Translating The Simpsons

April 11, 2014 / Features

By Alex Reeves

French animation legend Sylvain Chomet tells the story of his unexpected guest spot on The Simpsons.

A few weeks ago, two sides of the animation diaspora collided in an unexpected way – a couch gag for mainstream staple The Simpsons directed by French art-house animation director Sylvain Chomet. A beautiful example of 2D animation, the introduction to the hit sitcom has been causing a stir online ever since it hit screens and brought an unfamiliar aesthetic to the beloved cartoon.

Now the production company behind the film, Th1ng, have made a behind-the-scenes video revealing the painstaking process behind it. Given the popularity of John Lewis’ 2D adventures at Christmas last year, it seems the craft of hand animation still hold the mystique it always did.

We asked Sylvain how this strange marriage between him and the famous yellow family came about.

Sylvain’s relationship with The Simpsons has a long history. “I knew The Simpsons since the beginning,” he says. “Matt Groening and I came up the same way, from short film.” While Sylvain was taking his short film The Old Lady and the Pigeon around the world on the festival circuit, Matt was doing the same with his earliest incarnation of The Simpsons – a prototype vastly different from the family we know and love today.

The Frenchman notes that his career and that of the The Simpsons’ creator have followed a similar trajectory, from authored short film, through to TV and film. Although it’s fair to say Matt’s success has been a little more mass-market than Sylvain’s.

While he was working on his 2010 feature film The Illusionist at a studio in Scotland, Sylvain met Harry Shearer, the voice of Mr Burns, among many other characters in the show. Harry said he was a huge fan of The Triplets of Belleville and asked what his next film is.

It could be coincidence, but Sylvain next returned to France to receive a surprise from his yellow American friends. “Someone asked me how it feels to be in The Simpsons,” he recalls. “I said ‘what are you talking about?’” It turns out The Simpsons had made a spoof of the French animator’s most recognisable work – The Triplets of Belleville – they called it The Brothers of Beauville. Sylvain was very flattered. It was quite funny, he thought.

Recently he got the chance to return the homage The Simpsons had given him when the team called him asking if he’d like to direct a special couch gag for the beginning of an episode. They’d been doing this for a few years with other famous artists and directors including Banksy, Guillermo del Torro and Bill Plympton so it was an honour to be asked.

Of course he agreed. While it wasn’t a commercial project, Sylvain wanted to produce it through Th1ng. He contacted Executive Producer Dominic Buttimore, who he’s worked with for over 25 years, to ask for his collaboration. “It was going to be our 50th birthday,” he says, “so as a nice present to him, we were going to do The Simpsons.”

“We set up a call,” says Dominic. “I went over to where Sylvain lives in the Ardèche in France. Sylvain spent the weekend thinking up an idea and then we had a call to chat with [Executive Series Producer] Al Jean.”

Sylvain asked what they wanted for the couch gag. ‘Do whatever you want’ came the reply. It was very freeing, admits the director, but also very scary. Having worked in commercials, having a Client tell him something like this was a shock.

The idea flowed easily. Confident that they chose him for his unique style, Sylvain took a straightforward approach. “I’m French, I’m in France. I’m going to do the French version of The Simpsons in my style,” he decided.

Acknowledging that The Simpsons is built upon caricatures and stereotypes, Sylvain overloaded his couch scene with French clichés – snails, an accordion, froi gras. An official portrait of French president Francois Hollande hangs on the wall, as does a picture of a different boat to the familiar picture – a sinking SS France. “There are a lot of little messages like that,” says Sylvain, “because it’s not going very well in France and everybody is depressed. So I said ‘let’s have fun with that’ to show we still have a sense of humour.”

“It went really fast,” he says. “I don’t think I even made sketches and sketches. I just drew them and they just appeared to me like that.”

He passed the terrifying freedom he was given on to his team of animators at Th1ng. Having devised model sheets for the characters and drawn the backdrop he passed it on to trusted hands. “I said ‘enjoy yourself and have fun,’” says Sylvain. “It’s very unusual and it’s good for them because if you do commercials you have to rework things and take the advice from everybody into account. It’s pure animation.”

