Michel Ancel (born March 29, 1972) is a French video game designer for Ubisoft. He is best known for creating the Rayman franchise, for which he was the lead designer for the first two games, and the recent Rayman Origins and Rayman Legends. He is also known for the cult favourite Beyond Good & Evil and for the video game adaptation of Peter Jackson's King Kong. He is currently working on a sequel to Beyond Good & Evil with a small team of developers, using development tools specially designed to make game development more accessible to a greater audience.
Michel Ancel was born in Monaco on the 29th of March, 1972. Ancel is currently married to Alexandra Ancel née Steible, with whom he has two children. He is the stepfather of Alexandra's four older children, and has two more children of his own from a previous relationship. His eldest child, Claire, was born when he was sixteen years old. Alexandra worked with Ancel on the first two Rayman games, as well as Beyond Good & Evil and King Kong.
Video game developing career
Ancel met the game developer Nicolas Choukroun in Montpellier at the age of 16. He worked as a graphics artist on several of Choukroun's games, such as The Intruder and Pick'n Pile. Ancel's first demo, Mechanic Warriors, was developed for software house Lankhor. In 1988, Ancel created a computer animation illustrating the effect of CFCs on the ozone layer as part of a competition in a professional journal. The animation, which depicted the Earth being transformed into a vast desert, did not win the competition; however, it attracted the attention of Ubi Soft, who hired him as a graphics artist.
Ancel's first game as both programmer and graphic artist, The Brain Blasters (also known as The Teller) was published by Ubi Soft in 1990. In 1992, he began to work on Rayman, his directorial debut. It was originally released in 1995 for the Atari Jaguar and PC, and in 1996 for PlayStation and Sega Saturn.
Ancel was also heavily involved in the development of Rayman 2: The Great Escape in 1999, but had only an advisory role on Rayman 3: Hoodlum Havoc. Although he praised its development team, he says that the game is "a bit too concrete for my tastes", and that he "would have made the game differently".
In 2003, he created Beyond Good & Evil, which garnered critical acclaim and a cult following, but was a commercial failure. However, acclaimed film director Peter Jackson's admiration for the game – and his frustration with EA's handling of the The Lord of the Rings license – led to Ancel being given direction of the Peter Jackson's King Kong video game adaptation. In spite of Ubisoft's reluctance to produce a Beyond Good & Evil sequel, Ancel has expressed a clear wish to produce one in the future.
On April 5, 2006, Ubisoft announced Ancel was leading the development of the fourth game in the Rayman series, Rayman Raving Rabbids, for the Nintendo Wii. The game began production in early 2005 and was released on November 15, 2006 for the launch of the Wii. However, Ancel was notably absent from the project after its E3 announcement, and he has made no public appearances regarding the game after the development team switched focus from a free-roaming platformer to the final minigames format shortly after E3. In the final game, Ancel was only credited with storyboarding and character design, while design credits were shared between multiple other people.
On March 13, 2006, Ancel, along with Mario creator Shigeru Miyamoto and Alone in the Dark and Little Big Adventure creator Frédérick Raynal, was knighted by the French Minister of Culture and Communication, Renaud Donnedieu de Vabres, as a knight of arts and literature. It was the first time that video game developers were honoured with this distinction.
In an interview with Nintendo Power, Ancel confirmed that he was working on a new project which meant a lot to him. He also talked about Jade from Beyond Good & Evil and said that "I really hope that Jade will continue to keep her values and her personality". Ubisoft's CEO, Yves Guillemot, confirmed that Michel Ancel was currently working on several unannounced projects, as of March 2008.
In a 2008 interview with French video game magazine JVM (for Jeux Vidéo Magazine), Ancel stated that a sequel to Beyond Good & Evil has been in pre-production by a small team for about a year, but they still await Ubisoft's approval before moving into full production.
On December 18, 2008, at the VGL event in Paris, Ancel stated that the game has been under development for a year and a half and that the development team have received total freedom from Ubisoft, giving them the opportunity to make the game how they want.
On August 2009, shortly after GamesCom, Ubisoft officially put Beyond Good & Evil 2 on hold, with the future of the game uncertain.
