Whilst the streets of Bristol were still harbouring an Autumnal glow and the weather was near enough perfect, we headed on over to Didn’t You Do Well to chat to Emily Brooke-Davies. With her illustrations illuminating social media threads in the past couple of months and an exciting collaborative project with Call of the Brave on the cards, we couldn’t resist picking her brain about the life of an illustrator. So, steaming coffees in hand, we questioned Emily about the world of illustration, what it’s like to bring a character to life and the future of paper and pen in the animation industry.
Hey Emily. How’s it going? Good thanks!
First thing’s first, tell us a little about yourself. What do you do? I’m an Illustrator, Animator, Writer. Drawer of small animals with oversized eyes.
Has Bristol always been your home? I actually grew up in Huddersfield and then went to University in Leeds. Yorkshire is a lovely place but after living there for 21 years it’s great to be able to head somewhere else. Sometimes you need an abrupt change to kickstart your ideas. I studied a Graphic Arts and Design BA and then came down here to do an MA in Animation. Now I’m just sticking around Bristol and working – this city’s great. It’s got an incredibly lively animation scene.
How did you get into illustration and animation? My grandad was a graphic designer and picture framer, and my dad was an illustrator, so it felt inevitable that I would go into that area but I avoided it for quite a while. I knew I was good at drawing but back at school I was focused on more practical stuff, such as animal care, because even though I knew I was creative and loved that sort of thing, I also realised that it could be an unreliable place to go. It’s not necessarily a stable, regular 9-to-5 job. I put it off for quite a while but I’ve gradually headed into that area. I enjoy it, I’m reasonably good at it – so I’m going to pursue it.
We were looking at your show-reel and your characters. They’re exceptionally vibrant and playful – so we were just wondering where you drew your inspiration from? Thanks! I get my inspiration from a myriad of places. Animations I watched as a kid (this will indicate my age) like Oakie Doke, William’s Wish Wellingtons, Funny Bones, The Moomins inspire me to this day. I do enjoy games though, it’s a bit of a guilty pleasure. I love the colour palettes used in games like Legend of Zelda:The Wind Waker, and Super Mario Sunshine. Even though I am abysmal at most games, I love the aesthetic and the depth of the worlds you can inhabit. I’ve always been a fan of Hayao Miyazaki and I take a lot of inspiration from him: the way the narrative flows, the colour palette – they’ve got a real focus on characters and that’s essentially what my work is about. I also enjoy a lot of old independent animation and Russian Animation, such as Yuriy Norshteyn’s Hedgehog in the Fog.
Personally, our favourite character has got to be Jimmy Wiggins. Is there any character that you enjoyed illustrating the most and that you could always go back to, putting them in fresh situations? You almost get obsessions with a character for 6 months or even a year! I was working on Jimmy Wiggins for most of my MA so that was about 2 years, and he’s just a very simple character to draw and he’s very cheery and happy looking. This is generally what I look for in a character! I used to do a fortnightly animation project with a character called Putment (odd name I know) who was this lanky, bald man, so again quite simple to draw. It’s the case that I do get obsessions with these characters for a bit, but I’ll be doodling and create something like a little chicken and I’ll give it a name and start to wonder what it would get up to. Then I go off on a little adventure with them!
How do you go about finding the voices for the characters? For Jimmy Wiggins a great tutor from UWE called Arril Johnson performed the narration. He’s from Canada and has this great voice that suited the character of Jimmy perfectly! I’d never use my own voice for a character because I just find it a very uncomfortable process. There was a stage however where I tried to do everything, including the music but you do however realise that actually you’re not great at all things and that it’s better to specialise. You have to relinquish power. So, with regards to music, I’ve been working with a former student of the Royal Academy of Music called Alice Beckwith. She’s an outstanding musician and I realised it’s best to leave some parts to the professionals.
How do these collaborations with music usually work? Do you complete the animation before adding music, or do you usually like to write with the music mapped out before hand? It kinda depends on what project and who you’re working with. The current composer I work with usually likes to have the animation completed before hand – I found this out after asking her to create a piece of music before I’d made the animation but this essentially left her with a blank canvas. Personally I quite like responding to music because it sparks ideas and inspires colours and movement, but I guess equally it’s great for a composer to respond to your work too.
What’s your usual process for illustration and animation? Do you usually start on paper and create a digital copy? Again, it depends. I always start with drawing but it’s whether I can replicate it using a graphics tablet. Sometimes you can but sometimes you don’t need to. In all honesty, I prefer creating stuff on paper because you feel like you’re practically doing something. You also get some great natural errors that gives the piece a great organic feel, such as little smudges, and a random boil effect (wobbliness) that you notice when you scan it into a computer. This natural, bobbly feel to animation is also certainly coming back into fashion and it’s something that people can really appreciate. You can produce this effect in After Effects by adding in random boils with filters, but I’d rather do it the long way round and feel like a martyr!
