Gear Seven/Arc Studios/Shift
I Like Music
Contemplative Reptile
  • International Edition
  • USA Edition
  • UK Edition
  • Australian Edition
  • Canadian Edition
  • Irish Edition
  • German Edition
  • French Edition
  • Singapore Edition
  • Spanish edition
  • Polish edition
  • Indian Edition
  • Middle East edition
  • South African Edition

Animate! Keeping the Idea Simple with Design Lad


Jelly's designer, illustrator and animation director on the influence of Disney, why less is more and why every success comes from the story

Animate! Keeping the Idea Simple with Design Lad

Design Lad is a London-based designer, illustrator and animation director. With an unmistakable bright, bold and playful signature style - and quirky sense of CGI character and environment design - his innate playfulness and vision have made him the perfect match for brands such as Sony Music, Red Bull, Adidas, Nestle, NOW TV, Virgin, Dunkin Donuts and the BBC.

LBB> How did you fall in love with animation?

Design Lad> Some of my earliest memories as a child were watching classic Disney films like Dumbo and Pinocchio, and trying to recreate the drawings and make flick books. Then fast forward to when Pixar came out with Toy Story it was such a mind-blowing experience seeing characters and an environment brought to life in a 3D form. It really made me want to get into the creative industry in some manner and luckily my path led me to working in 3D.

LBB> Tell us about the animation project that kick started your career?

Design Lad> When I was studying at Chelsea College of Arts, we had a team from Channel 4 come in to brief us on creating a six second E-Sting with the winners getting their animation broadcasted on E4. I created a simple set of kangaroos that had the E4 logo in their pouch as thought the logo itself looked bouncy. My sting ended up winning and went on to be in shown in between some of E4’s biggest shows for a couple of years, and gave me a great starting point for having a professional piece in my portfolio.

It also taught me the value of less is more, as I came up with so many more complex ideas featuring the same characters, yet the end piece which they chose couldn’t have been any more simple.

LBB> How would you describe your art style and what are your biggest inspirations that developed it?

Design Lad> I love to create playful pieces of work that have some humour running through them and hopefully put a smile on people’s faces.

Inspiration for this would definitely come from the likes of Aardman whose film I have always loved, and I appreciate more and more as I get older. They are the masters of telling beautiful stories with slap stick humour, and create amazing worlds full of witty cultural references that you pick up on the more you revisit them.  

I also love how they have been able to create several hero characters who never say a word and yet can be so funny due to having so much expression and emotion, thanks to the talent of the amazing animators behind them. 

LBB> From your perspective, what’s the key to animation that really lives?

Design Lad> The basis for every successful animation is the story. It’s the reason classic characters connect with the audience. Animation techniques, character design and the visual effects may act as a catalyst for people to watch, but in order for it to leave a lasting impression it is all about the story. No matter how visually appealing a Pixar's animation may be, the most memorable films they have ever created are all based on how successful the particular story was received, and is the reason why storytelling is the key and heart of every animation.

LBB> Show us your favourite or most impactful project that you’ve worked on - tell us, what is it that makes it special and what were the memorable moments or challenges?

Design Lad> It’s actually a very short loop I made for my Instagram just after I switched from being a graphic designer to working in 3D. One of my other passions is basketball, so I created a cuckoo clock called ‘NBA Time’ which was to highlight the start of the new season tipping off once more. It was really popular, and that animation alone led to me to being selected to pitch for (and ultimately won) a TV campaign for Virgin Mobile, and a series of animations for NOW TV. These opportunities came because of the art directors really liking that one loop and five years later agencies are still using that animation to put me forward for jobs with their clients. It really highlights why passion pieces are so important and something I always try and find time for.

LBB> How do you approach character design? What is your creative process like? Show us some of your favourite characters and their journey from notepad to screen.

Design Lad> Understanding who your character is along with their personality, purpose and backstory is the first step to creating an interesting character, so I spend a lot of time really focusing on that stage. 

Once I’ve figured out who they are then it’s a case of sketching loosely on paper and using just primary shapes to block out the character. Once I am in 3D, I like to see how much I can push these drawings and how far I can go to exaggerate certain characteristics to help express key personality traits.

Then it’s the case of refining and questioning each element of the design to see how you can improve the character. Changing something as simple as the weight of a curve on a leg can make all the difference.

LBB> Tell us more about observation and movement - what is the process you go through to study movement of characters?

Design Lad> I think like most other animators, videoing yourself acting out a scene for reference is the most useful process if recreating some form of human movement.

I love reading the detail of how major studios do this kind of thing and recently watched an old talk from the Disney team that created Zootopia. They talked about sending a team to Kenya to learn about animal behaviour and observe their movements and mannerisms.

That extra level of research really shines through when you watch an amazing animation, and shows that if you put in the hard work at the start, you have a great base for something memorable to follow.

LBB> We all know of some ever-green adult animations, but lately they have definitely been on the rise, from Rick and Morty to Arcane. What sort of opportunities does this open for animators, both within and outside the advertising industry?

