Image: The Mortierbrigade Gang (L-R Jens Mortier, Jonathan Wieme, Stephanie Zimmerman)
This week we take a look at Brussels and talk to Jens Mortier, Creative Director at Mortierbrigade and James Vanderhaeghen, Visual Effects Co-ordinator at Nozon about their city and their work.
The City of Brussels is the capital of Belgium. It is one of 19 municipalities that make up greater Brussels, which is the capital of the European Union (EU). Brussels began is a 10th-century fortress town founded by a descendant of Charlemagne. It now contains more than a million residents. As a centre for international politics, hosting principal EU institutions and also serving as the NATO HQ, Brussels is equipped to handle visitors. It has a large number of ambassadors and journalists and an “international community” of around 70,000 people. Its central European location means that it is easy to access (including direct train routes from London, Paris, Cologne, Frankfurt, Amsterdam and more. It has a strong tourism infrastructure and is home to more than 80 museums. The city offers some 1,800 restaurants. Belgian cuisine is a combination of French cuisine with the more hearty Flemish cuisine. Specialties include the waffle, chocolate, “frites”, mussels and the Brussels sprout was first cultivated in the area.
Belgium only became a country in its own right in 1831. Brussels is historically a Dutch-speaking city, although French was used in government. In 1921, Belgium was officially split into three regions based on language: Dutch-speaking Flanders, French-speaking Wallonia and bilingual Brussels.
The country was occupied for four years by Germany during World War I and was the scene of intense conflicts and much was destroyed. This was repeated during World War II. Much architecture was destroyed and on the surface, Brussels certainly has a lot of faceless, post war buildings (mainly political and offices). Behind the facade, there are many historic buildings and an art nouveau city with a multi cultural population keen on cafe living. The architecture is diverse and includes medieval structures on Grand Place, a UNESCO World Heritage Site to postmodern buildings.
Brussels has an active film office with a locations database and a database of local audiovisual companies. They can help you deal with all the administrative aspects of your shoot, including discussing any tax incentives available. The CFP-Belgium (Commercial Film Producers – Belgium) is the local professional association of commercial production companies. They represent the interests of nine companies producing commercials, who accounted for 80% of all domestic commercials in 2010. These companies often find themselves pitching against each other for local work and are all set up for international productions. All ads shot in Belgium for the local market have to be made in Flemish and French, making them more expensive to produce.
Its central European location means that it is easy to access (including direct train routes from London, Paris, Cologne, Frankfurt, Amsterdam and more
GMT +1. 1 hour ahead of London, 6 hours ahead of New York, 9 hours ahead of Los Angeles, 10 hours behind Sydney, 4.5 hours behind Mumbai, 7 hours behind Hong Kong, 2 hours behind Moscow, 4 hours ahead of Buenos Aires, 1 hour behind Cape Town and 8 hours behind Tokyo.
€ Euro currency conversion for Jan 18 2012: 1€ = ¥98.72 = £0.83 = $1.28
Brussels has an oceanic climate. Proximity to coastal areas influences the climate. Nearby wetlands also ensure a maritime temperate climate. There are approximately 200 days of rain per year in the Brussels-Capital Region. Snowfall is rare, generally occurring once or twice a year.
Brussels Airport is located in the nearby Flemish municipality of Zaventem. Brussels is served by direct high-speed rail links: to London by the Eurostar train via the Channel Tunnel (1hr 51 min); to Amsterdam, Paris (1hr 25 min) and Cologne by the Thalys; and to Cologne and Frankfurt by the German ICE. Eurostar offers more trains per day than flights from London and takes you right into the heart of the city. The official Brussels Metro was opened in 1976, but underground lines have run trams since 1968. These lines are known as premetro. There is also an over ground network of buses and trams. Since 2003 the city has had a car sharing service and also a local ridesharing taxi stop. Shared bicycles were introduced in 2006.
Brussels Film Office www.bruxellestournage.be
Commercial Film Producers www.cfp-belgium.be
At a Glance
Production companies and agencies are spread across the city, so travelling from one to the next can involve a bit of a trek. LBB suggest getting a map in advance and planning your meetings efficiently.
You cannot hail a taxi, so ask hotels or the companies you are visiting to book you a taxi or car. Metros and trams are a much cheaper alternative but be sure to carry change for the ticket machines as some stations are unmanned.
Make sure you have any destinations written down for cab drivers as they often don’t speak English.
