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5 Minutes with… CRCR

London, UK
French animation quintet on mixing friendship and work to brew up cartoon mastery for Blacklist and WIZZdesign

Technology may have moved on somewhat since the days of the zoetrope but there are few things more beguiling and transporting as beautifully crafted 2D animation. And it seems the jury at the ADC agree – this year French animation collective CRCR picked up three ADC awards. LBB’s Laura Swinton caught up with CRCR in New York just as the news of their win broke and an exhibition of their illustration work hit downtown Manhattan. Thrown together during university, the quintet hit their stride while interning at Parisian house WIZZDesign (who still represent them) and are bringing their own brand of experimental animation to the States through Blacklist. Rémi Bastie, Nicolas Dehghani, Paul Lacolley, Nicolas Pegon and Jérémy Pires explain why mixing friendship with work has made for a potent cartoon brew.

LBB> The project that really put you on the map was the 2010 Todor & Petru video – can you tell me about it?

CRCR> A lot of people think it’s live action but as we were animators and we wanted to use 2D animation in it, we knew that if we filmed it with the regular frame rate of a video camera it would be really weird and difficult. The whole movie is just photos taken one after the other using stop motion. We used the two Nicolases of CRCR as puppets. In the end that gives it the Manga feeling.

We were still at school studying animation so we really tried to work as animators. With live action you have a script, some ideas for shots and then there’s lots of editing afterwards. As we didn’t have that sort of time and we were on an animation course, we created an animatic and planned all the shots and timing before. 

LBB> And what was it like being human puppets?

CRCR> Most of the time it was fun but because it was during the summer and we were wearing winter clothes it was hard. We wore black and used big flashes. It was fun and it was warm and it was intensive.

LBB> What was the reaction like from your college and your classmates?

CRCR> We were at Gobelins, which covers very academic, traditional 2D animation. At the end of our internship at Wizz, we showed them the film and they loved it. We thought the reaction would be cool because it wasn’t like Disney animation. 

That film is the reason that we are now working as CRCR. At first we were just a bunch of friends working together but when we made Todor & Petru, we created a CRCR Vimeo page and that was that. It was important, we needed a name for people to contact us.

We still get invited to do pitches based on it. It came out at the end of the summer of our second year at college, so we still had another year left after that. We received a lot of emails asking about representation. It was probably a good thing that we were still in school. It allowed us to have a good amount of time to really think about what we wanted to do. If we had been out of school, we could have signed up anywhere right away without really knowing where we were going. We had the idea that after school we could continue on making things together.

LBB> So where did the CRCR name come from?

CRCR> It came from a joke! We were trying to come up with names and we had a few ideas and they were really silly. I don’t remember who said it but we were at a party and someone said we’re such a big crew that we should be ‘Crew Crew’, like a double crew. So then we became CRCR – it felt cool and mysterious. 

LBB> So you were thrown together at school and your internship at WIZZ – had you expected to gel together so well? Why did the combination of personalities work so well?

CRCR> I think we had our fights long before we became professional. We had known each other for three years. We were friends before we started working together so we weren’t thinking about money and how to split it. We never had these sorts of issues. 

We were all in the same class so we already influenced each other. It’s impossible to say ‘oh that’s my idea’, because even if it’s, say, Jérémy’s idea, it might have been influenced by Nicolas, who has been influenced by Rémi. It’s like a melting pot. 

I think our CRCR Tumblr is a good example of how we work. We all have the log-in codes for it and we don’t put our individual names to our drawings that we upload. Sometimes people think it’s just one person. We like the idea that people who don’t know us think of CRCR as a big monster.

LBB> So when a project comes in, how do you work on that? Does one person take the lead or is it a bit more organic?

CRCR> It’s definitely more organic. What’s nice is that there are five of us, so it really depends on the project. Perhaps two guys will come up with an idea and take it to everyone else who will then all work together. Sometimes five of us will come up with the same idea. Every project brings something new. And we all work together, so if there’s a mistake we’re all to blame. Sometimes someone will take the lead, or we’ll decide that one person will handle all the client meetings and feedback because there are five of us. It’s easy to swap because everyone can do everything. 

Because we’re friends, we do everything first and foremost to impress our friends. Perhaps impress isn’t the right word but you want your friends to be happy.

When we brainstorm it’s funny. If there were only one or two of us maybe the first idea we come up with is the one we’d use. But because there are five of us, it’s like a big family and if you want the biggest part of the chicken you really have to fight for it. The one that wins has to go past four people.

LBB> Does it ever happen that you manage to change people’s minds and push an idea forward?

CRCR> It’s a bit like House of Cards! For an idea to pass, you have to see everyone separately. If you want to pass a funny idea, you have to get the funny idea on board so he can present it to everyone else and make everyone laugh. 

LBB> Which projects have particularly resonated with you?

CRCR> There’s the Lowdi spot – it’s a commercial for a Dutch agency for a little Wi-Fi speaker. They wanted us to make a little movie with a character who looked like the speaker. They didn’t want to show the product and there was quite an open brief. They wanted something colourful that covered all different kinds of music.