In January 2010, Geoffrey Sardin, CEO of Ubisoft France, confirmed that Beyond Good & Evil 2 was still in production.
In late May 2010, rumours surfaced from French video game website Wootgaming that Beyond Good & Evil 2 had been cancelled, and Ancel had left Ubisoft to found his own independent studio. Ubisoft soon issued denials of this rumour. However, friend of Ancel and game developer Nicolas Choukron left a comment on an unofficial Michel Ancel Facebook fanpage saying that Ancel had formed a new studio which was a subsidiary of Ubisoft, as the Montpellier team was too large. Choukroun also revealed that Ancel and his new studio were working on a new Rayman game. This rumour has been proven correct, after Ubisoft unveiled a new Rayman project, entitled Rayman Origins. In 2010, Ubisoft announced Rayman Origins, first an episodic video game designed by Michel Ancel and developed by a small team of five people, but then it was announced that it transformed into a full game. The title uses the UBIart Framework developed by Ubisoft Montpellier and Ancel. UBIart is a developer platform that allows artists and animators to easily create content and use it in an interactive environment. The engine is optimized for HD resolutions and is capable of running games at 60 frames per second in 1920x1080 resolution. The UBIart tools were set to be released as open-source software in 2011, but at the time of this writing, no such release has occurred.
Speaking at Montpellier in Game conference in June 2010, Ancel revealed that he is developing similar tools to create Beyond Good & Evil 2 with a very small team to preserve its "artistic spirit". Ancel is experimenting with different development techniques and tools. He claims these tools are getting similar to those used by Weta Digital.
Ancel is also recognized as one of the best game designers in IGN's Top 100 Game Creators, ranking 24th out of 100.
Michel would go on to found an independent game studio, named Wild Sheep Studios. However, he is still working with UbiSoft Montpellier.
On October 12, 2017, Ancel posted on his Instagram account that he is very interested in making the 'fourth' Rayman adventure, suggesting of a future revival of the prototype or the then-planned original fourth game that was cancelled. Though he does mention that it will most likely happen once both Wild and Beyond Good and Evil 2 are done.
- Mechanic Warriors (1988 – unreleased) – Graphics
- The Intruder (c 1989) – Graphics
- Pick 'n Pile (1990) – Graphics
- The Teller/The Brain Blasters (1990) – Graphics, Programming
- Rayman (1995) – Concept, Design
- The Adventures of Valdo & Marie (1997) – Special credits for game design
- Tonic Trouble (1999) – Original Concept
- Rayman 2: The Great Escape (1999) – Original Concept, Artistic Director, Based on a story by
- Rayman M/Arena (2001) – Concept
- Rayman Rush (2002) – Concept
- Rayman 3: Hoodlum Havoc – Rayman Created By & Special Thanks To
- Beyond Good & Evil (2003) – Directed By, Story, Design, Additional Character Design
- Peter Jackson's King Kong: The Official Game of the Movie (2005) – Creative Director, Game Design
- Rayman Raving Rabbids (2006) – Based on an original world by
- Rayman Raving Rabbids 2 (2007) – Character Design
- Rayman Raving Rabbids TV Party (2008) – Character Design
- Rayman Origins (2011) – A game created and directed by & based on the original creation by
- Rayman Jungle Run (2012) - Concept, Design
- Rayman Legends (2013) - Concept, Design
- Rayman Adventures (2015)
- Wild (TBA)
- Beyond Good & Evil 2 (TBA)
- In an interview of ABC from the GoodGame rubric, Ancel revealed that Big Mama, which appears in the E3 2010 trailer of Rayman Origins was voiced by himself.
- Ancel rejects the often held belief that video games of French origin are more original, claiming the problem lies not in the development process, but in risk-averseness at US publishers.
- Ancel worked on, but did not design, Tonic Trouble (1999), which features limbless characters in the same mould as Rayman. He shares credit on his Rayman games with Frédéric Houde, while Jacques Exertier contributed many of the cinematic and story elements of Beyond Good & Evil and King Kong. He is also credited in Rayman games not designed by him because he was responsible for the creation of the character.