June 19, 2009

About Nothing But Everything That Surrounds Us

An Interview with Motion and Graphic Designer (and more) Julien Vallée

Part 1 of 2 (link to Part 2)
click on any picture to enlarge it to original size (also turn on sound for videos!!)

If you believe the ‘blogosphere’ (which I believe Al Gore invented), Montreal-based designer
Julien Vallée is young man who is very much on the fast track. His talents listed on the Internet include a number of “skills”, roles or even media that he uses to help define his work. These include several ‘cutting edge’, ‘hot’ or however you want to phrase it talents such as art direction and installation, motion graphics and animation, print, graphic and video design, film direction and installation, a ‘cut & paste master’ and sculptor, and more. Great stuff for sure, even if we personally might be hard-pressed to explain the subtle nuances in terms of differences from one topic to the next!

Julien’s work can perhaps be best summarized using a description he had for one of his own projects. In this case, he said that the project – or his work in general – was meant to question ‘the relative roles of the computer and hand-made processes in design.’ The aim therefore was ‘to create something hand-made but that also had a clean, almost digital aesthetic.’ Viewing Julien’s works gives just that impression, even if it comes from a wildly, visually enticing video, a crisp design for a magazine cover complete with shadows and a real sense of depth, or even a 3D paper-based sculpture illustrating an explosion of vibrant colors on one side of the ‘screen’ and little but a black spray-can on the other. Again though, in his own words, Julien continually tries to get in touch with every aspect of his environment, using manual art strongly supported by the technological tools of today to create successful bridges across as many of these disciplines as he can.

Julien’s wide variety of work might also be summed up by noting that this is a great example of where graphic design may well be heading – or where it’s at already – even if he doesn’t necessarily want it to be that way. Still, keeping his feet planted firmly on the ground (or perhaps not, especially if you see a picture where he’s just slightly out of shot and only the soles of his shoes are seen, as if to show us he’s passed out, perhaps from exhaustion!), this recent
ADC (Art Directors Club) Young Guns participant and avowed free-lancer definitely appears to be ‘on to something’ (no, we did NOT say he seems to be ‘ON something’, please pay attention!).

Ziggy Nixon was very pleased to catch up with Julien to find out more where both he and these myriad of different media might be heading:

Julien, considering your body of work so far as well as your career targets, is there a definition that you yourself think best describes YOU? Like what should appear on your business card : ‘Julien Vallée - __________’?

That’s a hard one! Actually, I’m the kind of person that doesn’t like to get stuck into a given sphere of expertise or get categorised as a specific type of artist.

You see this as well in my work and how I’ve managed it so far. When I feel like I’ve been working on the same type of work and have been exploring the same kind of technique for too long, I try to get projects that give the opportunity to try something else. I’ll look for different types of projects then instead of ones that are just asking for the same thing over and over again.

For example, if I’ve been doing a lot of motion design for a stretch of time, I will want to and try my best to make print work for the next months.

Black & White teaser from Julien Vallée on Vimeo.

This video was created for the ‘Black and White’ division of Bleublancrouge in Montreal, also known as ‘BW Upperground Agency’ (the link here is to the original, give it a second to upload! Again, the above video is listed only as a 'teaser', so please do your best to feel teased). Julien describes the objects popping out from the books as being representative of the tools that were used to realize the collection of articles, all animated by stop-motion video. For more photos and input into the process, see also the ‘Black & White’ link at Julien’s home-page.
(NOTE: sorry, we were going to link in as many of the DIRECT URL’s as we could, but Julien’s web-site is based on a frames set format and as such each time you’re sent to front page. No big deal, noting Julien is also looking to launch a new site some day soon! But hey, be patient, he’s a busy guy! Jeez...)

The recent IdN craft’s issue said that your ‘works tend to be ... treading a ‘fine line’ between design and illustration’. In your mind, is there really such a ‘line’ or barrier or if you will, are such distinctions even needed when discussing design and illustration or even ‘art’ for that matter?
I think art, illustration and design can live and co-exist quite well together. I also think that it’s fantastic that we – designers I mean – have had over the past few years such a wide range of opportunities to create bridges between these fields. It opens up so many possibilities of using space and to work with such a wide range of different medium.

I just think that being a graphic designer in the 21st century involves so much more than only working behind a computer ... and that’s great!

As shown, Julien was recently featured on the cover and inside the magazine ‘IdN (International designers Network). The article can be viewed on-line via this link (and while wearing very good reading glasses ... or is it just me?).

How important is typography to your work in terms of getting across your message(s)? Have you had specific training in this area or does it just sort of ‘happen’ when you need it?
I actually have a base in typography from my University studies. Apart from that, I don’t have a deep knowledge about type, even though it has always interested me. For me it’s a lot of ‘learning by doing’, because I think I learn more and more each time through the projects I have that involve type in some form.

