything we’re taught about being an artist is wrong! Over the past 20 years of working for studios like ILM, Blur Studio, Ubisoft, I’ve built hundreds of teams and hired hundreds of artists — and reviewed thousands of reels! That’s why I decided to write a book from the perspective of someone who actually does the hiring. I want to:

  • Give you the formula to be the obvious candidate for the job;
  • Tell you how to build a reel and put it up on YouTube — that brings studios to you!

You can get this book for free right now! Whether you’re in design, film, tv or games, go to www.allanmckay.com/myreel!


Noëlle Triaureau was the Production Designer on Sony Pictures Animation movie Smurfs. She joined Sony Pictures Animation in 2005. Since then, she worked as a Visual Development artist on Surf’s Up and Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs. She was Art Director on Hotel Transylvania. She is also a recipient of the Joule award, an honor recognizing outstanding Sony Pictures Imageworks and Sony Pictures Animation members.

Noëlle graduated in 1996 with honors from Middlesex University, England and Ecole de Commerce de Reims, France, with a Bachelor of Art in European Business Management.  In 1997, Triaureau helped start up L’Envol, a Summer camp for children with a serious illness modeled after Paul Newman’s Hole in the Wall Gang Camps. In 2004, she graduated from a four-year program at ENSAD, Paris, specializing in Illustration and Animation.

She is now a freelance Concept Designer.

In this Podcast, Noëlle talks about the importance of networking and balancing art with business, and gives advice on how to break into the industry.


[04:15] Allan: Do you want to quickly introduce yourself?

Noëlle: My name is Noëlle Triaureau. I’m a Visual Development Artist in the animation industry.

[04:24] Allan: That’s cool! To start out, I wanted to ask if you always wanted to be an artist — or was it something you fell into later on?

Noëlle: I think that ever since I was a child, I enjoyed drawing and doodling. I appreciated beautiful, colorful images. It was always a medium to express myself so it was always there in the background. When I was little, I wanted to be a veterinarian. Growing up in France, I felt that I needed some job security. We didn’t have any artists in my family, so I couldn’t relate to anyone. And as a woman in France, I didn’t know how to make a career in art and sustain myself. So I decided to pursue something more stable. I got a business degree.

[05:39] Allan: I’ve met so many people who do have that balance. On one side, they’re passionate about something. But from their parents and their friends, they hear about having a “legitimate career”. Most people don’t understand that you can have a career in this area. Were you torn between being an artist and having a more traditional career?

Noëlle: Absolutely! The hindsight is 20/20. When you’re student and you’re trying to figure it out, you’re trying to see if you’re going to be happy and satisfied — and grow. Things have evolved a lot. Now, the things your study in the beginning may not necessarily end up being your career. People evolve and shift and do lateral moves all the time. These are things I’ve been learning, but when you’re trying to figure what to major in — it’s a big decision. The more you can learn about different fields and different jobs — the better informed you’ll be to make that decision. Thankfully, a lot has changed with our generations.

[07:31] Allan: You’re right! I do think a lot of people if they aren’t getting the fulfillment in their day job, they end up working nights and outside of work — to get that fulfillment. That’s a clear indicator you aren’t in the right career path.

Noëlle: And also, there is geography. I spent many years in France, in smaller towns. There weren’t many outlets where you could see successful artists who were financially secure. Obviously, there are jobs in Paris and Los Angeles. But geography has a lot to do with how you’ll be able to find a job and to live. Once again, on that level, things are evolving. But then there is more competition as well. If you want to get a job at that level, there will be more competition at that level too.

[08:41] Allan: With your having a background in business, do you think it’s something you’ve benefited from throughout your career?

Noëlle: I do think so. I think it’s an immense benefit because I can see things from a different perspective: how to promote myself, how to negotiate at a job interview. But [I also understand it] from a studio’s point of view, not only what they’re looking for in an artist but also [what they need for] a project. What they want to invest in and how they want to grow? There is a lot of an overlap.

[09:41] Allan: I really wish artists would embrace business a lot more. A lot of us tend to be allergic to the concept. At the same time, if you’re able to be a producer and an artist, it helps to have a larger scope.

