London Film and Animation Director Gemma Yin Taylor
Having shaped TANK magazine’s video output for four years, film and animation director Gemma Yin Taylor branched out as a freelancer in 2014 and hasn’t stopped working for high profile clients ever since. She has carved a niche for herself thanks to her unique ‘handcrafted’ mixed media videos made using digital and 2D stop-motion techniques. Gemma melds bright graphics and moving collage elements to create attention grabbing shorts that succinctly convey a strong message, be it for Charlotte Olympia plugging a new series of Kitty Flats or singing legend Paul Weller telling the world he’s happy as a sandboy in his 2015 song, ‘I’m Where I Should Be.’ Eloquent and passionate about her art, Gemma starts each project with intricate moodboards; the inspiration often reaches far and wide from Monty Python’s Terry Gilliam to music’s ultimate diamanté-loving diva, Cher. “In general I like anything cute, camp and kitsch,” she tells us, but ‘70s/‘80s rock and punk music posters have also recently play their part in influencing her beguiling videos which are typically fast-paced and strangely hypnotic. Here the 29-year old, who graduated from Kingston University with a BA in Illustration & Animation, tells us about her colourful career so far and reveals which illustrators and animators we should have on our radar right now.
How did you come to do what you do? Were you artistic as a child/teenager?
I was always creative from a very young age. I had strong drawing and painting skills which was always recognised at school in some way or another, and I still draw and paint when I can to this day. I usually take a sketchbook on holiday for location drawing and sometimes paint portraits for the walls of my flat. As I got into my early teens, digital technology was getting better I became quite tech literate, which manifested into all sorts of hobbies and fun little projects. I would shoot videos with my friends at weekends, we could stay up almost all night making our films and then I would edit them in my free time using whatever video software was available then. I didn’t have a big picture that I was set on following, but if it interested me at the time, I would instinctively follow that direction. That has also been true since leaving school.
Can you tell me how you got into film and animation?
Although I was quite academic at school, I knew I wanted to follow a creative path. I moved to London at 18 to start a one year foundation course at Chelsea College of Art. By the second term I was making little animations on my bedroom floor with characters and backgrounds cut out of paper. I applied for the BA Illustration and Animation at Kingston as it felt right. The course was very full-on, but prepared me really well for a design/directing role, as it was less focused on commercial practice and more on experimentation and approaching the medium with an individual viewpoint. After leaving uni I was at a bit of a crossroads – as many creative graduates are at this time. I was trying to get my graduate work out there- at the time this meant traipsing around Soho dropping off my showreel to animation studios on a DVD. I managed to do a few freelance gigs, before being picked up as a director by a small but very nice studio. Sadly though a few months down the line the studio was going through an uncertain period, and at the same time I got offered a job as a creative video editor at the fashion magazine TANK. It was a diversion from the animation style that I had honed throughout my degree, but it seemed like a cool new challenge and I had always had an interest in fashion. I was the only video editor there to begin with, which meant that I was head of video. Over the next 4 years I helped to hone the video aesthetic there – particularly on their playful Because Magazine platform, and also for their commercial/agency projects. I left in 2014 to pursue my work as a freelancer, which has been very fulfilling. It has been nice to expand into other genre’s after working on fashion/beauty content for so long – particularly into music projects.
Can you tell me about your style? Who would you cite as influences?
My style has evolved into a vibrant mixed-media moving collage look, with aspects of video/photography spliced together with graphic and hand-made elements. I work with both digital and more traditional 2D ‘stop-motion’ methods, depending on the needs of the project. In a way, it is quite a quick and disposable style which is perfect for the ever-changing world of content on the internet and probably why it appeals to brands trying to communicate something quickly, loudly and with flair. Visually I am drawn to and try to experiment with expressive mark-making and a fun use of colour – a very pop aesthetic. In general I like anything cute, camp and kitsch. In the past year or so I have been heavily influenced by 70’s and 80’s rock & punk music posters and zines. They feel so raw and full of character. Over the years I have been influenced by many different artists and film-makers. From painters like Frida Kahlo and Jean Michel Basquiat to animators Terry Gilliam, Lotte Reiniger and filmmakers Michel Gondry and Sophia Coppola, and illustrator/designers Mary Blair and Tadanori Yokoo… and photographers Pierre et Giles and Guy Bourdin.
I know you have worked for Charlotte Olympia and Paul Smith, what other commercial projects have you been plucked for?
As a freelance director I have worked with fashion and beauty clients Charlotte Olympia, Eyeko, ASOS, Red Valentino, Revlon, Sally Hansen, Karen Millen, Lane Crawford and Elle Magazine. I have worked with labels Warner/Parlophone, Universal and Transgressive on music videos for acts including VANT, Paul Weller, Sigma x Birdy, and new act Sigrid who has just blown up! I have many more music projects in the pipeline.
