A Conversation With Christophe Thockler
SPACIAL: To start things off can you tell our readers a little bit about your background? How long have you been making stop motion videos and who are a few of your influences? Outside of film what are some of your influences? (authors, artists, musicians, etc.?)
Hello! I am a French artist, graphic designer and director who particularly enjoys working in stop motion. I collaborate with all kinds of companies for their design needs, and also direct music videos for artists signed on labels such as Universal Music, Believe Digital and Ghostly International. My works tend to deal with symbolism, beauty and Onirism in the mundane using dreamlike diegesis and evocations.
I started working with graphic design for fun in 2006 when I was studying English to become a teacher. I was surprised to see people interested in my work so, logically, started to explore the visual universe. Design and film schools did not want me so I had to learn everything myself.
I have always been a cinema and music video lover, and what I was exposed to when I was younger influences my work a lot. I am very fond of strange and original cinema particularly mindfuck movies and science fiction. Below are some directors and movies I love that are definitely stuck in my mind somewhere. Please, do yourself a favor and watch some of them!
Shinya Tsukamoto (Tetsuo, Tokyo Fist, Bullet Ballet, Gemini),David Lynch (Eraserhead, Blue velvet, Lost Highway, Dune), Takeshi Kitano (Sonatine, Hana-Bi), David Cronenberg (Videodrome, La Mouche, Existenz), John Carpenter (The Thing, Escape from New York, In the Mouth of Madness), Vincenzo Natali (Cube, Cypher, Nothing), The Quay Brothers (Institute Benjaminta, The Piano Tuner of Earthquake), Ridley Scott (Alien, Blade Runner), Alex Proyas (Dark City), Jeff Renfroe & Martein Thorsson (One Point 0), Brad Anderson (Session 9, The Machinist), Gabriele Salvatores (Nirvana), Mamoru Oshii (Avalon), Nagisa Oshima (Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence), Tarsem Singh (The Fall), Rodrigo Cortés (Buried), Danny Boyle (18 Days Later, Sunshine, 127 Hours), Alex Cox (Three Businessmen), Marc Caro & Jean-Pierre Jeunet (Delicatessen, City of Lost Children), Gareth Edwards (Monsters)…
I also find inspiration in many forms of visual arts from Thomas Cole’s landscape paintings during the XIX Century to the more modern hyperrealist works of Richard Estes, the strange photos of Joel Peter Witkin, or the music videos made by Chris Cunningham. I am a curious person so everything can grab my attention one day or another and become a potential source of inspiration.
But I think that music is my principal source of inspiration. It lets your mind wander and helps you to put images to your thoughts more easily. I really enjoy the music of Brian Eno, Boards of Canada, Future Sound of London, Tosca, The Baby Namboos, Lovage, Terranova, Black Era, Recoil, Harold Budd, Carbon Based Lifeforms, Pete Namlook, Red Snapper, Alpha, Supreme Beings of Leisure, Rob Dougan, DJ Cam… You can have a glimpse of this genre by listening a playlist I created here: http://www.deezer.com/playlist/13154412 (Deezer not available in the U.S.)
SPACIAL: Do you have a specific flow when you collaborate with artists? What I mean by “flow” is do you have a defined process or is it different every time?
The process is usually the same. During pre production, the first thing I ask to the musicians or band is if they have an idea for the video, a theme, or even some keywords. The fun fact is that for almost every music video I directed, I was given “carte blanche”. It looks like bands are getting in touch with me for my universe, so they very often tell me “Go on, have fun, we know you will do something we are going to enjoy!”
Once we set the mood with some basic ideas and keywords, I start to listen to the track many times, analyze its structure/layers of sounds and try to find inspiration for the final idea that will be explored in the video. I tell the band my idea and make a treatment.
Afterward, I work alone for one or two months only sending some photos or tests during the making. I send the entire video once it’s complete. I see music videos as small pieces of art. It makes sense to see the work entirely.
I like to think about ideas every time I shoot. During its creation the video is always subject to many changes as the shooting goes on. It’s really amazing but, at the same time, it’s a bit more responsibility for me.
SPACIAL: In your interview with IdN Magazine, you touch base on the mechanics of stop motion. How do you think stop motion, as a technique, resonates with your work and the audience? Any comment on how it communicates ideas, thoughts, or themes different from other techniques? (Kind of a broad question. Let me know if you want me to clarify)
Stop motion fascinates me. It’s eerie, unreal… I really think it can convey something special to a simple shot, something almost magical, objects are moving by themselves, time goes by faster, I also love the way this technique has a sort of smooth and at the same time nervous style. It’s my work, as a director to use these effects to convey emotions or feelings. To emphasize metaphors in order to create a visual narration to help people feel things. Moreover, stop motion is a great tool to trigger evocations. It adds a playful aspect to everything.
Take a glass and film it while you pour water into it. As you can imagine, the result is not very exciting. Take the same glass, put 2cl of water in it, take a photo, pour another 2cl, take another photo, do this until the water is full, put together your photos and watch the result. It’s like magic. The water appears from nowhere, and suddenly, the glass is full! What happened? You can play with this original and dreamlike aspect to create meanings, to catch the curiosity of the viewer.
