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Spurs Out ! - ESMA Short 2023

Spurs Out ! - ESMA Short 2023

'Spurs Out!' is a graduation short film made during our final year at ESMA Toulouse, France. Directed by: Lola CHARUEL, Nicolas TRAN, Salma RACHIDI, Raphaël GIMARD, Théo MURAT, Alix Saintouil, Thomas SUDRE, Salomé BLASCO and Guillaume DURAND. Original score by: Guillaume HOARAU.

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'Spurs Out!' is a graduation short film made during our final year at ESMA Toulouse, France.

Directed by: Lola CHARUEL, Nicolas TRAN, Salma RACHIDI, Raphaël GIMARD, Théo MURAT, Alix Saintouil, Thomas SUDRE, Salomé BLASCO and Guillaume DURAND. Original score by: Guillaume HOARAU.


In a devastated post-disaster world, Fen, a directive and violent young woman, takes part in a clandestine dragon race. While it may seem natural to use force and cruelty to control these savage beasts, the many obstacles she faces force her to question her methods…






Crafting our main character posed a challenge early on in the development of the film : to create a woman initially perceived as antipathetic and violent, yet ultimately endearing as she evolves. Through careful design, from appearance to demeanor, we needed her to be able to appear both harsh and soft as she finally set herself free from her own violence.

We also wanted to diverge from conventional beauty standards and typical animation feminine designs. Drawing inspirations from the likes of Jamie Hewlett and various other punk influences, we set out for a gritty, punk-inspired edge, with unconventional features and a rebellious spirit that sets her apart. Our goal was not only to defy stereotypes but primarily to infuse the character with a good sense of individuality and authenticity.


We wanted Fen's antagonists to reflect a post-apocalyptic and modern setting, yet mixed with element and references to past traditions. The mask of the first antagonist is inspired by those worn by East Asian shamans, while the ‘jacket’ of the more brutal directly refers to Mongolian wrestlers. Each of them has elements that connect them to the creatures they ride: the shaman wears dragon teeth as spurs, and the brute sports a large tattoo depicting an open-mouthed dragon.


We wanted our creatures to look sharp and wild, with an athletic physique so it could look agile both on the ground and in the air. We drew inspiration from the anatomy of felines for the body, and from marine eels’ heads for the lively and unpredictable aspect. To avoid at all cost any fantasy-like design and ground a bit more our creature in reality, we went for a wyvern type of dragon. To push further the film's universe and to emphasize the relationship they have with their masters (being only tools used to win, even if it means hurting or killing them) we envisioned tags and designed scars all over their wings corresponding to each competitor's universe, drawing inspiration from the idea of customizing machines for clandestine races.


For the props, striking a balance was crucial: we had to create a functional control system for the dragons without overcomplicating their operation, ensuring clarity and readability for character animation. In our desolated universe, the idea was for each character to possess unique equipment, as if they crafted it themselves, aligning designs closely with individual personalities. Thus, the saddles, dragon helmets, and spurs are customized for each character, enhancing the individuality and authenticity of their gear.


We quickly transitioned to the 2D animatic stage, recognizing that for a film characterized by its continuous flow, it was essential, after establishing our key scenes, to construct and envision a dynamic and seamless whole. Using the expressiveness offered by 2D animation was crucial for conceptualizing certain transitions and complex movements. Detailed and precisely timed animatic afforded us significant time savings during camera layout, where the focus was primarily on preserving the dynamism of the 2D version and keeping smooth transitions between every shots.


We aimed to emphasize Fen's outbursts of violence using a graphical and percussive approach, aligning with the escalation of her violence towards her dragon. To complement the punk and homemade aesthetic of our universe, we opted for gradual 2D FX with impact frames slowly turning into stronger “flashes" effects inspired by french ‘Art Brut’ movement and artists like Basquiat. We really didn’t want to use those effects as pure stylistic addons ; instead, it was important to cultivate some kind of continuity where Fen, during these flashes, appears progressively monstrous, almost featuring demonic traits, intensifying the impact of her actions and inner conflict.



With our film being a continuous race, we had to make sure to create the feeling of a landscape that stretches endlessly. We had to adapt our set design to fit seamlessly with each shot according to the narrative needs, while ensuring a coherent experience through the movie without noticing repetitive elements.

To achieve this, we created versatile procedural assets that could be replicated, placed and modified in Houdini, allowing us to construct a dynamic and diverse world without sacrificing continuity.

Having to deal with numerous heavy assets, large environments and FX we had to find a manageable and smooth way to render and set up complex shots. We considered pretty quickly a workflow relying on USD as it allowed us to easily handle assets from one software to another, and a rendering pipeline using Solaris/Houdini where we could setdress, groom, surface, light, simulate and render shots smoothly. We built several tools and a entire new pipeline for the production that you can discover with much more details right here : !


Thanks for reading ! We hope you enjoyed getting a glimpse into our process as much as we enjoyed making our film. :)

Directed by:

CHARUEL Lola : Animation - 2D Animatic - Layout - Storytelling - Character Design - 2D FX - Rigging - Editing

TRAN Nicolas : Animation - Layout - Modeling - Creature Design

MURAT Théo : Rigging - CFX - Modeling - Animatic - Layout - Animation

GIMARD Raphaël : Pipeline (USD/Solaris - Houdini) - FX RnD & Simulation - Set Dressing - Modeling - Lighting

RACHIDI Salma : Groom - Lighting - Surfacing - Set Dressing - Character Design - Colorscript

SAINTOUIL Alix : Compositing - Surfacing - Lighting - Procedural Assets - Character Design

DURAND Guillaume : Compositing - Modeling - Surfacing - Lighting - Sculpting

SUDRE Thomas : Lighting - Surfacing - Set Dressing - Modeling - Compositing

BLASCO Salomé : Animation - Rigging - Props Design - Modeling

A huge thanks to our interns, with special recognition to : Matteo LLORENS (Creature sculpt & surfacing), Maëlle COUZINIER & Elie PLISSON (Animation).

Original score by:  Guillaume HOARAU

Sound design & editing: Tristan LE BOZEC - Sébastien FOURNIER

Mixage 5.1: Studio des aviateurs - Yoann PONCET - José VICENTE

Voiced by : Emmanuelle FAUCHET as ‘Fen’ - Yann PANNETIER as ‘The Brute’

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