A BAFTA-nominated animator who dropped out of Fine Art? We asked Aardman Digital regular and Moomin-loving illustrator Robin Davey how he turned a childhood obsession in to a full-time career…
So Robin, how would you describe your job?
I normally describe myself as an illustrator/animator, which is about vague enough to cover everything I get up to. I divide my time between design for interactive projects like games and websites, and animation for broadcast and the web. Very occasionally I've been known to illustrate for print or exhibition.
How did you get in to being an illustrator/animator?
I was forever drawing as a child and was obsessed with animation, but it never seemed likely I'd get to work in that field. Still, I pursued art and ended up, somewhat unhappily, on a very conceptual Fine Art degree at UWE in Bristol.
I dropped out and, hoping to rediscover the love of drawing that had led me there in the first place, rejoined, studying Illustration. While there, I dabbled in animation, and as a result was offered a graduate placement with a web company making educational games for kids.
What single thing would significantly improve your working life, including super powers, inventions etc?
Right now, effective heating in the studio I share with four other illustrators and a filmmaker and which, ironically enough, we rent from a heating supplies firm.
What are the best and worst things about your job?
There's an element of feast or famine to freelancing sometimes, which can also mean I end up juggling projects and working ridiculous hours. I am not one of nature's multi-taskers.
Who are your design/illustration/animation/art heroes? And why?
I love George Herriman's Krazy Kat comic strips from the 1920s, and Tove Jansson who created the Moomins, but I'm generally most excited by contemporary stuff. Celyn Brazier, Jon Klassen and Bjorn Lie are just three of my current favourite illustrators. As for animation, Grant Orchard at Studio AKA does amazing stuff, as do Fons Schiedon and David O'Reilly.
On a grander scale, Pixar have some disgustingly talented people working behind the scenes, like Lou Romano and Ronnie del Carmen. You need an awareness of what's happening in the wider industry. You're not creating in a vacuum.
Do you have any advice for young people hoping to follow in your footsteps (your professional footsteps, not young stalkers)?
Assuming you've thought of the obvious things like “learn to draw” and “go to Uni”, I'd say this: don't be intimidated by the idea of entering “the industry”, and don't undersell yourself. At the same time, expect to have to work hard, and keep stretching yourself. A good way is to take on jobs that you don't quite know how to do.
Finally – and this is the hardest thing to do – if you're not getting work then make something of your own. It almost doesn't matter what, just don't stagnate. You'll sit around forever waiting for inspiration to strike; it prefers a moving target.
Looking back over your career so far, what are you most proud of?
I'm an animator and hence a control freak, so it's probably the smaller projects that I've been able to do independently, like my game Booty Juggler or Maf the Dog [see his gallery], a book trailer I made for Faber & Faber. I designed the graphics for an Aardman game called Home Sheep Home which has been played over 70 million times and was nominated for a BAFTA [and won a BIMA], and that's undeniably quite a boost to the ego.
I just delivered graphics for an Adult Swim online game that I've high hopes for, and I'm back at Aardman Digital working on something that might end up on iPhones.
To see some more of Robin's pictures, click on the image below.
And to see even more of Robin’s work, visit his blog.
Can “dropping out” lead to shaping up? If you changed course at University, or left academia altogether, leave a comment below.