Sylvain felt comfortable giving his team at Th1ng this freedom because of the level of trust he has for people like Dominic and Lead Animator Neil Boyle. “At one point I was almost going to stop animation,” he admits. With such a unique style, it was difficult to find a team who could do it for him without too much supervision. “But because of Dominic and Th1ng I realised I can do my own projects and not be concerned with the technique. I just go with the creative stuff and trust the people who are animating it, which is brilliant.”

The only problem Sylvain recalls was to do with reconciling his style with that of Matt and The Simpsons’ animators. Sylvain’s characters don’t have round eyes like the Simpsons, so he had trouble making them recognisable while retaining his aesthetic. His solution was to give them all glasses – a bit of lateral thinking that makes a big difference.

In the weeks since the episode with the gag aired it has seen massive popularity on YouTube, for which Sylvain is grateful. At the time of writing it’s had about 5.5 million views and still rising. He and Dominic agree that this is partially because proper 2D animation is a rare joy to see these days, with a level of visible craft that still impresses.

“The internet is coming of age,” says Dominic. “Once upon a time it was a place you’d put up cheap things that were funny. That’s still an element of it – a cheap, funny gag like your cat getting stoned or whatever it might be, can still work – but there’s a need for seeing quality stuff online. It cuts through because so much stuff is not that great.”

Martino Gamper & Haim Steinbach

April 10, 2014 / Arts and Culture

By Don Grant

Don Grant reviews a pair of art exhibitions in disguise as IKEA product displays, or is it the other way around?

Martino Gamper: design is a state of mind &
Haim Steinbach: once again the world is flat
Serpentine Galleries
Until 21 April 2014
Admission free

Back in the late 1980s, posters advertising the V&A used the coy slogan ‘an ace caff with quite a nice museum attached’. The new Sackler Gallery has a ‘caff ’ called The Magazine, in deference to the old gunpowder store from the Napoleonic Wars, to which it is attached. You can get away with anything, it seems, if you chant the mantra ‘traditional meets the modern’, a bit like parking a Lamborghini Veneno in the courtyard of a Palladian villa in Veneto.

So here we have a wannabe rural villa in the neoclassical style in Kensington Gardens, Hyde Park with one of those cheap stackable plastic chairs you find in pub gardens parked alongside. But, let’s venture inside. This is an exhibition, curated by Gamper, about shelving - mostly shelving with objects on them.

Some shelves have no objects on them and they are none the worse for that; designs by Alvar Aalto, Franco Albini and Ettore Sottsass of the Memphis Group, and Gamper’s own, could easily be stand-alone pieces, although Vico Magistretti’s beechwood Nuvola Rossa contains objects selected and curated by Andrew Stafford, including indicators from an Austin A30, some string found at Brick Lane market in 1985 and a door release switch found amongst the demolished ruins of James Turrell’s 1999 Cornwall eclipse inspired installation, The Elliptic Eclipse. And so on. Wire whisks, wooden spoons, Ron Arad’s ping-pong paddle, a heater knob from a Peugeot 205, a cigar mould, a bell-shaped knitting needle gauge, yellow packing foam and, on an off-the-shelf IKEA shelving unit, a display bristling with tools.

There were über-trendy, goth attendants at every turn, as it would have been only too easy to trouser a bicycle light bracket found in London in the late 1990s or a zinc die-cast model of the Eiffel Tower. Somehow my tendency to purloin, liberate or simply steal an object was dampened by a lack of desire to own virtually any of them, apart from a few books and records collected by Simon Prosser to fill Dieter Rams’s natural anodised aluminium, powder-coated, pre-treated, mild steel 606 Universal Shelving System. A collection of bricks adorning Andrea Branzi’s laminated wood, ash wood, and crystal Gritti Bookcase was collected by Maki Suzaki from Carl Andre’s assistant in New York and brought back in his luggage, instead of the 36kg of reference books he had purchased at Strand Book Store on Broadway. Without a trace of irony, he states in the catalogue, ‘ This is why to me, they are not bricks, but books I have not read yet.’

