[“Revival Spines” by Trap Them plays]
Gavin Strange: Hello. Hello! This is exciting, isn’t it? Look at you in your little booths. I feel like I’m at a comedy club. This is amazing, which is unfortunate for you because I’m not funny in the slightest.
Hello! My name is Gavin Strange. It’s really nice to meet you all here. It’s the first time I’ve left the country in nearly three years, and I’m all excitable, and I’m on my own. And I can do anything I want. Oh...
I just drank a full little bottle of Coca-Cola as well, and I’m all fizzy and a bit burpy and uh... uh... uh-hu-hu.
Anyway, I’ve gone off-topic literally within 27 seconds. Excellent.
I go by the name of @jamfactory on the Internet, and I live and work in beautiful Bristol, which is in--
Gavin: Yeah. Shout out, Bristol. It’s a beautiful city. It’s an incredible city. It’s interesting. It’s vibrant. It’s creative. It’s full of interesting people, art, music, graffiti, and design.
Unfortunately, it’s in the UK.
Gavin: [Loud exhale] Oh, God. Oh, my God, you guys!
Gavin: Don’t clappers. Don’t feel sorry for us. They’re just shooting themselves in the foot. Twenty years! Anyway, I’ve already gone off.
I was like, make sure. We were doing this last night. “Make sure you don’t go off on a rant about the UK, Gavin. Just don’t. Just show the slide and move on.”
I can’t move on! I have to live there. It’s full of unkind people.
I think this is the thing. I just want love and acceptance and tolerance and gratitude and kindness and help. Everyone should have help whenever they need it all the time. Unfortunately, we don’t. We just have absolute morons who have no heart, who are called our leaders.
Solidarity. Unrelated to that. Solidarity to anyone striking. I know there are some strikes happening at the minute (all around the world). As always, solidarity forever for those people striking because, you know, this is one of the only things that we have power that we have as humans is to say, “No, I’m not going to do that anymore because I need change.” Yeah, solidarity to them.
What am I talking about? Oh, yeah. So, I live in beautiful Bristol, which is in the UK - boo. But Bristol, yay!
I live there with my wonderful wife, Jane, and our two kids, Sully and Sylvie, who are these whirlwind--
Also, talking of whirlwind, is this -- is something typing this for real right now? They are?
Gavin: Hello. I’m really sorry. [Laughter]
Gavin: My kids are just these amazing source of inspiration. As soon as they were born, it’s a reason to do stuff, make stuff, create stuff.
My daughter doesn’t need a black metal logo, but she has one.
Gavin: Just designing their invites, I’m in this competition with absolutely no one because everyone else just buys the invites from the shop like normal people. No! You spend hours and hours at night photoshopping into Mario Cart 5 pictures because you can.
We also live in Bristol with our beautiful rescue greyhound, Peggy, who is an absolute sweetheart. But anyway, I’m off on it already.
I’m just excited. It’s that Coca-Cola. It’s Coca-Cola in Berlin. I’ve just gone mad.
By day, I am a director and a designer for Aardman.
Aardman is a--
Gavin: Yeah, hold tight. Woo! Thank you very much. See, there you can clap. That is nice. Not the UK, but yay to Aardman.
Aardman is a creative studio. It’s been going nearly 50 years now, and it was founded by two mates who met at school. They were sat next to each other, and they just started mucking around with animation.
They would hang out at each other’s houses, and one of them, their dad, had access to a Bolex camera, a 16 mm film camera. And what they discovered (on the side of this camera) was a button that would advance the film gate one frame at a time.
They discovered, if you put something down, you took a frame, and then you moved it and took a frame, and you moved it and took a frame, when you played it back, it would come to life all on its own with no humans there. They discovered animation, and they just fell in love with the medium.
One of my favorite stories about that place is it’s just grown organically based on the love of making stuff. They ended up doing a tiny little job for children’s television back when they were sort of 17 years old because there was a need for animated content for a kid’s show called Vision On, which was really lovely, stimulating visuals that was for children with learning disabilities.
And so, Pete and Dave, who started the company, got to do this small piece of work. They then got given a check. But they’re 17 years old, and this is nearly 50 years ago. They’re like, “What do I do with a check?” Their dad was like, “Well, you need to pay it into a bank account. You probably should start a bank account.” Okay.
They had previously created a character, a 2D drawing character, called Aard Man. They were like, “Oh, uh, okay. Let’s just create a company called Aardman Animations.”
Fifty years, multiple Oscars, BAFTAs, Golden Globes later, this place is nearly 500 people strong making stuff. I absolutely love that. That is a huge thing that I really hold dear working there.
It makes all sorts of stuff. If you’ve known their work before, then maybe you will have seen their stop motion animation work, things like Chicken Run and Shaun the Sheep and Wallace & Gromit and the pirates and things like that.
