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Lille, France: Hotbed of the North

In the unsuspecting town of Lille, lies some of the most cutting-edge Web animation companies in the world...and what's more...they are all working together to create an environment of exploration and innovation. Tony Coates and Franck Levis explain.

Let's all go to Lille! An image from the Website for French singer Alain Souchon designed by il pour il. All rights reserved. TM & © 2001 il pour il Productions.

Let's all go to Lille! An image from the Website for French singer Alain Souchon designed by il pour il. All rights reserved. TM & © 2001 il pour il Productions.

One hour's high speed train ride up from Paris takes the curious traveler into the heart of Flanders, midway twixt London and Brussels. Here Lille stands proud as one of Europe's major production and conceptual hubs for Web animation, site design and content development.

First and foremost, the Lille area has a strong heritage in graphic design, which led naturally to well-presented and ergonomically-innovative Websites. There are gamers here too now, bringing exciting new concepts in animated entertainment, both large and small.

Moreover, in the context of convergence between television and Internet, Lille plays host to numerous businesses who specialize in toons for the Web, that are beginning to license their wares to traditional broadcasters. Finally, the companies of the region are keen to exploit the impact of "Web jams," these one-off happenings in which animated content is created live at international events, and then remains online for future consultation.

The Northern region was the traditional heartland of France's textile industry. In reaction to the decline in European textile manufacture, Lille and the surrounding area has rebounded by going high-tech. The tertiary sector -- finance, advertising, telecoms, Internet -- is booming, thanks to cheaper cost overheads than Paris, for example, and the strategic geographical advantages of being situated in the middle of the London-Brussels-Paris-Amsterdam rectangle. France's biggest mail-order catalogues have their headquarters here, notably "La Redoute" and "Les 3 Suisses." Major hypermarket chains, such as "Auchan," also have their main offices and distribution facilities in the region.

This concentration of economic activity generates demand for Web design and online content, hence the dozens of Internet firms that have sprung up since the late '90s, many of which are still operating today. Happily, to supply the staffing needs of these Web agencies, a plentiful hunting ground for recruitment is found in the various art schools of the region. Once famous for training textile designers par excellence, the SupInfoCom school in Valenciennes, the Esaat in Roubaix, l'école Saint-Vincent of Loos and l'école Saint Luc in nearby Tournai -- amongst others -- now produce bucket-loads of creative talent for the Net.

Added to this tradition for graphics, the Lille area is influenced strongly by the techno and indie undercurrents from Belgium: two music scenes well ahead of their Parisian counterparts. Indeed, the underground arty culture of the Belgo-Lille region pumps out an avant garde beat which the rest of France readily marches to. Many of the players on these underground scenes find themselves inexorably drawn to the possibilities offered by the Web. Here we see another of the reasons for the ever-growing reputation of the (Northern) "French Touch" in the world of Web design.

Jojo's home page by Nocopy. © Dupuis, Nocopy.

Jojo's home page by Nocopy. © Dupuis, Nocopy.

Flashy Sites

In terms of site design, Lille has some relatively old stagers in the shape of il pour il (an eye for an eye/, Nocopy Multimedia Creation ( and Tokto (

From as early as 1996, the striking graphic layout and content of the sites produced by these companies caught the eye and has enabled them to go from strength to strength. il pour il created a real impact with sites for musicians, such as and, and more recently for the no-nonsense French rappers NTM. Nocopy, for their part, already accomplished "print" graphic designers, developed these skills to branch out into site design, including the northern concert arena, the irrepressible Jojo (, and the golden boy of European comic strips, recently seen in the launch of the new Christian Dior fragrance 'Eau Sauvage.'

On a more institutional level, Tokto were responsible for, the French national site for Art and Industry, and Nocopy designed the site for the Dunkirk channel port -- scene of one or two famous wartime incidents -- now more usually frequented by pleasure cruisers at il pour il, Nocopy and Tokto -- likewise the newer local players in Web design, such as Atypic Labs -- are all resolutely committed to making their sites as 'Flashy' and attractive as possible, a raison d'être which has born fruits in their increasing national and international success.

This success has been notably crowned with the recent attribution to a Lille Web agency of the prestigious job of producing and maintaining the all-new Tintin site, dedicated to the adventures and history of Hergé's world famous globe-trotting reporter, Online since October 2000, the Tintin site calls upon the inimitable graphic lines of Hergé, and encourages visitors young and old to enjoy and rediscover the intrepid voyages of Tintin, Snowy, Captain Haddock and the Thomson twins as they explore the planet and beyond (see 'Destination Moon').

The full cast of characters from the peripatetic world of Tintin. © Moulinsart, Nocopy.

The full cast of characters from the peripatetic world of Tintin. © Moulinsart, Nocopy.

