French visual artist Quentin Deronzier has developed a sharp eye for visuals with electric colours, mixing reality and imagination, offering a theatrical vision of the world around him.
With a background in 3D animation and CGI, as a director on the illustrious LA PAC roster, Quentin makes a point of questioning our relationship with reality in his directing. He began his career in advertising as an art director before becoming independent and devoting himself to film projects.
He’s directed campaigns for Nike Portland and the Xbox digital campaign with McCann Los Angeles. During the first ‘confinement’ in France during the pandemic, Quentin launched a video with Drake performing the Tootsie Slide on his latest private jet customised by Virgil Abloh. This was followed by several collaborations with the OVO label, for Drake and Partynextdoor. Quentin regularly collaborates with actor Will Smith, notably in a short film about the psychological impact of confinement in the world. He’s also worked hand in hand with artist OrelSan on the visuals for his tour.
Always keen to push new technologies to new creative spheres, he directed the ‘Clones’ Spring ‘22 show for Balenciaga, using deepfake technology and AI, the show confused the press and its spectators who no longer knew what was real or not.
LBB’s Alex Reeves spoke to Quentin to get more of a grasp on his unique creative perspective.
LBB> You've worked on live shows, installations, music videos, commercials and fashion films. So many creative people get stuck in doing one type of work and only get approached for that. How do you think you've managed to keep it so broad?
Quentin> I think it's mostly because to get where I am now, the path that I took was always led by opportunities. I've always wanted to do that since I was a kid, but I never thought that I could actually achieve it. I always went into artistic projects that were getting closer to directing things, but not really directing. At first, I wanted to do advertising, then I started working on album covers and that led me to doing live visuals – which led me to doing music videos.
I really wanted to do shows. I really wanted to do music videos. I did anything that would bring me towards this directing goal. And so I got a bit of that, a bit of this. That's why now I have this skill set. Even though you need to have some technical knowledge about a live show, a fashion show, a music video, other than that, it's just creativity in a way. It really organically grew, going towards this goal of directing and going into different paths led by all the opportunities that I got.
LBB> Now you’re definitely established as a director, what are your next big goals?
Quentin> My really big goal is driven by the fact that I love narrative work. And you can find narrative in any type of work - installations, anything. That's why directing for me was always gonna be the final form in terms of bringing something narrative. And I'm a very big movie fan. So it's always been somewhere in the back of my head, but without knowing that I could maybe achieve that one day. I guess that's why I went through all these steps before. And I'm still directing but also working on live shows and doing all this stuff.
LBB> Of course, your most recent work that's come out is for Louis Vuitton, which is beautiful. It's very fantastical, like a lot of your work – it's hard to tell what's CG and what's real, which I think is a theme within what you do. How would you say that that piece of work relates to your body of work so far?
Quentin> I've been very, very lucky for this one and generally in the past few years, because every time a brand approached me it's because they wanted to have this [fantastical] touch in the final end product. I try to get the most out of the live-action, but I try to get the most out of the CG world and kind of cross them at some point. I love to make live-action look like CGI and I love to make CGI look like live action. I'm not the kind of super technical CGI guy who is going to try to make the perfect smooth camera movement. I'm trying to make it as organic, as dirty, as believable as possible. I'm really interested in this thin line between the real and the unreal and I want people watching to question it: ‘What am I looking at?’ I find that fascinating. That's why at first I was doing mostly CGI stuff, but now I'm leaning more and more toward live action, but still bringing the CGI aspect in.
When you move cameras with motion control, you can really emulate some of the codes from CGI in the real world, and the other way around, and that's fascinating to me.
LBB> You talk about the goal of becoming a director – how did you become a director?
Quentin> Since a young age, it's a very cliche story, but I was making films with my parents' cameras.
I hate saying that sentence because I feel like every director says that but, I was actually directing movies with my parents’ camera when I was a young boy. I have two sisters so I was doing it by myself , a lot of the time. I've always wanted to be a director but then when you talk about it to your parents and you grow up and you realise that it's not really tangible, it's not really palpable. You can't really be realistic about it. So I started working more in an artistic field. I went to art school and then I was an art director in advertising for about five years.
Then I got quite frustrated by the advertising world. Being an art director in an agency was not my end goal. I was at the start of the process of creation, but I wanted to be the one actually making it. And so I left my job. I went freelance as a graphic designer. I started working on music, doing cover art and stuff like that. Then people asked me to do animated cover art. I needed to learn how to use CGI. So I learned by myself through tutorials and stuff like that. And those little animations became visualisers and then they became CGI music videos.
It really came on very organically. I lived in Paris and Amsterdam, and then I moved to Tokyo.
