The Disney of the 3DS: Animating with Flipnote Studio

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On the border of France and Switzerland, far below the towering Alps, lies the French city of Annemasse. Unbeknownst to most of the 30,000 plus residents, Annemasse is home to a talented and dedicated young animator named Kévin Gemin. Though there are plenty of animators making a name for themselves on the internet, Gemin, who goes by “Kéké” online, is quickly rising to fame as the best of the best in 3DS-generated productions.

Though the DS and 3DS are some of the most popular on-the-go systems in recent memory, many are unaware of the killer app that is Flipnote Studio. This animation program is based on classic flip book animation and lets creators make quick frame-by-frame cartoons by drawing on the popular handheld’s touch screen. It’s an application that seems to offer very little compared to professional animation tools, but still has enough tricks up its sleeve for long time users to create quality shorts.

“I chose the DS as my main animation tool simply because it’s the first animation program I ever used,” Gemin recounts. “Since I didn’t know much about animation programs such as TV Paint or Flash, I took what came to me first and it was Flipnote Studio. In the beginning I just found it fun and easy, then the more I animated the more I saw the real potential and I began to put in more time on my work.”

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Gemin began animating with Flipnote in September of 2009, a month after the program launched for the DSi line of handhelds. For the past seven years he has honed his craft and slowly learned the ins and outs of basic animation. Inspired by the simple and bouncy cartoons of the 1930s, as well as European childhood classics like Moomin and Les Shadocks, Gemin chose a unique personal style. His favorite characters to animate are pudgy foxes and pigeons, two animals he finds immensely interesting and adorable.

Gemin explains that the advantages to working on the 3DS far exceed the drawbacks. “The best part is the fact that you can animate whenever and wherever you want,” he points out. “The 3DS is not that big so it allows you to take it with you.” With a device so compact and portable, the French animator finds himself working anywhere he pleases. In his bedroom, relaxing outside, sitting at the train station: any environment is fair game for a quick bout of sketching and character design. Animating a full GIF or video can take anywhere from an hour to a few days, with roughly 700 frames in one day being Gemin’s current best. Or maybe it’s more of a high score. as he notes that the act of animating on the 3DS is “more of a game” to him.

The setbacks of detailed animation in Flipnote Studio comes in the form of layers and, unsurprisingly, screen size. Even Gemin’s current handheld of choice, the 3DS XL, only has a bottom screen of 4.18 inches. That’s not much room to work with. “The screen is really tiny but it was the only thing I had to animate with,” Gemen says. “I had to accommodate it, and today I’m happy I spent so much time on a little screen because it made me better at drawing on a big one. Now I can concentrate on little details when I do animations on my PC.” The issue of layers comes from the fact that Flipnote Studio only allows animators up to three layers at a time, making more complicated animations and backgrounds very tricky—but not so tricky that Gemin hasn’t found multiple workarounds in his years of tinkering. In fact, Gemin has posted various mini tutorials to his Patreon, Tumblr and Facebook pages in hopes that he can inspire other fans of Flipnote and animation.

Of course, one can’t animate on a videogame device without falling in love with some of its other offerings. Gemin has done countless shorts on his favorite series like Kirby, Pokémon, Undertale and The Legend of Zelda, going so far as to recreate famous gaming moments and series overviews using his charmingly round animal friends. Behold the bizarre and hilarious “Legend of Zelda: The Hips of Time”:

Nerd culture in general seems to have a grip on Gemin, as he has produced numerous videos on his 3DS about popular shows like Steven Universe, One Punch Man and Attack on Titan. Each variation has its own ridiculous spin on the well-known shows, and unsurprisingly features more of his trademark bouncy humor.

Gemin admits that he was taken aback when his grainy 3DS animations began to garner a following on the web. His Tumblr page began to receive thousands of daily views and in the span of a mere five months he has amassed over 66,000 Twitter followers. Quite the feat for someone working in such a strange medium.

When push comes to shove Gemin says that while he enjoys making his fans smile, he truly animates for himself. “I work mainly for my own fun, but also for the others,” explains Gemin, “Pleasing an audience is important, but doing things only to please others is dangerous for an artist because you will stop working for yourself. I’m not saying it’s bad, many artists do it, but I find it a bit dangerous if you only do things that work for your audience. Artists should try something original, that may not be liked, but that they love.”

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This past year Kévin Gemin proudly graduated from the Émile Cohl School of art, and his work in Flipnote Studio has influenced a slew of new animation projects that he can produce on his much more advanced PC and tablet. Even more importantly Gemin is aware that he has inspired others to try their hand at animation on small scale. He wouldn’t have gotten where he is today without his dedication and addiction to his on-the-go animation via the DS hardware. Even now with his updated programs and abilities he is constantly pushing the envelope on what the Flipnote program can produce. To fledgling animators he offers this sage advice: “Do your best. Do many things. Things that people like and things that you like. You will find your public this way. Draw what you love and what inspires you!”

Ben Bertoli has written for Kotaku and Polygon and can be found on Twitter @SuperBentendo.