After meeting at prolific French animation school Supinfocom Valencienne, Gary Levesque and Clément Soulmagnon soon realised they had heaps in common. They both grew up loving French and Belgian bandes dessinées and illustration. They both enjoyed playing music. And they both loved skateboarding but absolutely sucked at it (their words, not mine). The duo popped onto the LBB radar when their ‘Best Wishes from Paris’ film, produced for Havas Worldwide, landed in our inboxes. Taking us on a journey through the romantic city’s most famous landmarks, we were immediately entranced by its elegance and simplicity. Addison Capper had a chat with the Parisian pair.
LBB> How and when did the two of you meet?
FV> We met in 2004 at Supinfocom Valenciennes (an animation school in France). We were two Parisian guys lost in the north of France and quickly realized we had a lot in common.
LBB> What were your creative backgrounds prior to meeting?
G> I studied French literature in high school, and was seriously considering doing it as a college degree. But I've always drawn - at home with my older brother (he's a freelance illustrator now), at school, anywhere. I applied to Supinfocom straight after high school and got in.
C> In high school I was into science and was focusing on engineering studies. Unfortunately I spent too much time drawing during the class. I thought that studying art might be a better use of my time. I've always been attracted to animation so I passed the test for Supinfocom. The rest is history.
LBB> Where did you grow up? What sort of children were you?
G> I was born and raised in Paris XVIII (around Montmartre). I spent most of my childhood watching movies of any kind - 80s action movies, sci-fi, Kubrick, Godard, and, of course, cartoons. Lots of comic books, too.
C> I was raised in the western suburbs of Paris (Saint-Germain-en-Laye). Unlike Gary, I didn't have a TV or computers or any video games at home so I was more of a bookish child. I also read a lot of French and Belgian comics, whilst listening to Queen. And I spent a lot of time drawing in my room and trying to imagine what the cartoons that other kids were talking about actually were.
LBB> Who are your creative heroes?
G> My first heroes were Franquin and Gotlib [influential comic illustrators] because I was really into French/Belgium comics. Then, like 90 per cent of boys from my generation, I went crazy about Akira Toriyama's Dragon Ball Z. Now I have a wide range of influences: Japanese directors like Otomo and Miyazaki, classic directors such as Kubrick, Godard, [David] Lynch, and people like Johnny Kelly and David O'Reilly. I'm a huge fan of graphic designers like Tim Biskup, Lou Romano and Jon Klassen.
C> Like Gary, my first heroes were Gotlib and Franquin. I never read Japanese mangas. I was more into Moebius, Hugo Pratt and Manara. I think today we share a lot of common references. We also find our inspiration in other artistic fields: writers like Romain Gary or Boris Vian, too many musicians to mention, and even skateboarders - Rodney Mullen is an artist in his own way - are also important influences.
LBB> Your style of animation seems to sway more towards a traditional, hand drawn approach. Why do you choose to explore this style more than the more modern 3D techniques?
FV> Actually, we have a 3D animation background: The student short films (‘Yankee Gal’ and ‘Gary’) we made at Supinfocom were 3D. But as we realized we enjoyed 2D more, we tried to mix both techniques with shorts like ‘Virgile’ and the Dirty Deeds’ music video ‘Stupid People’. We like to have a handcrafted feel to our work, which is kind of difficult to achieve in 3D. Now, we work with both techniques, but, in the end, it's more a matter of opportunity and feeling. Which medium is best for the project in hand? We do a bit of live action, too. We love to mix the techniques; it gives us more creative possibilities. It’s great to know that it's not the technique that limits us. They are used as a tool to achieve the picture we want.
LBB> We love the ‘Best Wishes’ video for Havas Worldwide Paris. Could you tell us a little more about the concept? Why the use of black and white? And what was the inspiration behind each animation for each quartier?
FV> Havas Worldwide Paris contacted us with the main concept. They wanted us to represent the most interesting places in Paris with smart or funny logos, inspired by what makes the areas unique. The logos were already brilliantly designed by Julien Saurin, art director at Havas. Our job was to tell a story. This entailed finding the right way to transition from one place to another, creating something that made sense and was visually interesting at the same time. The film needed to feel like a ride in Paris. At first, we were supposed to use pictures of the citys as background, but we decided with Julien and Christophe (Coffre , creative director at Havas) that the logo should be more prominent. Using black and white came naturally. It was the simplest, most elegant, most efficient thing to do. We wanted to have this light concrete background to help the audience read the camera moves and make the whole film more dynamic.
Above: Some Valentine's love courtesy of Flying V
LBB> Which pieces of work are the two of you proudest of and why?
FV> It's hard to answer that. I guess we're always proud when we feel like we had enough space to do what we wanted to do. We like personal projects like Dirty Deeds (music video), DPMMPD or commercials like Orville Redenbacher and Altoids, when the commercial element doesn't overshadow the artistic part. That was the case with the Havas Greetings Card, and that's why the final result is good. Sometimes the process makes a project great too: the people you worked with, the way it went. For example we made a PDFA commercial in New York in 2011. We really love the film, and living there for two months was also a great personal experience.
LBB> Outside of filmmaking and animation, what are your interests and why?
FV> We both grew up skateboarding and listening to punk rock. We stopped skateboarding because we sucked at it, but we still try to play music any time we can. We also draw (together or not) and we have a blog called Vertu & Virilité (only in French).