Luxembourg's Work in Progress - Digital Media and Design on the Other Side of the Atlantic
By Estelle MacDonald and Luann Liang
New York (KWR) January 29, 2018 - The Grand Duchy of Luxembourg is not usually the first country to come to mind when thinking about the world of digital media and design. However, this small European country has worked hard in recent years to become an important center for the information and communications (ITC) sector and related sectors like animation. Indeed, Luxembourg has become a "smart" nation; that is modern, highly-connected and home to a wide range of businesses in the digital economy.
Before we go too far, where is Luxembourg? It is a small country sandwiched between Belgium, France and Germany, with a population of close to 600,000 people. The capital is Luxembourg City, which was for a long time a major fortress. According to the World Bank, Luxembourg has the world's second highest per capita income at $105,882 (the U.S. is 9th). The country is officially headed by the Grand Duke, but real political authority is with the elected parliament, which headed by a prime minister.
Luxembourg is also known for being part of the Battle of the Bulge in World War II, the burial place of General George Patton, lots of banks and the home of the European Court of Justice and other European Union institutions. And for anyone who spends anytime there, the food and drink is really good.
Being a small country surrounded by large economic giants, like Germany and France, the Luxembourgers have learned to be adaptive to survive. This has led them to move from agriculture to steel, financial services and, most recently, digital technology. There is a clear recognition in the importance of developing human capital and soft infrastructure (a safe and comfortable working environment, easy access to other parts of Europe and a relatively quick government response to changing business conditions).
The government and private sector often work together and in 2014, the "Digital Letzebuerg" initiative was launched. This program seeks to create a highly favorable environment for the long-term development of ICT companies. At the same time, the government established the Luxembourg ICT Cluster, which intends to promote new business opportunities via collaborative research, development and innovation projects.
One of the companies that has established itself in the Grand Duchy is Comed SA, an advertising firm, nestled on a laidback street in Luxembourg City. The company's offices are warm and engaging, with awards hanging from the walls and with a bustle of activity. The company's business lines are based on five "poles of excellence", which are strategy, design, digital, advertising and connecting. Taken together Comed's approach is to take companies from the pre-digital age to the digital age, providing them with the ideas and strategies to make that transition.
According to Wunsch Thierry, the firm's energetic deputy director, "Business in Luxembourg is not in one language, but many, usually in Luxembourgish, German, French, English and Portuguese. Comed navigates these linguistic waters on a daily basis, working with non-governmental organizations or NGOs (Amnesty International being one), the Luxembourg government and one of the country's major political parties. Most of the work is done in-house, but some of it, like animation is given to outside workers."
Thierry was very upbeat about business prospects going forward and Luxembourg's work environment. Among Comed's customers are the City of Luxembourg, Immobel, BGL BNP Paribas, Mercedes-Benz Luxembourg, and the Red Cross.
Another ICT company in Luxembourg is Studio 352, which has produced a number of animation films, two of the better-known being Ernest and Celestine and Song of the Sea. Stephan Roelants is the CEO and creative force behind Studio 352, which offers a 2D/3D pre-production line, from the characters, prop and background designs creation to the story-boards, layouts and expo sheet realization.
Roelants was born in Belgium, has a degree in law, journalism and applied economics. He also has a flair for fiction and script writing. He founded Studio 352 in 1996, as an animation studio with 45 professionals doing feature-length movies and documentaries. He also created Melusine Productions, which is mainly dedicated to animation and documentary and other ventures. Melusine was nominated two times for the Academy Awards and for the French Cesars four times among many great festival selections.
He is proud of his company's work in animation, noting that his artists have "rigorous discipline" and handle well the high pace of creating animated series as well as the complexity of developing an animated full-length movie. Among the major companies Studio 352 has as clients and partners are the Walt Disney Company, DIC Entertainment, Noukies Pictures, CBS, Discovery Channel, TF1, France Televisions and BBC.
Roelants is also proud of the company's digital work, which includes project concept and design, script and development, modeling, set-upping and lighting, and standard special FX. He noted, "We are working or have worked with advertising agencies such as Saatchi & Saatchi or Dexia BIL."
A third company worth noting is Neopixl, which creates APPs. It is located outside of Luxembourg City, in the town of Differdange, which is known for Differdange Castle, one of the only remaining landmarks from the Renaissance period in the area, and for its involvement in the country's industrial age via the steel industry. Today, it is the headquarters of Neopixl. The company's co-founder and CEO is Fabrice Dewasmes, who presides over a group of young people in a quiet side street.
Neopixl works in the iOS and Android universe. As its website says, it is always looking for iOS and Android developers, "with talentuous skill and passion of development." The company offers UX design (made with the user in mind); custom developments, training, APPcare, security and launchcare.
What makes Luxembourg work for all three of these companies is that the country has a well-educated workforce, a government that is interested in seeing these type of companies succeed and a tradition of entrepreneurship. All three businesses certainly faced risks in getting started. However, they have not only managed to survive, but are thriving. As one accounting firm recently noted of Luxembourg and its advantages for start-ups, "The country benefits from a wide array of resources helping startups grow and flourish, such as incubators, accelerators, startup programs and co-working spaces."
Looking back to the round of meetings conducted by the authors in 2017 with some of the best and brightest of Luxembourg's digital media and design industry we were privileged for getting a look behind the screen. In a practical sense, we were given a view of the multilingual and multimedia complex through which companies in Luxembourg work. To them it is a daily thing; for us it certainly appeared daunting. All three of the companies we visited demonstrated a high level of creativity and a passion for what they do. Anyone looking for an exciting place to set up shop in technology, we would strongly recommend Luxembourg.
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