We also did an ident for Cartoon Network. The brief was a one-minute-long piece of film and they gave 10 second segments to a bunch of different animators. For this one the brief was that we had to use Cartoon Network characters and use certain colours. It was an ‘exquisite corpse’ – you start with the last frame of the group before and you give your last frame to the next group. 

LBB> It must have been good, as animators, to be working with these really iconic characters.

CRCR> At the time  Jeremy was working on Cartoon Network’s Gumball in London. It was funny because he came back to Paris to work with CRCR, and he was working with Gumball characters again, only this time he could do exactly what he wanted to do with them.

LBB> And you have also worked on some more unusual, experimental projects too. As 2D animators have there been any that have really pushed boundaries, technically?

CRCR> Blacklist did a number of idents for RDO, a streaming network competitor of Spotify, and the brief was to make it a destination for new music. They wanted it to harken back to the MTV style of idents. 

We wanted to use the idea of GIFs, compressed film. We used live action and mixed media. We shot everything in the studio downstairs at WIZZ. We really wanted to explore the idea of destroying live action footage. We degraded it to such an extent that the animation doesn’t really seem separate from the live action. The images were so destroyed they looked liquid. On an eight second project like this you can work frame-by-frame and really experiment. Every time we get a bit of freedom we really go for it because we can’t do it for every project.

Another example of something really weird was the Ghosts clip by Lorne. We were inspired by the music – it was really dark and the stuff you don’t really get the chance to do in advertising. With music videoes you don’t necessarily have much money so you have to really like the music and really feel something. Lorne was really open-minded and willing to take a leap of faith. We’re really proud of it. We’ve had comments on YouTube and Vimeo that said “woah, we saw this on drugs and it was amazing”. 

LBB> And the big news for you recently is the ADC win for your Deezer project that you worked on with McBess. How did that come about?

CRCR> We’re old friends with McBess. This project shows something quite important for us. For this one we were directors; we did the storyboards but we didn’t do the design. We used our skills as animators to bring McBess’s drawings to life. McBess wanted to see his drawings move but didn’t want to lose any detail so he needed to find people to who could do that. 

In the beginning he actually gave us less detailed drawings, with only one or two tattoos and no shading but the deadline was really generous so we said ‘go for it, make it more complicated!’ We asked him to give us all the complexity that he always puts in his drawings. We had seven animators working on it, five seconds each. So with five seconds in two months you can really go for it. It wouldn’t have worked if it had been less complex. 

LBB> McBess is a director in his own right – how was it bringing him into your family? 

CRCR> He’s a director and does a lot of 3D and he really wanted his drawings to be well managed. Because we knew and respected each other he was really happy. We asked him to do key drawings for the characters. He was really busy on the prints and was the art director of the whole campaign but we were the directors of the film. We had ideas about what characters we wanted to use, we gave him storyboards to look at. It was a good collaboration.

LBB> When you’re not doing CRCR stuff, do you all have your own side projects?

CRCR> When it comes to professional stuff, it’s all through CRCR. But Jérémy works as an animator on other projects. We do illustration and we also have a comic book project each, when we have time. It’s our homework. We did an exhibition in Paris and we’ve had one this week in New York. We try to show something other than movies because we like drawing and animation. 

LBB> Obviously you guys work together a lot and collaborate on a lot – do you socialise together too?

CRCR> Actually we don’t see each other on Saturdays but that’s it. We’re friends outside of work – it’s really annoying for our girlfriends because when we drink together we talk work. When we need extra animators we call our ex-classmates so it’s a really big family. We drink beer every Friday night and we can have up to 40 friends in the bar – the bar really likes us!

We come from a French animation school and it’s a really small world because there are only two or three schools. At school the classes were limited to 25 people in one year. At art school they tend to say ‘find your own personality, your individuality’ but at Gobelins we only worked in teams so we would be able to work in the industry. You have to know how to work with other people. We’ve started to get to know lots of other collectives of graphic directors. There are a few! 

LBB> You had the show last week – have you anything else planned for the next few months?

CRCR> We’ve started writing a new short movie. It will be more personal. We’re just at the early stages, we haven’t written anything yet. Also it gives us some fresh air from the other stuff we do. We also want to do more advertising projects with Blacklist and Wizz. 

Les chiens isolés from CRCR on Vimeo.

The short film is interesting because it reminds us of our graduation movie. That film was quite personal to us, a seven-minute 2D short movie with dialogue and music. At Gobelins they’re more used to CG, Dreamworks-style movies. That’s because you need a piece to use as a CV; you need to show that you can do the sort of work they look for in the big league studios. As we didn’t care too much about that, we thought it would be our final opportunity to create something for ourselves without needing to be paid. We decided to do something we really wanted to do. Everyone expected another music video after Todor & Petru and we said ‘no!’ and created an old fashioned French movie.

The next project is a bunch of idents for Adult Swim. It’s similar to RDO because the brief is really free. No drugs or child abuse, so as long as we do that. And we have some other projects cooking away.

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