First Hand — How French animator Kévin Gemin taught himself to animate on the Nintendo DS
With over 300,000 followers on Twitter alone, animator Kévin ‘Kéké’ Gemin’s menagerie of expressively animated animals have won him legions of online fans. And it’s not hard to see why. Often working from found source material, hilariously upbeat bouncing birds, squidgy pigeons and sassy foxes have become unmistakable hallmarks of Kévin’s work. But the real revelation? He’s making it all on a Nintendo DS. Growing up with an interest in animation, the discovery of the console’s Flipnote Studio program proved to be a real game-changer for the French animator. A pixel-based program, Flipnote made the basics of animation easily accessible, and for Kévin, provided a space to experiment and share his creations. He tells us about his introduction to animation via 1930s cartoons, the challenges of animating on a handheld console and how this all informed his current animation style.
Flip-books, paper and pencils
At first, I was mostly focused on drawing. While I enjoyed watching animation, I didn’t know how to make it. But it was the experience of watching 1930s cartoons that encouraged me to look more into animation, mostly because of the vintage vibes they had, and a humour that you don’t find that much nowadays.
Inspired by [animator] Tex Avery cartoons, the wacky side of the Looney Tunes, comics and children’s books by Roger Hargreaves, I started making flip-books to understand how animation worked. (L’homme qui plantait des arbres [by Jean Giono] is also a masterpiece that I really loved.) I was drawing traditionally most of the time, and using paper and pens to animate. That’s when I began to enjoy animating as a way to bring my imagination to life.
Discovering Flipnote Studio
I began to animate on my DS simply because I had nothing else – no PC, no tablet, as they were expensive. Flipnote Studio came out in August 2009, but it was on September 4th 2009 that I discovered it, totally randomly. I saw how it allowed you to make little animations, and it seemed fun, so I played around on it – just to try it out. But soon after, I fell in love with it!
It also had a YouTube-like platform where you could share your animations with a community, which was really comforting to me. I got a PC and tablet much later on – and I’ve since worked with other programs like Flash, Toon boom, Photoshop and TVPaint – but I never stopped using Flipnote. It’s how I learned to animate. Initially, I had so many doubts, like “Am I doing it right?”, “Is it professional?” But the more I used Flipnote, the more I felt alive and just forgot about fear. I was addicted to animation! So much of my style resides in it, I couldn’t imagine not using it.
“Initially, I had so many doubts: ‘Am I doing it right?’, ‘Is it professional?’ But as I used Flipnote more, I just forgot about fear.”
One of the main benefits of using Flipnote is that it’s simple. You can take your DS wherever you want, and animate at any moment. I can animate in a forest, or while resting – which I think is just great. For pixel lovers, it’s also amazing because Flipnote uses pixels as its main style, which I love, since I’m not so good on other programs like Photoshop. The files are also pretty light, so it’s easy to make videos from the frames without creating big files.
Animating on the Nintendo DS comes with multiple challenges and restrictions: Working on a small screen, (two layers on the DS, three on the 3DS), and a limited colour palette, (two colours per frame on the DS, and six on the 3DS). Each frame is independent, which means if you make a background, you have to copy and paste it for the remaining frames, and this is pretty challenging.
You can also only use two colours per layer, so, for example, if you want to make an orange background, you have to place one red layer over another yellow layer. You have to be creative and discover tricks by yourself because no tutorials exist – but there are tons of hidden options. I love searching for them because I love the program, but I know that for others it can become tiring, and would prefer to use another program that is better explained. It can be crazy but I love it!
Kévin at the 2018 Pictoplasma conference
Back to school
Eventually, in 2013, I enrolled at the Émile Cohl School of Art in Lyon. My teacher told me about it, as it was near where I lived, but would also improve my drawing skills. I animated very well, but I lacked many illustration skills, like understanding how to use colour. So at Émile Cohl, this is mainly what I learned. If I know how to paint now, it’s mostly thanks to the school. It allowed me to experiment with things I couldn’t do by myself.
There was also an animation course, but it comes after graduating with the topic. For the animation department, I was good because I already knew how to animate, which made all the other medias really interesting. I have good memories of the work I made there. While I was at Émile Cohl, I also continued to animate for myself on the side, and teaching myself things outside of school. It was at this point that I also started my Tumblr.
“I mostly did [this] for fun and to make people laugh, but now, I’m glad that I can bring so much joy online – many need that.”
Going viral and getting on Patreon
As I tell my friends, I never excepted my work to attract many people. It’s really crazy and I still can’t believe it. I mostly did it for fun and to make people laugh, but now, I’m glad that I can bring so much joy online, many need that. A lot of people asked me to set up a Patreon account because of the tutorials I can make to help other animators. I try to keep up with it, but I mostly use my free time to share content online, and create tutorials when I have the time. I’m glad it helps, and that so many people are inspired by my work, it really means a lot.
Now, I’m currently working on making a cartoon with my characters, I can’t say a lot, so it’ll be a surprise, but I feel really lucky to have been given the chance to explore my style. I’m still young and it’s my first try, but it’s good to begin and see how it will go in the future. I have plenty of years ahead of me, so I will be ready to see what happens. I’m also thinking of making a web series with my characters made only on my 3DS.
So today is a special day for me.— Kéké (@Kekeflipnote) September 4, 2018
9 years ago I discovered Flipnote Studio on this Nintendo DSi.
Since then it was a dream coming true, because I had nothing else to practice animation then.
The impact this got to my life is indiscribable and I will never stop using it, ever! pic.twitter.com/OAFKS0UbOT
This is my advice for someone looking to get into animation:
Persevere. Never stop, even if it’s really hard, because animation is really, really hard and takes lot of energy.
Enjoy it. If you don’t like drawing lots of frames, don’t force yourself into animation (I say this mostly for frame-by-frame style animation, there are many other styles of animation that you can try which don’t involve as much drawing).
Rest often. Don’t over-do it. Even if you’re not happy with what you’ve drawn, or you think it’s horrible, save the drawings and look at them regularly to progress and keep going.
Be inspired. Look at the work of animators you like, and try to understand how they work. What are their techniques, why you are so inspired by them?
Share your work! Don’t be scared to share your work, to ask for feedback and critique. This is what helps to build you as an artist.