But it does so much more than that. It does just 2D and 3D and live action and basically moving image of all styles, designs, types, but also it does attractions and live events. It does commercials. It does short films. It makes games. It makes interactive immersive things.
Really, if it’s creative, then we do it. That’s what’s really, really rad that you’re in this building surrounded by just really interesting people who are really, really good at what they do. You can just go and be nosey and kind of ask and point the finger and ask questions and discover stuff.
I feel really, really strongly about this place because I think what’s so great about it is it inherently trusts people. It’s such a simple thing. it’s such a simple thing but not every company, not every organization, not every friendship group does it.
But if you trust someone, they will pay you back in kind tenfold. If you give someone the trust to go and do a thing, then they feel empowered, and they feel good about it. They feel like “I will do it! I’ll do it really well for you!”
It’s such a simple thing, but actually, not many places do it because they feel the need to micromanage and control. The fact that I’ve been at this place for 14 years now and have not left and, hopefully, unless they take me out, I will never leave because I love it.
It’s that inherent trust that has kept me going there because I joined as one thing and I’m now another. I actually joined there as a senior interactive designer and, throughout this talk, I will show you the projects and the different things that happened that eventually got me to my dream job of being a director there because I joined as a senior designer, but I basically, as soon I was there, I told everyone that I was a filmmaker in my own time. I was designing, directing, animating, creating things outside of work hours, and I just wanted to show and share.
If anything, because I’m such a fan of the medium, and I’m such a fan of what this place makes, I just wanted to sort of be that kid where you’re like, “I do it too!” Luckily for me, they didn’t push me away and tell me to shush. They were like, “Okay, cool. Maybe bring it down a bit but tell us more.”
Also, I’m really sorry. Toby, this lovely, awesome guy with all the buttons, has to sample this squeaky noise. I’m so sorry. Look at him. He’s stoked. [Laughter]
What am I talking about? Aardman.
Yeah, so it’s just this infectious love and energy. Because I’ve been trusted there, I want to absolutely repay that in kind and do the best and do everything, do it all, and work with people, and learn and grow. That is essentially what it is, isn’t it? It’s this infinitely recycled, cyclical pattern of doing, learning, growing - and starting again. Doing, learning, growing - over and over and over again.
I do a bunch of different things there because my title is director and designer. I’m very fortunate that I get to flow and bend depending on what the projects are.
Most recently, in lockdown, actually, I had the huge honor of handing the redesign of the whole company. We hadn’t had a look at the logo in decades and decades and decades.
The company changed a lot over the last ten years as well. We’re now employee-owned, which is amazing. When Pete and Dave, the cofounders, decided to retire, they didn’t want to sell the company. They didn’t want to break it up. They wanted to give it to us, the people that worked there.
We now are an employee-owned organization, which means it’s protected and which means it can never be sold. We basically just make as much rad stuff as we can.
But with that meant that the company was changing and it needed to reflect that, so I was the one that, luckily enough, in lockdown, I got to really delve into the design of how you represent a company that has so many diverse roles, so many diverse projects, so many diverse characters. How do you reflect that? It was a really, really amazing, detailed project to jump into.
But then on the other end of the spectrum, I really love making stuff as bright and bold and energetic and loud and maximalist and totally in your face. This was a project that I did quite a few years ago.
I was co-director and design and motion graphics animator. This was the 2016 opening titles for the Creative Conference in Barcelona, which, if you’ve been -- I’m sure many of you have -- it’s like Beyond Tellerrand. It’s an experience, and it’s just an awesome thing to be a part of and to soak up the creative vibe. For me to exercise all the stuff I love of motion graphics and rap music and big heads and stop motion animation and live action and all of that stuff was an absolute dream.
But then sometimes it’s more focused stuff. This is a project I will cover a little bit today. I got to direct this film called Turtle Journey for Greenpeace, which was a huge honor, a really emotional thing, and an important thing, and something that really means a lot to me but as well as being an important piece of work.
There’s a real variety of stuff. Sometimes you just spend weeks on end mucking around with slime in a studio and a slow-motion camera and calling it work. This was a making of ident for the BBC, the Big British Castle, who have BBC2. They had a rebrand recently where the whole, all of the idents have to sort of wipe in off-screen, fill screen, and then come off again to hide the show and then to unmask it depending on what they’re going to go to next.
Everyone did these really -- different companies did these really beautiful CG, amazing like just super cool CG awesomeness. When we got to do one (and I was fortunate enough to get the gig), I said, “I’d like to do it with some slime, please.” [Laughter]
They were like, “Okay, squeaky boy. Sure.” And it was just an amazing project. It was weird and wonderful. It was so hard. [Laughter] It was almost like slime shouldn’t and can’t be controlled on a frame-by-frame basis. [Laughter]
It was really confusing and complicated, and it all went wrong. But then it all came great in the end. It was just -- you know the whole point of this was trying to make something joyous, fun, and silly.