I entered another, smaller gallery and liked quite a few of the objects on display, even to the point of pocketing one, but I then realised I had wandered into the shop.

Across the bridge that spans the short distance between the two galleries is, according to their web-site, ‘a theatre that interweaves history, art and adventure’. In the original gallery, and running concurrently with Gamper’s show, Haim Steinbach was displaying, amongst other things, objects on shelves. Also utilising everyday objects, Steinbach’s interest is in the fundamental practise of collecting by exploring the placing of objects on shelves. Déjà-vu, or what?

He abandoned Minimalist painting in the seventies, some pleasing examples of which are on display, and started to create works using linoleum. He also invited the public to lend their salt and pepper shakers to be displayed within his installation of modular building systems, i.e, shelves. Somewhat portentously, his participatory gesture reactivated the salt and pepper shakers within a new context and made the connection between the private and public sphere. He had also borrowed some perfectly nice Victorian doll’s houses from the V&A Museum of Childhood and displayed them high up in the gallery, out of reach, and almost out of sight. With a last glance at an Ajax cleaning can on a wood and plastic shelf, and a kitsch Little Orphan Annie plaster figurine atop another shelf made of Spiderman masks, I left and felt I had shortened my own shelf-life by a couple of hours.

Originally published in Kensington and Chelsea Today.

About the Beak Street Bugle

April 10, 2014 /

By Rena Traboulsi

The Beak Street Bugle is an online newspaper for the advertising world. Here you will find articles on advertising and commercials production, in particular, containing insight, opinion, reviews, blind conjecture, humour and work.

Signed: TWiN

April 10, 2014 / Signed/Unsigned

By The Beak Street Bugle

A brace of brothers, brought up on VFX.

Academy's latest signings, twin brothers Jonathan and Josh Baker, started their filmmaking careers as motion graphics designers at two of Australia’s top post production houses. Both later branched out into directing commercial projects and eventually started working together, moving to New York in 2007, where they are still based.

With a good foundation in the business, the pair have already built a strong reel of work for prominent brands. As might be expected given their roots, special effects feature heavily in their work, but their skills in image-making span a far broader area than just computer-generated trickery.

Watch some of their work here:

Unsigned: Matthew Barton

April 10, 2014 / Signed/Unsigned

By The Beak Street Bugle

Having arty friends can be helpful if you’re a fledgling director.

After ten years learning how to speak Geordie up in Newcastle Matthew Barton defaulted back to his city of birth, London, to study Graphic Design at Camberwell College of Arts and re-familiarize himself with the Queen’s English.

Experimental projects ensued and after finding himself out on a limb on the mean streets of south London he began to shoot docs and music videos for his eclectic art school friends.

Recent projects have included a music video for an old school friend Nadine Shah, tour diaries for Friendly Fires and a promo for Welsh three-piece outfit La Corvette involving placing a 65-year-old very much in harm’s way at the mercy of the raging seas.

Equally comfortable producing human interest docs, he’s currently shooting a feature about London during the winter months and about to complete a music video for electronic artist Duct involving a lovely group of South London bell ringers.

Watch some of his work here:

If you are an unsigned director and would like to be featured on The Beak Street Bugle. Please send your details to

High Five: April

April 9, 2014 / High Five

By Alex Reeves

Keep your cross-platform strategizing. Good video ads like these do the job on any screen.

As we know, the advertising industry watches a lot of YouTube videos. But it’s important to remember we’re not the general public. For the most part, people still watch a lot of TV – an average of about four hours a day. And the brilliant thing about our five favourite ads this month is that they work on any screen. That’s good video content. They’ll make you look up from your tea-making if you’re in front of the telly and you’ll want to share a link to Twitter if you’re watching on your phone on the way to work.

