Many of you were charmed by BLA BLA when it was released last week. This “film for computer” explores the principles of communication through six chapters in the life of an endearing character.
I visited director Vincent Morisset in his studio yesterday afternoon to talk about how BLA BLA came to be, and about the dream team he put together to work on the project.
Vincent Morisset’s work is not easy to describe. On his website he calls himself a “web-friendly director.” Ask him what he does for a living, and he says, “I develop projects designed for the Internet and digital platforms.” It’s an apt description for his latest project.
“In describing BLA BLA as a ‘film for computer’ I wanted to change viewers’ approach to experiencing it,” Morisset says. “The word ‘film’ implies a narrative experience that touches our emotions, whereas the word ‘website’ tends to evoke a source of information, or a more cerebral experience.”
Morisset is drawn to unusual projects that are hard to define, and BLA BLA certainly falls into that category. It is a website, an illustrated fable, and an animated film. As an artist, Morisset is perfectly comfortable blurring categories. “I had the opportunity to experiment over several months, so the result is an experimental project. I think some people will see that aspect of the work as they make their way through it, while others will focus on its playful side. One of the strengths of BLA BLA is that it can be experienced in a variety of ways. Everyone sees what they want to, whether it’s a fable featuring a cute character, or a reflection on this new form of language.”
Nothing happens in BLA BLA without visitors to the site engaging in an action. Everyone makes their own choices and creates their own unique experience. Morisset finds this fascinating. He says, “You can compare people’s personalities and figure out their personal baggage through their choice of actions. Some people are very methodical. Others are more curious, or even try to crash it.”
Morisset and his team tested BLA BLA with children, which, he says, turned out to be a very interesting experience. “The youngest kids navigated their way through BLA BLA easily, without any guidance. An adult who doesn’t have a strong grasp of interactivity might find themselves clicking the same spot over and over, missing all kinds of possibilities.” Morisset adds, “There’s an element of culture in all this. Younger people understand the principles of interactivity, and they know what to do.”
Morisset creates the interactive component of his projects using a behavioural curve, which allows him to foresee and develop a variety of possibilities. He finds the whole process of creation rewarding, but he especially enjoys the moment when everything comes together, bringing the project to life for the first time.
“There comes a point when all the elements connect with each other and the project takes shape. It’s a magical moment,” he says. “There’s a fine line between the period in which the project is technical, and a bit awkward, and the moment in which it comes to life and everything flows smoothly. It’s not something you can over-intellectualize. It’s more of a feeling. You work hard, you go back and start over, and then suddenly everything falls into place and you’ve got it. I find that a very gratifying moment.”
Partway through the interview, Morisset stands up and goes to get one of the puppets used in the design of BLA BLA. It is about 25 cm tall and looks a bit like a child’s puppet. “We wanted the story to start with a single character. The early working title for the project was The Ventriloquist, and all of the voices passed through this one character. That idea remained at the heart of the project,” Morisset explains.
Over time, the personality of the character gradually developed, turning him into a sensitive being. “We were looking for a character who, emotionally, was partway between human and animal,” says Morisset. “We wanted users to have a sense that they were taming a creature who was somewhat fragile and disconnected. It was important to us that everything have a handmade feel and not feel like it had been created with a computer.”
Caroline Robert is the illustrator behind BLA BLA. She created the character, who has simple features but does not look like he belongs in children’s animation. Morisset says, “The character is outside the usual aesthetics of auteur animation. There is something very accessible about BLA BLA, even though it’s experimental. I wanted a character who could feel emotion and who you could immediately sympathize with.”
Morisset becomes especially enthusiastic when he starts talking about the team he worked with on the project. “I had an opportunity to work with an extraordinary team: visual designer and animator Caroline Robert, sound designer and composer Philippe Lambert, and programmer Édouard Lanctôt-Benoît.”
Caroline Robert is an artist, illustrator and designer. ““Caroline did the drawings and animation, and also participated in developing the digital elements. She came up with the unique look of the project – an artisanal ‘handmade’ look,” Morisset says.
There is also – quite literally – a piece of her in the character. “When he talks, that’s her mouth you see moving,” Morisset says.
Philippe Lambert is a composer and musician known for, among other things, his solo project Monstre. He is at the forefront of Montreal’s experimental music scene. “Philippe is a very talented artist,” Morisset says. “He uses his voice as an instrument and has always made music without words. I believe there is a very strong connection between his work and the auditory universe of BLA BLA, even though it is in a whole other register.”
Lambert and Morisset have been friends for years. “We graduated from UQAM at the same time, and we’ve worked on a lot of projects in which Philippe improvised music with his voice while I stop-motion manipulated characters in response to what he was doing. I think the origins of BLA BLA come from the collaboration between the two of us. We’ve been working together for more than 10 years now.”
The fourth key member of the team is Web developer Édouard Lanctôt-Benoît, who Morisset calls a young genius. “He was still at UQAM studying interactive media in their Communications department while he worked on the project with us,” Morisset says.
“BLA BLA is really the product of collaboration among the four of us. We all fed off each other on so many levels: narrative, interactivity, animation, and so on.” We all had our own areas of expertise, but we complemented each other. I found it a very open and stimulating collaboration.”
First collaboration with NFB Interactive
Hugues Sweeney, Senior Producer of Interactive Productions at the NFB’s French Program, first contacted Morisset when the department was created two years ago. Morisset had no hesitation about coming on board. “I’ve admired the NFB and the creative people working there for a long time, and I have tremendous respect for its pioneering filmmakers. I feel honoured that the NFB approached me and offered me this opportunity to work with the organization.”
The feeling is mutual. Morisset is an interactive video pioneer and a Web-creation genius. He has directed numerous productions, notably Arcade Fire‘s be oNline B, widely considered the first interactive music video. And he seems to delight in creating unusual digital works that viewers take pleasure in experiencing.
Play BLA BLA.
To learn more about the project, or to download more images: BLA BLA press kit.