You just saw someone there moving stuff on a screen. The eyeballs in the slime were magnetically puppeteered. He built a tiny-- The pupils are actually magnetic circles of paper, and he has a tiny little magnetic rod under the paper, and he makes the eyes go round.
Sometimes, it’s high-tech. Sometimes, it’s low-fi. There’s such a variety of stuff. That’s really encapsulated in the project that I just finished working on, a long R&D project called Shaun Immersive and it’s taking Shawn the Sheep, the character, into an immersive space, a big 4D area, a gigantic sort of 50-meter square thing where you project on the floor, ceiling, and all four walls with spatial sound and all rendered in real-time technology, so all using Unreal, a lovely 60 frames a second.
How do you take this linear stop-motion character and what happens when you transpose him into a real-time, reactive environment where the weather is dependent on what it’s doing in the location that you visit or your position in the room? How does that change things?
Like I say, there’s this wealth of stuff that’s always happening at Aardman. I’m always excited about it and just want to get into it and to, I guess, just add my energy to it.
This is what the talk is about. I’m really starting to discover what my voice is and what I want to say and what I want to contribute.
This is one of my older showreels, and I realized A) I love the color pink because it’s the best. I mean why would you not? There’s hot pink. There’s pastel pink. There’s coral pink. There’s magenta pink. There’s dayglow pink. So many varieties, something for every day. It’s perfect.
What am I saying?
This! And I just want to add pink to things, and I just want to add energy, heart, and soul, and warmth, and movement. This is why I’m so stoked to be in the world of animation. Just to make something move from A to B is a real exciting thing, and it’s an honor. It’s a privilege.
I was talking to Dina at breakfast just how joyous animation is. Whether it’s stop frame or after effects or hand-drawn animation, whatever it is, when you hit play and you see that thing come to life in front of your eyes, [gasp] it’s magic. It’s like you’re a child again.
It’s a really, really exciting thing, but you’re only doing your work or at school or on your course or whatever between the hours of -- I don’t know -- 9:00 to 5:00 - or whatever it is it might be. But you don’t stop being creative then. You’re always having ideas.
If anything, the stuff that you do during the day sort of inspires thoughts, and you have them at night. I’ve always wanted to cultivate that, and so I just do everything and anything. I go under the alias of Jamfactory and make all the stuff absolutely no one wants and it’s wonderful. And no one can tell me otherwise because it’s my time.
I just really realized the strength and the power of just doing stuff because you can. Do it because no one asked you to do it. Do it because it makes you laugh or do it because you just want to learn a skill. You want to learn the technique. You want to learn how that camera works or that piece of music technology or how do I write a script.
There are so many questions, creative questions, we all have all the time. You’ve got to find ways to scratch that it. For me, it’s doing passion projects whenever I can.
My time has drastically changed over the years. Like I said, I have two young children, and so that’s a particular challenge in itself.
Everyone has challenges at all times at every stage in their life no matter you’re young or old or where you live. It’s a constant struggle to be creatively satisfied.
Early on, I realized that that satisfaction is down to me. I’m the only one that has control over that. If I didn’t take control of that, then I really don’t think I would be very happy.
Like all of us, you have that yearning to make, to create, to do, to see something. Situations might not be perfect. They’re very often not perfect, but you have to take control.
I’ve realized that I’ve done this for 20 years now. I celebrated 20 years of using the name Jamfactory last year, and I’ve basically been doing the same cycle of just doing the things that no one wants but just trying to do it anyway and make it happen from illustration to character design, toys, websites, everything.
There’s such excitement in all the opportunities that are out there, often the opportunities you make for yourself. I’ve just always done it from my own space. I found it really important to carve out my own space. This is one of the earliest, full of design crimes, lots of chrome, and hmm... blue flames. That looks cool. [Laughter]
You don’t need wi-fi. Just have a really long cable.
But the point is I’ve always tried to carve out a space no matter how little, if it’s the smallest little IKEA desk in the tiniest flat that I ever had to growing with spaces to just trying to make a thing. You know really what I’m trying to say is trying to cultivate everything within your power to make a creative place for you.
It doesn’t have to be physical. You might just be happy with a laptop on a desk, but doing everything you can to orchestrate, to control the factors to make you most creative, to make you most excited, to make you motivated to make the stuff that you want to do.
As my situation has changed over the years from house shares to flat shares to tiny places to having our own house, I’ve grown. The final stage of evolution is my pink paradise den. Blasted through the budget with pink paint.