I got this email from my current agent/producer, Anna [Roudaut], saying, ‘I love your work, have you thought about becoming more of a director, being represented?’ I didn’t really pay attention because I thought it was strange that someone would be interested in representing me and what I was doing. But she kept on coming back to me asking when I was coming back to Europe. I wasn't sure yet. Then I moved back to Europe, we met, and they started developing and representing me. We did a few pitches, we got a few music videos, a few commercials, and now here we are.
LBB> Which projects have been most important to your development?
Quentin> One was the first Nike job I did for the Nike Adapt, which is a basketball shoe. A couple months before that, I released this animation of these guys dancing and when they're dancing, the background changes. And this became a bit of a viral clip. Many brands contacted me wanting to do their own versions. Nike was one of them. They gave me a budget, they gave me money to take that to a whole new level. We did motion capture with actual NBA players, and they came to Paris and then I had a big team to create all these environments. It was the moment where I was like, ‘OK, what I'm doing in my room, brands and bigger companies are interested in and in me doing that for them, and with money.’ So that's when I realised there’s something about my style and I can make that for a living.
LBB> You work a lot in fashion and music videos. Obviously, there's a lot of crossover between those worlds and they can be quite different from other brands. What do you think are the big differences between those two pockets of work and advertising more generally?
Quentin> It's funny because the fashion projects are really collaborative, just like music videos in a way. There's much more money in fashion so you can go much further than in music videos. But the projects with fashion that I've done, for Balenciaga, Louis Vuitton, for other brands – it's always been super collaborative with the art directors at the brand and the visual directors.
It's not really like some other brands. Some projects, you're more of a technician than a creative. You're there to transform and translate these ideas that are very much there already, into a film. I'm not really writing the idea with them. I love that discussion because the ideas and passion are interesting. They're selling something obviously but they're still trying to do something artistic at the same time. Whereas sometimes other brands don’t give me that creative input. That's my latest passion. And I hope I can keep on working on that passion as much as possible because it's really interesting.
Also, I have a certain style. Some directors are very versatile, they can do any kind of stuff but I have a certain feel. It can be a privilege and curse to have a style. Because you can fall into just not evolving at all and keep doing the same thing. But I'm really trying to move forward and always bring new stuff. Most of the projects the brand approaches me because they saw my work and it was on their mind, they have this idea and think that what I’ve done here will really translate well. In all those cases, it helped me because they already had a sense of what I can do. And they shape their project through having me in mind. So it's been pretty helpful.
LBB> You've worked with deepfake, NFTs – very technology-driven stuff. What do you find most interesting in those areas?
Quentin> I think there are two things. The first is to expand people's minds, because we are used to seeing composed films. But what I love is when you're watching something that you almost don't understand. That goes back to what I was saying before. I like when people are questioning how something was made. So all these new technologies, especially deepfake – it looks like it could be a regular shot, but there is something different about it and then you start reflecting on it. For instance the Balenciaga show, where it's just the same model walking again and again, and we change faces all the time. And also the people in the audience. If you watch it like that really quick. OK, it's just a fashion show, but then if you really dig into it you learn that it's just the same model all the time.
I like to do something that will make people dig into the piece and learn new things when they realise what can be done using technology. I like the fact that you move past what you've already seen with all these new technologies. Also I'm passionate about everything that's computer generated, everything that's touching upon AI because I think it's really something that we're going to have in everyday life in not so long. It's coming up very quickly, and having the chance to experiment on all that is a privilege to me. Long story short, the possibilities that it brings are just amazing, and I love to bring that into the directing world.
LBB> You're in the business of creating culture. What sort of culture do you immerse yourself in?
Quentin> It's funny because, for the past two and a half years, since things took off, I've been working a lot, and any free time I have, any activity I do in my free time, I find myself trying to find a purpose, looking for how it will feed my creativity. So whether it's a TV show I'm watching or a video game I'm playing or even going to a certain area of a city. To the point where it's almost unhealthy. Every decision I take in my free time has to stimulate me creatively. So I'm in this mindset right now, and I'm struggling to get out of it.
That being said, I don't really have that one particular thing that inspires me every day, it's a combination of so many different things. I don't live in a big city. I live between Paris and this countryside town in the French Aps. To me, it is a balance of being in Paris, meeting all these people, going to these parties, exhibitions, and at the same time coming home and it's a very natural place. I'm always outside, doing sports. To me everything resides in this balance between being stimulated by all the culture you have in Paris, but at the same time being stimulated by the simplicity of being in the countryside. I couldn't be only in the countryside, I couldn't be only in Paris. It is balance.
To be more specific, I'm influenced so much by music and the visual aspect of music, but also video games. I used to game quite a bit. I can't game as much as I used to. But there's a shift I think in video games these days, where it's not just something to spend your free time on, it's also a really artistic experience where you're an actor in it. That really fascinates me. I do a lot of VR, trying to immerse myself in the experience. It's almost like sometimes you almost see like like, films to like like interactive films. And I yeah, that's also part of my duration, when I have time.
Additional reporting by Florence Burdge.