Noëlle: It’s also really interesting. When you’re making a movie, there is always teamwork. Nobody can make a movie by themselves. There is so much work! People are asked to specialize in different areas and to think differently. It’s paramount to understand that we all want the best looking movie that we can afford. It’s involves thinking inside the box. Obviously, you want to bring ideas that are outside the box, but you want to keep them within the budget. There are these two ends of the spectrum and you’re going to be swaying back and forth. It’s important for artists to understand that. Oftentimes, when you come out of art school, you have these big ideas and how you’re going to push the envelope so far. And then you realize there are technical and financial issues, there is marketing and what the public can accept. A lot of artists need to understand that. There are some artists who are so passionate, they don’t want to compromise. In that case, maybe animation is not for them. I’m talking about more mainstream animation.

[12:06] Allan: That’s right! You’re providing a service and some people don’t understand that. And that you’re perfecting a task that has to fit inside that machine.

Noëlle: I think that’s always a challenge. As an artist, you want to push the look to make a shot as impeccable as possible. [But] there will be some trade-offs. There will be financial or marketing decisions. Marketing is going to determine what’s going to sell the movie better. As artists, we can get frustrated. Marketing is happy to take some risk but not to jump into a completely untold realm.

[13:34] Allan: That’s right! I think one of the most dangerous things to say when you’re pitching a project is “This is totally original!” That means a total risk! To change subjects: The bigger portion of your career was a Sony. How did you go from a business school in, I’m assuming, France…

Noëlle: Well, the business school was a European program. It was a 4-year program: 2 years in France and 2 years in London. After France, I came to Los Angeles. When I came here to LA, I met a lot of artists who were making a living by doing what they loved. All of a sudden, I started having role models around me. I realized you could make a living with painting and designing. I started taking night classes. Eventually, I realized I was working 45-50 hour weeks and drawing on the side and not sleeping. So I had to make a decision. I actually went back to study. I went back to France for a 4-year degree in art.

[15:14] Allan: Wow! So from there, how did you get to Sony?

Noëlle: Well, through the studies, I did in art in Los Angeles, I had a network of artists. Some of them worked at Sony. When I came back from France, I showed my portfolio to an incredible artist Paul Lasaine. At that time, he was working at Sony and he decided to give me a chance on his show. That was on Surf’s Up.

[16:01] Allan: I know so many French artists in LA! What’s intriguing about your career is that you managed to make a lot of strides in the time that you were working as an artist at Sony. With Surf’s Up, what was that experience like? Was that your first feature film?

Noëlle: That was my first feature film and it was a tremendous experience. It was when Sony was just starting in animation. It’s such an amazing studio where they have a lot of people do brilliantly what they specialize in. It was also really exciting to see Sony make each animation movie be different from others. They were trying to have a very obvious style for every movie they made and be creative. That’s very stimulating!

[17:40] Allan: That’s so cool! What were some of the challenges on Surf’s Up? It’s so different going into feature films and such a big studio with an infrastructure.

Noëlle: Of course, it was intimidating but the people were so supportive and welcoming; and open to helping out and mentoring me! And the way the studio worked: There is this huge know-how in special effects and live action; but they’re also open to learning to how to adapt to animation. There was a big scope for creative exploration. For example, on Surf’s Up, the look of the film was a documentary / mocumentary style. We started watching Final Tap and learning how they placed the camera. Sometimes there would be a bump [in the camera movement]. They were testing how make that motion. It was fun to see that exploration! There was some back and forth between the Art Department and the Visual Effects team on how to create the look of the waves, to make them so believable. They did an amazing job, on how they programed the waves.

[20:25] Allan: I loved the approach for the waves. It was a combination of rigging and effects instead of complicating everything with simulations. I’m curious about Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs. It was such a fun one to watch!

Noëlle: Cloudy was visually very different from the other movies. It was very cartoony, very wacky. It was like the Muppet Show in some way, with really playful animation. It was fun to see! When you look at the original franchise of the books, the artwork is very different. I’m really glad everyone decided to take it to that style.

[21:43] Allan: For that, you moved from matte painting on Surf’s Up to move vis dev, is that right?

Noëlle: Actually, I first started in the vis dev department on Surf’s Up and then rolled over into production with matte painting. Then I came back to Cloudy as vis dev. On Hotel Transylvania, I started doing my own drawings and layout and I fell into a style. Once again, we were doing something different.

[22:39] Allan: Is Smurfs the latest projects you worked on?

Noëlle: Yes. Some of the other projects I’ve worked on are either not out or they haven’t been green lit yet. Working behind the curtain, you realize there are a lot of projects that never see the light of day for one reason or another. That’s the nature of the thing. It’s a bit frustrating, but on the other hand, there have to be some hard decision because there are just so many resources.

