Billelis’s distinct visual style serves as a testament to his unconventional inspirations. Drawing from a diverse array of influences including religious iconography, Tarot symbolism, sci-fi aesthetics, demonic imagery, Renaissance masterpieces, anatomical illustrations a la Da Vinci, classical Greek and Roman sculptures, Baroque extravagance, tattoo artistry, and adorned saints, his work resonates with a haunting beauty that defies categorisation.
Bill’s recognisable artworks have captivated audiences across the world, propelling him into collaborations with industry titans such as Nike, Warner Music, Netflix, Red Bull, Sony, and Apple, among a myriad of others. Through these partnerships, he continues to push the boundaries of artistic expression, leaving an indelible mark on the creative landscape.
We sat down with Bill for a cup of tea, (yes he drinks tea… just like us 🙂 ) to find out more about the most prominent moments of his career and hope for the future.
What’s the most exciting place one of your artworks have lived in?
Choosing between Times Square and The Dart Milan art gallery is a tough decision! Both hold significant moments in my career and are iconic in their own right.
What is something you’re looking forward to exploring or learning more about when it comes to your craft?
Discovering the fulfilment that arises from achieving a genuine balance between life and work has been a game-changer. Over the past decade, I immersed myself in work, but it took a toll on my personal life. Recently, I’ve made a conscious effort to prioritize my free time, and surprisingly, it has led to heightened productivity and inspiration. It’s as if setting self-imposed deadlines at the age of 35 has proven to be incredibly effective for me.
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Do you have any dream illustration projects? What are they?
We love a glass ceiling, don’t we? I have been so fortunate to work with many aspects of Hollywood and the gaming industry, coupled with the music industry and publishing book cover scene, I found myself spoilt for choice.
I have recently really enjoyed working on more collaborative projects like beer can artwork, stage art for bands and personal illustrations.
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I would love to create a coffee table book with my entire body of work, but focusing on commercial opportunities I would have to say more gaming projects and perhaps a curveball would be fashion. The tangible aspect of my work out in the world is very fulfilling.
Step into a world where magic, laughter, and creativity converge. Join us as we uncover the magic behind the making of SpinMania – a journey that promises laughter, wonder, and a truly enchanting experience. Discover a captivating journey of a director whose background includes legendary animated shenanigans featured in Hollywood franchises like Madagascar and Shrek.
Light & Mathematics aka Peter S, as someone who has contributed to iconic franchises like Harry Potter and Star Wars, how do you plan to infuse the magic of those worlds into this commercial while still keeping it fresh and original?
I approach every project as an opportunity for world-building and storytelling. Who are these little characters? Where do they live? How do they move, play, and explore? In the case of this commercial, my goal was to draw upon the whimsical charm and fantastical elements of these renowned franchises in order to imbue these fantasy figures with a life all their own.
Click the image to see the spot
Drawing inspiration from the rich storytelling and imaginative settings of the Hollywood films I’ve contributed to, I sought to create a world that resonates with audiences on a nostalgic level, evoking the same sense of fantastical, somewhat medieval wonder these beloved franchises offer. At the same time, I aimed to introduce a unique and innovative narrative that captures the spirit of Migros and the playful concept of spinning top characters.
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It’s a delicate balance – maintaining the action and humour that fans of these franchises adore while weaving in new layers of creativity that elevate the commercial to its own level. Using classic story-telling techniques, we build on a solid foundation of narrative fundamentals, while introducing new and clever ways for the characters to interact. We want to keep the audience captivated by the new ways they interact with each other, and the vast world around them.
Ultimately, my experiences have taught me the art of storytelling and world-building. With this commercial, I aimed to channel that knowledge into a project that captures the heart of the Migros brand so beloved by the Swiss viewers, delighting and surprising audiences while offering them a truly enchanting experience that feels both familiar and original.
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The concept of SpinMania sounds exciting! The medieval festival setting with knights, mermaids, and Cyclops sounds right up your street. Can you share any quirky behind-the-scenes anecdotes or fun moments from the set that capture the playful atmosphere of the commercial?
One of the most memorable moments transpired during our early character-testing phase. As we explored how the various spinning top characters interacted, we had a whimsical idea to infuse even more drama and excitement into the narrative. While the unexpected twist in the script was that the Mermaid emerged as the victorious champion, we thought it might make things even more fun if we drew the scene out and had them collide more than once, with the losing characters flying entirely out of the scene.
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Picture this: the characters spinning, twirling, and manoeuvring in an epic battle, and then, with a carefully calculated spin, the Mermaid comes out on top – quite literally! Such a good twist, and since we dialled the action by extending the duel scene, the laughter and cheers from the creative team helped us realise that this approach injected an extra layer of fun and surprise into the storyline.
