Self-pleasuring computers and fighting frogs: Dive into the spectacularly weird animations of Alistair Nicholls

After finding his university degree far from useful, the Norfolk-based animator set out to independently learn the fundamentals of stop-motion from books and the internet.

22 August 2022

In recent years, the detrimental effects of social media have become clearer by the day. Some research has even shown it to have an ‘addictive’ quality, with dopamine being released every time a user receives a new like or comment. It was upon hearing this fact when watching a documentary that stop-motion animator Alistair Nicholls, quite naturally, had the idea for his next project: a self-pleasuring computer. It’s the creative's love of surrealism and physical comedy that really shines through in this piece. With such little action – a computer repeatedly pressing one of its own buttons – Alistair creates such a humorous and undeniably strange scene.

Keeping a sketchbook firm in hand at all times, it’s this ability to be constantly on the lookout for inspiring material – even when he may be least expecting it – that gives Alistair’s work such character. “I get inspiration from anything and everything,” he says. “Art, films, a walk in the park or a conversation; all of them could spark an idea.”

Like many creatives of a certain generation, Aardman studios has been a brilliant source of inspiration for Alistair. This comes to no surprise after seeing his grainy video style and charmingly handcrafted characters. Growing up, he was “obsessed” with Wallace and Gromit, having fallen in love with the infamous duo for their tactility. “How you can see the fingerprints and the handmade look, it’s something I try to capture in my own work,” he says. Later, he was introduced to Aardman’s similarly unpolished and more adult-focused earlier animations – like the short films Ident and Adam. On the more avant-garde side of things, his love of all things surreal came to life in the short films of Jan Švankmajer and the paintings of René Magritte.

But it was Alistair’s grandad who really kickstarted his love of stop-motion animation. Making stop-motion films as a hobby on his Super 8 camera and projecting them for the family to watch, Alistair says that he “always found it magical how he could take something inanimate and make it come to life”. Later, Alistair went on to study animation at a university in London. The course, however, “wasn’t very good”, and Alistair says he spent most of his time “stealing plasticine (had to make up for the student debt somehow) and teaching myself stop-motion from books and the internet”. After leaving university, Alistair then made the “stupid” decision of trying to go freelance and start his own small studio. “I made £50 in the first three months,” he recalls, “but slowly the jobs started coming in, and now I do it full time!”

You’d be hard pushed to find someone who loves the creative process more than Alistair. “I love the excitement of finding an idea you love,” he says. "At that stage, you’re not limited by anything, so you can take it anywhere.” Revelling in the moment he gets to spend time alone in his windowless studio with a “plasticine lump”, Alistair says he can spend hours getting lost on one simple frame: “the time flies by, it really is quite meditative”. With how much joy we gain from watching Alistair’s animations, we’re glad to hear he enjoys making them just as much.

GalleryCopyright © Alistair Nicholls, 2022

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Copyright © Alistair Nicholls, 2022

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About the Author

Olivia Hingley

Olivia (she/her) joined the It’s Nice That team as an editorial assistant in November 2021 and soon became staff writer. A graduate of the University of Edinburgh with a degree in English Literature and History, she’s particularly interested in photography, publications and type design.

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