Cusp is maybe my most metaphorical work. It’s an allegory about souvenirs and time. In this video you can see frozen objects emerging from melting cocoons of ice, and other ones being trapped in ice prisons. I wanted to express the idea that objects are connected to our mental souvenirs, and that time can alter or restore some forgotten memories. It was created with 36,600 photos, which was the only way to achieve this smooth ice melting (I used this effect in the Colleen music video too). I really think organic melting ice in rhythm with Mimi’s voice coupled with the instruments of the song is quite evocative.
SPACIAL: I did notice the ice melting in the Colleen video. It did evoke a sense of change or something being altered and that seems to be a running theme throughout the video: organic materials changing properties. To take it a step further, I wouldn’t necessarily call it a change as much as a new stage in the elements’ state of being. The way the stills were put together gives me the impression that the elements (water, grains of sand, and the flashes of light) are purposefully changing and not so much at random but choreographed events or actions. Can you talk a bit about these sequences and how they relate to the song?
I’m glad you noticed. I really like to work with simple things and objects that are in our surroundings. I often say that I try to find beauty in the mundane and I think that objects or materials moving or changing in stop motion, a bit magically, is something beautiful.
Time, is also an important subject in my works, because time alters things and objects. I find this fascinating. All these sequences are related to the lyrics “In Kin”: ice, rocks, water, blood, etc. Colleen is also fascinated by nature more specifically its power and diversity. That’s why the song deals with past civilizations, animals, and elements. What Colleen and I also have in common is love for Onirism and abstraction. We are trying to give glimpses of interpretation for our viewers or listeners. I also tried to create a sort of choreography with the rhythm, instruments and lyrics of “In Kin”. As a music video director, I really enjoy working with rhythm and I think it adds something smooth to this video.
SPACIAL: Last year you did a music video for Lusine for his song “Arterial” and you dubbed your technique “electrorganic”. I couldn’t help but reflect on some your influences. Most notably, Shinya Tsukamoto’s “Tetsuo” or the hallucination scene in David Cronenberg’s “Videodrome” where the main character’s torso turns into a VHS player. To set the reader up, how would you describe “electrorganic”?
While Cronenberg had a pretty direct social commentary about television and violence, Tsukamoto’s “Tetsuo” is fantastical, surreal, and open to many interpretations. Where would your idea of “electrorganic” fall in this spectrum? Is there a blatant commentary or message? Or is it more mysterious and open to interpretation?
I’m really happy that you noticed the references. Lusine’s video was inspired by (and is also a small tribute to) this kind of cinema. “Arterial” is a mix of electronic and organic elements interacting together. It’s literally blood meeting computers. This “electrorganic” concept is directly linked to the cyberpunk culture where human meets machine.
What is striking with this genre is the large amount of questions that it raises. It deals with body enhancements, society control, and alienation: The true nature of being human. Technology can be mind-blowing and, at the same time, very frightening. “The machines are eating us” could be considered a message in this video. Or the other opposite message could be that the machines enhance us. In “Arterial”, blood is not interfering with electronics but, instead, the machine could be producing all this blood… I think it’s up too the mind of the viewer. I have always been fond of dichotomies.
SPACIAL: To kind of go back to the Colleen video, I noticed there’s a sequence at about minute in where drops of blood are absorbed into leaves. Any relation to how you use of blood in the Lusine video?
Honestly, I really love the mix of yellow dead flowers and red blood. It’s maybe one of my favorite moments of the video. The use of blood was to metaphorically illustrate Colleen’s lyric “greyhounds hanging from the trees”, I though it was an intimate way to depict it with a poetic touch.
The use of blood here is maybe more abstract and less aggressive than in the Lusine video, but in both cases blood is mixed with something. In “I’m Kin”, I like to think that it’s also a celebration of life, you see, blood on dead leaves, organic and natural elements mixed together to be recycled to create life again.
SPACIAL: Any upcoming projects you would like to share?
I just finished a music video for Michna on Ghostly International. For the video I tried to play with precious rocks and minerals. It should be released in a couple of weeks.
SPACIAL: This is kind of a loaded question but, as a director/artist, I’m sure it’s crossed your mind: We’ve seen some impressive technological advancements over the past 10-15 years. Technology that has complimented, disrupted, and changed how we make and consume art. What are some final thoughts on your medium and the future?
I just can’t believe this advance in technology. When I was a kid, it was impossible to do something decent if you were not a professional. Video making was just a distant dream… It’s crazy to see what small cameras are able to do and I must say that it’s this advance in technology that created my work, and gave birth to many independent filmmakers and artists. But I still have mixed feelings with where it’s going. I don’t really dig recent movies full of CGI. They lack soul. That’s one of the dark sides of this advancement.
I think that technology should help us to create more. I’m always sad when it’s just used as a showcase. The example of the 3D tool is a great one. I have always loved 3D. When I was a kid, I had books with stereoscopic images in them. It was astounding but we were always waiting for something better.
Recently, we saw an explosion in 3D movies, but there are only a few films in which the 3D is really efficient and even less movies where 3D adds a meaning to the film. But when it’s done right the experience is amazing.
That aside, I must say that it’s exciting to imagine where everything will go. 4k and 48 fps are impressive when used in video art. I also dream about interactive projections on “moving” screens, where the shape of the screen matches the visuals. I also definitely want to try the Oculus Rift, imagine a video similar to “Un Jour come un Autre” I did for Degiheugi on an Oculus Rift, where you can move in the timelapse… Wow!
Update: Christophe’s latest video for Michna “Solid Gold (feat MNDR)” was released early July. You can view it below.