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This playful experimentation not only added an element of excitement to the commercial’s concept but also perfectly captured the essence of the entire production process. These moments of spontaneous creativity define the spirit of SpinMania and genuinely reflect the dynamic and imaginative approach we took in bringing these characters to life.
How did you plan to add unexpected comedic elements that take the audience by surprise and leave them laughing?
One instance where we’ve harnessed the power of surprise and humor is with the character interactions. Take the playful duel between the characters, for example. In a sudden twist, the Cyclops, after being skillfully knocked out of the ring by the Mermaid, ends up soaring skyward, landing comically in a tree. This unexpected turn of events alone should get the audience chuckling, but the comedic touch doesn’t end there!
As the Cyclops settles into the nest, his rather abrupt landing inadvertently prompts a tiny Phoenix chick to emerge from its egg. This whimsical touch adds a layer of lightheartedness. It creates a delightful visual gag that catches the audience off guard, sparking genuine laughter while introducing and highlighting another of the collectable toys.
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These unexpected comedic elements, carefully woven into the narrative, aim to surprise the viewers and evoke genuine amusement. By leveraging creative twists like the Cyclops and the Phoenix Chick, we ensure that SpinMania is not only visually captivating but also a source of true delight, engaging the audience in a way that’s both memorable and light-hearted.
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With the rise of humorous ads, how do you see the evolving role of humour in advertising today compared to traditional approaches?
Humour in advertising has evolved significantly with the rise of humorous ads most recently, moving from a sporadic element to a strategic cornerstone. Unlike traditional approaches that convey information directly, humour engages audiences universally and memorably through positive emotions, kind of like what we do in films made for younger audiences like Madagascar and Ice Age. It captures attention in today’s media-rich environment, fostering emotional connections and brand loyalty without being overly sales-y. Humorous ads entertain, humanise, and amplify brand personality, creating relatable narratives that resonate and endure. In a landscape where authenticity matters, humour is a powerful tool to forge lasting and enjoyable connections with modern audiences.
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In a world saturated with ads, what is the single most important thing when making a commercial you want to be remembered?
The most critical factor in creating a memorable commercial is the ability to evoke a genuine emotional response. Amidst the multitude of ads, those that elicit a heartfelt emotion – whether it’s laughter, inspiration, empathy, or awe – are the ones that etch themselves into the viewer’s memory. An emotional connection transcends fleeting visuals and catchy slogans, leaving a lasting imprint that resonates long after the ad has ended. Crafting a narrative that tugs at the heartstrings or triggers a relatable sentiment is the key to making a commercial that stands out and lives on in peoples’ minds and hearts.
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Following on from Immigrant Heritage Month, we had the opportunity to connect with Lana, one of our talented illustrators, from Ukraine. As she navigates her life amidst the ongoing progression of the war, we sparked a conversation, seeking to uncover the intricate realities of being a creative in Ukraine. Through thought-provoking questions, we aimed to shed light on the challenges and aspirations that shape Lana’s journey. Join us as we embark on an insightful exploration of her unique perspective and the resilient spirit that fuels her creativity.
Please tell us a short story about your experience of learning about the conflict and then making a decision to leave.
We anticipated the conflict but didn’t truly believe it would happen until the last minute. During the invasion, both my brother and I were in Kyiv. We quickly found a car and travelled to my hometown in central Ukraine. I stayed there for around 3 to 4 days before making the immediate decision to leave, as advised by my mom. I went to Poland, to begin with, where my cousin had been living for several years.
Art In War - Lana Dudarenko 53 - Nerd BlogArt In War - Lana Dudarenko 54 - Nerd BlogAnother goodbye, one of dozens in 1.5 years. Work/sleep setting for the first two months of war
What motivated you to return to Ukraine despite the ongoing conflict? How did you find the courage to face the challenges associated with going back to your life there?
After staying in Poland for a little while, we decided to go further and the idea of staying in a safe country like Portugal was wiser, but the unbearable thought of being far from my family made me decide to return to Ukraine after months and months of struggle and tears. It took me days to travel across the country, but after months of emotional struggle, I bought plane tickets without telling my family and came back to be with them. We can’t predict the future, so being together was my priority.
Art In War - Lana Dudarenko 55 - Nerd BlogArt In War - Lana Dudarenko 56 - Nerd BlogArt In War - Lana Dudarenko 57 - Nerd BlogArt In War - Lana Dudarenko 58 - Nerd Blog1st and 2nd visit home, more goodbyes! This was the time Lana realised she needed to come back to Ukraine.
How has your experience as a creative person abroad influenced your artistic expression upon your return? Have you found new sources of inspiration or a different perspective that informs your work now?
The situation affected me, and I channelled my emotions into art, but I struggle to share it publicly. Despite knowing its importance, I find it complicated and have mixed feelings about posting my work online.