In co-production with Moulinsart, the rights-holders of Hergé's universe, the ongoing development of continues to create a community of Web visitors, via games, edutainment, forums, chat-rooms and regular thematic updates. These themes reflect the issues brought up in the Tintin comic books, such as advances in science and technology, the middle eastern question, organized crime, oil crises and environmental concerns. Tintin, a timeless and universal character, can be used on the Web as an important tool for both entertainment and educational purposes. The visitor numbers reflect the notoriety of Tintin and the quality of the site: 2 million page views per month, 150 thousand individual visitors and an average session of 7 minutes. These figures are increasing daily as the site grows and its content is enriched.

Banja, the rastaboy from TEAMcHmAn. © TEAMcHmAn 2001.

Banja, the rastaboy from TEAMcHmAn. © TEAMcHmAn 2001.

Let's Get Gaming

Along with il pour il, the big daddy of the local Lille Web scene is generally acknowledged to be TEAMcHmAn (, whose activities range from game design to the creation of animated series.

TEAMcHmAn's most famous brainchild is a full-length interactive 3D adventure game crammed with original characters and unexpected situations,, where surfers can join in with and influence the narrative action involving Banja -- the loveable rastaboy -- and his friends. Like an unfolding screenplay, the adventures of Banja are developed through self-contained episodes, each with a strong narrative theme. On the boundary line between a server and an online game, ensures visitor loyalty thanks to games within the game, animated sequences and communal areas.

This vast solo adventure, simultaneously played by a whole community of players, takes place in the mythical territory known as Itland, where a spirit of optimism and mutual co-operation reigns. Banja is bringing together a wide fraternity of users, male and female from 8 to 35, who identify with this multi-level playground on the Web. More than 150,000 users are now registered in France, playing more than 2 hours per month. The Spanish and Portuguese versions, released in February 2001 by Terra Networks, have already attracted 120,000 registered users. As a consequence of this success, TEAMcHmAn is developing a Banja TV series, running 26 episodes, each 26 minutes in length.

il pour il has a subsidiary devoted entirely to games. As well as smaller online games like 'Superhurdles,' developed for the British Athletics Federation, and work for Infogrames in the online launches of new games, il pour il is currently nearing the final stages of production on a feature-length video game: 'Dark Khan.' A graphically-rich heroic fantasy quest, along the epic lines of 'Diabolo,' 'Dark Khan' can be viewed in preview form on the il pour il home Website.

Tokto, meanwhile, has created a virtual speakeasy/bar at, where thirsty Websurfers can interact and let off steam with a choice of online games. For 'Deer Hunter' fans, Nocopy has a quaint duck shooting game in the surprise section of its home site, whilst il pour il offers the chance to obliterate a few Yorkshire terriers on its home pages.

The Zblonk world, where it's not as simple as it looks. © 2002

The Zblonk world, where it's not as simple as it looks. © 2002

Among the newcomers to the Lille Webscene, there are several game specialists. These include, whose latest project is a game engine called Zblonk: a multi-player scenario involving enigmas and pitfalls, developed using Macromedia Flash. Spread over 20 episodes, Zblonk turns out to be far more complex than first meets the eye. Keblow, another young Web agency, is the proud father of Sai, a laid-back explorer whose journey through life can be witnessed on the home site (

An image from Saï, a platform game designed by Keblow. The game is comprised of six episodes, four of which are already produced. ©

An image from Saï, a platform game designed by Keblow. The game is comprised of six episodes, four of which are already produced. © is a Web agency specialising in advertainment. They create mini sports games which feature advertising space for corporate clients inserted within their decors. These online games include soccer, rugby (NFL without the shoulder pads), basketball and mini-golf. For IBM and Le Figaro national newspaper, Touche-etoile produced an animated quiz featuring a bouncy Santa Claus to celebrate the new millennium. Also highly-reputed as online game producers are, whose work combines striking graphics with excellent musical soundtracks, notably Snow Rider Academy, produced for the kids site of France's biggest television station TF1.

Other young local companies offering their savoir-faire to the world of games production include Hydravision, Wip:on and Naxos-images, the latter is particularly adept in 3D image configuration. Finally, it is worth noting the address, a portal site hailing from the North of France, which groups over fifty easy to download online games. The site also organises world games championships and boasts over 20,000 regular visitors.


A screen shot from the multi-player video game, Chaoser, developed for PCs by Hydravision Entertainment. © 2001 Hydravision Entertainment. Go inside of Wip:On and see their work, staff and studio. © Wip:On 2001/ © © Macrun-Djiran.

On to TV!

Some of the hottest animated series to come out of Europe are undoubtedly from the North of France. Tokto, il pour il, TEAMcHmAn and Nocopy excel in this field. Indeed, at the March 2001 International Internet Film Festival (, both Tokto with Inmyapartment and Nocopy with Coming Snow picked up the prizes for best use of the Web and best series respectively.


A scene from the International Internet Film Festival's Best Series winner, Coming Snow. © Nocopy. Nocopy's Benzo P.I. parodies the classic detective genre. © Nocopy, Wanadoo.

