How H5 takes a collective approach to animation

We chat to the co-founder of French collective H5 about its world-class ads and music videos.

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Ludovic Houplain

Founded in 1993, H5 is a French collective of filmmakers. They're known for their award-winning music videos for groups like Röyksopp, Massive Attack and, Goldfrapp and advertising work for clients like Coke, Mercedes, Lacoste and Audi. We chatted to co-founder Ludovic Houplain to find out more...

Which music videos are you most proud of, and why?

The one I am proudest of is 'Use me' by WUZ (above). For me it is a total mix of graphics, art, cinema, animation, music and IT. The way it is cut, the form and the narration conform exactly to my initial vision.

It has got the purity of an artistic film with its radical bias. No curve and a limited colour palette (red, green, black and white). The animation is also kept to a minimum and its narrative power comes from the way it has been cut. The bottom line of the film is the diamond, from the mine to the platinum. We follow its course based on the colour code red: "The pursuit of the red diamond".

Which commercials are you most proud of, and why?

For me the idea is what matters. The scripts for the Volkswagen 'Touran' (above) and the Mercedes 'Stars' were ones I was pretty happy with. I was enjoying myself, trying things and trying to really use the tools we had.

For example, everyone thinks that a sequence shot in 3D is easy to do, because it is in 3D. But it's as difficult to put a 3D environment into place as a real environment.

Indeed, the management of timing, distance, combined with understanding of the moving image is a real headache. That kind of challenge makes me like commercials like 'Touran' even more.

Which musicians would you most like to work with in future?

Mostly with artists I can have a dialogue with and a real exchange. To understand their project and see how I can be involved, beyond the clip. I'm attracted by the work and the various projects of Damon Albarn. He has no limits. It's all an experiment, research and curiosity.

I like the idea of creating something new which does not fit into a certain format or adhere to a certain duration. This is more what I am looking for at the moment.

How does working a collective differ from a normal company?

Collective base themselves on a utopia. The absence of an established hierarchy, the idea of converging to the same philosophical ideal, is very difficult to manage on a permanent level. So if you have people involved whose egos are too big for the idea of a collective, it becomes completely impossible to manage.

At H5, the collective is the priority, and it succeed because the graphic designers working with us have adhered to the spirit of H5.

How much do awards mean to you?

When I design a film, I am writing a story, I make a story, I finish a story. After that, I move on to the next film. I do not have any affection for any film once it is done, they are of the past. And then if I am rewarded for that film, a year later, it is a surprise. A very nice surprise.

Why did you set up H5 originally?

H5 has both French and international clients

Antoine Bardou Jacquet and I set up H5 after graduating from the Ecole Supérieure d'Arts GRaphiques in Paris (Penninghen) in 1994. At the time, there was a financial crisis in Japan which had a big impact on the world's economy, and meant there weren't that many opportunities for school-leavers

So we figured we might just as well choose the job we wanted to do - which was graphics and vinyl covers more than anything. My father having being a designer and having introduced me to the Macintosh, we then decided to buy an Apple 740AV.

We had to get a loan, because it cost the same amount as a car (75,000 francs) at the time. For two years we shared that one computer, taking turns. During the day, we did the work that fed us, for design companies who did not yet have a computer. At night, we did 10-inch vinyl covers for Etienne de Crécy & Alex Gopher, which we had to glue by hand to save the money.

As it happens, the electronic music made by Alex and Etienne spread internationally, in a movement that gave us a shot in the arm. We started applying to video and installations what we were applying to graphics. For us there were no limits any longer: just making experiments, testing, failing, retrying and getting around. And that's remained our guideline ever since.

How H5 has changed since 1996?

The main change was Antoine leaving in 2000, combined with the arrival of Rachel (Cazadamont) and Matthieu (Lelièvre) who have turned out to be two creative pillars of H5. Ever since, H5 has turned into a live entity that's constantly evolving, with departures and arrivals.

More than 100 graphic artists have worked with us, including Yorgo Tloupas, Thomas Couderc, Sylvia Tournerie, Hervé de Crécy, Gilles Poplin - every one of them making a contribution to this collective adventure.

It's been a gradual evolution. Graphics led to video clips, video clips to commercials, commercials to short films, and short films to artistic installations... and so on. A real system of rebounds.

Now we really enjoy doing all of that and we have the incredible chance of working in many different fields with different people - not being confined to one field. A type of multidisciplinary 'factory' mixing all different current media. It's pretty intoxicating.

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