Sure, I was always fascinated by characters and the different aspects of typography. But I realize now that for me it’s really more of an interest in form than an interest of rules on how to use fonts per se.

You also quite clearly balance a great deal of your work between visualisation in the 2D and the 3D worlds. How do you approach the difference between the two, for example, when laying out a complicated 3D scene for photographing when finished in 2D? I would imagine that there is a lot of trial and error involved?
I’ve always been interested in working in 3D and how objects fit into an environment. I’ve come to realise that I often prefer to work in such a space instead of working only in 2D.

But as you just said, it does have an interesting dynamic when a 3D scene is translated into a 2D image for print. Still, I think this is part of the magic of photography and it’s a lot of fun to work on both. In fact, I often work with a fellow photographer Simon Duhamel. In my case, I’ve found it very beneficial to work with the same photographer because he knows how to light the scene and knows how to capture what I’m looking to say. We always seem to grow in our experiences together which of course always acts as a valuable tool for the next project.

Julien was featured in the 2007 edition of Die Gestalten’s ‘Tangible - High Touch Visuals’ (as part of the ‘Young Designers Youth Contest for Print Magazine’), where he created both the 24 foot long x 140 inch wide banner shown above (original 6-part series of pictures combined here, click on image to see full picture, or to the right to see the initial photo print) that he says was ‘about nothing but everything that surrounds us and from which we should take more inspiration.’ For more, see the link for ‘24 x 140" BANNER’.

Print magazine cover making of from Julien Vallée on Vimeo.

For the same project for Print Magazine, Julien also created another set of images, providing as well this bird’s-eye view of the ‘making of’ the cover he did for Print Magazine (same video and more stills available under the ‘Print’ link at the home-page).

Do you have a particular preference for how your work is ultimately presented (e.g. in 2D, in 3D, or with bikini clad girls standing next to it, etc.)?
I think it depends on the project and it changes from case-to-case. For example, I would not have imagined the piece I did for the Illustrative Zurich exhibit would wind being used as a poster! That was a piece that was really aimed to be 3D only.

On the other hand, I’ve done other pieces, like for the Elle Decoration UK (see below), that wouldn’t or perhaps even couldn’t work any other way than being presented in 2D because of all the strings that were holding the bits of paper together.

You’ve said in other interviews that you became ‘bored’ with computer-based design and even that ‘its easy to get quickly stuck in a zone of comfort’ when following this route.
First, why did you find that computer design was becoming boring? After all, new software and neat computer gadgets are coming out all the time, no?
Well, for me it’s really had more to do with my passion for working manually. I’m definitely the type of designer that wants to touch the medium, to really get to know it and understand it. Plus, I love having to concentrate before I take any actions because with this technique you can’t just push any kind of magical ‘undo’ command and have it corrected.

I guess though I have to say that it’s not that I wasn’t bored with the computer in the way that I didn’t want to ever sit in front of a computer again. It’s just that to me a computer is a tool that I can use to improve my image; but it should never be the main character or component of every part of the design process.

Detailed image of commissioned work for Elle Decoration UK, featuring the UK's Best bookstores (September 2008 issue). Images created in collaboration with Guillaume Vallée, photographer : Simon Duhamel, for more, see under 'UK's BEST BOOKSTORES'.

With that in mind, how do you ensure now that any of your work doesn’t become also boring in some way?
Again, a good question! I don’t know, but maybe if you ask me again in a couple of months how I like working with paper, I’ll probably tell you that it bores the hell out of me!

So much of today’s graphic design and the images we see daily are intended for grabbing our attention as quickly as possible and then maybe holding it for a total of say 5 seconds. How does that fit into your work?
I believe that graphic design should communicate a message in the most direct way possible. I think if my work can quickly connect with the viewer and get across what I want to say during that time, that you can ultimately achieve an even deeper or higher level of attention.

Then, if you can hold their attention long enough – plus depending on their interests of course – then they’ll stay a little longer tuned in and can maybe really admire the details of the work.

But, to be honest, I don’t believe this happens more than about 1% of the time! Oh well, I still try.

MTV-One from Julien Vallée on Vimeo.

One of Julien’s newest and best known works was this video creation for a pitch in collaboration with Dixon-Baxi for MTV-One in England. For more still images (see also next page) and details to the proverbial ‘making of’, check out Julien’s web-page under ‘MTV-ONE’ (Photographer Simon Duhamel, special thanks to Eve Duhamel and Nik Mirus).

Continued in Part 2


All images including videos used by exclusive written permission of Julien Vallée. Any reproduction or other usage is forbidden without the expressed written consent of the artist, or artiste, as the case may be. We’ve probably also left out some of the credits in terms of photographers, so sorry for that, too, just in case.

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