More recently, Tokto has produced a new animated series featuring a mischievous rabbit and rapacious mole called Mixou and Kousto, whose adventures in the forest can be viewed in 13 x 3 minute episodes. Nocopy's Coming Snow has since been followed up by the Magic Circé series, bought by Also published by Wanadoo, we have the series Benzo P.I., a marvelous parody of the detective genre aimed at the 18-35 audience. And finally, at the same Wanadoo address, TEAMcHmAn's Spaceboys splash into the galaxy in their hip-hop flying saucer, ready to take on any adversary: animal, vegetable or mineral. On a more serious tone -- whilst not strictly an animated series -- it is worth visiting, a documentary type scenario described by its producers, Analogiks-Indians, as an 'interactive film' set in historical New York.


il pour il, whose ambition knows no bounds, have gone one step beyond the production of Web series by creating their own Web-TV. Behind the inspired name of resides a selection of cutting edge animated series, organized according to five thematic channels including Arf, for laughs, and Pulp, for thrills. The tone is acidic and irreverent, ranging from the X-Files parody Murder and Scotty to the completely delirious Guts and Guests show. One of the series, Victims, dealing with popular urban myths, has been bought for direct broadcast by Canal Plus Television, illustrating the growing entente cordiale between the Internet and traditional broadcasters. Counting on the quality of the ideas and the fluidity of animation in their work, il pour il intends in the future to make Visiodrome a fee-paying Web-TV station. Today, has already attracted over 7,000 non-paying initial subscribers.

Again, in the context of the rapprochement between TV and the Net, as we have seen for Banja and Victims, Nocopy's animated Flash series of 52 episodes of Kid Paddle -- an effervescent Dennis the Menace style character -- is being tracked down for diffusion by French terrestrial TV stations. More importantly, il pour il's series Loana and Her Friends, 32 short episodes featuring the adventures of a bunch of insects, has become a feature in the Canal Plus primetime evening slot since October 2001, becoming the first Flash animation to be shown regularly on mainstream French television


A scene from Murder and Scotty, a biting X-Files parody which airs on il pour il's All rights reserved. TM & © 2001 il pour il Productions.


The print ad and first home page for, a Web-TV station created by il pour il. All rights reserved. TM & © 2001 il pour il Productions.

coateslille16.gifSecret Minceur (Victims), also on, is headed for direct broadcast TV. All rights reserved. TM & © 2001 il pour il Productions.

coateslille17.gifSee an example of Nocopy's Flash series Kid Paddle. © Depuis, Midam, Nocopy.

coateslille18.gifA Bug's Life French style: Loana and Her Friends went from Web-TV to mainstream French culture. All rights reserved. TM & © 2001 il pour il Productions.

Web Jams

Finally, we should note the growing phenomena of "Web jams" as developed by Internet design companies from the North. The most famous of these is Vector Lounge, initiated by TEAMcHmAn, which has become an increasingly popular feature at international Internet gatherings. The latest edition of Vector Lounge took place in Amsterdam in October 2001 for the FlashForward Festival. The principle of Vector Lounge is to foster the interaction between the top creative spirits in Flash animation; to get all these wizards under one roof and give them the freedom to strut their stuff in a live situation. Invited participants hail from all corners of the globe: Japan, the USA and Europe. The results of these "happenings" are often as surprising as they are innovative, for example the amazing work by Wireframe for Vector Lounge04. Previous Vector Lounge performances include the Annecy International Animated Film Festival and the Linz Ars Electronica Festival in Austria.

Similarly, but on a far more modest scale, the Webdaysigners jammin' event is into its third anniversary year. Webdaysigners' creations can be seen on the Tokto home site. Touche-etoile have also jumped on the Webjam bandwagon, with a recent outing in October 2001 for the MixMove European Digital Music and Arts Forum. Over the weekend, Touche-etoile and other Web agencies joined forces to produce an animated video for the SayagJazzMachine song: "Amigo."

Beyond the fraternal spirit as displayed by the Northern French Web jams, several of Lille's bigger Web agencies have come together to form the Arc Numerique. By grouping Internet content developers from the region in an association, the Arc Numerique aims at presenting a united front in terms of collective bargaining with national and international structures. Another federating institution is the CRRAV, the regional audiovisual development agency, which helps finance the presence of local Web businesses at trade fairs such as Milia.

In short, Lille's Web scene has little to envy from its Parisian and European counterparts. Despite recent world events and the uncertain economic situation, the Internet buzz in the North of France is still as strong as ever. In fact, on any given evening it is not uncommon to stumble across a cheery Lille Web designer or two chewing the fat in a dim-lit bistro, sheltering from the rain with a plateful of mussels, french fries and mayo. It is not uncommon either to bump into a merry band of Lille Internet activists enjoying a glass of pils to celebrate Lille's recent nomination as European capital of culture for 2004.

Tony Coates: Web-hound, writer and translator. International development officer, Nocopy. Singer/songwriter with rock band "The Lobsterdogs."

Franck Levis: Commercial director, Nocopy. Formerly of the INA (Institut National de l'Audiovisuel). Passionate about chess.

Attached Files 
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