Under Recognized – An Interview With Armel Oenn

“Know your worth because schools do not teach artist’s what they are worth. Most of the client’s will prey on younger artists because they don’t understand how to get paid. If you are going to work for free, work for yourself: This is a more rewarding exposure.” – Armel Oenn, November 10th, 2017

The memory is vague and it has taken some time to truly collect all of the details on how it was that I first came across Armel’s work. I do recall browsing through Deviantart art and discovering the full comic of “Undertale Reset” (what was completed) while I was at work on a slow day. It was magnificent. The sepia tones, her understanding of lighting, and the overall artistry of the figures was captivating. It was the colors that truly inspired me. Even to the extent of visually studying her work to try and understand what she was doing. Compiling my own understanding of other adobe software in an attempt to replicate it. I was drawn immediately to her illustrations, and my search for more of an understanding eventually brought me to her official website. Around this time school projects were coming up and I had to find someone I liked, to pair with another Illustrator for our assignment, so I thought “why not?”

Part of the many activities I enjoy is research. I’m driven by a raw excitement when I find something new that I don’t understand, or don’t know enough about. I had a similar reaction when I started the written assignment on Armel. I searched through every corner of the internet to find as much as I could. In that search I stumbled on a handful of works that I’d like to discuss. As I do adore all of Armel’s art my personal favorite would have to be “You’ll be a man.”

“You’ll be a man” is a short film created by Armel Oenn, it is her french thesis project that was crafted using the traditional animation studio production method. This video is her only animatic project (animated storyboard) and It was made in the year 2012. She had help from C├ęcile MARIAN and Victor CHEA as voice actors and Mathieu DAHAN as the main musical composer. Her story is set in a world where society has been devastated by cloned machines that appear humanoid. These new humanoids are quarantined from the rest of humanity and any that escape are often dealt with one way or another.

The story center’s its attention on a gang of friends within this odd time fantasizing the glories of war. Being unable to understand french most of the details are vague but despite this Armel’s animations manage to convey the story even with the language barrier. The most sinister aspect about these friends was their clear cruelty towards any of the machines that managed to escape from confinement. This story, as an honest statement, drew emotions of anxiety and guilt after watching it. I remember boiling with rage when the injustices were executed. I remember the sinking despair when there was not a resolution after these events. That left powerful emotions within me, and they resonated for a handful of days when my mind would return to those scenes. I didn’t know how to handle it. I am used to a society where there is often a happy ending, and where justice tends to be given to those who deserve it. Watching that little girl die, and knowing the guilt that Jasper felt after the course of action he took to save his own life. It left me depressed about the whole situation, and it reminded me about my own faults and unresolved injustices. The story spoke to humanity and truly revealed our imperfections. The machines in the story were more human than the humans themselves. Despite these raw emotions I loved the story telling. I loved that she brought that much out of me, it made me feel and it didn’t disappoint like so many of the stories do today. My research into Armel did not stop there. Finding that story was only the beginning, and from that moment on I found myself inspired and captivated. Not just from her works, but with the artist themselves.

Armel Oenn was born in the year 1987 in France, set with a family who only wished the best for their daughter and her future. Seeing that at the very young age she had developed an exceptional talent in the arts, they handed her over to her grandfather in the hopes that her talent would grow. For two years, her Grandfather tutored and trained her in the basics of art. It was a mix-feeling experience as the artist reflects that her Grandfather was not a skilled pedagogue, eventually stirring a hatred of coloring and paint or anything like it and growing a fondness of pencil drawing and anatomy. One afternoon, after two years being under his care, he informed her that he could not teach her anything further. She had progressed beyond his expertise and, from that point on, had to continue on her own. He dropped on the table a mound of books and studies, that used to belong to him, closing the teaching by handing her the first artbook of the pile, a retrospective of Leonardo Da Vinci’s life. After that day, she applied herself in studying vigorously this art library, to point in which the binding of the books would come undone and the pages would separate.