Neon pink paint is really expensive. It turns out people don’t often want neon pink paint in their house, and so you can only buy it from special film set paint stuff, and they have you over a barrel and charge you for it.
Also, just artificial grass is really expensive too, but I don’t care because it’s pink and it’s green and it’s got stuff. For me, this is my perfect environment.
I’ve shared this picture online before, and lots of the comments are, “Oh, my God. That’s absolutely terrible.” [Laughter] But that’s the point. It works for me. I can’t ever color grade ever. It’s always pink. For me, that’s rad, wicked. That really works for me.
Yeah, this is my space. This is my perfect space. This is away from the home. This is my own sort of personal studio where I feel most creative. I like being influenced by the stuff around me, so I like having it at arm’s length and just being able to see it.
I’m quite a forgetful person, so if I can see it, it’s always there kind of always input all the time. But for others, you might need an absolute minimalist setup that clears all distractions. But again, the point is you’ve got to find, you’ve got to engineer, a situation that works for you to make the most out of what you want to do.
I’ve always just had this feedback loop of putting stuff online out there. I would always do these passion projects and often it’s just my mom checking out my website, but it doesn’t matter. It’s part of the feedback loop of making, creating, doing, and then sort of drawing a line under it by putting it online, whether that’s sharing it on Behance or Instagram or, for me, it was adding it to my website.
But the great thing is -- and when I was freelance before I joined Aardman -- I discovered that actually when people are looking to work with you (if you have a skill that they want to hire you for), they don’t care when you did it. I might put a piece of illustration that I did at 3 o’clock in the morning (just for myself). It doesn’t matter to them. It might as well have been 3:00 p.m. in the afternoon for a client.
You did the work. People want to hire you for the work. They want to hire you for the things that you can do.
It’s kind of irrelevant when and why you did it. If it speaks to them, then often it might lead somewhere. If it doesn’t, you might never know. That’s kind of the great thing now.
It’s not like the good ol’ days where if you wanted a job, you’d have to call someone on a telephone. Ugh! You’d call them, and they’d pick up, and you’d go, “Hello. Can I work for you?”
“No,” and you’re like, “Okay.” And then you spend an hour crying.
No, you just send an email. They don’t need to see you crying. They don’t need to hear you crying. It’s amazing.
Things are so much different now. If you just--
There’s a lot of noise in the world. There are billions and billions of people, and lots of them want to do what we do. And so, you’ve got to make noise. Don’t be shy about what you’ve done.
There’s a difference. There’s a big caveat here. There’s a difference between being an extrovert. I’m not saying you all have to make everything neon pink and flounce around on a stage like I do.
Everyone is different in how they show and share. But you could and you should still show off what you can do.
I think sometimes people really worry that there’s not a difference between confidence and arrogance. There absolutely is. You can confidently show and share what you can do. People want to know that they can trust you, and with a confidence comes that trust.
There are ways for you to show and share what you do without feeling like you’re betraying who you are as a person. It doesn’t all have to be neon pink. I promise you.
For me, this has taken me in lots of different weird and wonderful ways. I ended up writing a book about this stuff because I really believe in it, making and doing things, and that was never part of the plan. I ended up making wonky music.
I just try not to shut off any avenues that are potentially interesting. They don’t all have to go anywhere. But life is short. Life is really short. We’re in really, really, really trying times. Why would you deny yourself any of the pleasures that creativity can bring? You might as well tune into them.
I’ve got a lot to say and not much time to do it. There’s a little clock here that keeps ticking down very quickly, and I’ve got a lot of slides to show. Who knows what’s going to happen?
My talk is called “Less Thinking and More Tinkering.” I forgot what it was called, but I like to talk quick, and so actually, this is the super-turbo version because there’s a lot to get through.
First of all, there’s a caveat klaxon. It’s really easy to sum up the creative conundrums by reading a really catchy quote on Instagram. We’ve all seen those quotes that you instantly identify with, and you go, “Yeah, I get that.”
But actually, human beings are really complicated and creative life is complicated. It’s not that easy. It’s not that easy. This is why we keep going to conferences because if this was simple, we wouldn’t ever need this. We all need different ways and tools to make things easier for ourselves.
The caveat here is that you can’t always boil down these difficult topics by really catchy, one-line sort of sentences and talks, but I’m absolutely going to do it because, actually, it is really useful because you need to use any tool that you can to go through, to make things happen.
Don’t let things put you off in the beginning. It’s better to beg for forgiveness than it is to ask for permission.
In the industry we’re in, that’s pretty cool to do. If you’re a surgeon, probably not.
Gavin: Don’t just turn up to work one day. “I’ve changed my scalpel out for a hacksaw blade. Okay. I know we’re supposed to take this guy’s leg off, but maybe let’s try going through the head.”
