How Gimmick Studio Flavours Its Unique Motion Design

Founded in 2016 by Francois Dulac and Benoît Fortier, Gimmick Studio is a Montreal-based motion design company that mixes creativity with efficiency in a laid-back atmosphere. One of the fastest-growing motion design studios in the industry, in recent years, the team has earned a reputation for delivering killer projects with lightning-fast turnaround times, with clients ranging from Coca-Cola and Porsche to Heinz and United Way. Having now grown to a team of almost 20 talented artists, Gimmick works with major creative agencies and visual content studios to offer everything from motion graphics and type design to 2D/3D animation, illustration… and hot sauce – all integral components across multiple forms of high quality advertising. LBB’s Josh Neufeldt sat down with Benoît to learn more about this, chatting about how the company has grown to where it is today, and the factors that enable Gimmick to bring the magic to any project it gets involved with. LBB> Please give us some background on your history! How did Gimmick Studio get started?Benoît> That’s a fun story! Francois Dulac [co-founder] and I met in our hockey beer league. I was in the field – I had been doing motion design for at least 10 years, working first for a graphic design studio, and then freelancing for around five years – and he was on the marketing side, working for a big pharma company. We would carpool to hockey, and I would talk about the company and he would give me ideas about what to do and what not to do. One thing I often discussed was what I liked to do, which didn’t include management, and eventually he said, ‘Why don’t you grow a little bit and hire some people?’. That idea sat with me, and eventually, after a game, I said, ‘Why don’t you partner with me and just start something?’. He was like, ‘Are you serious?’ and I said ‘Yeah why not? Let’s start something – we have a great fit. You manage and I’ll do the creative since I know the market’. He agreed to think about it, so the next week after the hockey game – and I don’t think he expected me to take it seriously and ask again – I asked him if he was ready. I think he was too proud to say no, so we just decided to go for it. Also, as a fun fact, when Francois and I met, we realised that we used to go to the same high school back in Quebec City. I was like, ‘Why do you know all these people on Facebook?’ and he said, ‘Ah, I’m from Quebec City’, and it was this whole shocking realisation that we were at the same high school at the same time, but didn’t know each other. We just met in Montreal!LBB> And how did you evolve into the motion design studio you are today? Benoît> This story happened almost seven years ago. The early days were about things like trying to figure out a name, determining what the goals were for each day, etc. Very important among these was building a reel. Even though I already had a lot of clients, showing it to them and coming up with structure was crucial to landing bigger projects – something I hadn’t done while freelancing but wanted to try. We also really wanted to focus on motion design. It’s what I love, and I think that’s what all the staff here love. We sometimes incorporate a little bit of live action, and I think it’s good, but we don’t want to fall into being a production company that just does that with a little bit of motion design on the side. It should be the other way around, with the live action just being used to bring a human element to our animation. LBB> Recently, you’ve risen to success as one of the fastest growing motion design studios in the industry. Tell us more about this! What has this looked like, and to what do you attribute this success?Benoît> To be fair, we didn’t start from zero, but adding structure enabled the workflow for bigger jobs. We also hired good people, and we are super lucky to have super nice people at the studio who have been with us since the start. We don’t like to have people coming and going – we like to build a relationship and make people feel that they are part of the studio. That’s one big key for us. Another thing is our rep. In Montreal, this doesn’t bring us more jobs – it’s about the people you know and the connections you have – but since we have reps in Toronto, we end up with a lot more jobs. We also have reps in the US and Europe for this reason. It brings us more jobs and opportunities to pitch against bigger studios for bigger jobs. Finally, again, I think it helps that we have a nice portfolio. It’s not necessarily a different style, but it’s our own kind of style. We are able to do 3D or 2D or cell animation, but in our own way. We love to play with type animation and mixed type animation in all of these formats, and truthfully, I don’t think there are a lot of other companies doing that. LBB> With this in mind, what have been some of the most significant projects for you, and why?Benoît> The first project I’m super proud of came in 2018, and it was the Grafika intro. We did the packaging for the ceremony, and we did a quick type animation for that. This event resonated a lot, not just in Canada, but around the world. A lot of people came back to us going, ‘Hey, wow, this is crazy. We want more of this!’. Even four or five years later, we’ve got people coming to us asking for stuff like that. It put us on the map. We also have the rebrand of the Cartoon Network. That was a little bit of a dream for me, and it was super fun! The people at Cartoon Network are really nice people, and they told us to just do what we do best. That was it really. Super easy – almost too easy, in fact, because sometimes when you do your job, you receive modifications, but we got greenlights all the way through with this.  