The multidisciplinary director talks about his short film ‘Empty Places’, Annecy Animation Festival and working in isolation…
The #NoBrief series is an ongoing look into our talented illustrators, animators, lettering and type artists’ minds – focusing on the passion projects they create when they become their own client. When they are free to let their imagination and creativity run wild, when there’s no client brief to stick to.
Continuing the series is multidisciplinary director Geoffroy de Crécy who is famously known for his signature 2D design style and mesmerising, looping GIFs.
For almost a year, Geoffroy has been working on a short film about machines called ‘Empty Places.’ He completed it in January, just when the full impact of Covid-19 began to spread globally, and the strangeness of current times has leant a whole new eery sense of meaning and oddly familiar tone to the subject matter of the animation.
Hey Geoffroy, your short movie ‘Empty Places’ really channels the eerie tone of the current climate we’re living in, despite your having completed it in January! What was your original inspiration for it? And how long had you been working on it for?
I really love photography. I admire work of people like Stephen Shore and William Egglestone. In their work, they capture the mood of the 50s and 60s, often without anybody in the frame, with just some trivial details or ordinary landscape. I guess this inspired me.
But, also as a CG artist, I’m not particularly good at animating. Especially characters. That’s why when I wanted to make motion in my work, I decided to focus on some mechanical, non human subjects. So I started making these loops with simple machines. Also, I was tired of seeing overly animated CG films. With traditional animation techniques, like stop motion or traditional 2D, every movement involves a lot of time and effort. Not with CGI. People who use this medium have a tendency to make quite hysterical animations with crazy camera moves… I wanted to be a bit calmer in my approach.
Did you revisit it after hearing about the accelerating global pandemic situation to tailor it more to the current situation? Or has hidden meaning within the original film naturally become more apparent with the rise of Covid-19 and what it’s meant for business, public places, etc?
The film edit had to be finished for submission to the Annecy Animation Festival on the 15th of February. At this point, like everybody here in Europe, I had vaguely and only very recently heard about the virus, but it felt like a very distant problem. So the film is exactly as it would have been if this virus had not existed. I wouldn’t have been interested in doing the film about lockdown. So far, we’ve been in two months of lockdown, so the thought of working for 6 more months to make a film about it… no thank you.
As I said, my goal for this project was to focus on machines, creating loops, from which a certain melancholy would come. And then, while rendering and editing the first scenes, I discovered that the absence of people became the real subject.
Some scenes of deserted places had already a lot room for interpretation by the viewer: terrorist attacks in airports, strikes, financial crisis, civil wars. The film isn’t about all this, but it really changed the meaning of the film. Or at least widened the way it could be interpreted by the viewer.
You’re a true visual storyteller, having created narrative commercial and short film pieces for decades, but what is it about the format of short looping animations that compels you to use these most as your chosen storytelling medium these days?
People are not keen on watching more than a few seconds of something they don’t know (vs hours and hours of a series on Netflix). If you want to catch someone’s attention and tell them something, you have to be very short, and optimise the format of your work, especially on social media.
But, the idea behind making this particular short movie was to escape this constant pressure to catch peoples’ attention. The short is made to be seen in a festival, where people are locked in a screening room, and have to watch the whole film. It means you can allow yourself to make some “boring” images, which would condemn you in any other circumstance. You can tell the story at the pace you think it deserves.
How would you define your style in a few words?
For this project: Technical, functionalist, minimalist.
But I want to stay versatile. Each project I do holds its own style. As a director, I certainly don’t want to be tied to a single style.
Have you worked on other passion projects? If so, why are they important to you? Do you bring in others to collaborate or mainly take them on as solo initiatives? And have you seen that other paid or non-paid projects usually come off the back of them?
Passion projects are very important if you want to keep working artistically. Commissioned projects force you to be in a perpetual balance between your choices and the client/agency wills. As an artist, you must regularly work on projects where only your own choices count. This is necessary to reinforce and exercise your self confidence.
That’s the reason why I generally make passion projects something very personal and individual. But I would love to be able to bring on other people into these projects. It requires more preparation and more financing. I’m good at doing things… and a little less good at preparing things.
How are you holding up in the current global pandemic? How has the transition to home studio been for you and are you finding your work is being affected at all?
On the first day of lockdown, I brought two big workstations into my basement so I work from there now. I quite like working at home, I’m used to it. But I’m starting to feel the need to go outside!!!
Concerning commissions, there was a period where I saw plenty of project briefs to communicate about the virus, the current situation, etc flying around… but most of these projects have been aborted. Now it’s quite calm, and I guess it will be for a long period. I remember 2008, and it looks quite the same.
What’s up next for you? Do you have another film planned?
Lots of films planned, a lot of them now cancelled. I was really looking forward to travelling with ‘Empty Places’ in festivals, but many of them are now cancelled.
I’m starting to work on my next short movie, because now I think it’s important to always have one in production, alongside commissions of course.
I don’t have a dream client. Dream scripts rather.