Exhibitionists·Can't Do Without

These eye-popping animations owe everything to old-school Nintendo and classic NFB shorts

Award-winning animator Nicolas Ménard, this week's Exhibitionist in Residence, shares the 9 things he just can't do without.

Nicolas Ménard, this week's Exhibitionist in Residence, shares the 9 things he just can't do without

From "Wednesay with Goddard, the new short film by Nicolas Ménard. (www.nicolasmenard.com)

On this week's episode of Exhibitionists, our featured artist is Nicolas Ménard, and if you ever needed an excuse to play more video games, this guy's work is it.

Just 27, Ménard is an award-winning animator — his short film, "Loop Ring Drink Chop," scored the Walt Disney Prize at last year's Ottawa International Animation Festival, for example — and since recently graduating from the Royal College of Art in London, heavyweight corporate clients including Google, Facebook and The New York Times have sought out his skills.

As you'll see on the show — and in the GIFs below — this Quebec-raised artist is a master of colour, and his bold, graphic style, though maybe reminiscent of Bauhaus, is also deeply indebted to so many thumb-spraining hours playing Super Mario Bros. 3.

But Nintendo is just one of his surprising inspirations. CBC Arts asked Ménard to reveal the things he simply can't do without as an artist.

Here's his list...
 


 

My wife

Ménard and fellow animator, Manshen Lo, are newlyweds, but they're also new collaborators. Their surreal short film, Wednesday with Goddard, gets its North American premiere at Montreal's Sommets du cinéma d'animation on November 23.



"We met at the Royal College of Art," says Ménard, "but this was our first time doing something together."

"We found out that we're quite complementary — we studied completely different fields, almost, although we both met in the animation program. She has a much more traditional background, and I have this graphic design background," explains Ménard, who marvels over Lo's skills. "She just renders things magically on the paper."

"We really want to make more animation together — we have tons of ideas, actually."

Opposites are attractive. The contrasting styles of "Wednesday with Goddard." (www.nicolasmenard.com)

Le parlé Québécois

Despite living in London, "I'm surrounded by French folks," says Ménard. He works for Nexus Productions, an animation production company based in the city. "Maybe half the staff is French, which is quite a lot of folks. But I'm the only French-Canadian."

When he speaks "proper Québécois" — which is pretty much all the time — they're totally baffled, and he loves it.


 

"I think it happens every day. It's constant," he laughs. "They can barely understand what I'm saying, but I think they find it funny and charming because I like using these expressions and stuff."

Office in-jokes aside, Ménard says, "I think the Québécois language really informs the way I write. The rhythm in my films, the way I write in English, is really informed by the way I write in French."

He values clarity and simplicity. "Sometimes I read French news and they love using a lot of complicated words for no reason. It just makes things more complicated to understand — as if they haven't heard of Hemingway. In French-Canadian, I think there's a little more 'easiness' to the writing."

Trees

Ménard grew up Les Cèdres, Que., close to the Ontario border. "It's a tiny village of 5,000 people — it's really boring," he laughs, "but it's quite nice at the same time because there's a lot of nature, a lot of fields."

That's why he can't do without trees, he says — or anything green. "It's pretty neat to go into the woods sometimes, and London is a good city for that because they have fantastic parks." Hyde Park, Kew Gardens, Victoria Park — "all of the big parks" — are his favourite getaways.


 

"When I was living in Montreal" — Ménard studied graphic design at UQAM before moving to London — "I could easily go back to my parents' house in the fields, or they have a chalet close to Mont-Tremblant. It was really easy for me to go off and have a moment in nature."

"It can feel quite hectic in London because there's a lot of people everywhere, so finding a bit of peace of mind really helps."

Nintendo

You can't spend all your time outdoors, and like pretty much every kid raised in the '90s, Ménard loves video games.

"I'm a massive fan of Mario, and somehow it influences my work quite a bit," he says. "There's a lot of things from the visuals that pop into my work here and there."

Think of the super-flat and super-surreal worlds of the original NES, especially. Ménard is fascinated by the way those games worked within the limitations of old-timey 8-bit technology.

"They came up with these really creative solutions of how to animate perspective, or how to animate certain things. I've always been attracted to that sense of economy," he explains. "I often find myself going back to certain video games as references."

Mid-century American and Japanese graphic artists

Back when he was a student in Montreal, Ménard discovered the work of Saul Bass, Paul Rand, Milton Glaser, Seymour Chwast, Ikko Tanaka, Shigeo Fukuda. "They were extremely good communicators, but they're also really good draftsmen, as well." When it comes to design, they're his heroes.

"For me, their work always stuck in my mind because they're such strong images," he says. "I want that quality in my work."



 

Stand-up comedy

Of all his influences, Ménard says comedy — stand-up, especially — is "super important." His all-time favourites are Andy Kaufman, Tig Notaro and Stewart Lee. "There's this thing with stand-up comedy and animation that's really important, and that's the rhythm. Stand-up comedy is all about the rhythm, and those people are, for me — they're masters of rhythm."

My mechanical pencil

Though he makes all his films with Adobe Suite, using a mix of PhotoShop, InDesign, Illustrator and Flash to bring his animation to life, this digital artist can't do without his favourite pencil. "I use it all the time to make sketches and storyboards. Everything starts on paper."

"There's something about sketching on paper that's really instantaneous. You know, with Photoshop, you're like, 'Which brush am I going to choose? Which colour?' By the time your layer is set up, you've lost your momentum to put an idea on paper."

Anxiety

"I think I was quite chilled out as a teenager," says Ménard, "but for some weird reason, when I started to get really into graphic design and animation, I'd wake up early with this urge to create. I started to become anxious about having to make more stuff. And the older I get, it's not getting better."


"Maybe it's a bad thing. I'm more productive, but at the same time it kind of hurts me. I clench my teeth at night, and it hurts my jaw like hell...At the same time, I need anxiety to give me that kick in the butt to keep creating."

The National Film Board

Whether we're talking The Logdriver's Waltz or Walking or Neighbours, there was a time when NFB shorts were always on Canadian TV. For Ménard, those nuggets of CanCon were life-changing.

"I think there's this thing about the NFB where they show you, 'Look, you can make short films for a living. That's a thing that exists. These folks make their artsy films and they survive and make a living.' And I think that message is a really good one. As a young person, it really tells you that this possibility exists. You can do what you what you want to do."

Ménard has yet to work with the NFB, though he says he hopes to one day — maybe if he ever leaves London and moves back to Montreal.

"I came across a lot of people in my life who told me becoming an artist is just not realistic, because there's no artists in my family, really. My dad is a woodworker and my mom is a nurse," he explains. "Being able to see a National Film Board film on TV and knowing that it was there was always a guiding light for me."



 

See more from Nicolas Menard at his website and on the new episode of Exhibitionists. Watch online or Sunday at 4:30 (5 p.m. NT) on CBC Television.

Want to see your creations on CBC Arts? Just send us an e-mail! You could be an Exhibitionist in Residence this season.

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