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Flemish creativity makes Max & co fly

19 september 2007
Interview with Luc Van Driessche of Creative Conspiracy.
Max & Co is the story of 15-year-old Max, who is in search of his father and takes on a job in a fly-swatter factory. To boost declining sales, a dangerous scientist is performing experiments to increase the population of flies. Max and his friend Félicie stand up against him. The film is directed by the brothers Samuel and Frédéric Guillaume and produced by Cinemagination of Switzerland. Ghent-based Creative Conspiracy (CC) played an important role in several aspects of the production. Luc Van Driessche of CC told us the inside story. What was your part in the making of Max & Co? The film was in production for a quite a while before we were contacted to participate. What they needed was a number of things, the whole post production, some blue key work, a lot of clean up... In fact it was head animator Guionne Leroy who recommended us to the production company. I worked together with her in the past, she is one of the animators we can be really proud of. She worked on Toy Story, Chicken Run, James And The Giant Peach... We also provided a 3D solution for the animation of the three flies, who play in a sort of film within the film. They do not interact with the rest of the characters. It was not possible to animate the flies in stop motion. They were originally designed in 2D, for us the greatest challenge was match the animation and the look of these scenes with the rest of the film. That was a lot of work, and we had to pay great attention to the tiniest details. We simply had to, because the puppets were only 37 cm tall. Actually, we started to animate more and more like we would be working in 2D, for instance we used 12 frames per second instead of 24. What did you learn from this experience? The biggest lesson was to stretch our limits, to go one step further than we used to... Character animation wise, we have given everything we have got to give. Guionne has done a lot of coaching, so we paid a lot of attention to small details. You know, when you make commercials you always have to face a short deadline and a strict budget. With a feature film, you take more time, you take a step back sometimes to redo your homework... The film did very well in Annecy, it received a standing ovation during the closing credits... the expectations must be high now... Yes. It is not a film that you can put right next to Ratatouille for example, it has a European artistic touch, but it has a lot of potential to reach large audiences. On the other hand it has everything to become a cult film, like The Dark Crystal for instance. Financially, it is one of the most expensive stop motion features ever produced in Europe with a budget of about € 14 million. Luckily, we were able to raise a lot of Tax Shelter money, private investors have provided a lot of capital. The quality of the stop-motion animation is very high. You will notice that a lot of Tim Burton's crew members have contributed to the film. Wild Bunch is responsible for the international distribution. The film should be in Belgian cinemas in early 2008. How many people did you dedicate to this assignment? We had about 10 people working on it here at Creative Conspiracy. We have made a clear choice in the past to work with experienced people, who have been working in this field of expertise for a least six years. For the clean up and other aspects of the job, we had another 15 to 20 people working with us in Liège. I drove back and forth in order to be able to supervise the whole thing. Thanks to my experienced team, I was able to rely on them and to be reassured about there ability to work independently. I think we are the perfect example that shows it is possible to keep good animators here in Flanders. It takes a lot of work and energy. You also need to focus. But I would rather be working on a specific project with a team of ten animators than to run an animation factory employing 200 people. We really try to focus on quality and know-how. Did you use any specific tools for Max & Co? We used off-the-shelf software for the whole product, but our pipeline is rather specific. We use mixed packages. For the majority of the software, we are beta testers. Where do you want Creative Conspiracy to go in the future? We want to produce our own projects more and more, to make everything from scratch up to the postproduction. With the help of freelancers of course, good screenwriters for instance - they are hard to find here in Flanders. We have already developed three series: Klumpies (ages 3 to 7), Olive' Little Joys (ages 3 to 7) and Uki, for children from age 1 to 3. You also take part in another big feature animation film, Puss-in-Boots. What is your role in this international co-production? La vraie histoire du Chat Botté (the original French title, ed.) is indeed a big full 3D project, with about 100 people working on it. We are responsible for different aspects of postproduction, but more importantly for us, we make about two minutes of the actual animation. In fact it is a very high-end sequence, the climax of the film. So it is something to be proud of, and it is thanks to our good references that we have succeeded to get this prestigious part of the project.