Characters are at the forefront of Israeli artist Eran Hilleli’s digital storytelling. “I love creating characters,” he tells It’s Nice That. “Characters that feel like they come from specific stories. In fact, I love creating that more than actually coming up with those exact stories.”
One thing you may notice about Eran’s characters is that they are rarely alone. Most often they can be found strutting along in unison, and it’s a lovely sight to behold as their pronounced differences in size and shape move ever closer.
“I took huge inspiration for these packs/parades from Satoshi Kon’s epic parade in his film, paprika,” Eran tells It’s Nice That. “As well as the ending scene in Tim Burton’s Big Fish, where all the film’s characters greet Edward on his last trip to the water. And I guess also being Israeli, growing up on a good dose of biblical stories contributes to these visions.” It is not just conceptually that Eran enjoys this grouping, but the aesthetic that it can give too: “There’s something about parades that has always piqued my visual interest. It’s not that I’m really into parades in real life, I'm just really drawn to this organism made of characters that becomes a character on its own.”
Eran describes his work as “living at the intersection of animation, coding and design,” meaning he straddles a number of media. This combination, alongside the fact that his work is very experimental, means that the characters are integral to making his process-driven work relatable.
“My workflow often involves finding inspiration in the craft itself, iteration based workflows, experimentation and always being on the lookout for happy accidents,” he says. “I love carrying out ideas through characters. I’m a character junky from a young age, forever inspired by Japanese cartoons from the 80s and early video game aesthetics. Characters and code usually result in a videogame form, and that’s exactly why I love trying to make different experiences with a combination of the two.”
Eran studied animation whilst at art school in Jerusalem, but found that he was often being drawn to computerised aspects, stemming from his interest in this during his childhood. “While pursuing animation, I was also always drawn to interactivity and combining code with visuals. Since I studied coding as a kid I always felt comfortable doodling and playing with it. However, my thesis film, Between Bears, was my career’s starting point. Winning the best animation award at the first Vimeo Film Festival helped in getting some recognition and being offered to start directing animation.”
Since then, his career has gone from strength to strength, working alongside brilliant people in the industry that he was able to learn from too. “A very substantial collaboration that changed how I work happened through working with the incredible guys from Encyclopedia Pictura (Isaiah Saxon and Sean Hellfritsch). We worked on a music video for Panda Bear – that experience was very unique. At times, it felt like kids playing together after school hoping mum doesn’t come and say ‘it’s time to go home!’”
One project that Eran worked on recently that was perfectly suited to his style was with OP-Z, which he describes as: “A magical little device that can not only sequence sounds and beats but visuals as well.” Obviously, with his synced parades of characters, a tool like this was brilliant for experimentation, as it was also entirely in real-time, meaning that he could build worlds and then change anything about them.
“So I started with a bunch of audio-reactive characters walking together and then went on to explore their world, finding more characters, camera angles and various effects. I really wanted it to feel like a game without really being one. I was trying to create a sandbox of visuals, a narrative-less playground that can be directed to various outcomes,” he explains. “I ended up creating Z-LAND which became part of the op-z’s factory preset visual packs.”
Now that he is a father, Eran works as an art director and teacher, whilst using his free time late at night to develop a new animation tool called LOOOM, that will be released in 2020.
Not one to shy away from embracing new technology, Eran has also begun experimenting with augmented reality (AR). “From my quite brief experiments, it was this intimacy through distance and acknowledgement that was extremely magical. The marvel of merging fiction with reality stayed a bit on the surface at the start. But it was getting so physically close to a character, and having it look back at me that felt like such a new and magical thing.”
This begs the question, do we think this is a medium that Eran will be working on in the future?
“Absolutely,” he says. “In fact, there is a project in the plans already!”
About the Author
Charlie joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in December 2019. He has previously worked at Monocle 24, and The Times following an MA in International Journalism at City University. If you have any ideas for stories and work to be featured then get in touch.