By day, Gavin is a Director and Designer for the UK’s beloved creative studio Aardman Animations.
By night he goes under the alias of JamFactory, indulging in all manner of passion projects. From filmmaking to illustration, toy design to photography and even making music under the moniker of ‘Project Toy’.
In 2016, after speaking at the prestigious Do Lectures, he wrote the book ‘Do Fly’, a motivational mantra published by The Do Book Co & Chronicle Books.
Gavin also co-founded the contemporary design store ‘STRANGE’ with his wife Jane. He also appears in CBBC’s art-themed TV show ‘Art Ninja’.
Making the work is the easy part, finding the time, however, is the difficult bit. Gavin shares his stories and methods behind getting the most out of those 24 pesky hours.
Gavin prides himself on being a ‘realistic idealist’ or ‘idealistic realist’ – striking the balance between uncurbed enthusiasm and pragmatic process. His talk is about finding the energy and making the time to create things that matter.
Less Thinkering, More Tinkering
A neon-soaked passion-filled presentation of all things creativity, trying to strike the elusive balance between uncurbed enthusiasm and pragmatic process.
Director & Designer Gavin Strange plots his creative journey through his time in the design and film industry– picking it apart and extracting the lessons and learnings from it all. It’s loud, silly, and energizing. The aim of the game is to convince YOU to make more of the stuff that makes YOUR heart sing.
It's really nice to be here. First of all, solidarity those who are striking, it’s a really important thing to do. It's one of the only things I think we can do, right? That's right. There’s not many things we as humans can do to show our dissatisfaction and our anger and frustration. And I know that there's lots of ways that this gets spun, and it's an inconvenience. Well, what the hell is a tiny little inconvenience it means that people are saying, no, I can't do this. Yes. Solidarity with everyone doing that. Thank you.
Anyway, hello. My name is Gavin Strange. I'm not going to get any more political. I go by the name of JamFactory on the tinternet. This is lovely. I love this. By the way, this just walk about, this is lush. I really like it. This is just the most amazing, bonkers place. Yes.
So I live and work in beautiful Bristol in the mild mild West. I've been there for about 16, 17 years now. It's really wonderful. Weird, strange, interesting, unique place. Full of lovely weirdos and interesting folk. And there's this great music, there’s great art, there’s great graffiti, there’s animation. There's just creativity aplenty. But also, what's really, really amazing is there's all sorts of people from all sorts of walks of life who, because of this geographic makeup of Bristol, everything is kind of, you’re all forced together because you've just got the beautiful Cheddar Gorge and the hills around you.
So everyone is just in this lovely collective sort of hive mind of people that you wouldn't necessarily put those people together normally, but it just works. It's just very Bristol. So if you've never been to Bristol, please go. I think it's amazing. So I live there and love there with my wonderful wife, Jane, who is a jewellery designer and maker. So a fellow creative. And we we've just we've been married for nearly ten years now, and we just fit together. I was saying to someone earlier. I've never been more content. You know, when you find that partner who understands you creatively and kind of what you want to do and what you aspire to do, you know, if you find those people in your life, hold onto them very tightly. And we live there with our two wonderful weirdo kids, Sullivan Greg Strange and Sylvie Blue Strange, who are wonderful slash hard work slash oh, my days.
But they're wonderful and they're beautiful. When you look at still photos you go “aww” and then when you're up at 2:00 in the morning, you “awwwww!”. And shout out to my wife tonight who for the first time because of COVID, I've not been away, have not left Bristol to give a talk. She's solo parenting with bedtime as well, that we haven't done before and Sylvie is 18 months and Sully is five so the age gap is a little bit tricky. So solidarity to her as well.
I’m going to facetime them later, and hopefully they get on okay. Children are, as I’ve discovered, just the best excuse to make everything and anything, because why not they are your little tiny creative muses. Why would an 18 month old not need her own black metal inspired logo? I made this just for the talk as well because I realised I had loads this graphics for Sully, but those have got more than one kid, I discovered that your first child you’re just like “I'm just going to shower of you with love and affection and time and creativity”, and then you have more than one and you go “oh my god, where did the hours go?!”.
So poor Sylvie doesn't have as many things, so I thought, I know what this presentation needs. Black metal logo for the little tiny little sweethearts. There you go. You know, designing them birthday party invites is just the rad-est thing, is just the best thing. And because it's like I'm in an arms race with absolutely no one because no one else in our family network designs their own kid invites because time is precious and why would you? You can just go to Paperchase and buy them.
No, I will spend three nights photoshopping Mario party five game box artwork with my son's face on it, and it's worth it for no one to understand it but you've all seen it and you get it so it's worth it. And we live in our lovely house with our wonderful rescue Greyhound Peggy who is just rad.
She's the best companion to have especially four kids. we had. We got her when Sully was three months and she's just this big, he's just like this all the time. Just super mellow. Super chill. So she's a lovely little sausage. Anyway, so what I do is, I'm a director and designer for Aardman.
Aardman is a creative studio based in beautiful Bristol, and it's been there for nearly 50 years now. And there's many, many reasons why I love this place. So it's a creative studio that if you know Aardman, then you might know its creative output, which is Wallace and Gromit and Shaun the Sheep and the Pirates and Chicken Run and many of the wonderful characters and stories and worlds.
But there's all sorts of other stuff that that place makes. I'll touch on in a little bit, but it's this sort of creative cathedral, this hive of people just doing lots of really interesting stuff. And I feel really passionately about being there, not only because I really respect its beginnings. And it was started by two friends who met at school, Peter Lord and Dave Sproxton, and they got sat next to each other in class and they just became mates because they were interested in drawing and art.
They were teenagers and they discovered Dave had a access to a Bolex camera, 16mm film camera his dad had borrowed from work. He worked at the BBC. Then they discovered there was this button on the side of his camera that would advance to the film. One frame at a time. So if you drew something, press that button in front of the next one, then you drew a slightly different drawing and then you continued this. And then when you got it developed at the lab and played back it came to life.
