What led you to choose the professional name Crankbunny? My animation and illustration work first found a home on the internet 20 years ago, right before the first boom. There was a ton of experimentation on the internet at the time, and every designer, coder and animator used a moniker. Using an alias gave my animation and interactive work the freedom to exist on its own terms; no one would be thinking about whether there was a company, a group of people, or a man or a woman behind the work. The name, which was just the smacking of two words together, was formed spontaneously in a conversation, and I created a backstory much later.
Now, the name is just a way of hooking people in. It’s fun. It’s a distraction. “What is this Crankbunny?” It makes people stop and wonder and smile. This is exactly where I want people to go. It’s a lovely detour away from having to introduce myself as Norma Toraya. Norma is not very exciting. She only wants to read boring books and think about sea creatures. Companies aren’t interested in her slime-mold obsession, but they are curious about hiring Crankbunny to create engaging work.
What personal experiences have most influenced your work or style? I once drove a car that was on fire to the mechanic because I didn’t want to pay for a tow truck. It was incredibly dumb and risky. But I do remember thinking, “It’s not that bad! I can still see out the window, and the smoke coming out of the AC vents hasn’t turned into hot fire yet!” This is the sort of energy I try to channel in my work. It’s a reminder that I shouldn’t stop evolving or coming up with different creative solutions, especially when work might not go as planned.
How does your paper artistry feed your animation work, and vice versa? The paper work enables me to focus more on illustration, design and color. With animation, I’m thinking more about research, story and movement. I have this feedback loop between the two that has made me a better person to work with. I work on projects with teams, and it’s helpful to understand where a designer is coming from versus a film director.
What did you learn from the process of animating the short film “I Am With You” by Chanel Miller? I learned that I enjoy working fast. With animation, there is a process everyone sticks to. There’s the concept, character design, art direction, script and storyboard. Everything is broken down, timed out neurotically and signed off on. It’s fairly rigid and not fluid, but this process is important and necessary. With animation and illustration, changing one thing can sometimes snowball into redoing weeks of work.
“I Am With You” could have easily followed this process, but because of the ideas that the directors, Chanel Miller and Emily Moore, wanted to communicate, we tried to have the process not get in the way. It was important for the animation to reflect an extremely personal and cathartic message. There was a general storyboard and script, but the workflow was very in the moment—day-to-day and responsive. The tedious nature of animation sort of melted into the background. It made the project really exciting and fun.
What insights do you hope viewers take away from watching this film? I hope people can learn and find validation. I’m a huge fan of taking up space in this world in a helpful way. Caring and authenticity have value. People respond to them well. These two elements can be very empowering for others to witness.
What was the inspiration behind your “Super City You” animation in Times Square? I love New York City. It’s the place I identify with the most. It can be a crazy, caustic, unforgiving, ever-changing and frustrating place, but it is a city filled with people who are dreaming, thinking, watching and teaching others. This energy creates a metaphorical garden that grows from buildings. The animation “Super City You” features the possibility of people transforming themselves into something larger. The personas, seen looming in the city gardens, are abstract visual representations of their potential. I wanted to inspire viewers to see themselves growing, seeking and transforming.
What were the challenges of creating a piece that was displayed in such an iconic location? Times Square is a very big space in terms of scale. It spans eight to nine blocks, with an intersection of two major avenues in New York City. The billboards get mixed in with lights, noises, other ads, stores, cars and constant construction. Then, add thousands of people walking through it. There was a huge risk of creating something so delicate or nuanced that it would get dwarfed by everything else going on.
Where do you think the field of animation is going? I hope animation becomes more accessible. I’d like to see more people animating in the same way people make movies and short films with their phones. Animation doesn’t have to be about knowing how to draw well or being proficient at software.
I also think zines are making a comeback because books are becoming more accessible to make. People are getting satisfaction by creating something that goes into the word, even if it’s in a small, scaled-down manner or a spark of an idea. That small zine eventually adds up and becomes something bigger for the artist. I would love to see animation go in that direction.
What’s one thing you wish you knew when you started your career? I wish I’d known more about burn out. It happens to most artists, and everyone deals with it in a different manner. It comes in different forms. Externally, you’re stuck or have a job that sucks. Internally, it’s the futile feeling of not going anywhere. There’s probably a handbook or a few books written about it, but what helps more is people acknowledging and talking openly about it. It helps to be kind to yourself. Lean into what you find yourself enjoying. Lean on that hard, and trust in your voice.