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Gavin Strange - JamFactory

A while ago, we got to catch up with Gavin Strange, perhaps most well known for his work as Senior Director and Designer with Aardman Animations, the studio behind Shaun the Sheep, Wallace & Gromit, and Chicken Run. As a big believer in creative side projects, Gavin also does all kinds of projects under the alias JamFactory, where he indulges his passion for filmmaking, toy design, illustration, and photography. He chatted with us on his perspective as a creative in the industry and gave us great insight into his creative process and what he does to tackle every day challenges in his career!
What can you tell us about your creative background and how you got to where you are today? When did you discover art as your passion/career?
My creative background was originally in Graphic Design - I did 2 years at 'BTEC' level in England but then decided against going to university, wanting to get into the industry instead. I knew then that this was what I wanted to do with my career, but I didn't really know what path it could take. In the year 2000, I joined a small film as a Junior Graphic Designer but quickly jumped lanes to be a Junior Web Designer, at the time the web was kinda new, and it was an exciting time to get into it! I did that but started 'JamFactory' on the side, it was just a silly name/website for me to put out all the experiments and learnings I was doing with illustration, photography, film, characters, etc. I then worked for myself for a few years before joining Aardman Animations as a Senior Designer for the Digital team. I was making a lot of films and moving images in my own time, and I didn't shy away from sharing my passion projects with the team here. 11 years later, I'm now a Director & Designer for Aardman, which is my absolute dream! Combining film and design together - I absolutely adore it.
How would you describe your work, and how has it changed over time?
I would say that my work has common themes of fun, color, and energy? I think? It's hard to assess your own work, isn't it! But I'm pretty confident in wanting those themes to be present in what I do, in any medium or format. Hopefully, my work has progressed in terms of quality (again, you'll have to be the judge of that!) but I would hope that scale of my work has changed over time. Meeting many amazing and incredible people has meant that I've learned from them and gotten better. Then collaborations and creations with those people have enabled me to aim higher and make bigger things. That doesn't mean bigger is better though, I love going home to do a self-initiated tiny project after a day of working on a big project with a crew of ten people - I love the variety. I'd also hope that variety would be a thing too! I'm so inspired by so many different things out there, I hope what I make and put into the world has some variety too!
What’s the inspiration behind your art? How are they influenced by your personality/your culture? Are there any artists that have influenced your style?
Oh man, the list of inspirations is never-ending! I'm influenced by everyone from Hype Williams' music videos from the early 2000s to Katsuhiro Otomo's AKIRA! I grew up adoring video games and the worlds that they created - I didn't have consoles until I was much older, so I drank in the world of games via magazines and posters! I think everyone has had a hand in steering my style, to be honest, I'd be nothing without my influences and inspirations! I think everything I love and look up to has an energy and an emotion attached to it! I want to make things that resonate with people. I would love it if someone looked at something I've done in the same way I look at all this great work I adore and think "wow, I really like *that*". I have no idea if that ever will happen, but it's lovely to strive for it!
What would you say are the most important elements in your work that create your style?
I'm really not sure! Do I have a style? I'm not sure, I'd like one if there's one going, haha! I do know that I like to use the color pink a LOT. So that's definitely always there! I like incorporating typography and the principles of graphic design into my work, whatever format it is - whether it be a film or a character design, I like thinking about it as a graphic designer.
What does your process look like? What steps do you take when creating a new piece of art?
If it's a passion project, I try not to plan too much - I love just going on instinct and seeing where it goes. Sometimes I have a clear idea, a doodle in my sketchbook. Other times it's just a desire to make a 'thing'. I try not to hang around long enough to let my brain question why! When it's a work project, it usually begins with a brief - either from the client, the agency, or internally. Then it’s starting with moodboards and sketches to flesh out early thoughts or ideas. It's a lot longer and a more considered approach at work, of course, to be thorough. That's why my focus on passion projects is much scrappier and faster, to just have a different creative experience! Making moodboards and references are so so useful, and if it's a film project I nearly always cut a mood reel together, and I find that invaluable.
What art tools do you use the most? Do you have a favorite?
My list of tools in day-to-day consists of Illustrator, Photoshop, Premiere, and After Effects. My work set-up is a 27-inch iMac with a 25-inch external display and the new Wacom Cintiq 22HD which I use as an external display but also as a graphics tablet. It depends on what I'm working on! At home, I use all the above but also Cinema 4D and Octane Renderer for my 3D fun stuff! And Ableton Live with the Push 2 controller, and the Teenage Engineering OP-Z for my music. I love having lots of screens and lots of bits. I don't subscribe to that 'minimalist set-up' vibe at all, maximalist all the way!!
What music do you like to listen to while working? Do you have a favorite playlist you'd like to share?
That's a great question! I listen to all sorts! Right now, I'm listening to Katie Day's album 'Flood Network', as recommended in James Acaster's book 'Perfect Sound Whatever' where he argues that 2016 was the best year for music ever. (Check out the book, it's brilliant!) But I listen to all sorts, from the punishing metal sounds of Nails to the intricate raps and rhymes of Aesop Rock. Much like the things I'm inspired by - I'm fascinated by energy and passion and hearing that in the music! I think the best way to describe what I like is if I make a playlist for you and your readers, which you’ll find below! This is just a little taster of tracks I'm loving recently! I love all sorts of stuff, so hopefully, you find some stuff that you like too:
What’s been your biggest challenge as an artist?
I think pushing through with my own confidence levels to not let my own brain, complete with worries and insecurities, stop me from trying to do things. I think we're all plagued by self-doubt and uncertainty (at least I hope I'm not the only one!) so it's always a challenge to be able to push through that. There are always things that go wrong though - mistakes, accidents, etc. but they're a natural part of life and a natural occurrence of a creative career. I try my hardest to grow and learn when those things happen instead of freaking out (I try and get my freaking out done quickly and quietly, then try to figure how to fix it or move on!)
You must have days when you have art blocks or are unmotivated to work, how do you deal with these days, what do you do?
Oh man yeah, totally!! Simply put, I try and be kind to myself! I know that there are days/hours/weeks/months where you don't feel motivated in what you do, especially in passion projects. You have to ride the wave and recognize that there will be times where you don't want to create, and that's absolutely fine. But the flip side to that is capitalizing on when you do have that spark and trying to make the absolute most out of it, with the small amount of time we have!
What do you think is important to do, in order to become a professional in your field? For aspiring artists, how can they get to where you are?
Be kind. Be positive. Be helpful. Be empathetic. Be driven. Be passionate. Be weird. Be themselves. Be supportive. Be engaged. Be Realistic. Be idealistic. Be open. Be flexible.
Who are some inspiring artists that you think we should keep an eye on?
Oh wow, too many to mention! Here's a list in no particular order (click through to visit their page!): Laurie Rowan, Philip Nordstrom, Studio Knife, Sarah Mazzetti, Lucas Grassmay, Sebastian Konig, Shohei Otomo, Jimmy Turrell, Elena Gonzalez, Kelly Anna, Insane 51, Santiago Pani