Pierre-Nicolas Riou

"Mes Automatismes" Interview

For most, time away from work is an opportunity to escape — to dismount the workspace and shoot straight to the beach, the trees, or the mountains. But for BUCK designer Pierre-Nicolas Riou, that meant trading in client calls for sabbatical time, and in the process conjuring up this hypnotic, beautifully crafted music video that captures the sometimes-dramatic effect of sudden change ↓

Tell us a little about yourself. Who are you, and what do you do at BUCK?

I'm an illustrator and animator from Montréal, and I have been designing here at BUCK since last December, for the New York office.

What drew you to this project, and what were the initial themes that surfaced in the music?

Catherine, from Bronswick, had seen and liked the work I had done illustrating one of their label-fellow’s LP and singles; so the label reached out to me inquiring about a video without even knowing I did animation. I jumped on the opportunity, being a forever fan of music videos, and never having had the chance to direct one myself.

For me, the song revolves around the ending of a thing - a relationship, maybe? More precisely it is about the stuff that keeps going for a while, out entropy, in the moments right after the thing has ended. The way there is a semblance of life there, an illusion that will end sooner or later. That’s how I interpreted the “automatisms” of the title, anyway.

The infinite loops and recurring motifs create a sense of repetition and isolation — are there aspects of personal experience woven into this?

The project was born relatively early in last spring’s lockdown, and I’m pretty sure it had an effect on what’s shown in the video. For instance, there is an infinite loop where you go from one living room to the next, to the next, forever. I mean, that one is definitely about Covid life.

Above all, this was simply about being left alone in the remains of something gone, in a place where there used to be love and warmth - something I think most people can relate to.

There seems to be a dialogue between industrialism and a fractured home life in this piece — how would you explain the marriage and/or conflict between these two concepts?

I really saw the machines as metaphors for the empty gestures and habits that can gradually replace spontaneity and life and love, in a relationship between two people. All these machines, all this stuff runs on empty forever in a void, and it is cold and a little sad, like the song.

Can you share your process behind designing and animating this project?

First steps were coming up with a pitch, primarily to convince the band, and then to apply for a grant that would finance the project. The pitch included my ideas of empty houses and machines and repetitions, using visual references of artists that inspired me in reference with the project. Ken Price’s apartments, Jean Tinguely’s machines, John Wesley's awkward couples, Magritte in general - that kind of stuff.

Once everybody was on board and we were awarded the funding, my process was simply to throw as many ideas as possible on paper in storyboard form, scan everything, and try it out over the music until everything made sense - tonally, lyrically and visually.

At the end of this process I had a really precise animatic with blocked timings, that would stay until the final edit. Once this was approved, it was only a matter of designing and animating it.

Full Animatic ↓

Also, we shot the band performing over the song so I could animate a few rotoscope shots, which was a really awesome process that I’d like to experience again.

Did your sabbatical (time away from BUCK) provide any insight into the balance between personal creative projects and the creative work you do 9-5?

Honestly, I tend to be able to focus on only one project at a time. When I worked on the video, it was all the time - and it’s almost the same here. I still have a lot of work to do to reach this balance you're talking about.

Maybe the sabbatical is the perfect tool for people like me - to avoid having to compartmentalize.

Actually, I don't even believe in a personal practice performed as a dilettante. To be able to deploy the energy necessary to make stuff, I believe you need the whole day. But there are people that achieve it. I envy those ones who can pull it out.

What advice would you give those that are trying to strike the right balance between the two?

I am totally one of these people, haha. I can't answer that.