Flemish Belgians will often prefer to answer visitors in English rather than French, even if the visitor's French is good.
Brussels offers many location options with architecture dating back to medieval times, bridges, monuments, museums, castles, parks, canals, cafes, warehouses, farms and more.
Brussels has a strong tourism infrastructure. As the centre of European politics since the Second World War, it has served as an important destination for politicians, lobbyists and journalists for over half a century. Brussels is also known for its art scene. The city has world class hotels and restaurants, bars and cafes.
Some of the Companies You Can Find in the LBB WORK Directory
Mortierbrigade, Milly Films, Nozon Brussels, Denzzo Brussels, Dr. Film and more
Q&A with Jens Mortier, Creative Director, Mortierbrigade Brussels
LBB > Tell us a little about your agency and the guys you have working there. How did you come together?
We were 4 partners in crime working at Duval Guillaume. We decided to found our own agency and re-invent the business. We’ve been trying that ever since.
LBB > Your hotel for international trainees is a very interesting idea, can you tell us about it?
Over the years we’ve earned a certain reputation. Young talented creatives from all over the world wanted to do an internship in our agency. But often the paperwork was a hassle, and the short term rental is very expensive. We moved into our new building last year, and there was a big empty house. So we decided to turn it into a hotel.
LBB > Tell us a bit about your role? How did you get into advertising?
My puberty lasted until I was 27. Only then I decided to look for a real job. That’s when I got into advertising. I started at TBWA, then one year later Duval Guillaume was founded, and they asked me to join.
LBB > We have asked you to select one of your favourite pieces of work that best represents your agency. Can you tell us about it and why you chose it?
It’s really hard to choose one. But I would say the “black boy wanting water” for Studio Brussels. It’s a few years old now, but it is still a good example of the way we think. It got us a Titanium Lion, and that’s what we keep on trying to win every year.
LBB > Do the new delivery channels available to you and the new media on which to create content excite you? Frighten you?
The good thing is: whatever happens, only great ideas and excellent content will survive. And that’s what we’re good at.
LBB > How many people does your agency employ and what is the configuration?
We work with 28 people: Strategists, digital people, creatives and producers.
LBB > Have you had to employ new staff to adapt to the new technologies and ways of thinking?
We’ve always had the reflex to think and do otherwise, and over the years we’ve hired some digital people of course.
LBB > What is your personal view on the link between great creativity and effectiveness and how do you make sure the work does what it is supposed to?
Creativity is a tool, not a goal. A tool to get better results, faster. No creativity for the sake of it. But always to serve our clients’ goals.
LBB > Do you find pitching more exciting now? Are the conversations in pitch so different now you have so many more platforms?
I prefer not to pitch.
LBB > Which aspects of your country’s culture stand out in the advertising? Is there a genre of work that your city is known for?
Since we are a little country, with little budgets, and two different languages, we’ve always had to be very creative. Add to that a little surrealism (we’re Rene Magritte’s country) and you have a good view on Belgian advertising.
LBB > Are the majority of the agencies in your city part of global networks?
Yes, most of the networks have agencies here, but there are quite a few good independent ones.
LBB > Is your agency international in outlook or is most of your work specific to your country?
Both. We’re based in Brussels, the capital of Europe. I think a good idea is so simple that it should be understood by the whole world. We are working for some European accounts too.
LBB > Is it important to the work you do at your agency that a local director shoot the spot in order to capture subtle cultural nuances?
We already have different cultures working in our agency. And we’re looking forward to the input of our international trainees in our hotel!
LBB > What value do you put on winning awards? And which are more important, awards for creativity or effectiveness?
We use creativity to be efficient. The most beautiful campaigns are the ones you win creative and efficiency awards with.
LBB > How do you find talent for your agency?
Since we are pretty sexy, they come to us. So we try to stay sexy.
LBB > Does a recession call for stronger creativity to counter lower budgets? Have you seen that during this recent economic downturn?
We have smart clients. They all continued to invest during the crisis. With success.
LBB > What do you think are the biggest challenges facing advertising industries today?
The ones that combine ideas and technique will survive.
LBB > Do you see a future for the large agency networks?
Only if they buy us!
Q&A with James Vanderhaeghen, Visual Effects Co-ordinator at Nozon
LBB > So tell us a little about Nozon; how long have you been running?
