The Film Industry: Innovating through Digital Bricolage

Bricolage, or the art of building on existing resources, is an important tool for special effects. The goal is to use objects in innovative ways that may be very different from their initial use. While companies can draw inspiration from this type of project management, this complex process requires planning and should not be improvised.


Using fish skin to make extraterrestrial skin, using a zebra to make a cow, using an airplane motor to create the effect of a tornado,... These examples and many more are the key to special effects. "This bricolage is not however a makeshift reparation or random improvisation. It's, as explained by Claude Levi Strauss, a process that uses existing resources to find a solution. It diverts objects from their initial use to give them a new application." explains Charles-Clemens Rüling, a Grenoble Ecole de Management professor and the co-author (with Raffis Duymedjian) of the article "Digital Bricolage: Resources and Coordination in the Production of Digital Visual Effects", published this year in the prestigious international journal Technological Forecasting & Social Change.

Sharing a common background

A bricoleur is first and foremost an expert who knows a company's constraints, clients, business model and other defining characteristics through and through. "In the film industry, the fact that team members have similar training and backgrounds makes it possible to continually adjust projects that are spread out across teams that include up to 60 different jobs. As a result of this guiding framework, the scenario structure is respected." highlights Raffi Duymedjian.

Developing a clear framework

Bricolage is only possible, efficient and sustainable if it has a proper framework. A vision and guidelines have to be clearly established. "We noticed that for special effects productions there were both budgetary constraints and scenario limitations. This framework, which we labeled narrative alignment, forced team members to expand their imagination and find solutions that fit these constraints." explains Raffi Duymedjian. For a traditional enterprise, this means that it is essential for top management to deliver a clear vision and give a project meaning if they wish to coordinate teams that are spread out around the globe. Such a framework gives each participant the liberty to act freely within established boundaries. "This is what we call verisimilitude. All adjustments are possible as long as they respect the project guidelines."

Digital advances facilitate bricolage

Currently, there are numerous management and data sharing tools available for special effects projects as well as most other collaborative projects. These tools make it easier to integrate the various heterogeneous parts of a project. "Digital work facilitates bricolage as it helps bring together a wide range of data that can be stored and used to find solutions." highlights Charles-Clemens Rüling. Bricolage for innovation can be a real boost for companies, yet to do so they must adopt new management strategies that embrace an open-minded and collaborative spirit.