The Collective

En Masse fuses stop-motion with collaborative drawing in this mesmerizing video

En Masse is a Montreal-based multi-artist collective that creates black and white drawings. In this Q & A, the group's co-founder Jason Botkin discusses the role of spontaneity and the ability to find unity among artists of diverse disciplines.

"It's like a free-form jazz experiment. It's in the real spirit of play."

This video is part of The Collective, a CBC Arts digital project that invites artists to tell their own stories. Learn more about the project, and watch more Collective videos.

Collective: En Masse
Film: En Masse x Visage
Synopsis: A short video underlining the power of art to inspire 'unity' and collective imagination, and how the En Masse project blends, balances, fuses and reconciles a host of diverse and opposing qualities with the intention to inspire unity, and create a concentrically expanding awareness of our individual and collective abilities of imagination concealed within.

En Masse is a Montreal-based drawing project that brings together artists from various disciplines to collaborate on massive illustrations — always in a striking black and white. In this Collective video, a group of artists combines forces to paint and repaint a large 3D head as the camera swoops in and out. It's the kind of video you need to re-watch immediately to try to figure out how they pulled it off. 

Here's what the group's co-founder Jason Botkin had to say about the creative process and their video.

How did En Masse get its start?
It started in 2009 as a collaborative project with Tim Barnard and myself. We were given a space in a gallery in Montreal and we decided at first that we'd showcase all these artists we knew that were underground — emerging artists that weren't connected to galleries or museums — and we'd give them some sort of platform in this beautiful space to show their work. And then five minutes later we thought: that's just a dumb idea. Let's just invite these same people into the space to come and collaborate on a wall, paper or canvas or whatever we can find. That was the birth of the project. It was an experiment to see what happens when you mesh these artists all together of different backgrounds and egos and identities and voices and see what happens when they're given a platform to explore and work collaboratively.

Spontaneity seems like an essential element of this process. Do the artists really have no idea what they're about to create?
The whole process of actual creation itself is very spontaneous; very little pre-planning goes into it. We usually show up to a space and assess what we have to do in that period of time. And it's kind of like, "What are you doing?" "Well, I'm doing a rabbit riding a motorcycle." And someone will say, "Well that's fabulous. I'll do this," adding to it. That whole process is very organic. It's like a free form jazz experiment. It's in the real spirit of play.

I generally ask the artist showing up to a project to come with some concept that they can start with so they don't just sit there and sketch for the next two hours until they hit the wall. But that's really loose. There's a lot of times when we don't know what's going to happen on the wall and when we don't know what we're going to individually contribute. We need to see the wall and the space and feed off one another's creativity and push one another to do something a little more bizarre and absurd from the next.That's the best formula for the En Masse project. We try to avoid rigidity.

The video almost seems like a computer animation. How did the team achieve that?
There's a huge amount of post production that went into it that's not apparent in watching the video, and I can't pretend to know how they did that. It does have the aspect of being a stop motion capture but the reality is the way we drew on that piece and came up with the results is radically different from how it appears on the video. They [the videographers] asked us: how do you want it to look? I told them: this is why I hired you, I want you to drive it. I want you to explore your tools in the same way I would challenge the visual artists drawing on the wall.

How is the way you drew on the piece radically different from how it appears in the video?
It's a question of time. We had to work starting in from the tip of the nose and then move out — and that's not evident in the video with the dots and shapes and the drawing pulses in and out like it's breathing. We would start in the middle and move out and would repeat that formula a number of times. So if you did a time lapse and a recap of the entire process, it would be very different. It was just so that we weren't walking in wet paint, smudging things and creating problems.

All En Masse collaborations result in black and white drawings. What's the thinking behind this colour choice?
The way that the artists use colour is vastly different. When you try to do collaborations with colour it's very difficult to limit the palette. The choice to use black and white was made right off the bat. It was one designed to homogenize all these different voices and give them some sort of unity, whereas stylistically there was probably going to be huge incompatibility. It's mostly technical. It's like, how do you avoid a train wreck?

Adding to that, Tim and I worked in black and white for years and years in our personal practise and it was also really comfortable.

What are you hoping viewers will take from watching EN MASSE's creative process?
The piece is for me, very stimulating. I could watch it 100 times. It's very short, it's a real teaser. But I hope that it leaves people scratching their head and at the same time, feeling very excited and curious about the project in terms of what goes into it and what that was all about and maybe that's enough. Obviously because it's short and it doesn't talk about what En Masse is and all that stuff, it acts as a beautiful teaser and an introduction to the ways that collaboration operates and how shared acts of creation are important to us.

More about En Masse

En Masse is a a Montreal-based multi-artist collaborative drawing project that engages artists from various disciplines. The highly spontaneous collaborations result in large-scale black and white drawings. En Masse was founded in 2009 by Jason Botkin and Tim Barnard. 

For more information on En Masse, check out their website. You can also follow En Masse on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and see more of their work on Vimeo


Jason Botkin
Rupert Bottenberg
Jason Wasserman
Julien Deragon

Director and Visual Concept
Salman Sajun
Brian Tornay

Salman Sajun

Brian Tornay

Additional Photography
Florin Gabor

Music Composer and Sound Designer
Vincent Lagadrillière

Motion Control Equipment
Kessler Crane

Nomad Nation