I think I might make this 5 question interview thing a regular segment, let’s see how it goes. This time I interview the French CG artist/director Simon Mesnard. Simon is gradually making an impact on the CG community with his interesting and artistic shorts and has big things planned for the future. The interview may seem like a lot to read but trust me it’s all worth it.
1) First of all how did you get involved in directing CG videos?
I started learning CG quite early, near the year 2000, as an autodidact. I was around fifteen years old, and I learned 3dsmax 2.5 for fun, with my brother and my cousin. We were 3 motivated guys, and in love with animation, pictures and games. All the ingredients were here to learn quickly and well ! We soon decided to make our own short films. We made 3 films in 3 years, which helped us to learn 3D processes. Well, honestly I’ll never show them, it’s crap ! But we really decided, at this moment, that we’d try to make films or games, in our future, as profesionnals. This is all because we grew during the “3D boom” and we were very influenced by the awesome 3D works that appeared more and more on TV, theaters, games, press… everywhere ! This is when the first “final fantasy” in 3D (FF7) appeared, the first movies from pixar (toy story, a bug’s life) came to life, and then shrek 1 which really impressed us ! In parallel, Miyazaki started to be very famous here in Europe with Mononoke Hime, I really loved this movie that woke something up inside of me. We were taken in this fabulous world of CG animation, body and soul ! We wanted to participate too, one day !!! I don’t know if teenagers think the same today. I’m sure they’re a lot who want to make video games, but it must seem so “normal” for them to have a console at home, to watch 3D in cinema, that they may not feel the same “magic” that we did. I don’t know, I hope they feel this “magic”.
Later, after I achieved my main studies in high school (sciences), I went in a 3D school near Lille (France) called PoleIIID. I continued to grow as a CG artist, and this was a good opportunity to meet young talents. Some of my classmates are still good friends, as Remi Pierre and Angeline Liot, with whom I produced my student short, in 2006, called “After”. This film is far from perfect, but still has a special place inside of me.
Then I got a job in Peoleo (France), an advertising society. I really learned a lot with the team, and worked there almost 4 years on very beautiful projects in architecure and design for Leroy Merlin, or on a web series called Tasty World for KFC. Now I’m a freelancer in 3D and I also try to find some time to work on personal projects, like the last short films you saw (2011: A Space Adventure, Hunter).
2) Your videos I would say are more ‘artistic’ than the average video. What is the inspiration behind your work and do you try to tell a story through your videos?
I’m very happy to read ‘artistic’ in your question ! You’re right, there’s something special. First of all, I always liked drawing when I was a child. During art lessons at school, teachers thought I was skilled for my age. Unfortunately, I chose “sciences” , so I never followed the “letters” cursus, in which I could have developped my skills in art. Today I’m not a good drawer, and when I look behind, I wish I became better, in order to express my ideas on paper. So I got an idea : I know how to use 3D, but I want to make 2D. And because I was lead renderer for a while at Peoleo, I know quite a lot of techniques to achieve this idea : I tried to make my 3D short films look more expressive, almost as drawings or paintings. You can feel it in my “3D” shorts : ‘the seed’, ‘A Bug in the Paint’, ‘Hunter’, ‘Ecosystem’.
That was for the “artistic” part, but it’s also interesting to tell my inspiration. There is, of course, my wish to make great videos, to express my love for video games (zelda, final fantasy, okami, etc..), for movies (Ghibli, Pixar, Disney), mangas (fullmetal alchemist, gungrave, 20th century boys)… I think there is also an assumed tribute to Miyazaki and Takahata in some of my works. But I always try to express my own feelings, without copying their work. I don’t want people to say “he’s doing some Miyazaki” ! No, I’m not. I am aware that an artist has to express strong ideas in his work, and I try to develop my projects in this very direction, with my own style and experience.
There’s something more, another inspiration you need to know, and this answers to the second part of your question : “do you try to tell a story” ? Somehow, yes, I tell a part of my personal story. My mother used to make oil-paintings. When I was little, I got impregnated with this. There was the nice smell of oil paint in the house, there was the easel in the main room with a white board asking for a brush to come. The finished paintings were left in a corner for days, so they can dry in peace, and her older paintings were hanged on all the walls of the house. She must have painted over fifty pictures, and when you live in this word when you’re a child, you can’t be insensitive to art. This is a part of me, yesterday, now and tomorrow.