[23:21] Allan: I remember having lunch with some of the guys at Pixar the day that Good Dinosaur got put on hold and then they decided to revamp it after 3 years of production. It was one of those heartbreaking things. No one gets to see what you’ve been working on. Are there projects like that for you and how do you deal with burn out or with keeping the morale up? Especially, since animated features have such a long turnaround. How do you stay on point?

Noëlle: There is the personal level and the level of the team. A movie involves not only everyone on the team, but it also involves the spouses and the family; everyone evolving around the employees. You really need a good support system in place and a balanced life on the side. It’s a matter of preserving one’s health and mental health. You don’t know what’s expected of you from the get-go. And because of changes — be it in screenwriting or other decisions that are made — things get shelved. You need to have that resilience. It’s a lot easier if you have family or friends who are there for you.

[25:39] Allan: We’re both going to be at the IAMAG Master Class. A lot of students want to break into the industry, in LA, Vancouver, New York. How do you advise for them to stand out?

Noëlle: There are so many specialties involved in filmmaking.

  • But in terms of visual development or story boarding, I think you need to go to a good school or have really strong mentors. You can now take classes online. There is no way of not succeeding, but there is a lot of sweat and hard work involved. After that, you need to build a strong network of connections. Oftentimes, your mentors can tell you who to connect to.
  • If you’re interested in studios in Los Angeles, there are conventions you can attend. In the last few years, we’ve had CTN. It’s paramount: You want to go there, show your stuff and meet people. You can be recruited from there.
  • And you have to have presence online because these days, most people turn to that to find your portfolio.

[28:03] Allan: That’s awesome! I think most people overlook networking, not realizing that that’s the most important thing outside of your portfolio.

Noëlle: Absolutely! Once you start working, it’s even more important to extend your network. It goes with your work ethic. It’s team work and it’s important to work well with other people. Some artists don’t want to have human interactions; so then animation is not for them. It’s important to be able to work with a team, for animation.

[29:08] Allan: That’s great! The final question I have what are the most common mistakes artists make when they start out?

Noëlle: I know that when people are starting, there is so much anxiety, it’s hard to be happen with your own performance. But it’s important to be honest and express your interest for a position. Having had a chance to review a lot of portfolios, often there are a lot of exercises from school. But oftentimes, big studios want to know what the artist really wants to do because they want to specialize them. Because they see everything in your portfolio. It’s not something to hold against a student, but the studio is going to be confused or the artist needs to tailor their portfolio for the position they want. You want to show everything that you can do. But for portfolios, less is more: You want to show a few your best pieces! I think for smaller studios, they welcome the idea of doing many things more. But I’ve never worked for a smaller studio, so I don’t know for sure. Now, regarding portfolios, I often advise students to try bring something of their own into a portfolio. You can tell when they’re regular exercises. If you’re showing an environment, you need to understand how it fits into a bigger project. Anything you can bring in of your own — ideas, creativity, contrast of characters, placing some characters into locations to show scale or feeling — it makes your portfolio so much stronger. There are different ways of selling yourself by thinking about the story. A great point of reference are some of those art books for projects.

[33:55] Allan: What’s your talk on in Paris?

Noëlle: I still have to talk to [IAMAG organizers] about it. There were some options but we haven’t narrowed into.

[34:10] Allan: A lot of us leave it until the last moment.

Noëlle: One of the things I was thinking about is color and symbolism, and how to create a color spread: How to utilize color for storytelling.

[34:56] Allan: That would be amazing! You need to realize there is this whole language of color theory.

Noëlle: As you said, it is a language. We think of color differently, just like with languages. It’s interesting to see how some colors are positive in one country and negative in another. It’s something to juggle. It’s multifaceted.

[35:56] Allan: Where can we go online to find out more about you?

Noëlle: My website is www.noelle-triaureau.com.

[36:17] Allan: That’s awesome! I’ll leave the link in the show notes. I want to thank you for taking the time to chat.

Noëlle: Thank you so much, Allan!

I hope you enjoyed this Episode. I want to thank Noëlle for taking the time to chat! I think this was a lot of fun and she share so many amazing insights.

  • Next Episode, I will be doing an email tear down. I’m not going to share anyone’s names, but I’m going to be brutal.
  • Please share this Episode around. I would really appreciate it.

Until then —

Rock on!

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