To many, the word ‘animation’ still conjures up Disney-esque cel animation in bright colours, created by a small army of geeky guys sweating over CAD packages. But, as many of the entries at next week’s Bradford Animation Festival show, it doesn’t have to be this way. The festival, this year celebrating its tenth anniversary, has always been committed to showing not just the best new animation, but also the work of designers who are pushing boundaries in wildly inventive ways. Swedish animator Jonas Odell, whose videos for Franz Ferdinand’s Take me out and Goldfrapp’s Strict Machine are both in competition for best music promo, fits this description perfectly.
You’ve probably seen Odell’s work before. He (as owner/director/animator) and his colleagues at Stockholm design, animation and film studio Filmtecknarna have made a wide-ranging collection of ads, idents and promos that include the animation sequence in Madonna’s Music video, ads for Boddingtons and BMW and a ‘welcome on board’ video for Virgin Atlantic. His work is produced in the UK by Nexus Productions.
Odell’s films combine cel-animation, cut-out, claymation (which uses clay figures), 2D and 3D computer graphics and, increasingly, a range of live action techniques to create astonishingly assured, graphics-led films that owe much to his constant referencing of a broad range of creative work; from the photography of Edward Muybridge and Pierre Molinere to Dadaism and the work of 1960s architectural collective Archigram. It’s an approach Odell delights in, particularly in pop promos, because, he explains, ‘Music is culturally referencing other stuff all the time, so that makes interpreting it visually really exciting.’ Odell, with no formal creative education but a portfolio stuffed with summer animation projects, set up Filmtecknarna in 1981 with Lars Ohlson and Stig Bergqvist. The group has remained as small and focused as possible, using specialist freelances rather than taking on more staff. It has concentrated on balancing personal and independent projects with commercial work – promos, ads and TV idents. ‘We were lucky in our timing,’ says Odell. ‘The arrival of commercial TV in Sweden brought in loads of work, and the lack of experienced professionals meant that we got called in to do all kinds of things. Anything tricky, we were asked to do it, so we learned a lot, fast, and we quickly built a strong platform from which to move into international work,’ he says.
Such success means that the group can ‘focus on projects that move us in interesting directions’, says Odell, but, of course, it also means a greater creative freedom in developing projects. He puts a large part of this creative freedom down to the success of the Goldfrapp and Franz Ferdinand videos. Both mix live action with animation in overtly graphic ways, but the similarities end there. For Franz Ferdinand’s video, Odell was asked by the band to incorporate their own interest in Dadaism into the piece. He constructed an animated Constructivist photomontage that referenced Busby Berkeley musicals, Victorian automata and the abstract film experiments of Dadaists Viking Eggeling and Hans Richter, in a film that looks fresh, original and extraordinary time after time.
The Goldfrapp video achieves the same result in a very different way. Here, Odell was ‘trying to follow the thought pattern of the song and focus on Alison Goldfrapp’s performance as the driving creative force behind the song’, and arrived at a bold, kaleidoscopic collage that puts the singer firmly in the frame – along with two-headed dogs, butterflies and the aforementioned Archigram-inspired architectural backgrounds. The result is frenetic sensory overload, using live action to make you feel like a two-year-old watching Teletubbies.
Which video would Odell like to scoop the Bradford gong? ‘It’s hard to say,’ he laughs. ‘I like them both, though if I had to choose, the Goldfrapp one feels like one of those projects with the possibility of leading somewhere else.’
Movement and exploration are key themes for Odell. What are his goals, I wonder? ‘I think just expanding the different means of expression we use would be great,’ he says. You get the impression he’s already imagining ways he’s going to do that on his next project.
The Bradford Animation Festival runs from 10-13 November, at various locations around Bradford. For details, visit www.baf.org.uk.