Meet the animator

Many contemporary artists work in collaboration with others to make their work. David Shrigley’s funny and thought-provoking animations are a core part of his practice. In this interview, his animator Jimi Newport talks us through the process involved and reveals what it’s like to collaborate with David Shrigley.

What made you want to become an animator, and how did you get started?

I didn’t initially set out to be an animator, but my interest in cartoons, comic strips and graphic novels always seemed to influence my drawings, doodles and artwork.

My real break came when digital animation software came into use. Using Flash and After Effects, alongside Photoshop and Illustrator, I found ways to replicate 2D animation techniques into a digital format – well, most of the time!

I first got to work with David at Slinky Pictures in Brick Lane, London. I was brought in with other freelance animators to work on a set of viral animated films for the internet, which was a relatively new thing at the time. David and I hit it off, so I was fortunate enough to continue working with him independently.

Which animations have you collaborated with David on? And which is your favourite?

I have been lucky to collaborate with David on most of his animated films since 2006. It’s hard to pick a favourite, but one piece, Walker, was particularly challenging and rewarding. The piece was made for Ron Arrad’s Curtain Call exhibition in 2011 at the Roundhouse in London, in which an animated giant figure walks around a 360-degree projected LED curtain.

Alongside the challenges of animating a figure for a perfect loop, the film had to work at a huge scale, and work across a number of projectors. This was an immense challenge for David and I, and to see the reaction to the giant figure booming around the legendary space was an amazing thrill.

How do you go about animating a simple line drawing in collaboration with David?

Animating a simple line drawing involves drawing the key poses or actions of the character or object and then drawing a number of poses between them to create a smooth movement. When all these drawings play through at 25 frames per second the illusion of movement is created.

The collaborative process involves a lot of trust. David usually emails me the initial idea with drawings and a written description, sometimes with sound too. It is then a case of having regular feedback from David in response to work-in-progress versions of the animation.

The process is quite iterative and sometimes the animation evolves out of trying different things. It is not always a linear development.

How do you manage to retain the artist's distinctive style within the animation?

This is one of the hardest parts of the animation process, but usually, while making the animation by drawing in the style over number of days, you naturally start to adopt some of that style and aesthetic.

Ultimately, if David doesn’t feel it looks correct or I am finding it hard to get a pose right, I ask him to provide a drawing for me to use or trace.

How and when does the audio element come in?  

Ideally the sound is either recorded at the beginning or in the initial phases as this can determine the pace of the film or feel of the animation, particularly if it is character-led.

Sometimes it’s recorded at the end and the animation is adjusted if needed, but when that’s the case I tend to work to a ‘guide track’, either recorded by David or in some cases myself.

What are the biggest challenges in doing this sort of work?

Often, it is in getting the actual action or movement of something right that might seem simple on the face of it.

In Laundry, David asked me to animate a horse running with mud flicking up onto its body, gradually getting more and more mud-splattered as it ran. Although this seems fairly straightforward, it was actually very intricate and complicated. Slow and small movements can be particularly hard to get right.

With David, it’s always important to make sure that the animation is in-keeping with his world and style; overanimating or embellishing something would immediately look out of place.

What do you think of David Shrigley's work? 

David’s work generally makes me smile or chuckle. It’s not easy to balance humour with thought-provoking or arresting imagery, but his work combines the two and can cut straight to the centre of the point, or reveal layers to its meaning.

I think this helps his work to connect with many people in ways that other art sometimes struggles to.