In late 2017, Philippe Billeaudeaux was restless and feeling creative. A Lafayette-born landscaper and musician who performs with bands Feufollet, The Amazing Nuns and Cedric Watson, Billeaudeaux felt it was time to explore another outlet — video editing and animation.
After learning a few tricks from musician Wilson Savoy while he edited a music video for Feufollet’s “Two Universes” in 2015 and watching videographer Carly Viator edit some live footage, Billeaudeaux had an idea for a music video for the Cajun band’s single release of “Baby’s on Fire.” Billeaudeaux called up a local magician and TV host, The Great Boudini, then went to AOC Community Media to use a green screen and editing booths.
“That was the first video I edited on my own,” Billeaudeaux says. “I had The Great Boudini in front of a green screen. I was playing with that, learning how to upload it to Instagram and YouTube. It all sort of came together. That’s when I started really playing with video editing and doing video flyers.”
After piecing together shorts and the music video, Billeaudeaux was confident he could start working in animation. Inspiration came from earlier times, like watching Gumby as a child, then later studying the claymation sequence in the Frank Zappa movie Baby Snakes. Another big inspiration came from his time living with The Amazing Nuns’ Justin Robinson.
“When Justin and I lived together, I remember he would do stop-motion animation using a camcorder,” Billeaudeaux says. “He would hook up the camcorder and his 4-track or 8-track to a VCR and mix down the video and audio together to make these home movies. It was so DIY, so punk rock. We just made them for fun. That was inspiring watching him and seeing what you can do, seeing that it was possible. It was complete creative freedom, and this was before cell phones or social media took over.”
When the winter of 2017 rolled around, with tons of free time, Billeaudeaux got to work, molding and painting clay figures for his first animated short.
“I went in dry, read up on it a bit and figured out some techniques,” he recalls of his early efforts in animation toward the end of 2017. “I remember the weather was really bad. We had a lot of freezes, and I was stuck inside. I didn’t have much else going on music-wise or anything. With all that free time, I just thought this was a good time to explore this avenue, this thing I always wanted to do. I just went for it.”
For Billeaudeaux, the main reason for developing animated shorts was to promote music. A fan of bands like Pink Floyd, Zappa and The Beatles, Billeaudeaux always enjoyed groups that expanded their brands with visual accompaniments. In the age of screens, the musician thought his animation might be an added bonus, that it might catch someone’s attention more than a routine listing or poster.
“In this day and age, everyone has a screen,” he says. “You have to be able to catch someone’s eyes these days. The main reason I started doing this was to promote bands, shows and releases. I don’t really see songs and playing in bars as the end of what you do when you’re in a band. I love the idea of creating a brand, being a multimedia outlet, with music being the primary focus. That’s why I’ve always liked groups like Pink Floyd and The Beatles. They had so much more to offer. Whether it’s doing performance art or merchandise, or in this case, animated shorts, I like to connect all of that to the music.”
By spring 2018, Billeaudeaux was making short claymation video flyers for concerts featuring scenester acts like Carbon Poppies and The Amazing Nuns, posting them to Instagram and watching the likes and comments roll in. Soon after, friends like design team Makemade’s Allison and Peter DeHart were cheering him on, wanting to see more. Then, commissions came from the Celtic Bayou Festival and Louisiana Folk Roots’ Kids Camp at Vermilionville, productions that yielded colorful claymation and new challenges for Billeadeaux to cut his teeth on.
“Some of these videos took weeks,” he says. “I would have it in my head that it would start a certain way then go here and end like this. It’s like writing a song. It’s just another way of composing. Sometimes, though, things really don’t happen the way you want them to happen, so you improvise and go a different route. Then, you see it come to life. And there’s nothing better.”
Billeaudeaux’s latest animated video is for Grand Couteau-based title company Maison Title, and it features paper cutouts of the owners driving down the street, looking for new digs for an office in Lafayette. Now Billeaudeaux has hung a shingle on the internet, so-to-speak, for his new production house, Pompano Studio. That he’s now getting paid to create animated videos is something that still surprises him.
“It’s exciting that it’s all happening,” he says. “This started as a side hustle, and it’s something that I love to do. Animation, claymation in particular, there’s magic to it. You see shadows and the depth to it. There’s something special to it, something real. It’s not processed.”
Billeaudeaux is interested in creating even more ambitious animated projects, including an educational cartoon titled Hip et Taiau, about two mischievous dogs who steal things from a farmer.
“I had this epiphany about using art to serve a purpose and educate,” Billeaudeaux says of Hip et Taiau. “I grew up in the French immersion program here in Lafayette. When I was in school, our poor teachers didn’t have a lot of resources. They would show us these cartoons and movies from France or Canada, and we didn’t understand the humor in it. There was a cultural divide.”
He says the idea behind Hip et Taiau is to create cartoons in French for Cajun Louisiana — to help teach children the French language while also introducing them to Louisiana folklore.
“The title comes from a song, an old cowboy call to dogs. I thought the dogs would be great cartoon characters,” Billeaudeaux says. “One’s blue, and the other’s red. It’s very much for children, teaching children how to say and spell primary colors. The pilot episode is pretty much done.”
This type of creativity keeps Billeaudeaux sane, he jokes. With music, he’s got the ability to play different songs at different venues, nearly every weekend. With landscaping, he’s designing pathways and gardens at different job sites and houses. Now he has another set of tools he can dig into at any moment he gets restless.
“This is one of those things that came to me, and it was stuck in my head,” he says. “I obsessed over it. I had to do it. I couldn’t ignore it. There’s nothing more rewarding than seeing an idea come to life.”