I particular enjoyed working with Charlotte Olympia on a few of her collections: The ABC’s, Kitty Unplugged and It Happened Out West. The products and creative direction are always so fun and exciting, which opens the door to create something equally characterful and playful for the campaign films. It helps when you can get really excited about the product you are promoting. Likewise, if you are working on a music video for a song you really love. I think it always shows in the final film if you have really had fun working on something.
This is a lofty question, but how do you make your videos, can you talk me through your creative process and spell it out in layman terms?
This is a bit tricky as projects vary so much! I will receive a brief either from an agency/label or directly from a brand. There will usually be a process of pitching involving a proposal of the creative idea/direction using story/mood boards etc. Once I get started I will need to either create the source material myself – which could involve shooting products or handmade drawings/paper/collage under a rostrum camera (top down camera facing the table with a lighting setup which I have in my studio) and/or creating graphic assets digitally in Photoshop or Illustrator. If there is a live footage element like for a music or fashion film, I will work with a producer to do a shoot. In pre-production and on the shoot I will direct the crew (camera, set design, etc…) and the talent to get what we need. Once the various assets are made/captured/shot I usually work on my own editing and animation post-production in After Effects, and depending on the scale of the project I might work with a colourist and the final stage. That is more the technical process.
Creatively, I will usually have an initial spark or idea quite quickly, from reading the brief, looking at the products or listening to the music. Then, I will start to do some visual research. I use Pinterest a lot at this stage. I usually go more for image research than video research. I am often in Indesign pulling imges into groups/mood boards to get an overall look and feel together, constantly switching them until something feels right. This is a process that I have definitely honed efficiently over the years. When I worked at the magazine timelines were so tight that the ‘coming up with an idea’ stage had to be almost instantaneous. You would have to think fast and then run with something. Once I am happy with the mood/style boards an idea/reference point, I will start to pull found assets in or create them from scratch… leading to the implementation stage.
What is your favourite time of the day to work? Do you work from a studio? What does you working environment look like?
My favourite time to work is all day, every day! 😛 I do love to work as to me it is more like play. I work whatever hours are required for me to get my projects done to the right standard. I often work on Saturday or Sunday, but might take a weekday off between projects to check out new films or exhibitions. My schedule is very reactive to whatever I have on at the time. In general I work quickly, and on a range of different projects, which keeps things interesting and varied. Timelines range from 1 day to 3-4 weeks but never longer than that.
I work from a studio space in Dalston which I share with a few other creative friends who work in video, production and textile design. It is a really nice atmosphere and there is always someone to bounce ideas off. We sometime collaborate if the right project comes up. My desk is an organised mess. Aside from the computer which is the central part of my operation, I have lots of random objects – paraphernalia from past films, materials and images. There is usually a mood board pinned up next to me for whatever I am working on at the time. There are some female icons watching over me from my wall: Frida Kahlo, Cher and Heloise Letissier currently. Scribbled notes and sketches on the desk from phone calls and briefings. I am a bit old school in some ways- my calendar is a paper one on the wall with rough timelines and notes added to it.
Who should we look out for in the world of animation?
I saw a music video called Jenny Go Go by Xiu Xiu the other day by an animator called Emp Bikutoru which I found very cool and original. I am a big fan of Illustrator Jo Ratcliffe who over the past few years has translated her work beautifully across to animation. Such amazing artistry in the drawings.
There are also amazing artists like Memo Akten, who I saw do a presentation about his work recently, creating original interactive moving image art from a coding/technical angle which is very exciting and feels like the future. He will code some beautiful digital effects, which will manifest live as the subject/model moves in real time.Golden Wolf and The Line are a couple of studios that are making some really nicely animated 2D stuff – trying to keep that art alive amongst all the 3D/CGI!
Aside from commercial clients can you talk me through some of your personal projects? What is the attraction to shorts
At the moment my personal work manifests in the occasional insta clip or illustration, the rest of the time my schedule is quite full with client jobs. I would love to get more of a balance soon. Music videos have become my main opportunity to make work that I consider to be quite personal, as you can get very creative with them. The musicians and management are usually very on board with experimentation and pushing the envelope. Hopefully I will be able to work on a short film project of some kind to showcase some of the ideas and techniques that I have been exploring over the past couple of years.
With music being a big part of your world, is there anyone you’d like to work for?
Yes, I love music. I had my own distinct but somewhat soft teenage punk phase growing up so I was very excited to be working on music like Vant and with Paul Weller. But I love other genres equally like electronic pop (especially ‘80s stuff like New Order and Depeche Mode), and ‘50s/’60s vocal doo-wop and rock. In general, I would like to work with more upcoming female acts. I know the music industry is trying to address the wild imbalance of men vs women working in the industry, so I would like to be a part of that in some way. The balance of male/female directors and crew is also in need of a healthy review. The dream would be to work with strong female artists like M.I.A, FKA Twigs, Heloise Letissier (Christine & the Queens) although the latter two self-directed their videos so that is a pipedream!
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