My friend and assistant, Gina, who had witnessed the power of my creations, urged me to post my work, recognising the value it held not only for myself but potentially for others as well. Yet, every time I approached the moment of clicking that “share” button, I just couldn’t do it. On one hand, I know it’s important for me to create and express myself. But when it comes to actually posting my work during the war, something doesn’t feel quite right. I can’t fully explain why, and it leaves me with mixed feelings.
Despite this confusion, I actively work on understanding my own beliefs about sharing my art. I remind myself that it’s important, even if it doesn’t have a big impact on the world. I push myself to overcome the hesitation and doubts, knowing that creating and expressing myself through art is meaningful. While the complexity of this issue may remain, I am determined to move forward and share my work with others.
Art In War - Lana Dudarenko 59 - Nerd BlogArt In War - Lana Dudarenko 60 - Nerd BlogThe series Lana created a few months after the invasion began, these illustrations were never shared publicly.
As the months passed and all events unfolded, did you experience a surge of inspiration to create more?
During the first wave of shock and fear, I created a series of three illustrations to express not only my own feelings but also those of fellow Ukrainians I knew. These artworks depicted various emotions such as anguish, pain, and fear. However, I never shared or posted them publicly. It felt like a personal creation, something just for myself.
As an illustrator, I initially focused on simpler art and commissioned work. But over time, my style evolved, and I began exploring more complex and expressive pieces. I am transitioning from being solely an illustrator for clients to embracing the role of an artist who conveys my own vision, thoughts, and mindset through my work. This shift in focus and artistic growth coincided with the experiences during the war, acting as a catalyst for this transformation.
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Can you share any particular moments or encounters that made you realise the importance of contributing to the artistic and cultural scene in your home country even during the war? How do you hope to make a difference through your creativity?
During such a challenging time, my primary concern has been the well-being and safety of my family and myself. The overwhelming nature of the situation has prevented me from formulating concrete plans or specific encounters that made me realise the importance of contributing to the artistic and cultural scene in my home country during the war. My immediate focus has been on survival and ensuring the safety of my loved ones.
In your art in general, past, present or future art, do you incorporate any symbols or colours that could tell people who you are and where you’re from?
That’s a great question because it made me reflect on my artistic journey. Previously, I didn’t prioritise incorporating elements of my cultural identity into my work. However, as I continue to develop my style and explore my art, I am beginning to recognise its importance. I hope to find the courage to share my cultural perspective with my audience soon. While I used to believe that my art could change the world, the current situation has made me question its impact. Nevertheless, I strive to be more socially active and understand that art can still influence various aspects of life.
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Having worked with a number of amazing clients and being an important part of NERD, how do you think your decision to stay in Ukraine will impact progress in your career?
The situation definitely had an impact on my work, although not specifically with NERD-related projects. Due to the circumstances, I had to take on various projects to support my family financially during the initial challenging phase of the war. This heavy workload took a toll on my mental state and led to burnout.
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Looking ahead, I remain hopeful for the future of Ukraine. I aspire to see a time where we can build our lives and dreams within our own country, rather than seeking opportunities elsewhere. As for my art, I am focusing on transitioning from being solely an illustrator to embracing the role of an artist. I am open to where this artistic journey takes me, going with the flow and seeing where it leads.
One Of The Most Recent Illustrations From Lana For The Saddlehill Academy Book.
From stumbling upon a hidden door into the filmmaking world to working on some of the biggest feature films and winning awards, NERD’s director Peter S uncovers the secrets behind his remarkable journey. Join us for an enlightening Q&A as Peter shares intriguing insights about his craft, granting us a glimpse into the enchanting realm of VFX.
VFX is a true craft in the classic sense of the word. Where and why did you learn your craft?
Similar to cinematography, VFX is one of those disciplines that requires the encyclopaedic accumulation of knowledge and techniques. You never stop learning, but working at big shops like Weta, with the best in the business, really inspired me to dream big. Initially, I went into VFX because it was a sort of secret door into the filmmaking world. I just happen to have the right skill set, at the right time, and in no time at all, I was sitting beside the world’s biggest directors, studying their approach to storytelling.
There are two ends to the VFX spectrum – the invisible post and the big, glossy ‘VFX heavy’ shots. What are the challenges that come with each of those as a director?
The invisible shots require a good deal of humility and restraint. Every artist wants to be noticed for their work, but there are better ways to approach those shots. Instead, you have to just stick with the reference, and keep the overall purpose of the shot in mind. It’s a thankless job. The flashy stuff is really fun, but now ALL EYES are on your work so you better not drop the ball! Those are the shots that give you stomach ulcers in dailies. The potential to fail spectacularly is very real.
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We imagine that one of the trickiest things with VFX is, time issues aside, deciding when a project is finished! How do you navigate that?
With commercials, usually, it’s done when the clock runs out, but on some projects, you are given a lot of time to nail it. And yes, sometimes you can be your own worst enemy, tinkering well past the apex of its potential. I just think that walking away from your work for a little while is the best way to get perspective. Go snowboarding, race go-karts, hike with your kids, anything works. As long as you earnestly disconnect for a little while, and then can return with a fresh pair of eyes.
