From stacks of drawings of cut, falling hair; plant roots and wilting flowers; built up and sliced through black masses; and a flailing puppet who comes to a sticky end, Leather, is an animation by London-based artist Chris Smith. A video accompanies the track from post-punk band Sauna Youth’s 2015 album, Distractions, Leather took years of drawing, testing and animating, and has been released with Deaths, the final part of their trilogy of LPs. “It grew from a very rough three-second version of the haircut sequence” Chris says. “I developed the character of the scissors and the theme of cutting as a destructive act. The scissors are a malevolent and disruptive presence, although you could say that they create as well as destroy, but it’s not a happy ending for the puppet.”
Chris describes the project as having been a slow burner, “[it wasn’t] meticulously storyboarded frame-by-frame, but as I worked and the sequences emerged, I wanted a degree of contrast between busy and quiet, light and dark, fast and slow”. In it’s 01:45 minute duration, the animation blasts through a variety of sequences. “My appreciation of fluency, economy and wonkiness means that I’m reluctant to overwork individual drawings. Rather than making them too polished and suck the life from them, I made a big pile of drawings that add up to a more substantial whole” says Chris. “There were a lot of tests along the way, parts were drawn and re-drawn as I learnt more, and where there is a lot of action, certain elements were done individually and traced onto a final drawing”. In the case of the puppet scenes, it involved working backwards, “as the puppet led the strings”: “I plotted where I thought the handle would be, which would determine the position each string would follow while he’s twisting and flailing around – the strings being added in after the body.”
Animation being a complex and labour-intensive process, working on Leather involved some committed R&D: “Music and the radio were sometimes welcome accompaniments; other times it had to be completely silent. I stayed inside during the heatwave. I watched time-lapse videos of flowers blooming, replicated falling hair with cotton thread and drew some of Sophie Alda’s pots.” And of the lengthy process, Chris says: “The complexity and labour-intensiveness was actually part of the appeal of animation, particularly working in this low-tech style, and it happily marries the loose and scribbly with the technical and obsessive. I enjoy repetition.”
About the Author
Billie studied illustration at Camberwell College of Art before completing an MA in Visual Communication at the Royal College of Art. She joined It’s Nice That as a Freelance Editorial Assistant back in January 2015 and continues to work with us on a freelance basis.