It was magic, it was animation, and they were absolutely beholden with this. And so they just started making and doing their own thing just purely because they wanted to. And they were engaged by it and excited and intrigued and confused by it all. And they ended up doing a tiny bit of work for BBC four for the children's arm of BBC, for a program called Vision On in the Seventies.
And they got paid a little bit of cash, a tiny bit of cash for a small animation featured within one of the segments. And they got given a check and they're 16 and they go “what is this? What do I do with it?”. So their dad said you got to pay into somewhere, you need to pay it into a bank. You need to create a bank account for your business. So they just went, okay, we will. They looked around and they looked at one of their characters they’d drawn. A 2D character as a failed Bristolian superhero called ‘ard Man. And they went, but should we call it ‘ard Man? And 50 years later, many, many Oscars and Academy Awards and BAFTAs and hundreds of people, they're still the same two wonderful humans who love creativity, design and animation and art and movement and stories that are there now, they're just bolstered by nearly 500 people now who will share and celebrate that same excitement and love and aim. And it's just a really exciting place to be. And I feel very strongly because I joined as a senior designer for the interactive arm.
I joined 14 years ago, and as soon as I was there I joined the fledgling interactive department, predominantly making games out of Flash. RIP Flash. And interactive experiences. But I basically really was always telling everyone that I absolutely wanted to be a filmmaker too. And I believe that I could be both. I wanted to be both. I love graphic design and art and typography, composition, colour, all the good stuff for design.
But also I love moving image and composition and story and character and timing and all that good stuff. Luckily for me, Aardman were really really responsive to that. And over a period of ten years, they gave me more opportunities, which grew and grew in scope and scale and size, which eventually very long story short, led me to my official title change, to be a director and a designer. And I get to work on all sorts of stuff.
This is what I absolutely love. I was really fortunate enough recently to be the designer behind the Aardman rebrand, and there was absolutely no mean feat in taking a company you absolutely love that you grew up loving, and then work in surrounded by people you massively respect and look up to, and then have the job of, not modernising it, because we weren't modern, but just giving it a a new look. A fresh look that represented the Aardman of 2022. But I'm going to talk more about that a little bit later. But my role is really varied. I jump from pure graphic design sometimes to pure filmmaking and direction. Had this huge honour of making a film called Turtle Journey for Greenpeace back in 2019. Again, I'll share more about this in a little while but it was using CG and stop-frame to tell a really emotional important story about a really important topic.
But sometimes it's just pure fun. I ended up creating an ident for BBC Two for the BBC to rebrand recently, using slime and googly eyeballs, and I got to call that work. And it was amazing and it was wonderful and it was just weird and fantastic, but there's all sorts of stuff that that place does. It really gets me excited.
Something I finished recently or at least in the stages of developing further is a project called Shaun Immersive where we're taking Shaun, creating a brand new story, and it's in a fully immersive environment, meaning that there's floor-to-ceiling four wall projections with binaural spatial sound and a real-time reactive engine. So Unreal Engine is powering all of this. You've got this character you predominantly know in stop-frame animation, but he's rebuilt in beautiful 60 frames a second ultra-high def 4k resolution, and we're trying to take these known characters and push them into new spaces.
So Aardman does all sorts of stuff that you may or may not know. And that's a big drive and draw and excitement for me, because I want to be part of it. I want to be part of everything. And this is a little bit of one of my show reels where I try and show and share everything that I do and want to do.
These are past projects, past gigs. Sometimes it's pure direction. Sometimes I design, direct, animate, do all of it. Sometimes I do a tiny bit of it, you know. These are all collaborative projects and you never quite know where this stuff is going to take you. But I do believe that, you know, you just do not stop being creative at when you finish work or when you finish school or your class wraps or you finish caring for someone or whatever it is, that is your main scenario, your main situation. That's not where ends at all.
You know, the thing that you are most preoccupied with in your brain, you know that kind of gives you ideas and things bubbling simmer away. And for me, I've always wanted to have an output for that stuff. I want to I want to utilise it, want to harness that, that love and that excitement because I just love stuff. I think we all do. And I think we're all interested and intrigued by this really weird, wonderful sort of Venn diagram of mad, overlapping stuff that you wouldn't necessarily put together. But people are very weird and interesting all the time.
And, and I think everyone is like that. And so I really choose to, as often and as frequently as I can, to hone in on that, and to basically make stuff, do sort of create. Create the things that I just want to see in the world. Even if no one ever sees it, even if it is just for a 10th of a second on this slide now, at least I made it and I completed it and it's finished and I can move on to something else. I love the energy and I've done it for the last two decades. JamFactory has been this alter ego that I've had for 21 years now. I celebrated 20 years last February and it's basically the same loop.
I have a day job and back then, before I joined Aardman, I had a day job. I was a young junior designer in a design studio in Leicester where I'm originally from. And then I became freelance for, for a few years and was doing it myself and had a really bad grasp of when to work on my own stuff and went to work on client stuff, hence I never made any money and was terrible at it. But I was just so drawn and excited to do that niggling silly idea you know, that thing that just kind of makes you laugh.
20 years. I've been doing silly nonsense stuff for 20 years and I've always done it from the same thing. I find and carve out a little space where I can do my nonsense and let myself get excited. Starting with a four-by-three monitor, a HP Compaq, one of those laser mice things and a tiny mini PC. This was before I left home. And then I thought, you know what's really cool? Blue flames, that would get me noticed.
Awful, awful. But I've just been carving out this space, who needs Wi-Fi? Do you remember when Wi-Fi didn’t exist? I'm going to work in the garden. How am I going to do that? Chuck a LAN cable out. Of course, that's how you do it.
Just weird, and just like, just technology and anything. I could get my hands on the time. I just do. These are just my spaces. The hardware and the sort of the physical space means a lot to me. You know, if you can find it however small, however big. And I've had some really tight, this was my first flat in Bristol, which was literally the size of a of a cubby. And I slept and I worked and I didn't know anyone else apart from my girlfriend at the time.
And I went crazy over the period of year because I just didn't have any exterior input. But, you know, this was my solace. But eventually you get a bit more space. You get a bit more room to grow and to grow as you understand more about yourself. And so my spaces have got a bit bigger.