Design Lad> The likes of Rick and Morty are just incredible and really push the limits of what’s possible with storytelling, character design and animation. For my parents’ generation, animations were purely something aimed at children and never seen as something adults would willingly watch alone. Now with streaming services like Netflix creating so many adult themed animations and winning awards for the likes of Love Death + Robots, it opens so many new opportunities for animators working inside the industry to create really beautiful world class pieces of art that aren’t just created for children’s TV. 

LBB> How does one figure out what kind of animation style or styles fits a particular story or project?

Design Lad> In regards to animation style, that’s not normally something I will change, as normally agencies or brands will hire me as they already think my style fits a brief they have. Characters, colours, and environments will certainly be adapted based on the brief and who the target audience is. Deciding on what will work best comes from a lot of research and asking the right questions at the very beginning. 

LBB> What is your favourite piece of technology or software that you use and how does it help your creative process?

Design Lad> Cinema 4D is my go-to and the main software I have been using for the last few years. It’s very powerful and pretty user friendly and I use it for the bulk of my 3D work, rigging, and for all my animations.  

LBB> What sort of briefs or projects do you find more personally satisfying to work on?

Design Lad> I really love working on big projects where I can direct and work with a team of animators. A lot of the work I do is solo, and as fun as it sometimes to work on every element, nothing is better than working with a creative team that think outside of the box, and openly want to collaborate to push a brief to its max.  

Learning from others, seeing different techniques other animators use and their thought process is so invaluable and something I really treasure.

LBB> What recent projects have really stood out for you and why?

Design Lad> I worked directly with the creative team from Benefit Cosmetics on their recent holiday campaign creating a number of social animations which was really fun. It was a quick turnaround and I really loved the process I had with their creative team. They were super open to collaboration and hearing my ideas of what I thought would work best in my style and what we could achieve for the time we had. In the end I think we produced something everyone was really happy with.

LBB> Who is your animation hero and what is it about their work that inspires you? What example of their work particularly stands out?

Design Lad> I have so many heroes in the field it is hard to list them. Animations that have really inspired me more recently would probably be Isle of Dogs and Spider-Man: into Spider Verse.  

The stop frame of Isle of Dogs was incredible, and the settings were so rich in detail and just beautiful to look at. I was lucky enough to go to an exhibition in London which showed the sets and puppets from the film which made you appreciate just how incredible the animators were to take such static figures and make them come to life. Also, seeing the hidden details and research that went into creating the sets really opened my eyes to what it takes to make a truly amazing environment. 

Then the ground-breaking techniques in Spider-Man: intoSpider Verse were just so innovative and so fresh with the mix of 2D hand-drawn effects and stylised rendering, and I love how you really get to see each artists hand print on every scene. It’s genius and really makes you question how you can push yourself outside of the norm.

LBB> Outside of the field of animation, what really inspires you?

Design Lad> I am consistently inspired by people that have achieved great things and learning about their stories.  I listen to a podcast called diary of a CEO with Steven Bartlett which has some great guests from a number of industries and really gives a great view into the journey of successful people. 

From a personal level I have a baby daughter who really inspires me daily and keeps me wanting to improve and be successful.

LBB> What do you think are the misconceptions about animation throughout the industry?

Design Lad> I think a lot of people outside of animation don’t realise just how many opportunities there are to work in the industry. Growing up I never thought I could be an animator as a career because I wasn’t the most talented at hand drawn illustration, but the teams that create animations involve 2D character designers, GCI artists, sculptures, cinematographers, rigging specialists, environment artists, costumer designer and compositors to name a few. 

If you can master in any of these departments and have good knowledge and skills of some of the others, you will always be sought after by a studio.

LBB> What are the biggest changes to animation and challenges facing animators at the moment and what are your thoughts on them?

Design Lad> Advances in technology and techniques will always continue to change animation throughout time, and now with tech companies like Meta aiming to change the landscape and create a host of VR worlds with AI, it’s really important that animators are willing to adapt and learn new skills. No matter how good you are, if you’re not willing to continue being a student of your craft and constantly learn, it is going to be hard to be current and keep up with technology.  

Saying that, software will always be just a tool in animation to help tell a story, so you can’t let software dictate what you create, but if you can have an adaptive skillset and tell a story well, animators will always be successful and in demand.

LBB> Any advice you would like to give to aspiring artists?

Design Lad> As I mentioned earlier, I think working on personal projects with a simple message is so important, and key to showing people who you really are. If you have a list of brands or studios you would love to work for you need to create work that their creative teams can relate to and see why you would be an asset for them.

As well as attracting the kind of work you desire, it is also a great way to try new styles and techniques and actually find out what you do and don’t enjoy doing. It all pays off in the end!


view more - People
Sign up to our newsletters and stay up to date with the best work and breaking ad news from around the world.

Genres: Animation

Jelly London, Tue, 31 Jan 2023 14:02:48 GMT