The story behind the visual style of our explainer video

Creativity and inspiration have been the subject of much discussion over the years.

Bono’s lyrics from The Fly – the first single release from Achtung Baby – tell us who artists are and what they do.

“Every artist is a cannibal / every poet is a thief / all kill for inspiration / and then sing about the grief.”

Whereas Steve Jobs thought creativity was more about subconscious synthesis:

“Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That’s because they were able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesize new things. And the reason they were able to do that was that they’ve had more experiences or they have thought more about their experiences than other people.”

The depth of thought people apply to their experiences, that Jobs refers to, touches on what Leo Burnett, the founder of an advertising agency, once said about the source of creativity:

“Curiosity about life in all of its aspects, I think, is still the secret of great creative people”

There’s no reason to think the discussion will stop

Why would it? We are after all a creative species. Inventing tools is probably one of the most important thing we’ve ever done to ensure our survival. And for creative people all over the world and media production agencies like Curveball, finding inspiration and ways to be more creative is the source of our income as well as our emotional wellbeing.

For us, inspiration comes from many different places, things and people. One place to look is the work of other artists. It provides instant gratification and fuel for the mind and soul. If it leads to an idea, so be it, if not, nothing is lost; the experience of enjoying someone else’s work is reward in itself.

Sometimes, inspiration happens by accident

I walked into work one morning, sat down at my desk and happened to look over at Jack’s desk. He’s one of our animators. Something caught my eye. A book. The artwork on the cover looked familiar. I walked over and picked it up. The cover said “Notes from the Shadowed City” – it was a book by Jeffrey Alan Love.

It struck a chord because I had a book he had illustrated called Norse Myths: Tales of Odin, Thor and Loki, written by Kevin Crossley-Holland.

The penny drops

At the time, I was working on a script for an animated explainer about an imaginary product called the Wolf-O-Matic. The purpose of that animation was to be an example of our explainer script structure in action.

Seeing that book on Jack’s desk made me wonder if we could base the style of our animation on our love for Love’s artwork. After chatting to the other animators and illustrators in the team, it didn’t take long to reach consensus.

Yes, we were going to let Love inspire us

Tara Peak, lead illustrator and animator, reveals her thoughts about Love’s work and how it related to design process and the characters and scenery in the animation:

“We really wanted to explore the subtle nature of some of his character designs. He uses texture, with a small amount of colour, to define features.”

She also reveals that Love wasn’t the only influence on the visual theme.

“I was also inspired by Tim Burton’s dark style and the design of characters like Jack Skellington, in The Nightmare Before Christmas, you know, that spindly, long-limbed, skeletal appearance he has – as well as the way characters like that move. They have an rigid awkwardness to them that you can really accentuate in animation to create a sense of drama. I wanted to reflect that in Van Helsing’s design.”

In terms of the technical execution, Tara says,

“I took the layering approach. I created the bigger shapes first and then worked in the details in the areas I wanted the audience to focus on first. This way I can see if the silhouette of the character works before jumping into full design mode.”

Beth Wigg, illustrator and supporting animator, also adds,

“There were a lot of textures to give it an old film feeling, and make it coarse and scratchy since it’s a horror theme. There were some effects I used in the witch doctor scene that I’d not used before like Particle World. But I researched and experimented a lot and was able to get the idea and then played around with it until I got that scene looking how I wanted. The opening scene also had some tricky moments but all I needed was some advice to get it done.”

And this is what they said when I asked what they were most pleased with about the animation:

Tara:

“I love character animation so it was nice to be able to have the time and attention to bring Van Helsing to life. I felt I could really add something to him and show his cocky personality.”

Beth:

“I like the witch doctor scene, I had a lot of fun playing with effects to get his rise up looking chthonic and enchanting. But my favourite bit has to be the way the lion anticlimactically falls into the pothole, that’s a crowning moment.”

Watch Wolf-O-Matic and see for yourself

Food for creative after-thought

As much as Bono, Jobs and Burnett point to inspiration and creativity being an act of theft, cannibalism, curiosity, connection and synthesis, that’s not the whole story.

There’s certainly more to the thinking part of creativity than meets the eye. The type of thought you employ – productive or reproductive – can make a huge difference to how creative you can be.

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