Before they met, Julien Vallée was a graphic designer and Eve Duhamel was a visual artist, but something brought them together: the willing to manifest their ideas into physical spaces. Twisting realities and objects of our everyday lives, they create surreal situations that will for sure get you out of the common approach to life. This is what makes Vallée Duhamel’s work special and tangible. We’re living in a digital era but that doesn’t mean there is no more place for the handmade processes. Instead, the fact that our world is becoming more and more technologic makes the physical feel so good and meaningful.
Hi Julien and Eve. Who are you and where do you come from? When and how did your paths cross?
Hello, thanks for having us! We met about ten years ago in Montreal (Canada), which is also where our home and studio are based. At that time, Eve was a visual artist and Julien was a graphic designer. We both shared the same passion: manifesting creative visions into material objects and spaces.
Why did you decide to start Vallée Duhamel? In which way does each of you contribute differently to the projects?
When we both had the same plan to move to Berlin for a few months. We spent six months there in 2007, sharing a studio space. This is where we started to understand each other’s process and contribute from far or close to most of our personal projects. When we came back to Montreal, we started to collaborate on projects and officially started Vallée Duhamel in 2013.
The process is really organic from project to project, although there are some parts that are quite repetitive in our approach. We would usually spend a few hours to decorticate the brief and make sure we understand the request in the same way. Then, we would work separately until we have some interesting avenues to present to the other. Eve usually focuses more on the visual style and aesthetic as Julien would develop the conceptual and storytelling part.
Eve studied Visual Arts while Julien studied Graphic Design. Since you work together, do you consider that graphic design can be mixed with art then? Do you mix both fields in your work?
We always felt like the two disciplines worked well together. Eve has an artistic mind that leans towards graphics and defines compositions. Julien has mostly created graphic work and visual installation spaces, which are then photographed for printed or digital medium purposes. We both still have our roots, which we can’t deny, in the way we approach a project. For us, it will always be a mix of art and design in the process of creating and making.
You self-proclaim your studio as “High Class. Lo-Fi. And no kidding”. Could you explain it to us? How are your main values work-wise reflected here?
We’ve used the “High Class, Lo-Fi” as a line that defines the way we approach projects. We both started by creating our installations and constructing the sets ourselves or with a really small crew — interns at the beginning. When we hired graphic designers, they were chosen also for their skills in the workshop. We liked (and still like) to think of an idea conceptually and find a tangible solution to communicate it. In this digital era, we feel like using stylistic means of graphic design and art to implement our ideas spatially is what connects with our audience. This is where the Lo-fi came from.
The High Class line is about how we expect the result to be. Funnily enough, we’ve worked for a lot of technological clients — Apple, Google, Samsung, among others — and, as much as it feels like the hand-made and tactile approach to a story is something that connects with their audience, it also requires a sleek and polish result. The No kidding, well, this was just a line we added after our studio launch video. It was more related to the fact that we’ve smashed each other in the face with many objects to share our union as a duo!
Your projects seem fun to do. Why is it so much funnier to get out of the computer and work with your hands? Do you consider that the fact that you create sets yourselves gives you more freedom to tell the stories you have in mind?
When a musician comes up with a riff in mind and starts playing it, it will adjust, refine, and tweak the melody to make it sound perfect. Deciding when to bend the chords or mute them comes as you practice and find the right combination. We feel it’s the same with our work. From our brain to the paper to building there is a lot of micro steps and a lot of decisions that would lead to different results depending on our choices. We have fun doing what we do because, in the beginning, we would do most of it ourselves and learn a lot from it.
Now, we learn from a lot of specialized people that build our sets (especially when we are directing commercials, the art department team can be up to a hundred people) and we still enjoy it in a different way. We exchange ideas with them, they bring in some thoughts from their experience and the project evolves. It’s really fulfilling to sketch something on a piece of paper that ends up to be built and brought to a shooting stage, where each detail is carefully thought and decided. We don’t get that feeling in front of the computer.
While watching your videos, I find myself smiling. I think it’s because you show simple everyday situations and objects, which makes it relatable, though the whole picture ends up becoming so surreal and creative. It makes the ‘everyday’ feel unique, I would say. What do you look for in the objects you use?