Is there a piece of technology or software that’s particularly exciting to you in VFX? Why?
At first, I was a little spooked by the AI software that was coming out, but then I leaned into it on a few projects and realised that it can be a useful tool. Anyone who has spent a decent amount of time with AI knows you still need an operator guiding the creative process. It brings a few types of tasks, that have only really been available to the top-tier VFX studios, to everyone else. I’m excited because it levels the playing field a bit, and I can go toe-to-toe with the Titans of VFX!
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How did you first get into the industry? What was your very first job in the industry and what were the biggest lessons that you learned at that time?
I had a terrifically lucky break when I applied to a little-known studio, called JAK Films, in Northern California. It turned out to be the secret art department that George Lucas was running out of Skywalker Ranch during the making of his Star Wars prequels. It wasn’t until years later that I fully appreciated what a mythic cathedral of storytelling that place was. George had a team of the top concepts in each field – Costume Design, Industrial Design, Creature Design, etc. I got to sit in a room with them every day and see first-hand how much magic you can create when you put egos aside and work to inspire the people around you.
What was your most recent exciting milestone in the industry, you were super proud of?
While I have won a few awards for some of my commercial work in the past, the award I received last year from the British Animation Awards for AirWick was a really special one. The film was such a simple, clever script that called for a poetic, zen-like approach. Everyone involved respected that calm approach to the crafting of it, and I believe it really shows in the final product. I think that little film will stand the test of time.
What is your favourite commercial/film of all time?
The work that blows me away year after year, is the stuff that I truly have no idea how they pulled off. Apocalypse Now, (based on one of my favourite books) still makes my head explode. It’s spellbinding in its ability to be a huge spectacle, and deep meditation, at the same time. A film like that will never be made again. Like all great art, it demanded the creator’s journey into madness in order to bring back something so special.
In a world of computer-generated everything, there are still a few of us who are holding on tight to the traditional and truly handcrafted ways of bringing stop-motion and mixed-media films to life. It’s a bit like being part of a secret society, except our secret handshake involves a glue gun and some felt.
Hayley: ‘For me, there’s nothing quite like the satisfaction of creating something truly unique with my own two hands. I love experimenting with all kinds of physical materials – from paper and fabric to fibres, found objects, and even the occasional pinecone (yes, you read that right!).
But, as with most good things, there’s a downside. When you’re working with real stuff, you’re also generating real waste. After years of working on commercial productions, seeing all those non-biodegradable materials being tossed in the bin at the end of the day was a real bummer.
That’s why I’ve made it my mission to think about the materials I choose to use and encourage others to do the same. By making sustainability a key part of my creative process, I’m always looking for ways to repurpose and reuse materials wherever I can. It’s a bit like a game of “How many different things can I make out of this one roll of paper towels?” (Spoiler alert: the answer is usually a lot.)
But here’s the thing: being environmentally conscious doesn’t have to be a drag. In fact, it’s made my work even more fun and challenging. I’m constantly pushing myself to develop creative solutions for every project, and I’ve discovered all kinds of new techniques and approaches along the way.’
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So, how do I do this in stop-motion animation?
I have a stash of reusable materials for every project. My advice to the animation industry is to integrate sustainability into each project from the start. We should recycle, conserve energy, and repurpose waste. Every project is a puzzle that requires its own sustainable solutions. As artists, it’s our responsibility to be environmentally conscious. Here are some ways I apply this mindset: I use my collection of recycled materials, and when I buy new items, I choose eco-friendly options.
Repurposing objects is not a new concept in animation or human experience. As children, we often use everyday items to create our own imaginative worlds, such as a pile of leaves becoming a castle and a stick becoming Excalibur. As animators, we have the opportunity to continue this sustainable projection of imagination and build worlds that inspire creativity.
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Renowned animators such as the Brothers Quay and Jan Svankmajer also repurpose everyday objects, imbuing them with emotional resonance. They transform the contents of our kitchen drawers into a cacophonous consumer or coat old doll heads with a chilling patina of menace. By using familiar objects, viewers can transition in and out of the illusion, recognizing and reinterpreting them. Animators direct an intimate dance with the object, creating a powerful alchemy that can make audiences fall in love with a puppet made from forks.
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In the music video “Bounce Bounce” for Hilary Hahn and Hauschka, I repurposed forgotten objects found in Brooklyn flea markets and antique stores. A vintage scarf became a fleet of crabs, a doily transformed into a starfish-like creature, sink strainers were used for sea anemones, and even a discarded toy piano became a reef for sea snails and ocean plants. By giving new life to these objects, I created a whimsical and unforgettable display of creativity.
