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Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Who Is Sophie Gateau, architect Sophie Gateau talks about her shift of profession and recent works with


architect/artist: Sophie Gateau
interview title: Who Is Sophie Gateau
interviews compilation no: T-28
interview format: Text
date: October 20, 2008
appeared in:
photo by:


Interview Details:

(as published in

 Name: Sophie Gateau
 Created on: 1973-November-26
 Record last updated on: 2008-October-20
 Domain: Filmmaking, Visual Effects, Animation, Design, Photography
 Location: Paris, France

A peek into the mind of the very talented Sophie Gateau reveals multi-disciplines and multi-tasking with academic roots in architecture and art history plus design experience in the fashion industry and an impressive work log as a graphic artist on heavyweight projects like The Matrix Revolutions and Wong Kar-Wai’s 2046.  Currently directing music videos and spots — like 2007’s you-tubable puzzle of a PSA announcement, “Cube” — Gateau demonstrates a penchant for the bubbly in tandem with the technical. Flux recently caught up with the Paris-based Gateau to tête-à-tête about undead avant-garde blue prints, mystery blog-snoopers, and how architecture school can really set one up for a bummer. Thanks a lot, quixotic academia.

Eglantine Gouzy “Boa music” (for video click HERE)

You were an architect, first and foremost. Do the forms and foundations of that design field find their way into the disciplines you work in, now?

Yes I think so. The school of architecture is multi-disciplinary. You learn about space and design, but also about philosophy, art history, photography, drawing, and sculpture. All these different disciplines are bases of my work now.

You have a multi-disciplinary history outside of architecture as well, in different sectors of the visual and audial arts. Can you tell us a bit about that history and how it’s shaped the work you do?

I began as an architect and was disappointed when I discovered that the real job is not the incredible mix of disciplines that you learn at school. So I decided to go to a Parisian art school, Ecole des Arts Decoratifs, where I got a masters degree in graphic design. I worked as a 2D/3D artist at a visual effects company, Buf, in Paris for 4 years, before moving on to do freelance work. I then met Claude Letessier, executive Producer at ParanoidUS, who offered me to join them as a director. Computer graphics is my primary skill; it’s one of the most important parts of my work. But, I also work a lot with fashion designers, especially with Melodie Wolf. We create graphic videos for the runways. From the fashion world, I learned that there are no limits to creativity as long as you believe that your choices and visual exaggerations can create amazing films.

Still from Geteau’s Nike ‘Sharapova’ project

Your first short film, I Love Paris differs in style, perhaps in tone, from your more recent works. Can you explain the purpose and nuances of the film? What may be lost in translation?

I Love Paris is my first CGI film. I did it while I was in graduate school. It’s a fake documentary about Parisian utopian architecture, and shows Paris as if some utopian buildings were actually built. It shows for example a modular tower from the ’70s, “Le Plan Voisin” by Le Corbusier, who planned to destroy a huge part of the city. It also shows a library by Rem Koolhaas and a 1920s airport located on the river. I wanted to find a way to keep a foot in the architectural world so I came up with I Love Paris.

Is I Love Paris a type of work you see yourself harkening back to, now or in the future?

Yes. Why not? I’d love to do this kind of film with a real team — instead of doing it all by myself and learning how to use 3D software at the same time. A series of documentaries about utopian architecture in different cities would be fascinating, don’t you think? One of the things I enjoyed most while prepping I Love Paris was spending hours in libraries searching for the plans and drawings of never-built buildings.

from Mimetic, a film to show the lines and

colors of seasons for make-up

You have an international background, in terms of education, places you’ve worked, lived, and traveled. Can you give a brief overview of that background? What place do you consider your base?

My education took place mostly in Paris, with one year of university exchange in Berlin. My work as a freelance graphic artist and director gives me the opportunity to work in a bunch of different places, like Sydney, Toronto, Vancouver, New York, Los Angeles, and other places in between. I’d love to work in South America or in Asia also. While my base is in Paris, I’m thinking of moving to New York soon.

How would you describe the different approaches to visual arts in the various places you’ve lived and worked? Which approaches do you prefer?

I’d say the difference between North America and Paris is in the improvisation. There is more in Europe, I think. Whether that’s good or bad depends on the situation.

Maria Sharapova for Nike project

What has your favorite project been, so far? What has been a challenge?

My favorite project — perhaps because it was the most challenging — is the music video, Boa, which I did two years ago. It was my first “real” video and I did, more or less, all of it by myself. I shot it in my living room and worked on post for two months on my laptop.

Is there any way in which you feel restricted currently as a director?

The schedules are tighter and tighter and the budgets are smaller and smaller, but besides those “terre-a-terre” (pragmatic) concerns, I don’t feel restricted.

What would you say if we called your style playful?

I’d say it’s a good definition. I would add sensible.

What else would you add to describe your visual approach?

Let’s say it’s mostly a mix of live action and computer graphics. My work is quite varied because I love to experiment and use different techniques.

Does that variety fit under the umbrella of one word, though? A word like “director,” for example?

My job is plural: I’m a director, a visual effects supervisor, a graphic artist, an animator. To me, directing means having an idea, directing a project, and driving a team.

What would your ideal project be?

A project with total creative freedom and no constraints in terms of time delivery, done with a team of people working in different fields. A multi-disciplinary project.

What are your plans for the future?

Hmmm… In this job, you don’t know what you will do next month, so “on verra!” We’ll see!

Is there the desire to do feature-length, or is there something you prefer about brevity?

As I’m quite young to the business, as a director, I enjoy very much the brevity of making music videos or commercials. I want to have the opportunity to try and test different approaches, visuals, and techniques, so I’m very fine with short projects for the moment.

A Flux EXCLUSIVE! LA is a still from Gateau’s latest, yet to be unveiled short film project

You’ve kept a work blog online for three years, now. It chronicles your travels through photos, using almost no words at all. What is the purpose behind the blog? For whom is it intended?

I started this blog when I first traveled to Australia to work. The purpose of it was to take my family and friends “behind the scenes” of my job. Now, I keep up the blog because I have frequent viewers. There is somebody in Japan, whom I don’t know, checking the pictures regularly. In a way, the blog posts are my memories, now.

What do you wish more people knew about you and your work?

That I’m eager to create cool work with open and creative people, so bring it on!


Eglantine Gouzy “Boa music” 

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