Geoffroy de Crécy discusses his magic French touch for adverts, music promos and Instagram, and what changes he's seen in motion graphics over the years.
If you were a '90s kid growing up in the era between the French tinged-indie of Cibo Matto, The Fantastic Plastic Machine, Stereolab et al and the revolution of Daft Punk's 2001 masterpiece Discovery - the era when animation studios scrambled to play catch-up with the original Toy Story, you might remember - then you may have come across a peculiar music video about the evils of the fast food industry (especially if you had access to European satellite TV and a curiosity for new sounds.)
The vegetarian propaganda in question, Am I Wrong? by French touch legend Etienne de Crécy, struck MTV millennials with the kind of raw, provocative energy seen in today's post-Tim and Eric climate of meme-filled shitposts, soundtracked by French house-infused 2010s funkiness from Saint Pepsi and the vaporwave likes of proto-CG fetishists Oneohtrix Point Never.
The video, which you can see below with its cheery animal torture and cheeky 'Ronald McCannibal' finale, was directed by Etienne's brother Geoffroy de Crécy, and perfectly captures that brand new era promised by CGI's charmingly rough beginnings. The video was released at the turn of the century, and 19 years later its director is still in the motion graphic game, capturing a whole new audience on Instagram hungry for hypnotic loops and their dose of alternative culture's current hypnagogia.
"The success of the video was big and worldwide, and I often meet people in the industry who were marked by it in their childhood," Geoffroy de Crécy tells me by email. "It's pretty rewarding, even if it sometimes makes me feel like a grandfather of CGI."
"A big factor of success for my video was the low number of CGI films around at the time. It was the very beginning of CGI, and few people had tried to make some original, character-driven animated film with it - except Pixar of course, on a whole other level."
Geoffroy spent a year making the award-winning video on a PC in his bedroom, drawing on his skills using Ubisoft whilst working in the VGM industry. Despite the decades since, the animator doesn't believe there's been huge changes within motion graphics.
"Of course software is optimised, it works much better than it used to, and the capacities for reproducing reality are much more effective," he argues. "But the basics are quite the same. Personally I'm not interested in techniques; the way I work hasn't changed that much since I learnt CGI in the 90's, to be honest."
But Geoffroy's style certainly has changed, with his name now known perhaps more for the kind of satisfying loops that Instagrammers go crazy for, leading him to be signed up to top production agency Jelly London. Some of his shorts show mechanical movements in colourful scenes, while others have a calming, wry atmosphere that brings to mind the 'soft' gauze surreality of de Chirico, erotic but also whimsical.
"My style had remained quite the same for many years, very focused on character creation," he explains. "For ten years I'd been translating into animation my drawing style. I used to draw a lot of characters, and many commissions I did involved creating characters for clients."
"Then, in the past five years or so, I decided to develop work not linked with my drawings. An 'out of the machine' style that doesn't go through the classic process of sketching, boarding, before modelling and animating.
"In my latest works, the shapes and colour are directly created in 3D, and they come from what the machine offers me. You'll notice that in my recent works there are no characters at all."
Despite these changes, Geoffroy still uses his trusty 3ds Max, using newer additions to his library like After Effects and Photoshop.
His inspirations for his character work meanwhile draws from European greats such as Hergé, Franquin and Moebius, along with his cartoonist brother Nicolas de Crécy (the de Crécy boys are obviously a French art dynasty, it seems).
While Geoffroy can't say there's been a sea change in animation, he has seen changes in the field of CGI characterisation, and not for the better.
"What I don't like in CGI character designs is the stereotypical look that is dominating creations now. There is a lack of originality in face designs, and also some expressions in animation make me cry," he laments. "People (especially in advertising) keep on designing characters who look like the first Pixar movies, which are over 20 years old."
"My advantage was that when I started, the standard in advertising character design wasn't set yet," he looks back. "Clients accepted a certain degree of originality, and different styles. Especially in the UK, where I made most of my commissions for ten years."
Good character work then in Geoffroy's view relies on originality - but also the material behind the motion is just as important.
"What makes a great character is the script," he believes. "If the story is good and the dialogues works well, then even a teapot can be fun.
"The consequence is that a character should be simple, not too complicated, as it shouldn't be stronger than the story. Look at Tintin, the most famous cartoon character. He is completely opaque in the comics."
For 2019, Geoffroy plans to make a short movie out of his mechanism loops.
"They deserve to be edited, with a soundtrack and a real narrative," he tells me, reminding once again how important story his to his style. "It should be out in festivals by the beginning of next year."
And how does the grandfather of CGI define himself in 2019, looking out to 2020?
"One of my problems is that I've tried many different jobs in many different mediums: animator, director, producer, illustrator; using CGI, 2D, stopmotion, live action and more. That makes it hard for people to understand what I do. If I had to find a common denominator, it would be trying to tell a story.
"Even in my more abstract or simplified pictures, they should awaken people's imagination and tell something to them. I don't like meaningless pictures."