Too often we dismiss it as a problem that’s out of sight, out of mind. We toss our trash into bins and watch as it’s whisked away by garbage trucks, never stopping to consider the bigger picture. But what if we approached waste in a different way?
When I was working with Explosions in the Sky on their music video for “The Ecstatics,” we wanted to explore the concept of mental clarity and the layering of thoughts. To achieve this, we used transparent materials like plastic, glass, thin paper, and light projections. But where did we find these materials? In rubbish bins, of course!
By collecting plastic bottles and other waste materials, we were able to repurpose them into breathing lungs and organic forms. We even used reused glass shards to create custom glass-blown shapes. And to top it off, we used antiquated plastic overhead projector sheets to create an etched 2D animation for the finale. By giving new life to materials that would have otherwise ended up in a landfill, we were able to create a thought-provoking and visually stunning music video.
Imagine creating an entire universe from a single sheet of paper. It may seem daunting, but with the right approach, it’s possible. By embracing the limitations of a single material, we can push the boundaries of our creativity and explore its full potential.
Instead of overwhelming ourselves with endless possibilities, let’s focus on the beauty of simplicity. Let’s take a single sheet of paper and see how far we can stretch its life. Can we create intricate origami designs? Can we use it as a canvas for stunning artwork? Can we fold it into beautiful paper airplanes that soar through the sky?
If we want to create a more sustainable future for animation, we need to start by collaborating with conscious brands and inspiring others to make eco-friendly choices. One example of this is a commercial for Charlie Banana that was particularly special to me, especially as I was pregnant at the time. Even if I wasn’t working on this project, I would have chosen cloth diapers for my baby because of my commitment to sustainability and my understanding of the impact of products on the environment.
In bringing this film to life, we wanted to showcase the beauty of paper and how it can be seamlessly combined with digital compositing and hand-drawn elements. I made sure to source recycled paper to reduce the project’s environmental impact. But the sustainability efforts didn’t stop there! I saved all the paper scraps from the cutout puppets and props and plan to turn them into new paper, using my skills in papermaking that I learned in a class a few years ago. I love how this process can transform discarded scraps into beautiful, usable paper, even using fibers like old denim jeans!
These inspiring sustainable films demonstrate the incredible versatility of stop-motion animation when done mindfully. As a proud member of NERD team, who shares a passion for sustainability, I am thrilled to see more organisations like AdGreen leading the way in sustainable production practices. It is essential that we take responsibility for the environmental impact of our creative endeavours and strive to make positive changes for future generations.
I believe that as creators, we have a unique opportunity to inspire change through our work. By rethinking our processes and the materials we use, we can create compelling, environmentally-friendly films that make a positive impact. Though it can be a challenge at times, there are countless ways to craft sustainably and make a difference. Let’s all do our part to build a more sustainable future for our planet!
Get to know Ian Clarke, NERD’s award-winning Animation Director whose work spans the boundaries of 2D and 3D animation, motion design, branding, and typography. With a unique approach that puts ideas at the forefront, Ian’s creations are a reflection of his boundless creativity and technical expertise.
When thinking about an Essential List full of creativity and flavour, we knew Ian would have loads to share. If you are in London, this will come in handy for some local suggestions too! We hope you enjoy getting to know Ian more as much as we did.
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Place of birth: Limerick, Ireland.
Hometown: London, UK.
Staycation: London parks during the summer or if in Ireland anywhere on the Co. Clare coast.
Vacation: European city breaks, France in summer, Greek Islands, Thailand, Mexico.
Pet: Would love a dog but in London, it is like having a baby. One day.
Place of work: I have an office at the wonderful Switchboard Studios, home to designers, architects, editors, independent record labels, audio engineers, artists and more. Great bunch of lads.
Place of workout: The Underdog Gym, Walthamstow.
Side project: Restoring old family photos using AI and many many hours in Photoshop. Discovering the only known photo that exists of my Grandmother, and sharing it with my mother for the first time, has sent me down a rabbit hole of the family tree and DNA discoveries.
Mode of transport: Legs, legs, legs. With a bit of bike. And a cheeky taxi.
Bonus travel essential: Bose noise-cancelling headphones – a banisher for crying babies.
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Artist: I just saw a massive Maurizio Cattelan show at the Leeum Museum of Art in Seoul, and it was great. The locals documenting every moment of the exhibition with their phones were just as interesting.
Musician: Eeek could be so many… will say maybe Ross From Friends, as was just listening to him earlier today.
Commercials/music video director: Spike Jonze & Michel Gondry’s 90’s music vids. Inspired me like nothing else.
Film director: See above, but also anything that Cartoon Saloon make. The Secret of Kells and Song of The Sea are animated gems.
Photographer: Martin Parr’s snapshots of British life are someone else. Saw a Vivian Maier exhibition at Photo London a few years back, what a fascinating lady.
