Featured Artist Lee Caller
Where do you live?
Shepperton in Surrey
What is your background?
I grew up at a time when the home computer was starting to appear everywhere (before Microsoft and Apple took over the world). Although gaming was its main purpose you could also program on it. I would sit there for days typing away, making it do what I wanted on the screen in front of me. This eventually turned into a long career in I.T. before I had a “it’s now or never” moment – I had to do something different. I resigned, with nothing to move on to and no real skills in any other area (a very short-lived side project in comedy writing some years earlier helping me realise this). That was a handful of years ago and I now do 3D computer animation full-time. At the moment, most of my time is spent teaching animation students at a London college.
How did you learn your craft i.e. college, self-taught and what did that entail?
When the internet was relatively new, I found a book called “Cartooning with Flash”, which showed how to produce cartoon-style animation for use on websites. It was the computer-based equivalent of cutting out lots of little pieces of card and moving them around. I continued with this in the evenings and weekends up until I decided to end my I.T. day job. I signed-up for a course in 3D animation, learning how to move objects around not like pieces of cut-out paper but more like actual physical puppets. I could bend them into any shapes I wished and put them into complex worlds, create lighting and pick what colours or images they had on their surfaces. I took my time and what was meant to be a 30-week course turned into something more like a year.
I decided to leave the big animation studios to those a bit younger than me – so started focussing on smaller studios and freelance work when I received an offer to teach 3D animation for a day at a college in London (through the person that ran the online course). The odd day teaching here and there became more frequent, turning into occasional weeks, and is currently full-time teaching.
Which media do you prefer to work with?
The best answer I can give to this question is: a computer, with a Wacom pad and lots of different computer software.
Do you work in multiple media, if so which and why?
I guess the closest comparison I have to different media would be the separate stages needed from having a blank screen to a final watchable animation video. Typically, someone designs a character, another person will model that character (create a 3D version), another will texture it (define how light reacts on the surfaces and what colours or images are applied to it), someone else will need to rig it (set up controls that make animating it a lot easier), someone needs to actually animate it, someone will need to create the lighting, another renders it (produces the many images that will eventually end up as a video) and, finally, someone composites it (puts the many images together, applying adjustments and addition effects).
There’s nothing stopping one person doing all this (in fact it’s the best thing ever to have a one-person project!) – but the larger the production the less likely this will be otherwise it’ll be a lifetime of work.
What does your work aim to say?
Its whatever annoying little story is trying its hardest to escape my mind. I usually have a few pieces of varying styles and themes on the go at any time so I can switch between them, in an attempt to keep looking at them with fresh eyes.
Does your work comment in anyway on current social or political issues?
Not intentionally. Quite the opposite, its more about escaping from those things (and goes back to those days sitting in front of the home computer controlling what’s being displayed).
Who are your biggest influences?
A mix of Terry Gilliam’s animation in Monty Python and the TV cartoons I’d watch as a kid – especially during the Summer holiday. It was a weird mix of things like Wacky Races, Spider-Man and Battle of the Planets. Ironically, this period (the late 1970s and early 1980s) is now seen as the dark era for animation. It was all about quantity rather than quality to meet the growing (low budget) demand from TV, rather than big budget cinema.
It has got to the point where I now haunt the online auctions looking for original pieces of animation artwork from the past. Hand-drawn animation is a rare and niche thing now, so having an original pencil sketch of, say Mickey Mouse, or a gouache-painted celluloid depicting a character you remember as kid are examples of what are effectively dead artforms. They were only intended to have a lifespan of a few weeks.
How do you navigate the art world?
At the moment the teaching fits in well – spending time with students along with industry professionals, while also allowing me (just about) enough time to create my own pieces out of hours. The last 18 months I have been a little distracted completing my MA in animation. Now that’s over I’m itching to get cracking on a few larger ideas that I’ve been thinking over.
How have you developed your career?
The technology used for animation progresses constantly, so from that side of things it’s all about “keep on learning”. The same goes for the actual animation process. You can repeat sometimes weeks apart and it’ll look totally different each time.
How do you seek out opportunities?
LinkedIn seems to be the main method of recruitment for animation; the animation world is very fluid in terms of who-works-where, so the more contacts you have the better. In terms of getting exposure, there are a huge range of film festivals throughout the year with most having animation-related categories.
How do you price your work?
Typically, as a daily rate. Most animation work is contract/freelance based to allow the studios maximum flexibility in terms of number of employees.
Which current art world trends are you following?
It’s not all about the big animation studios. You can get good free software for your computer at home to do animation, and YouTube/Vimeo are full of amazing, unique work from individuals. It would be good to see more exposure of this work.
Do you know where you are heading career-wise?
No – not a clue! So long as it’s related to something I enjoy doing I’ll go with the flow for now!
Do you have any tips for young artists just starting out?
If you’re tempted to give animation a go I’d say be prepared to look at things in detail but then keep it simple. Don’t worry about making it realistic but keep it believable…and show some personality in what you produce. It’s a weird mix of technical and creative!
How can readers find out more about you e.g. Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest etc?
Or Instagram – if you prefer original animation artwork: https://www.instagram.com/monkeybumanim/