3) How long would you say it takes you to create a video and what are the most important steps you take?
I always take a month on my personal projects. Whatever the difficulties I meet, I take one single month. Well, I’m somehow lying here. Because a month is 4 weeks, but my projects take from 3 to 5 weeks… I take these projects as a challenge : what will I be able to accomplish in one month ? I usually have an idea, a main line for a story, and something to experiment on graphisms. So I begin to work on something, one day, and I produce it as quick as possible to finish it before the deadline. You might think I’m a little crazy : why not taking all the time I need ? Because I’m quite busy, first. And because it wouldn’t be so fun ! I like pushing myself ! On top of that, it’s the usual process in the industry : you always have a deadline, so it’s good to be used to this.
On each new work, I use the same process : reflection, pre-production on paper, pre-production 3D, production 3D, completion. I don’t always take the same time on these steps, but I always fullfill them, in this very order. I think it’s the usual process that all artists use.
4) I understand there are others involved in the production of the video. Who are they and how did you meet them?
Well, the “others” are usually friends I contact to help me. You have first my brother Yves and my cousin Maxime, with whom I learned 3D at the beginning. Then you have friends from everywhere, childhood, school, jobs. For example, Simon Demaret worked on the animation of Hunter, he was a classmate at Pole3D. Sometimes, I “meet” people on the net who liked my work, and agreed to work with me. It was the case with Konstantinos Zacharopoulos from Greece, the music composer on “the Seed”. And more recently, I contacted Pascal Blanché about his “sci-fi” girl for Hunter. I like when artists help each other, even if they never met in real life. This is something strong.
And then, the most important of all contributors involved in my videos is Karreo, of course. Members of Karreo.com are the soundtrack composers on most of my works. They worked directly on Hunter, 2011: A Space Adventure, and indirectly (through their member Stélian) on Ecosystem and A Bug in the Paint. Karreo is a french composers group which is working for free, choosing to create sound and music on projects they love. It means they work with you when you express strong visuals and ideas, with a non-commercial use. My cooperation with Karreo started thanks to Jeff K-ray, the founder of Karreo. I knew him from my job at peoleo, he was a commercial. But Jeff is also a great artist : he practices music from a long time and also plays in an electro-rock group called MIND. Even if Karreo is a non-profit association, they have a very professional approach and I’m always sure their work will fit to my pictures. You have to know that 3 years ago, I used to make myself the soundtracks on my short films. That was horrible ! Now, I’m proud to work with this good team, currenty composed by Jeff K-ray, Mathieu Legros and Stélian Derenne. The most important is that we trust in our different abilities. Audio and video are additional.
5) Do you have any big things planned for the future?
Yes ! I do have a BIG thing planned for future. During the last two years, I’ve been writing a book called “My Village is Magical” (MVIM).
The big thing is that I prepared a “bible”, in order to make a movie from this book. I have a scenario, script, pictures, references… and I even made a complete storyboard. This is probably far from perfect, it could be improved in cooperation with other artists, but that’s a really strong base to make a movie. I think MVIM is a serious project, even if for children. It’s based on my personal experience, my childhood, and places I know well. The two heroes discover a magical world inside their village. But behind the “happy and beautiful” themes for youngers, there are also some criticisms and serious themes, like “rampant urbanization”.
I also want to show french patrimony and history, through a castle that really existed. But this same castle has totally disapeared, distroyed in the years 1600, so I try to give a message through this : don’t forget the past to build your good future.
MVIM still needs to grow a bit. I’m currently looking for a producer that would be interested in carrying the movie production in France. Meanwhile, I made my own video teaser. It’s just some kind of WIP (work in progress), but you can watch it here : http://vimeo.com/24578141 There’s also a summary of the story and some more informations. Wish me good luck !
Great insightful interview. Hope this was an helpful for all those wanting to become directors in the future. Be sure to check out Simon’s website to get updates on his future work, and don’t forget to click on the facebook like button while your there. Until next time.