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[Interview] Sitting Down With Pop Team Epic’s Thibault Tresca

Bonjour, je m’appelle Lachlan Johnston et aujourd’hui dans cet épisode de Japon Mignon, nous bavarderons avec le fastueux Thibault Tresca, animateur de Pop Team Epic.

Ahem…

We here at OTAQUEST recently had the incredible opportunity to sit down and chat with multi-talented creator and animator Thibault Tresca regarding his life before Pop Team Epic, the events that would lead to him landing the job of a lifetime, and his advice towards any other aspiring creators. You may know him best for his hilarious Japon Mignon segments contained within the Pop Team Epic anime series, all which kick off with that iconic “What the hell is going on?” French introduction and lack of initial subtitles.

For Thibault Tresca, landing the role with Kamikaze Douga was equal parts hard work and sheer luck. Having already interned in Japan prior to his work with the studio, nothing could have prepared the creative for what was coming when he began work on the Pop Team Epic series. But I’ll let you hear it from his mouth, not mine. Sitting down in a quaint French restaurant in the distant corners of Nakano, we shared a few words with the French creative. From the beginnings up until now, let’s talk the life of Thibault Tresca:

Hey Thibault, it’s a pleasure to be here with you today. The earliest Japan-based video on your YouTube channel dates back about 3 years ago and it follows your adventures traveling around the country as well as your experiences. Can you tell us a little bit about what led to you making that?

When I arrived in Japan for the first time it was for an internship, I’d been wanting to come to Japan so bad before that and I felt like that was the right moment. The internship was at a small studio in Harajuku where I did simple 3D animations; the guy that owned it was actually French as well, his wife was the Japanese one. It ended up lasting about two months, and I really enjoyed it so I set my eyes on coming back.

I ended up doing another internship in Sydney, Australia before the opportunity to come back to Tokyo would arise again, where I ended up making my way to SIGGRAPH Asia to volunteer. I was filming videos the whole time, I really wanted to embody all the different things I was seeing.

When talking about both filmmaking and 3D animation as mediums that you partake in, do you often find any overlapping traits between the two that assist in the process?

The satisfaction I get from animation, as compared to filmmaking, is quite different. I feel as though animation is a more long-term creation process, seeing every frame side by side as you work. I like filming and editing because it’s almost like instant gratification, as opposed to needing to create everything one piece at a time. The two feel quite different to me at the very least.

Can you tell us a little bit about how you would eventually go on to work with Kamikaze Douga?

Back in 2015, I traveled to SIGGRAPH Asia as I mentioned, and when you’re a volunteer you get a few extra perks. You get the opportunity to have your portfolio reviewed by real professionals, who funnily enough are often volunteers themselves, and they’ll give you a few pointers on how you can better your work for the industry.

While I was waiting my turn for reviewing, my friend came up to me and said that there was a Japanese company here who, if I was interested, would be happy to look over my work. Though he said if I wanted to just keep waiting that’d be fine too. I thought to myself, well, “Hell yeah,” and went ahead with it. That company was Kamikaze Douga, and when I approached them expecting to get the feedback, they instead asked if I was interested in moving to Tokyo to work for them.

Unfortunately, I still had a year left to my studies so I told them “Let’s keep in touch!” and sent them a mail 6 months after that. They remembered my work and liked it enough that they asked to do a Skype interview where they hired me on the spot. Once I graduated I moved to Tokyo to meet them, did the visa stuff and the rest is history.

When talking about Kamikaze Douga, what was your first real project with them?

My first project with them was actually Pop Team Epic.

And were you familiar with the property at the time?

Absolutely not. (Laughs) Basically, when I arrived they asked me if I wanted to do ‘this’ or ‘this,’ I can’t remember what the other one was, but Pop Team Epic really appealed to me because of the characters. But when saying you can take ‘this’ or Pop Team Epic, he actually gave me two middle fingers; not knowing anything about the series, I thought this was something along the lines of “You can do this or you can get the hell out of our offices” (laughs) I was nervously sweating a storm because I didn’t speak a word of Japanese back then, but obviously that was cleared up pretty quickly though.

(Laughs)

When I ended up choosing Pop Team Epic to work on, they specifically asked me not to look too much into it. They didn’t want me to try and copy what already existed in the manga, so it was kind of an “Eh, read the manga but don’t look too much into it. We kinda want to have you… untouched. Do your own thing and we’ll validate whatever it is” situation.

