It’s hard to put a timestamp on it to be honest, but I’ve got a few videos of being really young, under 10 I think, and just being totally in love with how something looked. I vividly remember being given a poster from CVG (Computers and Video Games) magazine and it featured a beautiful painted illustration of all the biggest characters at the time—I remember protecting this thing like it was the crown jewels.
I loved looking at it, just getting lost in the details. I think that’s how design and art has always felt to me: a fuzzy, fizzy, bubbling feeling. I didn’t know what that feeling meant at the time, but It was just a total love of the aesthetic of stuff. It’s the same reason I would obsessively try and draw Sonic the Hedgehog over and over again, and why I would get frustrated when I couldn’t do it perfect, because I cared about it so much!
Nothing’s changed 25 years later—I still get that fuzzy fizzy feeling of excitement and I still get super frustrated with myself! I wouldn’t have it any other way to be honest!
I love passion projects. I’m a huge fan of taking on side projects and using them as a way to make the things that no one will pay you for—making stuff exist in the world that you want to see! So, to make that happen, you have to make the time for it. I do this by getting up early, before my day job begins, and doing the work then. I used to work at night, but since I became a parent that’s all changed as I want to see my son & wife and be a Dad when I get home, so the only other time to indulge in passion projects was before they all get up! So, depending on what the project is I get up around 5am and hop into my ‘den’ (our spare room which is my office) and work until around 8am which is when I need to start getting ready for my day job!
I then get ready, hop onto the train and travel into work to start at 9.30am. Our days at work usually begin with ‘stand-ups’—super quick meetings for each project you’re working on and you say what you did yesterday and what you’re going to do today—but all whilst standing-up, no sitting down as then it turns into a ‘real’ meeting where you’re easily sidetracked!
So that helps us all get up to speed as a team and then we all get cracking on! My role is Senior Designer for the Interactive arm of Aardman Animations— I do a lot of work in Photoshop and Illustrator, so I’m usually at my desk doing that. I do love being involved in multiple projects, so there’s always chats and conversations with other designers, producers and directors as to how things are going.
Sometimes I act as Art Director on a project too, which just involves helping to steer the visual side of things. I work very closely with a Creative Director on that, as they’re steering the overall vision of how the piece of work feels, acts, informs etc etc but my role as an AD is purely visual, something I love.
Lunchtime is at 1pm where I usually like to grab something nice from our canteen but then try and do a little bit more side project work in my lunch hour (grabbing as much time as I can!)
Then it’s back on with my day, normally more with my head down, headphones on and designing. That doesn’t mean it’s a solitary experience though—the studio is very chatty and very friendly, so there’s always something silly going on that you’re a part of. There’s also Slack, which we all use, and that’s essentially like Skype but with the added bonus of being more an organisational tool, so we might all have our headphones, in the zone, but we’re still all connected and you can ask questions and share stuff as you’re doing it, which is mighty helpful!
Then, when 6pm rolls around, it’s time to head home. A short walk and then a train journey later and I’m home. Dad duties and dinner come next, with baby’s bath and bed time, then cooking up something nice as my wife feeds our son. With little one in bed, we watch something on TV together, usually Netflix—but we’re quite strict, we only watch something 20/30mins long so our night doesn’t disappear. My wife is a Jewellery Designer & Maker, and because she looks after our son during the day, she works on her own creations at night—so we keep our TV-time short so she can get out into her workshop.
For me, it depends how busy I am with side-projects, at the moment I’ve fallen into the habit of also going into my den and working, which is a bit bad because it means I’ve been working before work, at work, and after work—but, I absolutely love it, so that’s not bad. I just need to be better at giving my brain a rest!
At around 11pm-ish it’s time to head to bed, have a snooze, and do it all over again. (Well, until baby wakes up at silly-o-clock :) )
Oh man, this changes on a regular basis. There’s SO MUCH goodness out there, it makes me feel that strange version of inspired where seeing someones stunning work makes you want to go and make your own stuff and quit, all at the same time!