JV > The company started in 1998 with Chris Mascarello and Xavier Lecomte, who found each other while studying motion graphics. They started working as Graphical 3D designers on quite complex projects. Tristan Salomé joined them later. He has an engineering background, specialised in artificial intelligence and virtual realities. This background proved invaluable in terms of research and development. Mike de Coninck joined soon after that, also as a graphics 3D designer, with a background in architecture. And I joined their ranks in 2002, coming from a compositing background, adding the offline, compositing and grading facilities. We went through this natural evolution because we felt that each additional step we took control off, we could actually improve the quality of our work.
LBB > Many of the companies that Little Black Book met in Brussels praised the work you are producing. What do you think makes your offering unique?
JV > Well, at its core, we are a CGI company which evolved into a full service post house. And we tend to spend a lot of time and energy on each project. And we have a lot of love for detail. Our pipeline is adapted and reworked every time. We tailor it towards the need of every project individually. This together with a close collaboration with the Director and Producer in the early stages of each project makes for a great end result. On top of that we have a very talented team with a variety of artistic and technical skills. In the end it all pays of and we believe it shows in the image quality that we deliver.
LBB > Tell us a bit about where your work comes from, is it mainly local?
JV > It is a nice mix of local and international clients. Some jobs like Baileys and Heineken definitely put us on the map internationally. We have clients in Europe, Russia, US, Asia and the Middle-East. And we've build a loyal pool of customers over the years.
LBB > You have offices in Brussels, Liege and Paris. Does each location offer different services?
JV > The Brussels office is mainly focused on commercials, while the office in Paris is more a mixture of Features, Series and commercials. Liege is configured to handle Feature Film and long form projects.
LBB > What split of your work is film vs commercial?
JV > The split right now is 30 % film, 70% commercials. We've only recently moved into film with the opening of the office in Liege in 2010. So this balance is definitely going to evolve in favour of Film.
LBB > What kit do you have available to you in house?
JV > We have all the tools and toys necessary, ranging from Avid and FCP, to Maya, Massive, Vue, Flint, Nuke, Scratch, ... And we offer everything from Pre Visualisation, Motion control programming, On Set Supervision, Offline Editing, DI grading, Visual Effects creation, CGI creation and animation, Massive crowd simulation, Liquids, Fluids and physics simulations, Matte painting and Compositing.
LBB > Since technology has changed so much in the last ten years (and speeded up some of the production process) do you feel you are asked to deliver your end product in less time?
JV > That demand has not changed much actually; It always needs to be finished yesterday! We tend to push for a maximum of time, because some projects just don't work if you only have two weeks. You need to cut so many corners that the quality suffers. New technology is great, and it does speed up things. But we find ourselves using that to push the possibilities even further. Even with all this new stuff available, CGI remains a labour intensive process. And no matter what, quality needs time and money.
LBB > Do you work directly with clients?
JV > Not really. There is at least an advertising agency between us and the client. Most of the time we work with a production company. We do execute purely CGI projects completely in house. But it only happens a couple of times a year.
LBB > How would you describe Nozon in an elevator pitch?
JV > Excellent price / quality ratio, the love for pushing the envelope and closely working together with everybody involved is what makes us the right choice for high-end CGI and visual effects.
LBB > What do you see in the future for post-production facilities? Do you think the model of offering directors too is going to become more prevalent? Is that something you offer?
JV > There is a local trend of integrating post production into production houses. So we have thought about doing a similar move in the opposite direction. Offering directors also means producing. And that is a double edged sword. It remains a back burner idea for now. We'll definitely continue to evolve. And we want to remain at the forefront of the industry.
LBB > What stage do you get involved with a commercial job and do you offer full service post or mainly effects shots?
JV > The sooner we get involved, the better it gets. Brainstorming with a director, even before completing the director's intention note, can be a really good starting point. Making an animatic is sometimes indispensable. It makes it clear for everybody what needs to be done on set and in camera, and which parts will be done in post. Helping out the production preparing all this is a key part in optimizing every step, from prep to post. We do offer full service post, ranging from offline all the way through digital deliveries.
LBB > What value do you put on awards and winning them?
JV > It's always great to get recognition by winning awards. But it's not the only reason why we love to do this job!
LBB > This year, what has been your favourite job and why? Or last year seeing as we are only in January!
JV > Last year, I would pick the Beavers from Chaudfontaine because I think that the fur looks quite good. And in terms of heavy CGI I would pick Fly Emirates. Creating photo-real pieces of planes and a complete one in the last shot was quite challenging, and fun!