Atelier Transfert: Watch and Learn

One of animation’s greatest strengths is its ability to simplify complex systems for digestion by the widest possible audience. This is something Montreal based Atelier Transfert understands implicitly.

Their approach is very specific: Using mostly stop motion, they “can take abstract concepts and bring them into the tactile world to illustrate a very simple message. Through simple and visually entertaining analogies, we can communicate complex features.”

Case in point is their recent video explaining how Email Center Pro software works. Atelier Transfert mixes metaphor and humor to keep things simple and engaging. It’s a technique that’s harder to master than it sounds, so I thought I’d ask them a few questions about their process. Atelier Transfert’s Christian Martel graciously responded.

If Google Translate can be trusted, “Atelier Transfert” roughly translates to “Transfer Workshop.” Why did you choose that as your studio’s name?

Yes, Google Translate is accurate. ‘Atelier’ in French often suggests an artist’s workshop or practice, and ‘transfert’ means transfer, which I sort of meant as in transport—intersecting various approaches, disciplines, and media through a design process.

These stop-motion tutorials we’ve been doing lately are still very rooted in design in that they attempt to reduce a message to its simplest expression.

AT has a very specific approach—namely, using stop-motion animation for “how-to” or expository videos. Why stop-motion? Why not, for the sake of argument, 3D animation?

Initially, this allowed me to create entertaining videos within my comfort/technical knowledge zone (using good old basic graphic designer’s tools such as a digital still camera, Photoshop, and Illustrator). Afterward, I understood that you have way more control with such short cuts. In this sense, the phenomenon of manipulating time with cuts is taken to a whole new level.

The timing on the images throughout the entire clip can edited to syllable, rather than to a word or a phrase. This makes for a high impact on the educational front—especially when demonstrating a recipe or technique.

With stop-motion, you can achieve the precision of an illustrated manual with each frame. This is even more interesting than the eye candy aspect of making objects move by themselves.

Now that our approach is even more centered on photography (seriously, shooting/composing these is like a very very long photo shoot, with all the usual preoccupations and concerns with the final shot), we use remote capture software combined with Photo Mechanic to check to motion while filming. We still put together the edit in Final Cut Pro, but have also started experimenting with Dragon Stop Motion. All the colour correction and any transparency tricks are all done in Photoshop.

Do you ever get clients asking for things outside the world of stop-motion?

Not yet. Just some simple illustrations added to a stop-motion piece.

Would you ever consider doing work that wasn’t stop-motion?

Sure, we’re always eager to innovate. Plus, with the appearance of of DSLR cinematography (Canon 5D Mark II, Nikon D90) you can start to get near film-quality HD video. I love the idea of film and photography converging.

I imagine in some cases, it can be quite challenging to understand a product through the lens of a company’s brand. It sounds like it takes a lot of time and patience.

Yes, it certainly does. Before figuring out how we’re going to film, we do all that good marketing stuff too. The commercial sphere of graphic design, photography, and film has given us enough experience to make sure we achieve the branding message. Like an ad campaign, this requires a lot of initial background research before we propose a concept.

Plus, we try to adapt our video style to a company’s existing branding. In fact, although the style is similar, we rarely shoot them the same way: StartCooking is shot in natural light, Alltop was done with flash photography, and Email Center Pro was lit with modeling lights (which, by the way, tend to dim slightly around dinner time as power consumption in the building goes up).

What’s in store for the future? Any big projects coming down the pipeline? Any new ideas you want to work on?

Yes, although I don’t think I can mention it just yet. Anyway, we’ve just started with these and we’re looking to do a few more.

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