This is a mix of a lot of thinking, some random situations that happened to us or based on our life experiences. When we do projects like the Offf Paris Sponsors titles or DanseDance, we feel freer to twist reality and objects to make something that tells a story. Most of the time we use objects for their initial purpose and why they were made. But in reality, there are many other ways to use them and give them another function. The situation in which you involve them also takes part in the final result, since that would define how surreal will the video be. This is something we love spending time on: twisting reality so it becomes exciting and gets you out of the common approach to life.
You use high-end production techniques that make people think how’s that even possible when looking at your work. The question is: how can you do it? Did you learn the mechanisms from practising a lot? What’s the secret?
There are no secrets. There is a lot of thought and technical thinking that we do in order to make most of the transitions and effects possible. This is one of our favourite parts. Once the idea is settled, how can we make that happen in real life? We see post-production tools as any other tools in a pencil case. They are there to help us achieve an interesting effect, and not the other way round. As mentioned earlier, we started by doing every set and mechanical effects ourselves. We still have the same interest in thinking how could things be done with the different contributors we work with.
Having collaborated with such big clients, from Google and Samsung to Hermès, I wonder what was your favourite project to develop until today and why? I imagine personal projects may have a bigger meaning to you?
We appreciated picking our brain on most of the projects we put online. We decided we would only show the ones we are telling ourselves “yes, I would do it again”. Commercial projects versus personal ones are two different things and have two different approaches for us. We value the creative freedom that brands allow us because they enable us to evolve and to refine our skills at what we like to do. Without these experiences, our personal projects would not be the same.
Creating personal projects is hard. There is no one to tell you if what you’re doing is wrong or right. There are fewer parameters in how the final output should be (pre-roll, digital banners, TVC timing restrictions, etc.) so even the format is up for us to decide. In the end, this freedom can be very hard to consolidate into a solid idea. But the reward is quite great when you like the result!
Last year, you created The Strangers for the main titles of OFFF Barcelona. The video has been receiving a lot of recognition since then – which totally deserves; for me, those three minutes are pure poetry. Could you tell us about the concept and inspiration behind it? Was there any message that you wanted to evoke through it dedicated to the design community?
We were talking about doing a full remake of the Oscar-winning 1982 film Tango, by Zbigniew Rybszynski, for some years now. When our good friend Héctor Ayuso, the Director of OFFF Festival, contacted us to do the titles, we thought it would be the perfect occasion. Once we started getting into the project, we felt the need to use only the choreographed part from the beginning of the film. For us, it’s a reflection of how we are crossing each other’s paths without even noticing. Even though we are collectively connected through social media, we are paying less attention to our surroundings when we are in real situations. And this is where the title Strangers came in. It wasn’t intended to be for the design community only (although they might be the most sensitive to the aesthetic and how we visually treated this film), but for anyone who stumbled upon this in the future. These titles were treated as a short non-narrative film, and we took out the titles once the festival was over.
I was there on the festival when everybody threw paper airplanes at you. It was such a memorable and magical moment. How did it feel to have your own ‘symbol’ being thrown at you by a lot of people? Did it, in any way, feel like you were actually living in your videos?
We’ve been using a lot of paper to create our visuals since our first projects back in 2006. We started to realize how being ruled by a digital industry doesn’t necessarily mean that there is no more place for the handmade processes. Out of school, we were learning to use some 3D softwares to create three-dimensional design. Though we felt the need to make it by hand.
We used a lot of paper planes in our early projects and thought that there would be more ways of experimenting with those. We took the opportunity of having this crowd of two thousand people to throw two thousand paper planes at the same time, which was just amazing to see. It was also an attempt for us to share with the crowd how common objects like a flat sheet of paper can become the main attraction of a playground in a matter of seconds.
Having such a playful work, I wonder, are your lives as playful?
(Laughs). We are humans, with our good and bad times. We have our struggles too. In fact, we are very demanding of ourselves because we like to push each project further. This leads to loads of stress in the conceptual portion of the process. But in general, we are happy people and we enjoy doing what we do. Once we see the ideas clearly and it’s time for execution, we feel really fortunate to be given these opportunities.
What are your plans for the future? Any goals that you especially hope to achieve?
We are not planning on sitting on top of what we did in the last decade. We are actually reflecting on how we can push ourselves further, and what can Vallée Duhamel become in the future. We also have some individual personal projects on the table that we’ll be sharing once they are more concrete in our own minds.
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