We speak to Nick Young (Animation & Design Director, Gorilla Gorilla!) is an animator and designer extraordinaire, bringing design flair to everything from animated characters to explainers. He talks to us about studying at an arts uni and what drew him to film and animation, and shares what he thinks makes a great animator and how you can develop your skills to become one! Check out his recommendations at the end for lots of inspiring and varied examples of animation-based films!
Tell us about where you are now, your current role and what you enjoy about it.
I work at Gorilla Gorilla! as the Animation and Design Director. It’s an incredible place to work. There’s a real sense of pride about the work that we create, which I think comes from the fact that everyone, no matter your role, gets an opportunity to chip in with ideas and solutions to a brief. That creates a lot of respect within the team and keeps things quite level.
We also have a great affinity for documentary filmmaking in the team, which I think lends a lot of authenticity to the work that we create, documentary or otherwise. We’re always looking to make work that feels truthful.
Tell us a bit about your journey to get there.
I’d always known that I wanted to get into animation as a career, I studied Animation Arts at UCA, which was great as there was a nice balance between learning the craft of animation and studying filmmaking in general. That was a brilliant starting point for me as an animation director as it would teach me to think about the story, the edit, the music, sound design, illustration style as well as the animation. Also, studying at an arts uni meant that I was in the middle of this huge melting pot of inspiration, with friends from all different creative disciplines, I think that helped me develop quite an eclectic appreciation for aesthetic and technique.
After uni, I did internships, runner jobs and some freelancing all of which were a good way to bounce around companies to see how different studios were run and to work with a range of people quickly.
I’ve also always worked in small companies, which for me, has meant that I’ve had a voice and some influence quite early on and that hasn’t been lost through layers and layers of hierarchy.
What do you love about filmmaking, and animation more specifically?
Filmmaking, for me, has always provided the most direct emotional connection. More so than music, than art and more than a good story and I think that’s because filmmaking encompasses all of those things. I can feel the same level of emotion from a 30 second ad than I can from a feature film, if the story and concept is strong enough.
I’ve always seen animation as a bit of a step up from live action because of the fact that, even with a relatively small budget, you can still create entire worlds from scratch and it can look any way you want it to.
What do you think it takes to be a great animator?
The main thing is to have good foundations. I remember at university my tutor held up a copy of The Animator’s Survival Kit by Richard Williams and said, ‘This is your bible, everything you need to know is in here.’ That was great advice for me, she was basically telling us, learn the basics. That can apply to pretty much any form of animation, whether it’s character animation, motion design or a simple bit of typography. If you’ve got those good foundations, you can inject so much more life into any project you create.
What’s great nowadays is that it’s so easy to cross disciplines. You see a lot of great animators that started out as illustrators or graphic designers, for example, and then made the switch to animation. What makes them great is they have that solid knowledge and it shows through their work.
The other key piece of advice is to know your process and get your clients to see things throughout. I’ve been tripped up more than once either by skipping steps or not getting a client’s sign off early enough in the process. Getting your client to be involved and understand your ideas early on can save you so much time and stress later on down the line, when it’s much, much harder to make changes!
For those starting out in their journeys, what advice would you give for people looking to hone their skills when it comes to animation?
Use social media to put work out there and see what reaction it gets. This could be personal or professional work, it really doesn’t matter but it’s a good way to test things out and gauge what people might like (whether you make films for clients or yourself, there will always be an audience to watch it).
Set yourself briefs or join up to communities that set project briefs to give yourself practice and see how others react and interpret them. Train as much as you can, but make sure that you try to find ways of incorporating it into your work, otherwise you’ll just forget it.
Finally, take inspiration from anywhere, not just film.
Can you share a few examples of great animation work, either that you’ve worked on or that has inspired you?
Life on Air – One of our Gorilla Gorilla! OriGGinals – https://www.gorilla-gorilla.com/life-on-air/
This is a great example of a self-initiated project at Gorilla Gorilla! That plays to all of our stengths, Authentic storytelling, expertly crafted interviews (Directed by our live action Director Louis Leblique) and good quality animation
7IM – Investment Explainers (Gorilla Gorilla!) – https://www.gorilla-gorilla.com/investment-jargon-busters/
This was a fun one for us. We had a client that was willing to be a bit braver with their brand, something we’re always pushing for, and it resulted in this series of bitesized explainers on managing money and understanding the potentially daunting terminology around investing. Voiced by the companies then CEO, just to put the cherry on top.
Channel 4 Bake off Ad – This project, for me, is the ultimate flex in craft and stop-motion. The first time I saw this, it really made me think, wow anything is possible in animation!
Johnny Kelly – A Future Begins (Chipotle) – https://johnnykel.ly/projects/afuturebegins
An ad campaign so well loved that the client commissioned a sequel! Johnny Kelly’s Back to the start is such an industry staple now and this follow up project just keeps on pushing.
Blink my brain – One Plus x Hasselblad – https://www.blinkmybrain.wtf/oneplus
Not your average brand film! Such a unique take on the well-trodden ground of brand heritage/history that has the director’s signature all over it.