Of all the five shorts nominated in the Best Animated Shorts category, the 17-minute-long Logorama is perhaps the most enigmatic. A fascinating homage to American crime movies with a subtle commentary on corporate consumerism and capitalist society, the short won the prestigious Kodak Prize at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival. Directed by H5, Francois Alaux, Herve de Crecy and Ludovic Houplain, the brilliantly conceived short is set in a Los Angeles-like city and centers on two Michelin Man cops fighting an evil Ronald McDonald clown against a landscape of familiar corporate logos and mascots. We recently had the opportunity to chat with the short’s producer Nicolas Schmerkin and directors Alaux and de Crecy to find out more about the making of this creative short:
Animag: Tell us about how you got involved with the project?
Francois Alaux and Herve de Crecy: The project took various forms before we wrote the particular story of Logorama. We almost made a tribute music video for George Harrison with this idea (around 2002), before our producers asked us to create fake logotypes instead of existing ones… that was impossible to us, so we put the project on hold.
Logorama Directors, from Left: Herv’ de Cr’cy, Ludovic Houplain, Fran’ois Alaux
Did you start with the idea of playing with logos and then developed a script based on that?
Francois & Herve: Absolutely. First we had the principle of building a world with logotypes of existing brands. We wanted to use strong symbols and icons and make them say something different from what they were initially meant to (a logo is there to communicate the identity of one particular brand, in the final purpose to sell the products of this brand). And we had to make it work in a story. We wanted the story to be captivating, we wanted everything but a piece of motion design to be seen only on graphic design websites. We wanted a multi-layered story, something a child can see without being bored. And the story had to be as iconic as a logotype’simple, efficient and punchy’just like Hollywood!
How long did it take you to produce the animation?
Francois & Herve: It’s hard to compare Logorama to any other film in terms of production. It’s a very atypical process, because the film is an economic non-sense. As the entire film is built with existing designs (logotypes) which copyrights we don’t own, we can’t make money with it. It’s a parody, a satire. With the producer of the film Nicolas Schmerkin (Autour de Minuit) and the
Studio H5, we could get some companies and public funds to finance it or to
participate in it (notably the CNC – Centre National de la Cin’matographie,
Addictfilms, Canal +, Little Minx, and Mikros Image for the animation).”
Logorama was really an after-hours’ task for everyone. We couldn’t afford to only work on this project, because we needed to earn a living! So we were working at the same time on commercials and music videos. Which allowed us also re-inject some money in the film!
It seems that the animation was rotoscopy-based plus some additional animation tools? What did you use?
Francois & Herve: You’re right, it was rotoscopy-based. This means the animators used live action footage’some that we shot, and some existing, coming from various features’as a reference for the animation. They weren’t locked up in these references, but it was a good starting point for them, and helped them save a lot of time.
How did you come up with the storyline?
Francois & Herve: The story came first. We knew we would use existing logotypes, but first we needed to have a strong framework. We wanted to embody the characters, and to enrich the story. The story had to take place in the US, and more particularly in L.A. The perfect grid of the city (represented by the Burberry’s pattern logo) and the permanent earthquake threat were matching with the concept we had in mind from the beginning: the conflict between order and disorder; a perfectly organized world that destroys itself.
Once we had the story, as for every film, we needed the right cast. On the first storyboards, the villain was wearing a moustache. The idea of using a clown came quite naturally, as a tribute to many films, and of course, Batman. Some characters took more time to find, especially the female character (Miss Esso). The world of the logotype is quite patriarchal… the Michelin men were perfect to represent a category (the cops). Not only because they’re overweight in real life, but also because we could use them as a standard character, as if their design became their uniform. (We heard recently that Michelin equips most of the U.S. army vehicles as well.)
What was the biggest challenge for you as the directors of the piece?
Francois & Herve: There were many challenges – like for example the screenplay and recording the voices, all new things for us. But the biggest challenge was to find the image. Being able to mix together so many various graphic sources, with so many different renderings, into an image that remains immediately understandable, that was difficult. And it took us almost one year of tests.
What were some of your inspirations for the short?
