Anthony Macbain and Roxie Vizcarra are two illustrators who have designed more characters than most. Early on in their careers, the pair were in-house illustrators at Rockstar Games, working on the expressions and personalities of characters populating games such as Grand Theft Auto and Red Dead Redemption. In turn, their approach to illustration is one heavily attached to the gaming world stylistically, but their own agency Anthrox Studio sees them carving out their own creative possibilities.
The first project of Anthrox’s which fully illustrates this is Roxie and Anthony’s work with Black Midi, the Mercury Prize-nominated four-piece who (brilliantly) divide opinion. It’s a collaboration that arguably on paper shouldn’t work at all – an experimental group of boys from London represented by artists who illustrate for one of the largest gaming franchises. But once you consider the context, the fact that Black Midi probably grew up sitting in front of characters Roxie and Anthony illustrated, it makes for a campaign that clicks.
The collaboration first began when the band suggested having 3D avatars of themselves illustrated, rather than your usual band press shots. “We loved it immediately,” Roxie tells It’s Nice That of her and Anthony’s introduction to the band. The idea soon developed for a video which continued this style, but since Anthony and Roxie’s work is only 2D they brought on board Isam Prado, an Emmy award-winning artist and animator. “Luckily, he was available and everything came together very organically for the three of us,” adds Anthony.
With the collaboration in place, the groups met in New York where an “appreciation of what the medium of 3D can achieve creatively” became clear. “Black Midi have a very well-formed visual aesthetic that includes low poly 3D graphics as well as old master oil paintings,” explains Anthony. “We felt like we could also lend our own unique perspective having worked behind the scenes on games in development where sometimes a work in progress can be more profound.”
In order to represent the band as realistic avatars, Roxie and Anthony began the process by asking the band to imagine who these characters could be. They listed possible outfit choices, the environments they could inhabit, from which Roxie and Anthony cherrypicked pieces together “to create something surreal, and sometimes humorous”. The environments described by the band also then went onto inform the world built in Anthrox’s Studio video for the track Ducter, including elongating spires and nuclear power plant like buildings. “Work on the video for our song Ducter was unimaginably smooth, with the finished product turning out better than anything we could have hoped for,” adds Black Midi’s singer Geordie Greep. “They had a vision and they stuck to it.”
The results are strangely uncanny to the band, a result of how much freedom Black Midi and their label Rough Trade gave the studio. “The biggest difference between working on games and working on this project has to be the amount of creative freedom,” Roxie explains. “Everyone just seemed to be excited to see what we’d come up with, which makes sense when you’re working with other artists. The band had a lot of respect for our catalogue from the start, so it was a total pleasure to hear their ideas. It felt more like a collaboration.”
In creating a habitat for Black Midi’s sound to visually live, Anthony notes that the pair feel “incredibly proud of what we were able to achieve… I think we have created something truly unique, not just for the music, but as a work of art.” How it’s been received, however, remains still difficult to read: “It’s hard to tell sometimes,” Roxie remarkds. “Fans of Black Midi seem to be an eccentric bunch.”
About the Author
Lucy (she/her) is the senior editor at Insights, a research-driven department with It's Nice That. Get in contact with her for potential Insights collaborations or to discuss Insights' fortnightly column, POV. Lucy has been a part of the team at It's Nice That since 2016, first joining as a staff writer after graduating from Chelsea College of Art with a degree in Graphic Design Communication.