This probably overlaps with another of your questions, but the interview segment at the start of my scenes ties in similarly. I had no idea that so many people were excited about the series, so when my boss came up to me and said “Let’s put this interview before you scene,” I kind of was like “Ehh, that’s weird. My scene is so short I don’t really feel like my scenes need any explanation” but I went through with it anyway even though it was painfully awkward.

What I didn’t understand though was that it was all part of the joke, just throwing me into the middle of the episode speaking French as kind of a “What the hell” moment for audiences. I honestly thought the clips were for the website as part of a creator discussion thing, and I had no clue they were going to include it in the show. Then all of a sudden when the first episode aired my phone was blowing up with messages like “Dude what’s going on? You’re on TV, that’s so cool!” and suddenly I was filled with the sense of “Oh no, what have I done.” (Laughs)

(Laughs) So you had no idea it was going to be on TV at all?

Not at all, the segments in the TV show where I’m being interviewed were all pre-filmed too, so in every single segment, I was completely unaware that my face would be broadcasted. I guess this was all part of their plan though, having me untouched by the series. I actually ended up becoming a really big fan of it too; so now I wish I could go back in time and change up so many of my scenes. In retrospective though, I guess that’s what they really wanted from me. I wish I could have known just how wild I could have gone.

If you could go back in time, is there anything you’d have told yourself to change up in your segments? 

Hmm, I didn’t have enough time to really come up with the story ideas. I had about one week to come up with something really funny, so I kind of just worked with what I could come within that timeframe. I’d probably make things a little edgier, probably quite a bit. One thing I didn’t know leading into the project because I couldn’t explore the source material was that, in my scenes, the characters of Popuko and Pipimi were very… cutesy? I sort of missed the point there because of the lack of knowledge, but again I guess that was what they wanted.

So when you were creating the segments they didn’t give you any kind of feedback or direction? Were they just kind of like “Do what you want to do with it”?

Yeah, absolutely. So the thing was, that was good, it’s nice to have free power over your creations. But that being said I was often like “Can you please give me some sort of direction” and they’d just say “No, just do your thing” and I was pretty much left in the dark. It was very much a “Don’t look at what others are doing, we don’t want that imitated” kind of scenario.

The first time I handed in a draft to my boss I kind of tried to mimic the manga a little bit which was a mistake. They were kind of like “No, no, no, don’t do that. Do your own stuff, your own backgrounds, etc.” so I went back to it.

So your introduction to this series was through the middle fingers from your own boss; you obviously knew this wasn’t going to be a traditional show. What was it that drove you to present the narcissism of France through your segment?

They actually asked me to. It wasn’t so much “It has to be about France” because I’m sure if I was Australian they’d say do something about Australia, but that was the only instruction I got. They also said don’t be afraid to be coarse in your humor, do some crazy stuff.

Given I’m French, I feel like I kind of have a free pass to make fun of my own people. That being said, because it was going to actually be televised I didn’t want to smack talk France too much. On top of that, I didn’t know my face was going to be before it, so I’m pretty glad I didn’t go too overboard or else my face would be public enemy number one.

That’s kind of why the story that I present is always kind of double-edged. There’s this thing called “Paris Syndrome” which is basically where people from Asian countries will travel to Paris expecting it to be this beautiful fantasy land, only for it to completely shatter their dreams. That was kind of the main inspiration for it all.

Can you tell us a little bit about the idea of creative freedom in Pop Team Epic? Was it more like “Oh, I’ve been left in the dark” or an actual sense of “I can do whatever I want in my segment”? 

At first, it was kind of like being in the dark, there were a bunch of moments where I was just thinking to myself that I really wish I had some sort of guideline. Every time I’d hand something in they’d just be like “Okay, thank you” and it was like “No, tell me if it’s good or bad. Please.” (Laughs) That being said, I was happy I had the freedom to do all my backgrounds and designs.

When I started working at the studio, they were actually using this software I’d never used before. So I kind of had to learn while making the episodes, I felt like the software was so stiff compared to what I’m used to. I’ve gotten much better with it now, and I’m actually looking back thinking about how the animation would be so much better if I had a little time to learn.

Do you feel like the creative freedom was beneficial in regards to how to work with a Japanese studio when creating a show?