This this was literally under the stairs in a house that we rented in Bristol many years ago, but just slowly started adding more screens and more stuff and more bits and more bobs and just trying to, just always want to carve out a home, because the thing is, if you can. If you are privileged enough to have a place that you could, that you could put your mark on it then take advantage of it. There's something very satisfying about that is where I do the stuff. That is where, and I really hold onto that. I know how fortunate I am. And this is my final Pokemon evolution stage.
This is my personal space. Every single surface is painted neon pink. Yes. I don't do any colour grading because it's essentially useless. Everything is just pink now. Which is no bad thing. Pink is the best colour. Neon pink, pastel pink, salmon pink, coral pink, little dusky pink. It's so versatile. I love it.
Neon pink is still the best. Anyway, so that is my personal space, which is like a separate space to where I live. It’s in a little secret location and it's got everything I need. Screens, games, toys, bits and bits and bobs. But essentially, this is what I've done. I've tried to carve out a space, make some stuff that no one is asking for, and then ultimately share it with the world and it doesn't matter if no one cares.
I've always just had a website, so jam dash factory dot com or Jam Factory dot X-Y-Z. We've got a couple of domains I've just always used as this is where I have my stuff. And my mum checks it. That's what it's for. It's a place of my mum to see what I've been up to, but it doesn't matter, you know, it really doesn't matter.
I'm not expecting anyone to go in and look, but at least it is a place to say it's final, it's done. You've had the whole thought process. You've gone from here's a silly little noodling idea, you know, I've just clocked off work, I'm really tired. But this idea won't stop buzzing around in my brain. Maybe I will just, you know, indulge myself a little bit. And before you know it, you know you've got your momentum and you're going forwards and then you've made this silly thing. And then if you put it on the Internet or on a site you’re your portfolio or whatever it is that you choose, you know when you put it to bed, if it's done.
Then you can do that cycle all over again. And it's really exciting. And you learn and you grow. And, you know, for me having a dream job, a place I love in a role that I didn't think I could get into. I started to push myself and ask the support and the network that was around me to get me there. You know, if doing all of this has resulted in me doing that, I'm absolutely never going to stop it because where else could it take me?
Or at the very least, I'm just so thankful and grateful that just noodling, being silly and thankfully this is kind of a lot of what we do in this sector, we are fortunate enough to just play with with pixels or plasticine or whatever it is. You know, we have that freedom to be kind of risky when we want to be, especially if it's about sort of personal betterment and trying to do stuff that you've never done. And it just takes you in really unexpected places.
I never, ever expected to be able to write a book. But that's something that happens that my English teacher will tell you would never be on the cards ever, ever, ever. But it just kind of happened because I fell into doing talks because I really love talking about what I love and creativity in design and art and all of that good stuff.
And then that just led to a body of work that then ended up forming itself into into a book. But I cherish those opportunities that you never, ever plan for. You never, never know where they're going to take you. I make really bad, wonky music and play drums, and there's no real expectation with any of this stuff or wherever I'm going to go with it. But just like formalising it, I guess. You know, just formalising it into at least being a thing. Who sees it, what happens to that thing is irrelevant, you know, at least exists as a thing.
You know, this really weird stuff. Ended up being on a TV show, kids show on CBBC called Art Ninja and with a bunch of mates of mine called Ricky and Sarah and Richard. This was never ever, ever on the cards. And a friend at Aardman was like “is the taxpayer paying for this? How are you on CBBC?”.
You know, you never know. You don't know what opportunity is going to be around until you kind of say yes. And opportunities are really about sticking your neck out. And if you think, oh, maybe I'm not ready for it, and I’m not skilled. You are.
Because if you truly really weren't ready for an opportunity, it wouldn't come knocking. It wouldn't even be on the peripherals of your vision. It wouldn't even be anywhere near you unless you really were ready. You know, if you were just truly not there, then it would pass you by or you just wouldn’t be open to it. But the fact that there's something tantalising on the edges and you think, oh, no, maybe not.
Maybe not good enough. No you are, you absolutely are, so go for it. So, this talk is called less thinkering, more tinkering. And it is about stop thinking about doing the thing and just do the thing. But it's the super turbo version because I have a lot to say and not much time to do it. There's many different clocks here saying a variety of different things.
That says 29, this says 19, this says 15. So who knows? Hopefully you’ve all had food and drink. So strap in. Big caveat klaxon, and first thing. It's really easy to scroll on Instagram and see this really lovely catchy sentiment and phrase that sums up your creative quandary in a couple of lines.
It's a really pithy soundbite. It's the sort of thing you'd see scrawled on someone's bathroom wall or in their kitchen, Hey guys, just dare to dream. And it's so easy to see. You know when you're on Right Move and you're like, oh no, they’ve got a sign on the wall. You know.
But the point is, I think it’s something you kind of need as humans. I think you kind of need to make sense of this chaotic. This universe essentially hates us. And wants to kill us all. You have to make sense of it. You have to try and with as few words as possible kind of format into a mantra for yourself. So actually those pithy, quick, summed up sentences as much as we kind of loathe them and joke about them, they're actually really, really, really helpful. At times. Any tool that you can use to make sense of your situation, do it, use it. So my caveat is this presentation is one of them. So I'm sorry. And one of the best ones is it's better to beg for forgiveness rather than to ask for permission.
I think this is so true in what we do. If you were a surgeon or a rocket scientist. Let’s go with rocket scientist, you're not going to turn up to NASA and go “Hey guys, I think I’m just going to get a bit experimental with this rocket.”
No, absolutely not. “Hey, let's just try instead of, like, liquid nitrogen, let’s try maybe Irn Bru and mineral water?” No, no, no, no, no, no. Don't.
There are definitely sectors, areas that you probably should absolutely not take any risks on. Going under the knife into surgery and then your anaesthetist is like, “Hey, I'm going to try something wacky”.
