Was there an aha moment that made you decide to go into animation? While studying illustration at Middlesex University, I took a course in animation, and it was there that my whole world changed. I’m sure it’s a feeling most animators can recognize—the time they made their drawings come to life for the first time. I made one of my characters move. Gave him a personality, a life, a voice. It was truly magical. With illustration, you tell a story with one image, but with animation, you tell it with thousands. It was a beautiful way of communicating what I felt. After that moment, I was hooked.
How does your background in illustration inform your work today? I often start with a visual solution to the brief, pin down the aesthetics and then build the story around it. My grandmother was an artist, and she has been a tremendous source of inspiration all my life. Her paintings were abstract as well as figurative, with a beautiful use of color palette that was almost poetic at times. She inspired me to use colors in my work as a term of atmosphere and visual language.
How are you seeing brands utilizing animation today? Brands are increasingly using animation to communicate difficult messages to audiences; for example, distilling complex health messages to communities and tackling issues around race and diversity. As the world becomes ever more globalized, animation offers a way to easily communicate a brand’s message across different languages and cultures.
What’s one trend in animation you want to see more of? There is nothing more awe-inspiring than walking onto a miniature set at a stop-motion shoot. All the tiny imperfections and the imprints of a human hand make the film all the more adorable. No computer can ever replicate that.
Earlier this year, I also art directed a piece for virtual reality (VR), which was highly interesting. At the time, I was very new to VR. The project, called “Is Anna OK?,” was commissioned by the BBC. It is a real-life story about twin sisters, one of whom had been in an accident that resulted in a brain injury. The piece took advantage of VR as a medium by creating two immersive stories that physically put the user in the shoes of the protagonist. It explores the aftermath of trauma, including the ways relationships must change and adapt.
During the production, I got to try out the Tilt Brush—drawing with it for the first time was truly fascinating! With my headset on, I could stand inside my canvas and walk around my own drawing, which became almost like a sculpture that I could view from all angles. What made it even more exciting was that I could then animate my drawing frame by frame and play it back in real time. I felt so small, and the world so big. The creative opportunities were endless.
These new technologies are really interesting ways of viewing and telling a story. But drawing will always be where my mind rests and my heart skips.
Are analog tools essential to your process? Nowadays, you can paint and draw so easily on your computer. But I still always start everything I do in a sketchbook. Character designs, background sketches, written ideas—they always gets scribbled down on paper, and then I scan and paint them on my computer. There is something physical about pen and paper that you just can’t replace—or won’t, for that matter. It’s a lovely opportunity to get away from your screen.
Aardman is known for its iconic stop-motion animation films. What are some projects that signpost that experimentation is alive and well at the company? Although stop-motion is indeed the core part of Aardman’s DNA, the studio is increasingly becoming known as a place for creativity across all mediums, with a depth and breadth of fantastic projects, from global arts projects—such as Saptan Stories, run in India with the British Council—to animation for augmented reality campaigns to a number of VR experiences, right through to theme park rides and attractions! The studio will soon be launching its latest endeavor in the very competitive games industry with the console game 11-11: Memories Retold. A grippingly emotional narrative adventure experienced through the lens of World War I, 11-11 has an art style reminiscent of paintings.
Aardman operates on a truly global scale, unafraid to tackle new technologies and creative challenges, but it remains true to its craft, developed in Bristol all those years ago.
How is the animation industry respecting its legacy as well as its future? Nothing stays the same in any creative sector; however, the animation industry is unique in that it is a very tight-knit community of artisans, and for the most part, it has a huge respect for doing things properly and to a high standard. Remaining true to our craft and striving to create quality work is how we can respect the animation pioneers whose legacy we remain indebted to.