Finally, in the past year, we’ve had two big projects – one for Porsche and one for Coca-Cola. They’re very different, but both awesome in their own right. The one for Porsche was a mix of type animation and 3D and CG cars, combined with a little bit of live action. To this day, it’s one of the biggest projects we’ve had, because at the start we were only supposed to do 3D cars and type animation, but when we landed the job, the clients said they really wanted live action. We had to tell them we didn’t actually normally do that, and then we built a team, went to LA to shoot, and did the whole nine yards. Very much out of our comfort zone, but being tasked with bringing more to the table was a great and fun challenge. For Coca-Cola, the agency was totally with us. We just got told to do cool stuff with character animations. I love cartoons in general, and I imagine this was close to brainstorming for that – time spent just considering what the character could do. It made for a very fun project and final watch! LBB> Your company also emphasises strong DE&I values as part of its core ideology. What does this look like, and why is it so important to the way you work?Benoît> Since the start, we always wanted to have a nice balance. Francois and I are obviously guys, but immediately, we wanted diversity in the mix. It’s important to not just have our vision, but others who share visions that we can embrace. It’s very easy to fall into the, ‘Oh, yeah, what I think is the way it’s done’, but that won’t always speak to everybody. Beyond that, it’s just the way to do the work right. We’re not doing this because it’s a topic that gets brought up a lot in society, we just see ourselves as having an opportunity to help people grow.This also carries over to the projects we choose. When we have a proposal for a nice project that helps the LGBTQ+ community, for instance, we’ll always try our best to make it fit into our busy schedule. We want to bring what we’re best at into it, and if we can help, we will. It’s our way of giving back to society. I know we are doing marketing – trying to sell cars and whatnot – but for me, it’s very important to always have a pro bono project that helps people who need it more than the big companies. Don’t get me wrong, it’s cool to work for big brands because they give us a budget to do what we love, but giving back just feels good. It’s all about balance, and it’s something we’re always pursuing. LBB> Seeing as you’re located in Montreal, how does the scene compare to other parts of Canada, and how does your location elevate your work? Benoît> Being in Montreal, where the main language is French, when we work with US people, I think they see us as more exotic. They love our accent, but as for the rest of Canada, honestly, I wouldn’t say it makes a huge difference. Obviously, in Montreal there is a nice scene for VFX, 3D animation and game studios, so it’s great to be here for that reason, but it’s also just where we’ve always been. With that said, one thing that comes to mind is the budgets. In Montreal, the budgets are a little lower, so we have to be especially creative in our solutions and techniques. But, there’s also the culture. I think we are a bit more open to European culture because we speak French. We have a lot of French people at the office and in Montreal, so they bring their ‘sauce’ in a slightly different way. I think that might help, or give us a different ‘taste’, to keep with the metaphor. LBB> What are some of the biggest challenges Gimmick has faced, and how have you overcome those? Benoît> My first thought would be to say the pandemic. However, while the first two months were intense, after that, it was honestly pretty great. People worked well with the remote jobs and we found our feet quickly. So instead, I’d say the biggest challenge is not falling into our comfort zone. When a lot of people saw our type animation work in 2018, we got more type animation work. And that was easy, because it was a lot more of the same. But, we weren’t pushing ourselves in other areas. However, it’s always really important to try new stuff. That’s why we are starting to incorporate a little bit of live action into our projects when we can. Yes, we might not be perfect at first, but as we practice and learn, we’ll get much better at it and be able to deliver it consistently. LBB> What does the name ‘Gimmick’ mean to you? Benoît> The definition is pretty much a flashy thing that is cool to watch, but once it disappears, it’s not super important. Something that helps bring attention. Stuff that people look at and say, ‘Wow, that’s nice!’ and then they go back to looking at the other stuff, which is pretty much our role in marketing. It’s our way of laughing at ourselves and telling the world we don’t take ourselves too seriously. But rest assured, we are very serious about delivering tight projects!LBB> According to your website, hot sauce is very important to Gimmick. Why is this? Benoît> Before Gimmick, I used to give hot sauce to my clients, and I’m still doing it! I love to make hot sauce, and it’s representative of what we’re doing. We bring our sauce, and it’s always too spicy for the client (lol), but it’s our special sauce. Actually, a couple of times, we’ve had the team come over to my house and make large batches. It’s just fun to make! Plus, it’s always cool to give to clients or friends. I’ve never met a person who isn’t happy to receive hot sauce, even if they don’t eat hot sauce. They’re always just like, ‘Oh wow, thank you, it’s a cool Gimmick!’.  LBB> Finally, what does the future hold for Gimmick?Benoît> We love what we do right now. The team is great, and we have sick reps and partners all over the globe. So, I’d say that we’ll try to be a thorn in the side of the big legacy studios (haha) and work on cool brands with the best people! Beyond that, I don’t know; we just want to do cool stuff, I guess (and play in the NHL, obviously… We are Canadians after all!).

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