Francois & Herve: Again, we had a lot of inspirations. Just to name a few I would say: in arts, from Pop Art to Ed Ruscha; in cinema, the brilliant action films of McTiernan (Die Hard), Tony (The Last Boy Scout) & Ridley Scott (Black Hawk Down), Richard Donner (Lethal Weapon); in music, Bernard Hermann and Jerry Goldsmith. Of course, the film is also a tribute to all the creators of the brilliant logotypes that we use: We especially love Michelin, and not only because he’s French!
Why do you think audiences all over the world have responded to the short?
Francois & Herve: I guess because we played with logotypes that are part of our visual environment since we were born. We took these logos as a universal cultural inheritance. The film is a way to regain this common patrimony. Also I think Logorama says something that people feel without being able to express it. Which is, to me, the fact that in societies that thought they had freed themselves from the power of religions or dictatorships, people don’t realize they’re facing another reality behind the smiling icons they see everyday. This is not a critique of the world, it’s just a statement. But for sure, one of the ideas was to show that communication is a powerful tool. You can make oil and have a green and yellow flower logo. When you see the logo, you feel good, you feel like you’re in a flowers field in summertime.
That’s no more and no less the kind of magic trick that we used in Logorama, but this time, we weren’t telling a happy story.
Also I think the audience felt we took a certain pleasure fighting against the self-censorship about brands, which became almost a way of thinking. Self-censorship is also a condition for working in certain domains like advertising. How can you criticize the one who feeds you?
I think that’s what amused the audience.
What kind of advice would you give newcomers who want to work in animation, especially in the short-form format?
Francois & Herve: The production of Logorama was such a gigantic mess I don’t feel the authority to give anybody any advice! On a serious note, I would say work hard, know what you want and stick to it, be patient, and enjoy!
How much was the final price tag for the short and how long did the animation take to produce:
Nicolas Schmerkin: I think we worked with over 3000 logos. It took us two and a half years to do the animation. The short was finished last May and that’s when it won the prize at the Cannes Film Festival. It was also featured at Sundance. The final production cost is hard to determine, because in terms of cash it cost about 250,000 euros, but so many worked on it for free. About ten people worked in development and about 45 in production.
What kind of software was used to create the animation?
Schmerkin: Most of the scenes were done in 3ds Max on top of rotoscopy. Many of the scenes were actually re-enacted by the directors themselves, and then, the animators would build upon that frame of reference. That’s why the animation is so precise in terms of movement and expression.
Tell us a bit about your background and how you got into producing animated shorts:
Schmerkin: I came to producing as an extension of my first job as the publisher of a French movie magazine called Rep’rages (www.reperages.net). We also distribute DVDs of shorts, because it’s not easy to view shorts on a regular basis. I realized that I was much better at helping other people create their films than doing my own projects, so I found myself putting together shorts and distributing them. My company Autours de Minuit also distributed Virgil Widrich’s award-winning 2003 short, Fast Film.
So why do you think the short is set in Los Angeles of all places?
Schmerkin: From the beginning, the directors wanted the short to take place in Los Angeles, because it’s a very universal city’it represents all of the big metropolitan centers of the world. And we wanted to have a big earthquake, so there was no question that L.A. would be the right city for the short.
At first, we were playing with the idea of not having any dialogue, but then we thought of Pulp Fiction and how the main characters are talking in the car, so we wanted to give it a very distinctive American feeling. Interestingly enough, the original version of the short is in English. We then did a French dub version as well.
What do you think audiences are going to take away from Logorama?
Schmerkin: Personally, I think it’s fun to look at the film carefully and try to spot all the logos and mascots. You can look at the film and see a basic action movie, or see something deeper. Of course, the film can be seen as a political allegory. It doesn’t necessary say that logos and consumerism is a bad thing. We are surrounded by logos every day. I read somewhere that we see more than 40 logos on average each time we step outside.
The interesting point is that at some point, we don’t even notice them anymore. We are surrounded by these corporate logos, so why not tell a story with them. It’s both an homage and a critique. Some people are also seeing it as a commentary on the current global financial crisis. But to be honest with you, we started this film so long ago that we had no idea that a financial crisis was going to cripple the world!