No! Don’t be all risky and creative in that industry. But what we do, absolutely fine.
Don’t wait to do things. Don’t wait for that opportunity. Don’t wait for that person. Don’t wait for that email. Do it because no one asked you to do it. Do it!
I do it despite this fictional person that I’ve never met that hasn’t asked me. “Oh, I’ll show him!” Who? It doesn’t matter.
Use every and any trick you can to make the thing that you believe in. There’s some amazing examples out there.
One in particular, there’s a few in particular in the world of video games. There’s a game called “Donut County” where you literally -- the game is you are a hole and you make stuff fall in it. Then your hole gets bigger, and then you get bigger stuff. And it’s amazing. [Laughter]
There is this whole meta-narrative of a trash king panda who is actually an evil boss who is tricking all the townspeople’s businesses to fall into this hole because he wants to rule the world with trash. But you genuinely just make stuff fall down a hole, and it’s amazing.
The same with “What the Golf?” It’s a golf game for people who hate golf. It’s amazing. It’s really funny.
My six-year-old absolutely laughs like a lunatic at this and so do I. It’s so fun.
But what are these things? What game publisher is looking at their bank balance sheet going, “Okay. We’ve got Call of Duty making us $8 trillion a year. We’ve got Fortnite making us $8 quintillion a year. What we’re really missing is a golf game”?
“Yeah, okay, sports. People like sports.”
“Yeah, but for people who hate golf.”
That doesn’t exist.
“What we’re also missing is a game about a hole.”
“Okay, what kind of hole?”
“Just a hole that gets bigger and stuff falls in it.”
This stuff isn’t asked for, but it flippin’ exists, and I bloody love that it does the same to me like “Cuphead,” an incredible video game that is made an incredibly difficult way where every single frame is drawn and inked and scanned in and hand-animated. That’s a terrible way to make anything. There’s a reason why we don’t do animation like that anymore. But they did it because they believed in it. They thought it was appropriate and fun, and they wanted to do it.
Something like “Sayonara Wild Hearts” is actually a conceptual album of electro-synth pop with a wonderful queer love story all woven into a beat saber battled timed fighting game. It’s incredible. There’s not one single part of that that should work. But together, it absolutely does and it’s incredible. And it’s pink. I picked it because it’s pink. It’s amazing.
But then there are also examples. This is my PSA for--
Oh, how did I make that animate? Oh, hello. Oh, hello. Oh, no.
Yes! Here we go.
This is just a PSA. Every single person should watch “Arcane” on Netflix. It’s from--
Yes, it’s from League of Legends. It’s a video game that I’ve never played. But it is an absolute masterpiece.
For me, the benchmark of animation is “Achira,” a 1989 masterpiece, an incredible piece of work. I never thought anything could ever be as good. “Arcane” did it.
It’s just amazing. It’s wonderful. It’s beautiful. It’s interesting in its characters, its story. Its music, its pacing, its camerawork, its action scenes are just incredible.
But it shouldn’t really exist. It’s from quite a specific - not niche. League of Legends is a huge, huge thing, but it shouldn’t be as good as it is. It’s one of those things. And it really, really is. Please go and watch “Arcane.” But again, it’s another example of people just doing really amazing things.
You can use music as great examples. Sometimes it’s a trick because, of course, music itself is totally self-expressive, but there are bands, people, and creations out there that are weird and wonderful, and they find their niche. They find their voice. They find their people.
I’m a big Slipknot fan. Nine people in horrible masks making noise shouldn’t work, but it does.
Or Nails. There’s not a single Nails album that’s longer than 17 minutes, and it sounds like if you’ve got a power drilled, taped it so it’s always on, threw it in a washing machine, shut it, and then kicked it down the stairs, and then sort of got a pig to scream at the same time, it sounds like and it’s amazing. It’s absolutely amazing. It shouldn’t work. It’s terrible, and it’s awesome.
But this is the thing. These are people, human beings like us, out there making, doing, creating, and sort of just not following convention. They’re just really following their hearts. Again, that’s a really simplistic, easy thing to say.
It’s kind of like the people who have “Live, Laugh, Love” written on their kitchen wall. Hey, guys. Just do what you like. It’s kind of an empty statement.
But at the end of the day, it’s also true. It is true because the sun is halfway through its lifecycle. Eventually, it will die. When it does die, it will expand way, way beyond our universe, and it will consume Earth and it will obliterate everything we’ve ever known and loved and cared. So, why are you on Instagram just scrolling? Just get off it and make the thing that you want to do.
Every time I get a bit overwhelmed, I just think, “Well, the sun is dying, so I better get crackin’.”
Every and any trick that you can to make stuff happen.
Find your voice. This is something that I’m really, really discovering - really, really discovering.