No, no, stop. Doing what we do I think, especially in the creative sector. And I'll say, I don't know what everyone does, but if you're here, you know, we're all sort of orbiting around the same things.The other huge caveat klaxon here is that everyone's situation is different. And you can't oversimplify. Life is complicated. Humans are complicated situations. A complicated. But generally what we are doing there is an element of risk. And it's not to belittle how difficult change can be within a structure as well. If you work for yourself, you can change your working hours really quite easily. But if you're within a structure of a company of a thousand people, perhaps you can't just then just start changing every single thing.
So it's about a bit of give and take. I think it's, and I talk about this a lot, if I try and describe my talks, I try and be a realistic idealist or an idealistic realist, depending on the situation. Sometimes you've just got to forge ahead and just be really dreamy and just kind of throw ideas out there.
Other times, it’s simply not the right choice. It is not going to help you. It's not going to make you go anywhere. It's kind of gonna be useless. You're going to be this, this, this floaty voice there's no substance behind. So I'm just always trying to assess a situation and decide, shall I just be really dreamy and have this big idealistic view or set of ideas, or is the situation right now it’s a complicated one so we’ve just got to knuckle down and come to a solution. It's always about that. And I think that's what's complicated in our industry. Trying to do the right thing and trying to move things forward. A big one is don't wait to be asked. I do it to spite the imaginary person that I'm also having an arms race with. Myself. In that I am going to do it to spite everyone that's never given me the opportunity. They don't know who they are, but I do. Whether it’s the medium, whether it’s the application, or whatever it is. Don’t wait to be asked.
Don't wait to be asked.
There’s like what, seven or 8 billion people on the planet and a lot of them do what you do. So there's a lot of people fighting for the same opportunities. If you just sit and wait that for this this ideal thing to pop in your lap, it might do. And if it does, that's amazing. That's so rad. Absolutely. Grab it, run with it and be proud that it's come your way.
I'm pretty confident saying that that's not normal for most people, right? You can't sit there and wait for the opportunity or wait for the perfect thing. Don’t wait for that person to come over, offer you exactly what you want. You've just got to do it. You're going to make it go to try it. You got to do it.
Some examples I love to show are from video games. I love playing video games. It’s such a release. There's an amazing game out there. And game publishing companies, you know, games is a gigantic industry out there. Bigger than in TV and film combined. Who in those gigantic monopolies is going “Do you know what the audience needs? Yeah, a goose simulator.” “Are you sure?”. “ Yeah, I'm pretty sure.” “Okay. Bit weird. Should we give it like a snappy name? You know, something really, really zeitgeisty that we can really latch onto?” “No. It should be called Untitled Goose Game.” “Okay, two for two. Quite weird. Is the game play something really, really revolutionary?” “No, you annoy people in a little English village using only honks.”
But this exists. Untitled Goose Game is such a great example of just unique weirdness and a vision and a dedication and a five to five on a Friday and someone going “I’ve got an idea for a game”. And someone going “yes, let’s make that happen.”
You know, this stuff exists and I love that it does. There’s another video game called Cuphead, which is absolutely bonkers. It's all drawn and created in an authentic 1930s animation style in that it is drawn, inked, coloured, and frame by frame, animated.
That is a terrible way to make a video game absolutely awful. And they did it and it's wonderful and it's joyous and it's beautiful and it's unique and they believed in it. The two brothers who created the game had never made a game before and they re-mortgaged their house. I mean, there's a lot. I watched the documentary it’s a great one. If you can just search the making of Cuphead, it's brilliant. I think Red Bull made it. Like I mean, there's risk and there's risk. We've never done this before. We don't have any money and we're going to try a really laborious, difficult technique. But they did it and it's wonderful and it's a real game changer. And it won every award under the sun, and it exists. And I'm just so stoked for them that this thing exists.
Also in video games. It this is brilliant thing called Sayonara Wild Hearts, which is a concept album, video games, neon soaked, bullet hell, beautiful, queer, love story RPG, that plays out on a track-by-track basis and every track is unique, is different is part of this album, and it will be put together to create a story and a game. And it's wonderful, it's weird and it seems like someone's just reached into my brain and gone like, pick me. I have the game for you.
And it's awesome. It's fun. And again, it exists because the creators believed in it.
You know, it's not on anyone's list of diagrams or spreadsheets of the Here's Where It Fits In, it just exists. Similarly, on animation. I'm a big, big animation fan. I love the creativity and the diversity and the weird and wonderful ways that you can use animation to tell stories. This is great thing called Battle Kitties. Absolutely bonkers, it’s a Netflix show, but it's an interactive show.
But the two creators, the Layzell Brothers, their upbringing was really entwined with nineties Nintendo video games like Zelda and Super Mario Brothers three. And so you choose your adventure. You choose your episode in these lovely sort of vignettes that are an alternative style. And it’s so weird, which is a sort of thing that you put your kids in front of it because it is for children.
And you go, oh, I know this is for kids and it’s a bit weird and it does have some really dark moments. But again, it exists and it is so fantastic. Again, it is such a unique vision it's such a passion-filled thing that you can tell that that person loves.
And then my last on this list, this is basically a public service announcement. If you haven't seen Arcane on Netflix please everyone go and watch. Arcane it's the most beautiful fluid interesting unique deep rich anime, it's just lush it's just absolutely beautiful and it surprised me in every single way. And it was a sort of thing that comes along every few decades that you just thought this is perfect this is a masterpiece.
It's made by this relatively small Animation Studio in France called Fortiche, who have really honed their graphic style. It’s really really unique, this this snippet of a trailer doesn't do it justice, but again it's just so beautiful. I finished watching, I just I emailed the company straight away just saying hello I just thought what you made was amazing, you're an amazing, au revoir. I did type that as well. I was like they'll think I'm cultured and maybe invite me to work on their show. They just went “merci”, but you know just when you love something man. I'm just a big fan of, if you love something, please tell the people because they might not know, even though this is absolutely revered.
And if you talk to people about Arcane and they go I know it's amazing, but you know, don't always assume. It's not always a known thing, so if you can show and share the love then please do so, that is my PSA.