Here’s some of my favourites:
God I could look at Paul’s work forever. Calling him a ‘pixel artist’ would be a disservice to him to be honest, as that’s his weapon of choice, but that’s just a tiny part of it—his work is bright, bold, bizarre and fascinating. He’s also an animator too, an incredible one, search Kings of Power 4 Billion % on YouTube to get a full view of how brilliant he is.
Twitter’s such a great place for artists, I’ve discovered so many brilliant ones thanks to it. Katie is one of those; her use of colour and texture is gorgeous. Her ‘Sunday Sonder’ project is particularly beautiful, both in execution but also concept. Lovely!
I don’t know this dude’s real name, but I know how much I adore his work. He’s just got such a great eye for character, texture, lighting and more. Just looking at his Instagram feed will inspire you and fill you full of jealousy. He’s simply brilliant and I love seeing his new creations!
If you can’t tell, I’m drawn to bright colours and characters! That’s why I love Nicole’s work. It was love at first sight with these creations!
Luscious. That’s the best way to describe Zoe’s work. Her use of colour and texture is absolutely beautiful. Love, love, love.
I like to juggle a few at a time! I just finished one that was personally huge for me, the title sequence for the 2018 FITC creative festival in Amsterdam. What made that film so special was the venues unique AV set-up: 9 interconnected screens, in a ‘U’ shape, giving a total resolution of 9216 x 768! Designing and animating for that was a new experience and I loved it. It was also a passion project that saw me discovering the limits of what’s achievable as a passion project—as the deadline grew closer I started doing 4am starts to fit in everything I needed to do (as this work all happens before I leave for my day job at 8am). That was refreshing to discover that I could do that, I could find the time, even in the wee hours. Of course that’s not sustainable, but I learnt a lot and surprised myself with what’s possible!
I’ve got some really exciting passion projects coming up for the rest of the year: I’m designing and painting a 5ft sculpture of Gromit the dog, as part of a city-wide arts trail, raising money for the Bristol Children’s Hospital. I’m developing an animated TV series idea that I’m doing for my own learning and progression, despite wether it ‘goes’ anywhere or not. And I’m putting together my own YouTube channel with creative interviews, of super inspiring people I get the chance to hang out with at talks around the world, alongside ‘behind the scenes’ on the processes of my passion projects and hopefully other useful information!
Do you know what? I think I’d stay silent. I think it’s really important to be confused, to be awkward, to be unsure of what to do, how to say it and where to go. That’s why being 16 is so tricky yet it’s so important. You’re MEANT to get it all wrong. If I had to say something to myself though then it would be “Just do SOMETHING. Don’t be idle. Don’t be still. Move towards something”. I didn’t figure that out until I was around 20 or so and discovered the joy of self-motivation, but then, I don’t think I’d change that, because I found my motivation in my own way, in my own time. Even if I did travel back in time and give myself advice, 16-year old me would have ignored it anyways. So, to any teenagers out there—don’t worry too much if you don’t feel clear headed and goal oriented—it will come, but you can give yourself a head start by seeking out what makes you excited, what gets your curiosity and start gravitating towards that. Always be moving.
Funnily enough, our studio, within Aardman, had a name change because of this very topic. We were called ‘Aardman Online’ originally when we were created 10 years ago, then we became ‘Aardman Digital’ when the boom of a digital landscape occurred because it felt the right way to identify what we did, but recently we’ve changed our name to ‘Aardman Interactive’ simply because digital doesn’t mean anything anymore because it means EVERYTHING. Digital is now totally a part of what we all do, instinctively. The tools, the processes, it’s all digital! For me, personally, it feels totally natural as my whole career as a graphic designer has been using digital tools, but that’s just the execution right? The basis of design—composition, colour, type, space—that’s still the same, we just have a toolset to more quickly experiment with those fundamentals to see what works and doesn’t work. That’s an exciting place to be.