Brand: Channel 4
Title: Grand National
Production Company: 4Creative
Director: Keith McCarthy
Production Company Producer: Tabby Harris
Director of Photography: Tat Radcliffe
Ad Agency: 4Creative
Creative Directors: John Allison, Chris Bovill
Editing Company: Stitch
Editor: Tim Hardy
Post Production Company: MPC

Channel 4 – Grand National

Here’s Channel 4 in their element, repackaging an unfashionable sporting event to pump it full of youth, excitement and punk rock. By going back to the origins of the steeplechase in 18th-century Ireland, they’ve unearthed exactly the right kind of story and told it with finesse. Keith McCarthy’s stylish direction squeezes every drop of testosterone out of it and with Brooklyn punks Cerebral Ballzy soundtracking the spot, it makes the race look almost worth setting aside any animal rights concerns for.


Brand: Cravendale
Title: Barry the Biscuit Boy
Production Company: Blinkink
Directors: Andrew Thomas Huang, Joseph Mann
Production Company Producer: Benjamin Lole
Director of Photography: Matt Day
Ad Agency: Wieden + Kennedy London
Creative Director: Sam Heath
Art Director: Ben Shaffery
Copywriter: Max Batten
Agency Producer:  Lou Hake
Editor: Simone Ghilardotti
Music Company: Tin Drum
Sound Company: Wave

Cravendale – Barry the Biscuit Boy

Kids called Barry in playgrounds across the country will now have to suffer this opening line. Like most things Wieden + Kennedy London put out these days, it’s heaps of fun. Pooling the talents of rising animation stars Andrew Thomas Huang and Joseph Mann to direct the live-action, stop-motion puppetry has paid off, ending in a film that delights and amuses. And with that screwball soundtrack/voiceover to set it off, this one’s sure to stick in your mind.


Brand: Save The Children
Title: Most Shocking Second a Day Video
Production Company: Unit9
Director: Martin Stirling
Production Company Producers: Elliott Tagg, Geoff Morgan, Irene Lobo
Director of Photography: Jacob Proud
Ad Agency: Don’t Panic London
Editor: Alex Burt
Sound Company: Factory
Post Production Company: Smoke & Mirrors

Save The Children – Most Shocking Second a Day Video

In an age where it only takes a matter of hours for an agency to spoof the latest viral video, it’s surprising that no brand (we can think of) has done one of these second a day videos yet. It’s fortunate this was harnessed for a worthy cause. Literally bringing the Syrian crisis home, it’s a harrowing piece of filmmaking. Let’s hope it does its job and saves lives.


Brand: Vodafone
Title: The Call
Production Company: Academy
Director: Marcus Söderlund
Production Company Producer: Medb Riordan
Director of Photography: Barry Ackroyd
Ad Agency: Grey London
Creative Directors: Vicki Maguire, Jonathan Marlow
Agency Producers: Ange Eleini, Joe Arojojoye
Editing Company: Trim
Editor: Tom Lindsay
Music Company: Manners McDade
Sound Company: 750mph
Post Production Company: Electric Theatre Company

Vodafone – The Call

This ad functions on the basis of the argument: “if it’s good enough for them, it’s good enough for me.” And with a solid fact to back it up, it seems like a good strategy. Everyone respects the emergency services, no matter their age, class or political standpoint, so the idea fits well with the broad audience Vodafone need to engage. Directed by a lesser helmsman than Marcus Söderlund, this script could easily have fallen flat, but of course it doesn’t. It’s executed with simplicity and flair.


Brand: Weetabix
Title: Egg
Production Company: Outsider
Director: Chris Balmond
Ad Agency: Bartle Bogle Hegarty
Creative Director: Dominic Goldman
Creatives: Gary McCreadie, Wes Hawes
Agency Producer: Glann Paton
Editing Company: Stitch
Editor: Leo King
Sound Company: 750mph

Weetabix - The Egg

This is a challenging product to advertise. A protein-laced liquid breakfast is an unconventional start to the day, but undeniably very convenient for some people. In a bold move by BBH, they’ve decided to face this oddness head-on in this series of ads, comparing it to other, less convenient odd breakfasts. With Chris Balmond directing and Peter Serafinowicz delivering the deadpan voiceover, it has a uniquely British tone to it. It’ll ring true with anyone who’s ever traded a good breakfast in for another press of their beloved snooze button.