It’s unusual that one-side of the animation world is engaging with this natural style of animation whereas a lot of animations that used to have these kind of feel when we were children have now transformed themselves into blocky, 3D, CGI style cartoons. What do you think of this style of animation? It’s a weird one! They even seem to be doing that with very recent animations. For example, it wasn’t long ago that Bob the Builder was presented with stop-motion animation, but now he’s being given an incredibly smooth face! It’s very bizarre. I actually focused my dissertation on this topic and recent research claims that this generation of children respond to this style of animation well because they play a lot of video games, they use a lot more technology and are exposed to a lot more CG-created things. But I don’t necessarily buy that!
Is there a collaborative vibe to the animation & illustration scene here in Bristol, or is it quite competitive? I think it’s quite collaborative. I’m trying to ease myself slowly into the studio-space circuit and get to know people. I recently did an exhibition in the Edwardian Cloakrooms at the bottom of Woodland Road, with some undergraduate students at UWE – it was all based around male and female stereotypes regarding toilets and it all came out really good. So it just feels like there’s a great collaborative atmosphere between the universities, animation studios and independent freelancers. It’s certainly not a small scene, but everyone inevitably gets to know one another. That’s one great thing about the scene – there’s always people quite high up in the business who are engaging and interacting with those who are just starting out.
Is there any preference with the projects you work with? Are you more into the animation or the illustration side of things? It goes through phases I think. Right now I’m really into illustration, I’d love to do some little illustrated animations for websites, that work a lot like gifs essentially. I quite like that area because it’s not as stressful as planning a narrative animation; you don’t have to go through how many frames are needed here, and lip-syncing there. You can just create a nice illustration and bring it to life.
You’re currently working on a project with Call of the Brave right? How did you meet Dave from Call of the Brave? I met him through the studio I worked in for three months after graduating. He’d already seen some of my animation work and had the idea then that we should work together! Initially we talked about creating a KickStarter video, you know, like a live action type thing. This isn’t the first projects that I’ve done independently but it’s one of the first, so I’m starting to have to get to grips with the reality of it all: the financial side, time management and basically…I’m throwing myself into the deep end! I can do the animation but the whole taxes, finances, the face-to-face meetings is all a bit of a work in progress! The project I’m currently working on with him should be out for Christmas!
What’s the usual time-frame for a project? Do you have to give yourself quite strict deadlines? I do but I’m often very unrealistic! I think I can be a bit of an animation-machine! Sometimes you can achieve what you have planned: some days you can get a lot done, but others you can fall right behind and that’s when I start to panic that I won’t meet a deadline. Sometimes I can be quite meticulous and plan how long it’ll take me to do each frame!
What’s the best way to get involved with the illustration scene even if you don’t study it? Is it quite easy to get in to? I’d say to anyone who perhaps doesn’t have that advantage of going to university and making those connections with other illustrators is just to keep drawing as much as possible. The best thing to do is experiment until you reach that stage where you’re comfortable with what you create. Eventually this will click and people will begin to point out “oh, this is what you do”, and you notice a common theme. Developing a strong social media presence is really useful too! Even though I’ve been to two universities, I’m beginning to realise it’s not for everyone, there are other ways. Take as many opportunities as possible and eventually something will work out; don’t be too afraid to head to events and show people your work.
Are there often events where people can get together if they’re into illustration? Yes! There’s all sorts of events in Bristol. Dr Sketchy’s is a great one – life drawing classes with a bit of a difference. I’d just going to as many events, exhibitions as possible, and see what happens!
Although you have a passion for illustration, does it ever get to that stage where it can become a bit of a chore? Definitely. If you’re working on a project for a long time, you can do so much of it that it becomes a bit monotonous, anything can. The best thing to do is to just draw something else that’s odd and not related to what you’re working on at all just to unblock your mind and rekindle that passion.
Any local artists we should be checking out?I follow a lot of people on twitter that are well worth checking out. Carys Tate is really good – she’s done all sorts of things for Gromit Unleashed and will also be doing some stuff for Shaun in the City. I also met Jo Hepworth who is an illustrator and animator. She focuses a lot on animals and character based things which appeals to me a lot!
Any exhibitions you’ve got lined up for the future? At the minute I’ve not really got any events planned! I’d really like to do more stuff in the Edwardian Cloakrooms. It’s a really nice space: something black and white, dark and light, monochromatic.
When you’re not busy illustrating, where do you like to head to in Bristol? I live quite near Brandon Hill so my ultimate place is Vee Double Moo. Churros and Hot Chocolate on Brandon Hill when the weather is just right, that’s the most perfect spot in Bristol. Come to think of it the weather doesn’t even have to be great, “Churros in the rain” sounds great, it’s the title of my new album in-fact!
Plans for the future? I thought you’d ask that! I’d like to work in as many animation studios as I can in the UK and abroad, get as much experience as possible, amass money and buy things!?! When I’m an old woman I’d love to own an Art House cinema. But I’ve got a lot of ideas floating around my head: I’d love to own a bakery, a farm, a cinema and become a tutor. It’s an odd list!
Keep your eyes peeled for the release of her upcoming project with Call of the Brave!