Music is a great example as well, music is a bit of a strange one to use because music by its very definition of course it is its own thing, and it doesn't really fit into any box apart from maybe pop music. You know by its definition it sort of fits into something that's popular, but I still take inspiration everywhere in any way you can. Some of my favourite musical artists are just weird and wonderful. Godspeed You Black Emperor make this like awfully, awesome long, droney, gnarly, weird, soundscap-y stuff and they make it so difficult to find. The first album or the second album was called f-hashtag-a-infinity symbol and this was pre-internet searching. How do you ever find that? They purposely make it difficult for you to find their music, I love that.
Nails is another favourite band. Technically their categorisation is power violence, and it sounds like if you kind of turned a washing machine on and you kicked it downstairs that's what it sounds like. And no album is longer than 17 minutes and I love it, it's so hostile. But again it exists because there's people behind this stuff, and it's not all about making stuff that's gnarly It's just that it shouldn't fit anywhere but it does, because people love it and they believe in it. That's again just trying to find that excitement, trying to find that interest and something I'm trying to do constantly is to find my voice. And what I mean by that is when I was first starting out into the industry I desperately wanted my own style, I wanted an aesthetic style I wanted to be known for a certain look. And I have never been because I just don't have it, I just don't have a unique style. I'm a bit of a magpie I take from too much and that used to bum me out. I used to feel like oh man, you know there's this certain artists and creatives that I look up to that are just known for that thing, and I adore them and love them and I'm a bit jealous. I just, you know, just fall into the noise, I don't stand out.
But actually, the more I've done this, and I've been in the industry for 20 years now, I got my first job when I was 17 and I was 40 the other week, and so I've been doing it you know, I feel confident in my time in the industry so far and and I've kind of discovered that actually it's more about finding your voice, your authentic voice. And actually, there are threads in your work that will inevitably make it personal to you. You may not think yourself as having a creative unique voice, but you will you absolutely will because everything flows into that. What you love what you hate, what your upbringing was, what you adore in the world, what you really don't want to see in the world.
You know, all of these things flow together and make this in really interesting tapestry, and I'm just trying to find the confidence to lean into that, and some of the examples of the work that I'll show, I feel like I'm starting to get there, and I'm starting to understand it myself. This is a relatively new revelation and it and it feels comfortable that I'm aiming towards that, I'm not stressing myself out on not having a visual style, I'm trying to focus on honing in what my voice is and using it where appropriate.
Again, like this idealism versus realism thing, sometimes it's totally appropriate to make something totally unique and personal, sometimes like we all do you might be in a team of hundreds of people and it's not about personal expression, it's about what is solving the problem for the client, or what that solution going to be for accessibility. Not every story, not every piece of work that we will ever do will have this big, grand, wonderful, beautiful narrative, but for me that's where passion projects and stuff outside of work become so important.
Because if I'm not creatively satisfied during the day, then it's up to me to seek satisfaction, no one else is going to do that for me. No one else is going to sort that out. It took me a long time to figure that out, but that really powered me up to spend the time making my own silly stuff. So I'm going to rattle through just a few examples of creative work that I've been involved in, and this Aardman rebrand was a big one recently. We launched it in January this year and Aardman’s graphic identity has been in a different place over the years, and it's kind of been forged in different ways.
And for a long time it was this almost like a linocut style. We don’t do lino cutting. I don't really know where it came, from not many people do. Aardman’s quite relaxed, and just kind of just lets things happen. No one really fully could remember the origin, so I ended up coming at it with this look, and there's a much broader thing behind it. And you know it's the red, it still has the Aardman star on it, but it's really trying to capture what was important for the company, because the company now is employee owned.
So Dave and Peter who started it sold their shares to us the employees, so we all are partners in the business, and so for us that change was so tectonic. It was so huge that we needed to reflect that the you know the company is represented by the people that work for it, but also, we we are a company in 2022. And we love and adore making stop frame animation, but that is not everything we do. We do so much more, so trying to use graphic design in this most simplistic way possible to reaffirm that.
And just things like this sting ident that I did for the launch, and just to get a bit of tactility, and squash and stretch, but to not prescribe that we only do tactility, we only do stop frames. So it was a really complex job in trying to absolutely love, honour, respect everything that's come before, but also say yeah but we're really excited for the future as well. You know, it's a graphic designer's dream to do that stuff and just making stuff play and work within our characters and our worlds, and using all these graphic assets to do things, looking at the colours and just giving everything a little love and a bit of polish.
And it's not drastic by any stage but you know it's like, there's no simplistic stuff you know it takes the longest time because you spend so long noodling over and agonising over it and making a palette that worked in a primary, secondary, in a tertiary and looking at typography as well and trying to get some roundness and softness and boldness as well. Being confident. You know Aardman play on the world stage, and you know you're up there against Disney and Sony and Illumination and these huge giants who have many more people than ours and presumably deeper pockets.
And you know we're still an independent company, that's a big thing about the employee ownership. It means that we can't ever be bought. You know it's independent, it's funded by no one, it's just us, and so we want to play on that world stage, but still be totally honest. We are a group of people in a couple of locations in Bristol, and we love making stuff. You know, so it's really nice trying to do that and it's just trying small things. Like we would use the wonks or whenever there's a straight edge, just put it on the wonk.
It comes from the term wonky not wanky. There was something that when we were doing the 2014 rebrand, I felt it really important. We don't want to be wanky, we're moving more towards cleaner graphic design because it's about the work, it's about the pieces of work, it's about the moving images, about the games. It's not about the graphic design. You shouldn’t be focusing on that, you should be focusing on the stuff we make. But at the same time, don't want it to be too cold and corporate, so make it wonky not wanky.
And things like tactility. I was really against actually doing the thumbprints in the early days because I thought no no, it's going to make people think that all we do is is clay. And it's such a defining part, but it's really particular to just clay animation and that comes a lot from morph and Wallace and Gromit, that you can see the animators thumbprints as they are physically moving the clay. But we went round the houses, then went no actually, I feel like we need to reclaim this because actually this represents employee ownership and it represents every person in the company touches the project in some way.