Are Brands the Broadcasters of Tomorrow?

April 7, 2014 / Features

By Alex Reeves

Advertising Week Europe raised many questions about branded video content. Here’s our attempt to summarise them.

Listening to the whole gamut of experts Advertising Week Europe had to offer, there’s no doubt YouTube’s power has reached a zenith in 2014. Self-made video stars were held up as shining examples of brand building throughout the four-day conference, and there was a pervading sense that when it comes to engaging audiences, enterprising teenagers in their bedrooms are putting brands to shame.

But that looks set to change. One theme that repeatedly found its way into the seminars and panel discussions was that with the audience opportunities YouTube presents, there is a valuable opportunity for brands to become broadcasters in their own right.

As CONTENTed founder Moz Dee said in the digital media company’s ‘futurecasting’ address on Monday, brands will soon start to morph into media channels, creating and commissioning quality video content online that fits with with their brand values.

CONTENTed suggested if Guinness, for example, take this path, their channel won’t be called Guinness TV, but will be influenced by the values and ethics of the brand. They cited BT as a vanguard of the movement – a brand that until not long ago was about putting wires through people’s walls. Now they have BT Sport – a premium video station in its own right.

Clearly, this transition isn’t easy to make though. And speakers noted that if brands want to build themselves into media owners, they must be prepared to make sacrifices in the short term. Examples like industry poster children Red Bull and Nike show that building this can take years and in the short term it won’t pay off as much as TV advertising, but once the audiences are there, the payoff is worth it.

On Tuesday Christine Beardsell of ZenithOptimedia's Newcast division backed up this prediction, advocating a three-pronged strategy for brands, splitting their attentions between the familiar paid and earned media and adding in the relatively unfamiliar concept of owned media. Demonstrating how YouTube is perfect for this, she presented the options brands have here: to promote – recycling the brand’s video from elsewhere (as long as it’s appropriate), to produce – creating new ‘native’ content that feels at home on YouTube, or to partner – utilising the audiences and equity of established channels (those beloved YouTube stars again). She admitted that some brands just shouldn’t go there though, and so also offered a fourth ‘p’ – pass – as an option.

This sort of argument divided speakers throughout the week at BAFTA. While some heralded the death of mass media in favour of ‘my media’, the value of channels curating the best content undeniably still has its value.

What sort of video content works online in 2014 though? Among the many bases covered in the Future.Video panel discussion, the panel pointed out the value of more niche content, as is being pioneered by channels like Vice. They also rejected the common idea that TVCs don’t work online, citing the viral success of P&G’s heart-wrenching Winter Olympics ad - an example that demonstrates the successful combination of emotion and a slightly longer-form approach. Online advertising is growing up.

The panel agreed, brands should remember when creating this content is that the audience are your distributors now, so make your videos as shareable as possible – everyone wants to show that they’re human, funny, interesting people, and by enabling people to do this you can get your content in front of more eyeballs.

Naturally, marketers don’t just want more people thinking about their brands; they want harder results. But out of the many discussions, one idea seemed universal – YouTube is a great place to collect data. If you have millions of people watching your branded video then you have access to masses of information about those people.

As Dominique Delport of Havas Media noted in his discussion with Morgan Spurlock on Tuesday, the problem with these video content projects is scale. While a single TVC on a Saturday night can guarantee an audience of millions, working to get the same on YouTube can be a struggle. That is certainly an issue that will take some time to resolve, but the most promising result is that TV and YouTube will eventually co-exist harmoniously as different routes for advertising, each with their own merits.

YouTube is nine years old this year and the fact that the advertising industry is still giving it a lot of airtime at events like Advertising Week Europe shows that we’re still a fair way from mastering it.

That Was the Week That Was

April 6, 2014 / Features

By Alex Reeves

If year two of Advertising Week Europe is anything to go by, it’ll be hitting London for decades to come.

Christian Stevenson AKA "DJ BBQ". YouTube guru. (Photo by Tristan Fewings/Getty Images For Advertising Week)


The (Saharan) dust has settled and Advertising Week Europe is over. It’s time for the ad industry to slink back to its offices and try to process the tsunami of information and opinion that the event dumped on its brains with dozens of seminars and workshops.