Actually, it’s not about a style. It’s a voice. For me, I don’t have a visual style I’ve always wanted.
Well, actually, it’s about finding an authentic voice, and I’m discovering that. For me, this really all came to a head in a project called “Turtle Journey.” I sadly don’t have time to show it, but you can Google it.
It is a 100-second film for Greenpeace made at Aardman, stop frame and CG, and we needed to make a film to tell the audience about the importance of the threats that the oceans face. But we needed to make it a relatable story.
Fortunate enough for me, I got the gig. I wanted to tell a personal story, and I thought, well, okay. What the animals and what the ocean is happening is loss, loss of habitat, loss of animals, loss of everything.
I thought, what would be the worst loss to me? It’s losing a member of my family.
And so, we made this animated film that really was real human values. I really got to tap into something that felt authentic to me. I never thought I’d get the opportunity, but I realized I’ve really homed in on, “No, well, actually, if you make what you really believe in and really stand firm with your beliefs.”
There’s another caveat here that in the world of commercial creativity, you have to be flexible because, yes, you can be this altar. Yes, this is what I believe in. This is what I want to make. But if someone else is paying, it doesn’t work, and it shouldn’t work. That’s kind of how it works.
For me, if I don’t feel creatively satisfied during the day, it’s my personal responsibility to seek that out at night. Because I’ve been doing it for 20 years now, I feel comfortable in changing and chopping it up and observing, “Well, this is a paid-for job and, ultimately, whoever is paying for it really needs to be what they need it to be. Of course, it is. That’s how anything works.”
If you pay for a service or whatever, you want it to be a certain way. But then there are times where you have a chance to wrestle that and to make it your own. It’s up to us as individuals to figure that sort of stuff out.
But it was such an amazing process to be a part of this team and to tell a really personal story using the methods of animation.
[video clip of “Turtle Journey” played]
Gavin: I got to do these things called LAVs (live-action videos) of references for the animators and really tap into these different characters. It taught me a lot about acting and performance and sympathy with our animators as well to really sort of home in to a newer skills, to be useful with such a big crew on this really important project. I really wanted to be the best I could be, to learn, and to grow.
Doing things like this where I’d already done on a smaller scale before was really important. So, you never know what opportunities are going to be thrown up and what you’re going to do and where you’re going to go.
It was just such a magical process the whole time, working with these different skill sets, and getting excited and seeing what they could do.
This is one of the brilliant model makers at Aardman making our turtle family and working with amazing concept artists who, at every stage, really fleshing things out and trying to figure out what this world is - even though it’s an incredibly short thing, it is only 100 seconds long. How do you tell an important, potent, emotional story in such a short time?
Even just the props. This is the clamshell car that the family travels in. It had real working headlights.
Being around this and soaking it up and being a cheerleader for a project is such a privilege, I think. It’s real easy to get jaded. Of course, it is.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m showing you the most exciting of the most exciting, the best of the best, and I am super stoked.
What I’m not showing you here is the interactive CD I made when I was 18 years old for a gas company that I stayed up all night burning each individual one to CD. But, at the time, I was stoked because I was given trust and responsibility.
Looking back at it now, my boss was like, “Well, I ain’t staying up late doing it. You can do it.”
“Thank you! Thank you!”
That’s great but, at the time, that meant just as much to me. That was just as important. That was just as formative.
I never ever could have imagined that (fast-forward 15, 20 years) that I would then get to be working on things like this. But at the time then, I was stoked. I was proud of the opportunity. Again, I wanted to repay that trust.
Just being with these people making tiny things. This small octopus teddy is the teddy bear of the smallest turtle. That’s got wire armature inside it, so even that can be animated as well.
The game console in the middle is what the teenager holds. That’s electronic paper that’s paper thin. You send a current through it, and it illuminates.
But of course, this was a mixture of stop-frame and CG as well, so we had these amazing artists bring a sort of almost Flintstones-esque underwater world to life. But also, still--
Oh, hello. A little animation is triggered. No... Uh, uh... Go back!
Zing. A big whale, plasticine whale. Not plasticine. CG.
But the point is, sometimes it’s high-tech. Sometimes it’s low-tech. What’s really, really sweet is sometimes the motion genius solutions come from smart people.
When you look underwater in a swimming pool, you know you get that lovely, refracted pattern called caustics of how the sunlight is moving through the water. How do we do that on our stop-frame set? Do we do it CG? Do we do this hyper-complicated laser LED thing?
What the director of photography Simon here did was he went to B&Q, the hardware shop, and got two panes of shower glass and then rigged them up to a motor. Every time a frame advances on the camera, it moves them a tiny amount. And then it moves them back and forth with the light shining in.