I think I was very lucky with this project as to just how much freedom I was given, usually, people would have to stick to very tight guidelines and make animations just like everyone else on the team. It didn’t ever feel like I was working for a Japanese company, it was very… free. I guess like, looking online there’s chatter that they should make every show like this, just letting people do whatever they want and let their imagination run free.

Do you agree with that statement? 

Yeah, I think like, I didn’t know how the episode would be broadcasted. But now that I see how everyone’s scenes kind of tie-in, I can kind of feel bad about my scene. (Laughs) Like, for example, Bob Epic Team, is absolutely brilliant. The creators went all out wild on that, and I wish I did my scene more like that. (Laughs)

I think the idea of freedom in itself makes for a unique end product. That being said, Pop Team Epic absolutely did not prepare me for my next project. It totally inflated the idea that “Oh, I’m an artist, I do whatever I want” then as soon as I began on the next thing that idea was out the window. (Laughs) It’s very easy to miss that freedom.

When talking about 3DCG in the animation industry, especially with Kamikaze Douga’s influence through the likes of Pop Team Epic and the upcoming Batman Ninja film, what kind of changes do you think we’ll be seeing in the future?

Well, I think 3DCG has already largely taken over the animation world. When you’re talking about Disney, everything is 3D now. That being said, I don’t think 2D animation will disappear anytime soon, and I’d actually suggest 3D will take 2D to new places. People like 2D way too much for it to ever disappear.

What I like about Kamikaze Douga is, for example, when looking at Batman Ninja, that whole film is cell shaded to give off a 2D effect. I like that they’re trying to find the middle ground between both 3D and 2D animation. Simply due to the efficiency of 3D, I’d say we’ll be seeing more and more of it in the future, but 2D will always have its home.

Over the last decade, there’s been a number of prominent foreign creators popping up in the Japanese anime industry. How do you think it compares being a foreigner in the industry as opposed to being from Japan?

I think it’s definitely well known that the way in which they animate over here is much different when compared to the West. It’s a very unique and recognizable style when compared to anything else. When working on Pop Team Epic, it was definitely a case of “Do your foreigner thing” as opposed to “Do what we do,” so I guess that was something different.

There’s definitely an advantage to bringing in a Japanese person over a foreigner simply due to the fact that you don’t need to teach someone something if it’s all they know, as opposed to a foreigner who has to adapt. With that being said, I wouldn’t say I quite have the experience to speak for the people on this one.

That being said, the added value of having a foreigner on your staff is the fact that they can bring that something different to the series, which is exactly what they asked me to do at Kamikaze Douga. When I was asked to do things like them, however, it did feel like I needed to have someone hold my hand the whole way.

We’re entering a time where more and more foreigners are looking to break into the Japanese anime industry; what would you suggest to anyone hoping to get their start?

The most important thing is learning Japanese, though that much is kind of obvious. When I arrived I didn’t know anything, but now I’m getting better step by step. Almost nobody speaks English at my company, meaning during meetings and such I’m left to decipher what was said and if it was to do with me.

Don’t be afraid to speak to your boss if you ever feel uncomfortable. This was something that I had never been very good at, but these people are your friends and almost family. If you don’t ask about things, nothing can change in your favor. When I first started at Kamikaze Douga, I only had one monitor on my desk while everyone else had two. I’d always worked with at least two monitors, so it was a little off-putting. I actually had it in my head that the second monitor was like a right of passage thing, and that after a month or so I’d get one. Well, eventually I just asked my boss and he gave me one on the spot. (Laughs)

Specifically when working in Japan, be aware of payment culture. For example, I didn’t know that it was commonplace over here to pay for the second month when you start working and that payments are for that previous time period. I ended up blowing through my budget my first month living here, and then when what I thought to be payday came and nothing was in my account, I very quickly learned that I’d be using all my savings. (Laughs)

Obviously read over the contract properly, and ensure what you’re signing is offered in your native language. I’ve been relatively lucky in all my years traveling around the globe, but this can be a big one anywhere.

Well, that answers all our questions for today. Thank you so much for your time, is there anything you want to say to your international fans?

Thank you so much for supporting my work, and please enjoy Pop Team Epic!

If you’re yet to check out the rollercoaster adventure that is Pop Team Epic, the series is currently available for streaming over at Crunchyroll. We’d like to thank Thibault for his time and can’t wait to see even more from him in the near future. You can find more about the creative via his official YouTube channel.

Image: King Records, Kamikaze Douga, Crunchyroll

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