French design firm H5 eyes Oscar glory with 'Logorama'
The Paris-based design company H5 has built its reputation primarily on commercials and music videos. In the U.S., its best-known work includes innovative videos for Massive Attack and Röyksopp, as well as the hard-to-get-out-of-your-head commercials for Areva, the French energy conglomerate. The company has even shown some of its work at museums, including the Pompidou Center and the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
Now it's Hollywood's turn to discover one of the design world's best-kept secrets.
"Logorama,"a 16-minute computer-animated film developed by H5, is nominated for an Academy Award in the category of animated shorts. The movie depicts a chaotic, alt-universe L.A. where people, vehicles and buildings are all represented by brand logos.
The principle characters in "Logorama" include a gun-wielding Ronald McDonald, a pair of wisecracking Michelin Men, a sexy Esso girl and two Mr. Pringle's -- "original" and "hot & spicy" flavors.
"Logorama" name-checks a host of other global brands: Microsoft, Evian, Best Western, EMI, Domino's Pizza, Avis, Pioneer, Blockbuster Video and much more.
At its most obvious level, the film's infinite brandscape serves as a dystopian critique of mindless, American-style consumer culture -- as well as an nth-degree joke about movie product placement.
At the same time, the filmmakers -- François Alaux, Hervé de Crécy and Ludovic Houplain -- have clearly been inspired by the culture-jamming axiom known as détournement, a Situationist-derived practice that involves the subversion of cultural symbols by using them against themselves.
In "Logorama," Mr. Clean sheds his hyper-masculine image to become a lisping, mincing muscle queen. In another scene, the MGM lion's ferocious roar is reduced to a fatigued whimper.
Guy Debord, the Situationist philosopher, famously wrote that "in societies where modern conditions of production prevail, all of life presents itself as an immense accumulation of spectacles. Everything that was directly lived has moved away into a representation."
"Logorama" creates a vast, hypnotic world where Debord's proclamation has become a reality.
Culture Monster reached H5 via e-mail. The responses came from Houplain, who wrote from Europe.
Did you get permission from the corporations to use their logos in the film?
Of course not! The film would've been impossible to make if we had waited for permission.... The film speaks about our current time, and uses the the graphic language of our time. It's a kind of time-sensitive snapshot, because in 20 to 30 years, when all of these logos will have been redesigned, the film will be obsolete. So we at H5 said to ourselves that we didn't have to ask permission since this isn't a commercial movie but rather one whose goal is to show the freedom of expression.
Where did the idea for the film come from?
We had made a typography-centric video in 1999 for an artist named Alex Gopher from the group French Touch. And it was at this time that the concept was born for another video idea for the group Télépopmusic -- but they refused it. In 2003, George Harrison asked us to make a video for a track called "Brainwashed" for which he wanted us to address the culture of consumption -- which we did by transposing the idea of logos onto the single. The idea for that video was to make a city like New Orleans ravaged by a hurricane, and thus was born our concept of chaos in a world dominated by logos... But Harrison died, and with him, so did our idea. So at H5 we decided that if we wanted to realize our idea, it was going to be necessary to create a short film, because it would never happen otherwise.
The movie appears to be a critique of global consumption -- but aren't you also paying homage to a certain type of Hollywood film?
Above all, the aim of the movie was subversive. We're against artistic censorship... [and this film] is an ode to the freedom of expression. Anyone should be able to make a film like this without having to ask for permission. It's not a question of denigrating certain logos or brands, but of making a movie that you want to make using contemporary artistic language.
Still, some people find anti-corporate themes in the movie. It's not the case, and we're not anti-globalists. We're trying to speak to people about the world they live in using a kind of language that they've digested for 20 years now. These brand names are part of their daily lives. It's necessary to realize that people are confronted with 2,500 logos each day.
As for the homage to Hollywood cinema, yes. It was necessary for us to use a sort of cliched mise-en-scene so that the movie doesn't become an art film but rather a film that speaks to everyone. Moreover, the idea of the catastrophe, adapted for L.A., leads us to American movies, with references to disaster films, to action films ("Lethal Weapon") or even to Robert Altman.
I think that globalization applies as much to logos as to Hollywood movies. There's nothing like creating a mass-produced product to talk about a world of consumption.
What software did you use to create the movie?
Working with Mikros Image, the post-production company that made the film, we worked on the software called "Maya," combined with rotoscoping. For that, we filmed ourselves, as well as my son Anatole who play the roles of Big Boy and Haribo.
David Fincher voices the role of a Mr. Pringles in the movie. Did you work with him before this project?
No... [we had] no connection to David Fincher, if only by having seen his films. I actually thanked him for having made "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," which is a very moving film. And I also thanked him for having worked on this film.
-- David Ng
Photos: scenes from "Logorama." Credit: H5 / Autour de Minuit