Film: Victoria (Germany – 2015) – no it’s not about that queen.
Series: I wanna be current and say The Last of Us, Succession and The English, all of which I loved recently, but Star Trek 4eva!
Commercial: The Guinness Surfers has to be one of the best, right? Also, it features Leftfield so yeah it remains one of the best ads ever made.
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Music video: Apex Twin ‘Windowlicker’ – when this came out it blew my mind, Chris Cunningham is a genius.
Video game: Last of Us Part 2/Red Dead Redemption 2
Book: Currently reading The West Clare Railway by Patrick Taylor. It documents the dangerous world of Victorian-era steam trains (!), and it mentions my Great Great Grandfather Paddy who as a train driver dodged death a few times. Glad he did, and glad I am here.
Hayley Morris walks us through the process of creating her newest personal short film ‘Marguerite’, and the many lessons, reflections and experiences it brought.
I started working on “Marguerite” in 2017. Jamie Caliri reached out to see if I wanted to make a promo for a version of the new Dragonframe software based on a drawing I had done of a 1920’s style woman. As we started working on it, it evolved into a new piece, and we decided to ditch the idea of it being a promo and have it be a very short film instead. We worked on it, on and off for the past few years in between our projects and life events (pandemic, baby, new home and more).
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My inspiration for the film is an amalgamation of many things. My dad passed away in 2014. He was a musician and guitarist and we really bonded over music. I had been wanting to make a short film inspired by him that wasn’t directly a film about him. That same year, I went to Paris for a show I was in with other stop-motion artists. I fell in love with the feeling of the streets at night and hearing the city’s sounds. When brainstorming ideas, I was listening to a lot of Django Reinhardt and had been making drawings with references to 1920s Paris. In my research, I was drawn to the photographs of Brassai and his night scenes of solitary figures in shadow. I did a series of drawings inspired by the characters in these scenes. One of them was a large drawing of a woman that I turned into the main character of Marguerite.
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Stylistically, I wanted to explore how I could create a 3D stop-motion puppet that looked hand drawn. I created drawn textures for the face, hair and clothes that I then cut out and sculpted for dimension out of paper. I then crafted a story and scene around her inspired by Django-style music and references to my childhood.
Your description of this film gives us a feeling it was a self-exploratory journey for you as a director and storyteller too. What did you learn about yourself in the making of this short film?
Yes. I’ve mainly been focusing on commissioned work, so it was really refreshing to create something personal and experiment with concepts and techniques I had been wanting to explore. I think it’s important as an artist to always create something for yourself. In these projects that don’t have a deadline or expectations, you can take your time to flesh out the new ways of making. There are many things I learned: I loved crafting the puppet and exploring the style of the film. I love the mix of materials and the simplified shapes I used for the characters and props – these are gestures I would love to push more in a future project.
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I also loved the collaborative process and working with such incredible artists. I’m used to being kind of a lone wolf in my projects and tackling every aspect of a project on my own. It was a good learning experience for me to let go a bit and see how a collaborative process could work. So, I’d say my biggest lesson was learning to trust. After this project, I realised that doing everything on my own isn’t necessary and a project can take on unexpected vitality when other artists are supporting your vision.
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I’m on the East Coast and Jamie and Anthony are on the West Coast. It was fun to see how we could make it work long-distance. We managed to create the storyboards, references, puppet, guitar/guitarist and other props back home and shipped them over to California. Then Jamie and a small team created the sets and shot them in his studio. I went out to California for about 2 weeks, crafted some more buildings, and animated the guitarist playing the guitar.
Then, I did all the 2d animation including the smoke at home and Jamie composited and edited it together. I really enjoyed this way of working. I think since the pandemic, it has become the norm. You don’t necessarily have to be in the same place to work with other artists you admire. Now, I live in the woods in Vermont and do all my projects this way. It’s great!
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You mentioned Dragonframe software, was this particularly new to you or something you wanted to try for a long time?
Dragonframe is a stop motion animation software that has changed the stop motion art form. It came out when I started working professionally in 2008. Before there were other systems that were not as intuitive to use and as complex as Dragon. Now with a DSLR camera and Dragon, you can instantly capture and see the animation you are shooting, control all of the exposure settings in Dragon without ever having to touch your camera, connect motion control and DMX lighting systems, break down audio lip syncs etc. There are so many features and it’s the best program for working in stop motion. So, I was very familiar with working in it. I was really excited to collaborate with Jamie who is the co-creator of Dragon.
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Now that the whole world can enjoy ‘Marguerite’, what is next for Hayley?
Thanks! I’m dabbling with some new concepts. I have a 2-year-old daughter, so children’s programming is becoming an avenue I’d love to explore. I’d also love to create an opening or ending title sequence for a film or tv show.
Billy Bogiatzoglou aka Billelis is a 3D Illustrator and Animation Director residing in the UK. Billelis is an artistic alias originating from his younger years of graffitiing and wall tagging as a teen.