It’s not really fair to use phrases like ‘industry conference’ and ‘thought leadership’ to describe the week. In no way do they capture the vibrancy and dynamism of the event.

Only its second year on this side of the Atlantic, Advertising Week Europe 2014 already felt like an unmissable industry fixture and with around 12,000 members of the world’s advertising industry attending, it seems that feeling is pretty widespread.

Having turned a blind eye in 2013, even Campaign couldn’t ignore it this year, and neither could the mainstream media, who gave it plenty of coverage, for example an eight-page pull-out guide in the Guardian.

This was my first year at the event and one impression it left me with was that the advertising industry has many more facets than we usually think of. The diversity of those in attendance was stark. Creative agencies, digital agencies, media agencies, production companies, post production companies, editing companies, sound companies, marketers from brands, media owners and channels, technology companies and hundreds of ancillary companies all mixing and learning together.

The very reasonable price tag helped to make sure it was anything but exclusive. From sharp-suited CMOs to trendy, bearded creatives and keen advertising students, it brought everyone with an interest in advertising together in one place and the energy this created in BAFTA – the main venue for the thought leadership – was infectious.

Much of the event’s success can be put down to the smart leadership of Executive Director Matt Scheckner and Kathleen Saxton of The Lighthouse Company, who took the right approach for the times – one that’s collaborative and populist – making sure the schedule was packed with figures not just famous within the industry, but to the general public. Getting people like Idris Elba, Gok Wan and James Corden on board, to name just a few of the big names, was vital in creating a tangible buzz around it.

The environment of the festival was also fascinating. Setting events in the grandeur of venues like St James’s Palace, Lancaster House and The House of Lords, the week lured the advertising industry away from its confortable Soho pubs to places it hadn’t been before.

Matt’s warm welcome speeches to many of the sessions repeatedly mentioned his policy of no over-arching themes for the conference. People spoke about whatever they wanted and as long as it was relevant and/or interesting it got into the programme. The result was a veritable melon-twister, with no murky corner of the industry left unexplored. I attended an average of about six sessions a day and came out with a head bursting with jargon and incoherent ponderings. It was confusing, but a true reflection of the complexity of the industry – all sorts of people expressing all sorts of interests.

It is possible to draw some themes out of the jungle of ideas presented, but to summarise anything too all encompassing would be doing the festival a disservice. Each seminar or workshop had its own merits and, because each speaker was so passionate about his or her particular interest, inspiration could come from anywhere.

My week began over a jazz-sountracked breakfast at Ronnie Scott’s as Guardian Editor Alan Rusbridger considered the threshold moment that Edward Snowden’s whistleblowing represented for the state of data in the public consciousness. My week ended with an APA-curated showcase of the most cutting-edge technology created and used by the production and post production companies of London. In between I heard Idris Elba explore his relationship with music, watched YouTube-famous chef DJ BBQ talk more lucidly about branded content than most industry pundits and heard wisdom from advertising luminaries from Jeremy Bullmore to Sir John Hegarty. ‘Thought leadership’ may be a rather dry term but, with speakers like this, my thoughts were led on quite an exciting journey though the week.

As ever, the torrent of buzzwords flowed fast and free throughout the week. They were out in force: native, branded content (the meaning of which nobody can agree on, years from its coinage), big data, programmatic (one of the dullest, but apparently most important topics of the moment), convergence and the video ecosystem. I could go on, but what these ready-made hashtag phrases really mean is that these are the areas the industry is still grappling to understand.

While events like these inevitably bring their share of hot air and ‘trendcasting’, there were lessons to be learnt in abundance. Some sessions diced with the possibility of more brands becoming media owners in their own right in the near future; others diced with the question of whether playing around on YouTube is really worth it for brands; and some interrogated the notion of bravery in advertising.

Advertising Week Europe is huge, relevant and exciting. If you weren’t there last week it’s time to wake up, because the rest of the industry won’t wait for you.