When you play it back in real-time, you get dappled lights, but we needed dappled shadows as well because light bounces around all over the place. To counteract that, he just went to the bike shed, stole a front wheel, rigged that up to a motor, put some black gaffer tape on it, and span it on the same motor as well.
Just these ingenious solutions to this stuff that you -- I don’t know. It’s just exciting to be with fellow people who just are the best at what they do and come up with surprising things. You have to be open to everyone else’s suggestions and to see where that can take you.
I think we do have a tiny bit of time to show you a little bit of a making of.
[“Ricecar” by Penguin Café plays]
Gavin: How beautiful is that? Please, do go and search out that film on the Internet. It’s called Turtle Journey by Greenpeace.
Berlin, I made something special for you.
[Live, wonky music by Gavin]
Gavin: So, I make really, really bad music, and I’ve never done that before when there’s someone who is a genius with making beats on the fly with a table full of awesome stuff, and I’m there going “I made a little beat in the hotel, and it’s really bad.”
But that’s not the point. The point is, I make really, really, really wonky music, and I really, really love it. It all came about because I saw this thing, which Toby has on his desk there.
It’s called an Ableton Push 2. I saw it on the Internet. I had no idea what it was. But look at it. It’s got buttons. It’s got knob things. It’s got sliders.
Someone who has used this and this for 20 years was just so bored - so bored. I mean we’ve got cool mechanical keyboards now, which is rad. If you’re lucky, you can find one. And you’re like, “Well, I found a keycap set. It was $900. Oh, I’ve got to wait six weeks to get it.”
Rubbish. You can go to a shop and buy this stuff straightaway, and that’s what I did. I ordered it. The problem then is you spent a considerable amount of money, and your wife says, “What’s that” and you say, “I don’t know.”
Gavin: And then you feel the overwhelm and guilt of “I better learn so I can show her I know what I’m doing and I’m not a total idiot, and she doesn’t regret marrying me.” [Laughter]
And so, I did just that, and I really discovered that, actually, there’s this adage of “All the Gear, No Idea.” I really started buying all this equipment, but I realized that’s kind of not true.
Actually, yes, you have all the gear, but actually, you’re full of ideas but nothing is clear. Nothing is clear at all. You don’t even know what to Google. You don’t even know what the terminology is.
People are like, “Well, actually, if you play in a C and then if you transpose it to a G major.”
What are you talking about? That makes no sense. I hate music theory. I would love to understand it. Honestly, I would love to understand it, but I’m such a simpleton. I don’t understand how you just say.
Someone plays a note, and they go, “Sorry. Was that a D?” How did you even know?! What?! What?!
It doesn’t make sense, so I really kind of rallied against it. But I’ve realized that there is this whole world that rallies against that. You can just enjoy it.
What happened is I started making wonky beats, and I wanted to get it out there in a way that I only knew how, and that was visually. And so, I started using the constraints that I had, which was, at the time, 60-second videos that had to be square (using Instagram).
That was good, though, because I could manage making a beat--it’s not music. It’s just a beat--for 60 seconds because that’s more achievable than an 8-minute song. Suddenly, I’m starting to try to use these reasons to just make stuff.
Of course, like any designer, you give it branding. Why? That is really inferring I know what I’m doing, and it is not. But you know when you just get carried away from something?
I made a branding system. For whom? [Laughter] It is just me that makes this really wonky stuff.
But you know when you just get carried away? That feeling, that feeling of joy is such a precious feeling. Again, to link it back to the super terrifying dark times we’re in, why would you shut yourself off from that?
If there’s this tantalizing little fizzy, fuzzy energy of “I could pull at that thread and it could take me somewhere new, and I could make something truly bad,” [laughter] that’s great, man! Why don’t you go for that?
I made merch for my brother and my dad. A bloke called Simon in Sussex bought one too. Shout out, Simon! I don’t know why. I think it was a pity vote, but it doesn’t matter. He bought one. It’s his fault.
You know, but you’ve just got to make and do this stuff, but it really pushed me places. I started getting better at 3D because I wanted an excuse, a reason to try and learn stuff, so I really got into using Cinema 4D more.
It was this self-fulfilling prophecy. I would make a beat, so I could try some visuals or get a visual idea and then need to make a beat to fit it. Of course, it all comes back to graphic design. Every designer wants to make a bloody album cover.
These are not album covers. These are just Soundcloud covers. But it doesn’t matter. It feels grand.
I was so beholden to this system. The design rationale is I always use a circle, a capsule, and a triangle. I can never break this formula.
But that formula is there because it means, like all of us, you don’t have loads of time. But I if I know that I’ve just got to make something with those three shapes, fantastic. It makes it achievable. You’re sort of tricking yourself the whole time by creating these constraints that actually make you deliver something.
I just really got into the graphic design and really emulating that sort of ‘90s Japanese neo-geo album covers, kind of using this project to sort of exercise my inspiration of everything I love. But it would push further and further.