He now spends countless hours experimenting, learning and expanding his artistic skillset to create a personal style that can be best described as a dark, yet elegant, and romantic fusion. He has a keen eye for intricate detail, as well as bold, contrasting colours and his work has often been described as hyperreal.
Equipped with an overactive imagination, his sketchbook and a perpetual artistic hunger, Billelis aims to be a distinct source of creativity. He enjoys collaborating with a wide range of clients and has worked with brands such as Nike, Xbox, Coca-Cola, Peugeot, Red Bull and several global music clients, to name but a few.
Billelis shares the work that made him and inspired him to be the artist he is today. An incredible journey of self-exploration and hard work with a showcase of everything and anything we need to see from Bill. The creations that made HIM – enjoy!
The music video from my childhood that stays with me is a very easy choice for me. Slipknot Duality is the absolute chaos of a music video. Metal mosh madness in America resulting in a house riot.
The game that made me want to get into the industry… I feel it was Mortal Kombat, the chaos, and fighting styles but most importantly the character creation, artwork and cult-like statues that grew in those early years of gaming were essential in my artistic development. A life goal come true for me – I ended up working with MK.
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The creative work that I keep revisiting… My artwork for John Wick 3 was essential in the development of my career. And to this day stands as one of my most fulfilling projects and artworks.
My first professional project…
I think it was my work for Formula 1 and team Redbull. It was so long ago now and a completely different style from what I have been creating for the past decade. The piece of work that made me so angry that I vowed to never make anything like *that*…
I would like to keep client confidentiality on this and not share names but yes there are many… It is so hard to create sometimes when you are being used like a client’s pencil instead of given the freedom to do what you best…
The piece of work that still makes me jealous…
All the artwork Raf Grasseti creates. Such emotion, detail and skill are inspiring, to say the least. It is good to have heroes you look up to that keep pushing you higher.
The creative project that changed my career wasJohn Wick 3 without a doubt.
The work that I’m proudest of… My In Memoriamcollection. A lot of inner emotions and fears were infused into that collection. Becoming publicly vulnerable was a hard step to take but I am so proud of the entire collection. That and Transcendence, are probably my most detailed and crafted artwork to this day.
I was involved in this and it makes me cringe…
Having worked on music compilation albums for kids’ parties… Hey, we all start somewhere right?
The recent project I was involved in that excited me the most… The Digital Art project I created titled ‘The Graveyard’. A unique concept of life and death cycles in Digital Art, having to sacrifice existing art in exchange for something new.
Early bird gets the worm or in this case – how to get young people to vote? New captivating and immersive stop-motion animation from NERD’s Director Haylely Morris for MTV.
The campaign focused on translating important messages and highlighting some of the main issues US citizens are facing at the moment. We were mesmerised by Hayley’s imagination on how to carefully translate such important issues to young public through art. Our team grabbed Hayley to chat all things NERDy about this film.
We love the idea of such a short yet powerful message, how did you come to this?
MTV’s campaign mission was to get young people out and vote for the Midterm elections in the US on Vote Early Day. The midterms usually don’t have a large turnout like a general election, so we wanted to create something that told the message in a clear and memorable way. We brainstormed so many ideas, and in the end, we landed on the concept of “Early bird gets the worm”. There are so many issues facing the country, but we decided to focus on Reproductive Rights, Gun Violence, Inflation, Racial Justice and Mental Health Care. Voting early tends to be easier and since there was the worry of voter suppression on actual election day, the importance of translating this in a digestible message was high.
Birds often symbolise infinite possibilities, renewal, eternity, and the transition between life and death, what is the meaning of the lovely bird in this spot?
The bird was chosen mainly as a symbol for the early bird concept and how you can bring the issues you care about to the ballot box to make a difference with your vote. The bird itself is crafted out of an election ballot and it plucks the issues (worms) out of the ground to fly them to the ballot box.
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Being a stop-motion director you must be good at a few different handcrafts. Origami seems to have a particular place in this spot, is this something that you enjoyed long before starting your career or is it a skill you needed to acquire for the profession?
I love working with paper and have been manipulating paper through stop motion for a long time. In each project, I always try to do something new and see how I can push it in a different way. For this one, I really wanted to push the transformative quality of paper by having the election ballot fold up into the bird. I wanted the final bird to be very simple, but highlight the elements of the ballot that are important to read. The belly of the bird displays ‘ELECTION’ and the wings and tail says ‘For US Congress’ and ‘For Governor’ with the candidate’s checkboxes.
I usually like to create a lot of my work in camera, but here I wanted to explore compositing more. I shot all of the elements on a green screen and mocked up the final scene for the compositing. Seeing it all come together was a lot of fun.
Your work is always so colourful and brings joy to every topic you cover, is it something you aim for in every project?