At the age of 13, she became engrossed with the idea of creating stories. Generating well over 100 stories in one year. Sharing them with close friends who supported her through several hardships in school and pushed Armel to create as much as possible. As the years pass, and her friendship grew, reception time became a storytelling moment, in which she would walk in the courtyard, counting her friends the next episode the had created. One day as she was describing the ending of her latest tale, she noticed a sniffing sound. She turned to find that her friends were moved and a few were even crying. The story she had told, had struck emotion from them, a feeling that filed her with joy. Armel knew from that moment then that pulling emotion from the audience would be her goal. Watching another person react to her work, to the story she created, was her desire in life. She wanted to make people feel. This passion skipped to several mediums despite art being her well-versed skill. She experimented with film, writing, comics, and just about any other method she could discover that would allow her to share her tales. She believed that comics wouldn’t suffice to show everything she wanted to give. It was a slow rigorous process and she had hoped that maybe through film she could share her stories at a faster pace. She comments now that it’s not the case and it’s just as slow if not slower.

Through several arguments with her family involving her shift of mediums and fearing she would quit doing art, Armel tried to bend to their wishes to appease them. She eventually through a talk with an instructor realized that there was a solution to her problem: animation. With her family relieved and the oppression lifted, Armel found her passion once more. Delving into contest after contest to apply for schools in France, she was eventually accepted into ENSAD (National High School of Decorative Arts of Paris) graduating with a Master in Fine Art and Animation.

It is considered one of the highest ranking schools in her district and out of 6,000 contestants, only 80 students are accepted each year. However to note, ENSAD’s concept of art is harshly different than what we could expect from an art school. In the US, we stress upon technical skill and understanding fundamentals. But in that school, their art was subjective and conceptual. It was noted from one of Armel’s instructor that she may have graduated with them but she did not learn her skills from the college itself but rather from outside influence. During her Junior year of college, she earned a scholarship to be sent overseas to New York. Her work was so highly praised and sought-after that the lead instructor of the animation department sent in a referral for her to skip a year and study at SVA. Even introducing her to a man from Pixar which to a great deal of sadness did not follow through due to technical difficulties. There were complications towards her stay at SVA due to lack of funds and the school’s problem with her skipping a year. The agreement to allow her to stay concluded with her studying during both the summer and fall semester, and graduate in New York which she did, ontop of being named on the Dean’s List for high academic performance.

Armel went on to make many more achievements, such as working as an advertising illustrator and animator for Intel and Samsung, or assisting the animator Bill Plympton in his latest long feature “Revengeance”. One of her greatest achievements was seeing her short “4 O’clock” awarded the Best Short Animation Prize at both the Festival of Toulouse “Imagine Now” 2010 and The Barcelona Planet Film Festival 2017. Siding along with those award, her short has made the screening of several festivals for the past couple of years and was recently added into the library of HEWES Pictures agency in New York, for a 4 years distribution license on a national level.

In recent events however, Armel has experienced some strife over her past four years in the U.S. It is a fight to find money and a fight to survive in what we all know to be the Country of the American Dream. Our home was a place where anyone could enter our borders and find a future that they desired. But this is a long journey of hardship and determination. The hopes and dreams of people coming into America, the ones who are sincere in their intentions, can find it difficult to hold a solid ground.

For Armel it has been a constant battle. After being let go, following the merging of the agency employing her, she continues to fight for her right to remains in the US, earning a visa for exceptional ability, building her studio to keep the dream going on. Fighting every obstacles she stumbled upon. But she has hope she will go through it all, no matter what is presented to her.

Armel Oenn is in serious need of support. She is an admirable woman. For what she is worth. I find her underrecognized, people truly need to know more about her. Her story, what she desires to share, and most importantly her indomitable spirit and courage. She has been given the short end of the stick at every turn and despite these shortcomings, Armel has not once allowed herself to fully succumb to the iron fist of societal opinion, politics, and cruelty. She is an inspiration. My inspiration and I want to possess that fire she has because it is unstoppable.

Having the strength to contact her in the first place was the most nerve wracking experience of my life. I was truly humbled by not just her exceptional abilities as an artist but a person as a whole. The moment I started my Interview on her, however, opened a whole new world of thought and conversation. It wasn’t a interview anymore at that point for me, it was a gift that kept on giving. Her advice was free flowing, very much like an American Illustrator known as Al Parker. People described Al Parker’s generosity with such fondness and the both of them share that grace. I felt her pain during the conversations of her past and the emotions of joy when there was a success in her life. I dearly wish to support her and to follow her every step of career path. I know I have repeated it more than once, but I do so because I desire to emphasize it. I am inspired.

I see an exceptional artist, and I know that there are a lot of you out there who see the same. The best we can do for Armel now is give her our support and prove to others that don’t know about her how much she is worth. I want to help her to stay in America and I want to see her dreams become reality. Let’s rally for her and give the support she needs.