Whether it's just a process at the end, whether it's being all the way through, and actually sort of being proud of it. And actually, that those thumbprints don't just represent a technique of a style, they represent something much bigger. So it was really nice going through that that creative process and the characters as well, making sure we've always got a different variety of characters on them with all the different things we make. And it takes us into all sorts of different places and you know, the applications of physical print.
Everyone loves a good old business card, and now sort of expanding into using and and creating sub- brands and actually using this sort of setup and the system that we've got into important things like sub-brands and logos and variations of things. Like this the clay version is only something that is seen in sort of like consumer facing things or workshops and things like that, and sometimes little focuses. And we've got an education arm called Aardman Academy as well, so if you're interested in in learning about stop frame animation then check out the academy. And then lastly, it was all all featured in a beautiful site, made by the wonderful True in Bristol, which is a great digital agency who were such a great partner to work with. Who did all these brilliant user research, and particularly important UX to work out, the people that come to the Aardman site are very varied, so you need to direct them into the right places.
So I make really bad music. Really wonky music. Really really wonky music. But it started with this this Magpie obsession. I'm gonna go really fast now because I don't know what time is anymore, these clocks keep saying things to me. Lots to talk about still, but I'm gonna go even faster. So I saw this thing on the internet. I was like what is it. It's got buttons, it's got colours, it's got lights, it's got knobs I must twiddle.
Turns out it’s a piece of musical hardware called an Ableton Push 2, and it lets you connect to Ableton Live which is a music piece of software, and you can just make music and stuff. And I bought one, and I never bought anything musical in my life and because I bought it and I told my wife how much it cost I thought I better learn how to use it. And this started this obsession with just actually diving in head first, and then I came across the phrase “all the gear, no idea”, and it's like yeah that's me. But actually no, that's not fair, that's absolutely not fair because I do have the ideas, I totally have ideas. But absolutely nothing is clear.
I don't know what to Google, I don't know what the terms are. What's the C? Why do people go talking about a C , or just play a C. There's no flipping letters on a flipping keyboard, I don't know what bloody C is. “Oh just play C then you go in F sharp”. What are you talking about YouTube!? You just do not know what's going on and it's so confusing, but at the same time you then just play with this stuff and go oh this is really really fun. I’m almost constantly in this sort of anarchic war with myself to want to be better, want to grow.
Then I decided it doesn't matter because one day, it will happen, the sun will die and it will grow so gigantic it will consume the Earth and it will incinerate and evaporate everything we have ever known. So everything is futile, so what does it matter if I can't find a middle bloody C on a keyboard. I'm just going to keep noodling, I'm just going to keep playing. And so I just use it as a catalyst to make stuff, and because I'm predominantly visual I was making these really bad wonky beats. So I figured well, if I'm going to share them, I'll put them on Instagram. Back then Instagram was just 60 seconds for video and just square. There we go, framework. Two sets of frameworks. Okay, make something for 60 seconds. I could maybe do that I don't have to make a song, I'll just make a beat. You know, there's a big big difference. That's not music, it's just a bit of a bit of a thing and I can learn and grow and of course I'm a graphic designer, I'll give it a piece of branding. “Why? No one cares?”. Yeah, but I need a design system. “For who!?”.
It's just me on my own in my stupid pink shed, knowing the sun's gonna die going “oh it's all right!”. But it doesn't matter, it doesn't matter. I made merch. My mom's got one, my dad's got one, my brother's got one, and a bloke called Dave from Sussex bought one. But you know, the point is it did take me places. I started learning, I started doing more 3D stuff or more ambitious stuff. I made sleeves, record sleeves. Why? They're just one bad song on Soundcloud, they're not albums. It's all right though, I need to make album artwork. You never know.
You know, it just would push me enough but I’m fully aware of how bad it all is, but just I'm also torn at just how exciting it is all the time. So that stuff is always trying to bring character and push my 3D abilities, and this all had music as well, and then just found that the love of 3D reactive real-time stuff really fascinating. In being able to play stuff and it be visually reactive. So this was using Notch and a brilliant thing called the OPZ. I found this thing as well, and saw that on the internet I was like wow, gotta have that now because it had lights and it's got colours, and it’s just got stuff.
And so what is actually happening, that talks to Ableton Live, and that’s go 16 buttons, and it basically just triggers off samples. But you can load you can layer up samples so it can play more than one, but you can also throw random pitch variators and also random pan variators, so every time I press a button it will pan it, it will pitch it up, will pitch it down, so you never quite know what you're gonna get. So that's just one button press.
You know it I just really like that variety, but I'm so scared to do this stuff in front of anyone. I play the drums, but I don't play in a band I just play on my own so no one can hear me, but I've got to get out of this. How can I do talks in front of people and that's fine, but it's doing something that is just silly I get freaked out about. So I started incorporating this into talks. I would just do this funny little intermission where I play music because you could hook it into Twitch, and my computer could have little waveforms and stuff like that. And people go “what what’s happening now?” Much like you. But it doesn't matter, people are like okay I tuned in to watch a design stream now he's playing bad music, okay.
It doesn't matter, and then you realise no one cares, it doesn't matter and that they literally will not have any more thoughts about it. They won't go well I'm gonna put that guy in my Black Box, I'm never gonna listen or talk to him again because he played. They don't care, no one cares and it's just doing all these things really made me realise I just need to do this more. And this is this is a passion project I'm really into at the minute, it's using this OPZ, and I'm now teaching myself Unity and Blender, and so this is sending midi signals, and on every different midi signals it affects the physics universe, so the speakers are scaling up with physics. And then because it's with physics, it's knocking stuff all over the place and it's getting really over the top and silly, and it's a great way to learn.
But what's really exciting for me, is my kids love it, because it’s tactile.
Yeah, that happens a lot, but I love seeing them play with it and grow and learn. And the first time the other day, it's a sequencer as well so you play notes, and it's a two-way two-step oscillator thing. But you put your sequence in so you can just press your keys, and so my son kept spamming the same notes and so you press play and it has 16 notes there, but then you saw him stop. And then he did one, two, three up, and then four down. It’s like, dude, you're making music.