Thank you! The paper itself is always so inspiring. I love going to the art store to look and feel all of the papers available for their colours and textures. I try to craft sustainably where ever possible so I also enjoy searching through my materials and seeing what I can re-purpose and give a new lease of life to!
For this one, MTV wanted the colours to be close to their end frames which had blue, yellow and pinkish orange. I tried to bring those colours into all of the backgrounds so that the transition from the paper scenes to the digital end cards wouldn’t be too jarring. It also helped make the white bird pop against the colourful backgrounds. It was so entertaining to explore what the underground scenes with the worms would look like, so I found some really beautiful Lokte paper in brown and maroon tones that were a nice contrast to the vibrant above-ground scenes.
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For fellow directors and animators, do you have any advice on how to make serious and important topics more fun through handcraft?
I would say it is a lot of brainstorming and just getting all of your ideas out. We probably went through 10 or so concepts before landing on this one. You have to dig deep into all of the ideas and then pluck out what the central themes you really want to focus on are. 20 seconds is not a long time to try and pack in big ideas, so you have to think of symbols and visuals for what you need to say in the most concise way. When it came down to sifting through our concepts, we wanted to stress how voting early is easier and focus on the issues at hand. The bird is a vehicle for change by taking the worms with the issues to the ballot box as the sun rises.
Many of our rights are on the line, like reproductive rights and the right to choose, and issues like gun violence just keep happening. There have been 604 mass shootings in the US in the year 2022. Inflation is making life unlivable and Mental Health Care is not affordable or accessible to a lot of people that need it. Racial Justice has so many layers but is tied to elections and voter suppression within communities of colour.
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Hand-made animation also brings a human touch into the visuals that help to support the human issues we’re trying to address. Even if the viewer doesn’t realize these images are actual paper, there is something playful and relatable to the election ballot folding up and turning into a bird. When you go to cast your vote you are filling out little circles on a physical piece of paper and actually putting that paper into a box/or mailing it in an envelope.
There is a visceral connection between the paper and the act of voting itself. So for me, making this whole spot out of paper felt very appropriate in supporting the overall idea and concept.
Amidst busy working days for Shona, we managed to grab her and tell us a little bit about one of her most recent creations – Rudy.
Rudy is an award-winning coming-of-age drama set in the heart of rural England. It follows the emotional journey of a teenage girl who finds herself being tested by her relationship with her father and responsibility for her younger siblings. She feels increasingly pushed out when her home gets opened up to a paying guest. Through a newfound friendship with a boy from Coventry, she discovers fun, freedom and autonomy.
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“Rudy” is a film that centres on love and loss, youth and innocence, holding on and moving on. What inspired you to create this film and pursue these themes?
The initial story was triggered by me losing my dad and also losing a friend who left a teenage daughter. The months after this I would drive past a house in the countryside every week, I started creating a story about a girl who lived in that house, dealing with her own loss and trying to find some kind of reconciliation with her own feelings, whilst also trying to get on with life.
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You collaborated with Akira Kosemura on the musical composition for the film. How did you two meet and what was it like working so closely with one another?
My son loved his music and suggested I ask Akira if he would give me permission to use one of his tracks or even possibly compose a track for the film. I got in touch with him and after seeing the film, he loved it so much that he offered to compose all of the original soundtracks. I was bowled over, his music is so wonderful and I loved working with him. Because of the time difference to Japan, he would compose in his day and send over the tracks and I would put them into the edit and feedback, and although we were a long way from each other we worked really well together.
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The visual style of “Rudy” looks beautifully natural and nostalgic, somewhat akin to Sean Baker’s aesthetic. What led you to choose this style?
Graeme was the cinematographer on Rudy and I was originally both a photographer and cinematographer before I started to direct. Both of us are drawn to visual storytelling. We didn’t have much in the way of budget or crew so we had to be inventive, improvise with camera moves and often embrace what light we were given. We chose particular times of the day to shoot, when the light was right, and so operated in a more organic way.
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Most of the production was done locally and with minimal crew, do you always approach your work this way?
Over the years I have had the good fortune to work on projects with decent budgets, which in turn has allowed me to have bigger crews. However, I often think it is because Graeme and I originally came from film school, that if there is no budget, we slip quite comfortably back into shooting in a simpler way. Rudy had a minimal crew because of the lack of financial resources. Some may see this as a limitation, however, in many ways it was very liberating because it allowed us to be very light on our feet and getting what we needed in simpler ways.
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What were some of the hurdles and challenges you faced while putting all the pieces in place for this production?
The main difficulty was the lack of money to throw at situations to help resolve them. We knew from the outset that this was going to be a labour of love film, and once we accepted that we did not have funding to make things go quickly, we embraced the fact that we had to make it at the pace we could afford. We managed to get over most hurdles, finding inventive ways of shooting and we were given a lot of generous support from lovely people along the way.