I was introducing characters to this stuff, so then it starts blending into my Aardman work as well. Then I started getting more hardware, like the OPZ that you just saw there. Then more teenager-generated bits like these pocket operators, which if you really always wanted to get into music technology but you’re really not sure what to play with, have a look at these pocket operators. They’re about 60, 70 euros, and they’re really good fun, and they’re very simplistic. But they’re still really fun.
Then just doing more stuff. I also saw that Toby has got one on his desk there, this thing called a Midi Fighter 3D where you load samples in.
You know that scene in Friends where Ross plays the keyboard with those really bad samples? It’s basically that the whole time, and it’s amazing. But again, that’s fun in itself because it’s colorful and it’s bright. You learn more about sampling and grabbing. All of these things are tools to enable you to do something more and better and take things further.
I would use that OPZ to force myself to play music in front of people. I’ve played drums for about 15, 16 years - never in front of anyone and never in a band. I love it, but I’m just scared, and I don’t know why.
I thought, “This is such a silly thing to get over.” I’m not scared about this. I’m very excited and happy to be here to talk to you and talk in front of you. But for some reason, playing music was always terrifying.
Kind of use these tools to force myself to get out of this stupid mindset that really affects no one else. Literally, no one cares.
You will have forget. You’ve forgotten I did that now because you’re too busy worrying about a burning planet or paying your bills. You’re not like, “Oh, that Gavin guy played a very, not very good performance on a small piece of technology.” You don’t care.
I got so obsessed with worrying, “Oh, well, if I do this, I’m not very good.” Mate, no one gives a fuck. [Laughter] No one cares what you do - in the best way possible.
I’ve just tried to lean into that. It doesn’t really matter, and so I’m using any minute to sort of push myself to learn more interactive things. This is using the OPZ plugged into Unity and using some physics-y stuff to make a real virtual band.
But what’s really exciting is getting this stuff and seeing my kids play with it. It’s very Berlin.
[music plays and kids start to fight]
Gavin: Yeah, that happens a lot.
Gavin: You ever seen that Twitter account perfectly cut screams? [Laughter]
Anyway, my time is up. What’s really important is don’t make it perfect. Make it now. Don’t worry about the situation. Don’t worry about the opportunity to present themselves. You’ll be so worried about, “Oh, I can’t wait. Can’t wait.”
There will never be a perfect time. Don’t make it perfect. Make it now.
In the age we’re in, we can delete. We can iterate. We can change it. We can tweak it. We can take it down, burn it, do something different.
Sometimes in the world of creative commercial industries, you’ve just got to bite your tongue and get it done. You will always have to make the logo bigger. Just make the logo bigger. It’s fine.
Take the path of least resistance. There is absolutely nothing wrong with picking low-hanging fruit. There is no shame at all playing the game on easy mode.
Life is so flippin’ tough and demanding all the time. Why would you cause yourself more unnecessary stress or upset when it comes to creativity?
I’m particularly talking about passion projects here, but also be kind to yourself. Don’t be a martyr. Don’t massacre yourself. Don’t be a nihilist just to get to the creative endpoint. If it takes you a slightly longer time to get there but you’re doing it at a pace that’s more comfortable for you, then do it.
Don’t forget to pay attention, like any marriage, like any partnership. You know once the honeymoon period is over, it’s tough. But you’ve got to put in the work and the energy to cultivate a creative environment for yourself and, by extension, your team, the people you work with, your family, your loved ones. It takes work and energy.
Tame the beast. Tame the duality that is creativity.
Oh, my God, everything is amazing. Oh, my God, I despise everything I have ever made.
It is always changing. There are ups and there are downs all the time, and you’ve absolutely got to embrace that and make it a part of your process. You will hate everything you’ve ever made one moment. Then the next day, you’ll be so proud and elated.
Both are fine. Both are absolutely fine. Make that a part of your process.
Don’t wait until you have all the tools. Don’t wait until you have the perfect opportunities in front of you.
There’s an incredible pianist called Andrew Garrido who became a world-class pianist without a piano. He googled the dimensions of a keyboard and drew the keys on a piece of paper and stuck it to his desk because he knew how a piano would sound. He didn’t have a piano himself, and he learned to be the best in the world. I figure, if he can do it without the actual tool you need, then we’ll be all right.
Just remember, when you’re just so overwhelmed and you’re like, “Yeah, but I’m me. I’m one person. How do I make a splash? How do I affect anything? How do I make anything great?” first of all, know that every single person on the planet worries about that too.
But you do have power. You do have agency. You have it in you. Trust me.
Remember that even the smallest spoons can make the biggest of waves.
[Water splashing and waves]
[“Who Am I” by Beenie Man played]