Which is, you know, I don't understand music theory, God bless me I've tried but I don't get it, but I still know about going somewhere, coming back. You know essentially that is what emotion and music is. It's going on a journey and it's like, for him to be understanding that at five and enjoying it because we can just play on these silly little things, I'm so glad. I'm so glad I've gone down this rabbit hole of not being good but absolutely loving it. So yeah, just do the weird, funny, silly little thing that excites you, intrigues you, that you know you're not going to be very good at. Please do>
I'm gonna go really fast now, but this is a final piece of work, and it’s only 100 seconds long, and I think I should show it to you.
It started out like any other trip home. At first it seemed just like the usual frustrations.
How much longer? Don't worry we'll be home in no time.
I spy with my little eye, something beginning with W. Whelk!
That’s it, I’m taking the scenic route.
Oh no, not a dad detour.
But that’s when things got a bit, odd. And that was just the start.
Ah there's our house. So good to be home. Home safe.
Right, you unpack, I’m gonna get the kettle on for all of us. Okay right, let’s get you inside.
Dad, what’s that noise?
We can’t change the past. But we can demand a better future. Protect the Oceans.
Keep it light, Gav. I realise it’s such a gear change. I never thought about that. Tears. Family death.
But the point of keeping this project till last, it was the absolute project of a lifetime. And it's really struck me about having the chance to use my voice. And the project was commissioned by Greenpeace, and this was all created at Aardman. And I had the honour of directing this. And they came to us, and they wanted to tell an emotional, powerful story using animation to tell a story about the plight that the oceans face. And whether it's plastic in the water, whether it's overfishing, it's deep sea drilling, there's so many things that affect them. It's not one thing.
They wanted to use animation to sort of almost lure people in and to tell a bit more of a powerful story because obviously people can be a bit desensitised to seeing normal live-action footage. So we came on board as this, and they but they weren't prescriptive with what the story could be. So all the directors pitched, and I thought wow, I'll go personal. What would be the hardest thing for me to lose? Because for the animals and for the species is about loss. It's loss of habitat, it's loss of life. What would be the hardest thing for me to lose? And it would be one of my family members, you know.
And really made me sad to my core and I was like well, I'll harness that then. And it felt like okay, this is all creative voicing and I've always been the soppy side and I always had cry everything, and I really feel stuff. And I've always felt like, oh you come on, you don't need to. Just stop crying everything”. It’s like, oh no, this is my chance. The universe is handing me this. You know take it, and run with it, and turn it into something. And it was just the most incredible process, it was most incredible journey. Every single part of this was wonderful, but what I found out won me the job was cutting a mood reel.
Now I don't know if lots of people do this, but before every job, especially animation or directing, I cut a mood reel. Something of existing clips, of existing footage of stuff that's out there, to show myself and the client that this is the tone that I'm intending, this is the mood. To hopefully you know, allay any fears that the client has wit, do they understand? Do Aardman and me understand? But also, I would show this to people joining the job to get where we were going to, and what we wanted to do. So this is another little clip I think is really important in context.
So I used to tell him things, you know. Silly little made-up things, just to make him feel better.
Well again, I wouldn’t be able to tell you because I don’t know. Well it could be two foot tall.
Well I think the opposite to be honest, I don’t think at this particular time.
It was too late, because that brave little tortoise had crossed the line. Wicked.
You never want your kids to see you scared. You want to be that rock that they can grab a hold of in a stormy sea. Actually, a rock would sink, so a floating rock.
Right there was when it started to go sour.
It was just, devastating.
Again, keep it light.
But the point is there, I still think looking at that mood reel, I feel what we made was really close in tone. You know, the start stuff is why there was like Goggle Box and You've Been Framed and families talking over each other in naturalistic dialogue, because when families are talking no one waits their turn to listen, everyone's just talking. Especially on a car journey. It's just all sort of chaotic, and no one laughs quite like how you do with your family. There's no formality, you just are you're your true self.
But then in the latter half of that that vide, there's when tragedy strikes, and particularly there's some shots there, and you know in a documentary when someone's asked about something so hard, and they're full of grief. They don't actually say anything, and their eyes gloss over and they swallow it up in the throat, look away and they just, they can't get out the word. So that's why in our film when the dad turtle is being interviewed about what happened, he doesn't say anything, and I remember thinking if we could get that kind of shot in clay in stop frame animation then that that'll be it.
And God bless our incredible animators. The animator Inez did that shot of the dad turtle with a tear, oh it gets me every time. And that's exactly what we're trying to do when we're using this medium, and these people and this talent to try and tell this emotional, powerful story and everything's just so exciting. Stop frame is a really exciting medium to be working in. You know you've got real physical puppets and turtles and props and you've got these wonderful humans doing stuff.
We ended up really trying to get human performance and everything. So these are called LAVS, live action videos where you don't often have to do it, but it's really useful for a director to try and convey the emotion that you're going for, that's helpful for the animators. The animators don't copy it, but it's just a you know, it's a tone reference again, like the mood video reference. I had a blast trying to do this, trying to play the role of five, six people. And just a side note, our cast was incredible. We had David Harbour, Hopper from Stranger Things as a dad, we had Olivia Coleman as the mum. She is as nice as you hope she'll be. She's amazing, she's the most incredible person. I was desperately trying to be just a cool director and “Hello Olivia, nice to meet you”, and she was just so nice. She's just lovely she gave me a big hug and she's amazing, she's awesome. We had Helen Miriam, we had Jim Carter, we had Bella Ramsay. We just had a stellar cast of people and just every part of this process.
Just again because it was such a personal story, but at the same time just so excited that such an opportunity would come our way. Just wanted to make the most of it, whether it's the talent, it's the crew, the people, the skills. From making a real clamshell car with real working lights, to working with brilliant DOPs and riggers and animators to really bring this stuff to life, to making quick stuff, to making small stuff. This is the tiny teddy, the tiniest turtle has and holds which is about this big. And when the toddler is floating around it's even got metal rigging inside it so that as it's swaying it can really look like it's moving underwater.
