It’s a fantastic time for animation, from stop-motion movies like Wes Anderson’s Isle of Dogs, to boundary-pushing streaming shows like Bojack Horseman, to box office-breaking behemoths like Toy Story 4. The popularity of animated video, the proliferation of video content online, and the fact that the video game industry continues to boom has meant that exciting experimentation has been able to flourish.
From established artists to rising stars, animators everywhere seem committed to trying new things and pushing the industry forward. Whether they are experimenting with age-old paper-cutting techniques, painting individual film frames, refreshing familiar characters or working on brand new concepts using state-of-the-art technology, these creatives are setting the bar for animation high in 2019 and beyond.
Lazor Wulf, the new candy-colored animated series by Henry Bonsu, started out as a comic about a wolf with a laser strapped to his back—and his best friend, a piece of ham. The San Jose-based animator began publishing it on Tumblr, with each strip featuring a completely redesigned look, and a surreal, offbeat sense of humor that persisted throughout.
Bonsu’s life changed when Adult Swim director Dan Weidenfeld stumbled across the Tumblr page, and invited him to come to L.A. to turn the comic into an animated series with a team of 30 people. Lazor Wulf’s 10-episode first season aired on Adult Swim in April and May 2019, and was positively reviewed, with an LA Times review calling the show’s style “a cross between Yellow Submarine and a subway map.”
This London-based animator and director specializes in creating animations and logos for the world’s leading sporting institutions, from the NFL and ESPN to the Canadian Olympic Committee. These combine a bold, clear color palette with a vivid sense of movement and playfulness. He’s also the co-founder and owner of Cub Studio, which won a BAFTA as part of the team that produced the BBC’s The Revolution Will be Televised.
A former rugby player, Davidson is the writer and director of the multi-award winning Youtube series ‘The Alternative Rugby Commentary,’ as well as a Skillshare teacher, and has collaborated on projects with Australian comedian, Tim Minchin. These include the animated short ‘Popesong’ and the BAFTA-nominated animation for his nine-minute beat poem ‘Storm’, co-animated with DC Turner, which involves textured backgrounds, stylized figures and lots of quick cuts that maintain a strong sense of momentum.
It took the Polish filmmaker, screenwriter and producer Dorota Kobiela almost ten years to turn Loving Vincent from a seven-minute short into the world’s first fully-painted feature film. The movie tells the story of how Vincent Van Gogh came to die from a bullet wound in his belly, with a character seeking to understand why the artist would commit suicide when he was on the brink of stardom.
The film was shot with actors, including Saoirse Ronan and Chris O’Dowd, and then painted over, frame by frame, with 65,000 frames created on over 1,000 canvases. This was done in the style of Van Gogh’s own work, complete with thick brush strokes and vivid colors. The laborious process was developed over four years and took a team of 100 painters two years to complete. It went on to win prizes at the European Film Awards and the Shanghai International Film Festival and is now available to watch online.
Emily Limyun Dean
The Asian-Australian animator Emily Limyun Dean started drawing at age 3, making films at age 12, and working professionally as a storyboard artist for TV commercials at age 15. Trained in Pixar’s Story Department, she was nominated in 2012 for an Australian Academy Award for an animated short, Forget Me Not. Told in the style of a fairytale, it features a young girl and her mother grappling with issues of aging, dementia and separation, with figures silhouetted against a gold-colored background like shadow puppets.
Dean went on to become a story artist under Phil Lord and Christopher Miller on The Lego Batman Movie and The Lego Movie 2, while continuing to work on her own creations. She wrote and directed a live-action sci-fi short called Andromeda, that toured to dozens of film festivals worldwide in 2018. Moodily lit, with an aesthetic evoking Bladerunner, the film tells the story of a robot caring for a human child in the near future.
Next, Dean will direct the Sony Pictures Animation feature “Tao,” a female-led sci-fi adventure set in China that she’s already told Variety will be “spectacular.”
London-based Mikey Please won a BAFTA in 2011 for the beautiful short The Eagleman Stag, which explores the idea of time and aging with intricate paper cut-outs that unfold across the screen. It was his graduation film from a Masters program at the Royal College of Art.
More recently, Please contributed to a video for the experimental jazz musician Kamasi Washington, which premiered at Sundance in January 2019. And this summer, at Sundance London, he screened ‘Alan the Infinite,’ a pilot episode for a proposed 12-part mini-series.
While Please’s aesthetic is hand-made, full of humanity and humor, his work often wrestles with the deep questions of being alive in a strange world. His earliest inspiration he has said, was the newspaper comic strip Calvin and Hobbes, and his first plasticine models were renderings of the duo.
French-Canadian animator Mélanie Daigle studied classical animation at Sheridan College, using paper and pen techniques, before landing a job with a studio in Toronto straight out of college. She worked as animation supervisor on the My Little Pony feature film and provided character animation for numerous TV series before being appointed director on a new DHX Media series based on Charles M. Schulz’s comic strip Peanuts.
You can see the impact of Daigle’s classical training on her animations and illustrations, which have an intricately hand-drawn and -painted feel. It’s what made her a good match for the Peanuts project, with much-loved characters drawn in a familiarly scrappy style. Next, Daigle told Animation Magazine, she’s hoping to further develop her own creative voice, and is particularly interested in creating complex female characters.
Ready to learn more about cutting-edge animations, and how to create your own? Fraser Davidson’s newest Skillshare Originals class, Character Animation: Creating Authentic Facial Expressions in Adobe After Effects is a great place to get started.
Cover image by Fraser Davidson.