You know tiny little details. That blue thing, that's electronic paper that's as thin as paper. And when you feed a charge through it it glows so it illuminates a teenager's face. All these tiny details but it isn't all about stop frame as well, it's about CGI. We expanded our world and we created our environments all in CGI and so we have these lovely concept designs, and then we have these awesome sort of organic renders. And even sort of meshing the worlds together so you never know so this is all CG, because if we were going to make those whales to the scale that we were using and in one scene there's about 15 whales, we'd still be making it now, and it would be bigger than the Aardman studio, so we did it in CG. But it all just blends together so nicely.
But for me for some of the nicest things were the the smallest most practical things, so you know underwater when you you look in a swimming pool, you have caustics, that lovely dappled light. We wanted that on our puppet, so how do you do that on a stop frame set? What magic do you use? We don’t want to do it in CG, we do it for real. So our genius DoP Simon here got two panes of shower glass with a little rippled effect, stuck a light behind it and put both of those panes of glass on two motors that were connected to the camera and the rigging system. So every time a frame was taken on the camera it would move the pane of glass a tiny amount, just a tiny amount. And would do this so when you played it back at 25 frames a second it does this, and it gives a beautiful caustic effect. But then you need dappled shadows to make that fit, you can't just have caustic light, you need your shadows to match as well.
So he went into the Aardman bike shed, pinched a wheel off the back of a bike, stuck some gaffer tape on it, stuck it to the same motor. Bosh. Just the ingenuity. There's some really high-tech examples and there's also let's pop to B&Q, get some shower glass and I'll just go to the bike shed and make a wheel, you know. And it's the that tactility, that ingenuity and those people working together, just meant it was a dream project.
It ended up picking up some lovely awards, which is mind-blowing for all of us and we even dared brave the bottom of the internet and read some comments, which obviously everyone knows you don't read the bottom of the internet. There be dragons. But we had some lovely feedback from this, and people connected with it. But what was amazing was actually having a science connection here. “As a sea turtle biologist and the person who removed that straw from the sea turtle’s nose, I can't stress how valuable this video is.” Oh it was just the most amazing, fun, wonderful, privilege, honour, thing to be involved in.
So if you want to see it again please Google Turtle Journey, and then the making of. There's a little making of featurette on that as well, and God bless Greenpeace for giving us this wonderful opportunity. Right,I'm going to rattle through this because we've just got a few left. Don't make it perfect, make it now. Stop worrying about everything and anything, it's never going to be perfect, nothing is perfect. If you just wait for that opportunity, if you wait for every scenario situation to be just right it will pass you by.
This is the most single most important piece of advice that was ever given to me by one of my bosses and I think about it every single day, and I think you should too. Take the path of least resistance. There is absolutely no shame on picking easy mode for God's sake. Life is so hard. Like I say, the universe hates us and wants to destroy us. Why would you make things more challenging? Especially if you're talking about science projects or passion projects or anything. Don't make it harder for yourself. Life's already really hard, so there's absolutely no shame on, if it is a solid project or if it's anything , just do the easy win. Pick the low hanging fruit. Just whatever it takes to get you having momentum, and going forwards. Don't bite off more than you can chew. Don't make it this huge thing, this honour that you must overcome.
No, make it easy for the love of God. Don't wait until you have all the tools. It's so easy to think I need that piece of kit, I need that piece of hardware, I need that location, I need this, that, and the other. Don't wait. There's an incredible pianist called Andrew Garrido, who became a world-class pianist, and he didn't have a piano.
That's amazing and crazy. He knew how a piano should sound, and he could play on them when he could sort of rent them or have lessons, but he couldn't afford one and didn't have one in his house growing up. So he memorised where the notes were on pieces of paper, and he learned and taught himself to play. And I think if that dude can be world class on the instrument that he didn't have, we'll be all right if we're like oh I've only got a Photoshop 2020, am I ever going to proceed?
This dude flipping did this, and didn't have a bloody piano. Take the duality of creativity. It’s great, it's hard and it is amazing. All the time you've kind of just got to like hold on to those emotions, and you're riding high and you feel really good and you've done something, and you're moving forwards, and then the next day you crashed and burned everything has gone wrong, and it's like such an emotional journey.
Whatever it is, keeping up the energy levels is a real task, it's a job in itself. And I don't think that's often acknowledged actually, that sort of mental endurance of keeping things going and keeping things moving forward. So just kind of remember that duality, and some days we'll be great and some days will be absolutely terrible, but you know, it's all about taking that small step. It's taking that next step, you know, just get through the day. Tomorrow is a new day, and acknowledge that the duality can also be a fun thing as well. You know, remember the highs and remember that it is possible to feel that way again.
Own the chaos when things go absolutely bonkers and you feel that weird fuzzy fizzy energy inside you and you're like oh, you're on the edge. You know, you're sort of vibrating at a certain frequency and you're sort of spinning all the plates and it's all a bit too much. It's quite nice to hone in on that and be like okay. And to use a video game reference again, Corey Barlog who's the director of God of War, which I think is a masterpiece of a video game. It's really beautiful and the story's great and the characters fantastic. He said we were trying to take an inaugural flight on the plane whilst we were building the plane, whilst also drawing the blueprints of the plane as it was taking off.
And I think if a game like that, a piece of media a piece of creation that got ten out of ten or five out of five, and all the accolades across the board and is hailed as a masterpiece. If their creative process was chaotic and like that, then maybe we'll be okay too. But just remember when you're like yeah Gav, that's all well and good, but how do I make a difference, I’m one human, I'm one person. And it just can be so overwhelming when you're like, but how do I make a splash? How do I stand out? And it’s a daily occurrence of how do I go forwards? What do I do? How do I make an impact? How do I make a difference?
First of all, remember that you are. Showing up, turning up, being you, existing is making a difference, but just remember that even the smallest, even the tiniest of spoons can absolutely make the biggest of waves.
Manchester you've been amazing. This is the first time I've left Bristol in two and a half years. Shout out Shaun and the Nexer team for having me. I'm sorry for going a little bit over. You’re all amazing. Peace.