Creatives who work on a freelance basis or who pour their heart into personal projects might be familiar with the world that Raleigh-based James Tupper depicts in his short animation, Freelance. The work can be isolating if you’re working remotely, with hours of hard work tweaking designs and colours for it to be compressed to a screen barely wider than a baby carrot. And it’s all too easy to compare your work to the flood of similar work out there that’s getting more likes, although you don’t know why. In James’ first experiment with frame-by-frame animation, he uses his visual language to embrace these things, creating a light-hearted world that feels more like a charming slice of life than a dystopian nightmare.
Originally from Nags Head, North Carolina, located on the US state’s island coastline, the motion designer and filmmaker usually makes highly-polished 3D work that is technical and scientific, imagining the structure of viruses, folding over structures of leaves and creating abstract visuals for IBM Blockchain, for example. “I choose projects based on how enjoyable the work experience will be rather than focusing on the end result,” James tells It’s Nice That. “Sometimes that means working with an inspiring creative brief, but it can also be something as simple as collaborating with a friendly and respectful client.”
Freelance started out as doodles on James’ iPad that “turned into a dark love letter” to his career, after a period of intense 3D visual effects training. “I needed a break from work, so I decided to step away from the computer and started to experiment with frame-by-frame animation on my iPad,” he says. “I immediately fell in love with the slow and deliberate process of hand drawing each frame and eventually decided to create a short film during my time away from client work.”
If Toro y Moi’s Freelance music video depicts a space-age freelancer with a workstation straight out of 2001: A Space Odyssey, James’ freelance world is definitely located back on Earth. Dressed in red shorts and an orange training top, the freelancer rests on that Ikea Poäng armchair that many fresh graduates buy to fill their first living room. The animation is minimalist, although James’ training in 3D visual effects still shines through. Beyond James’ technical ability, clever use of colour, and smooth animation, however, is how well he captures mood through the body language of the protagonist. Leaning on his elbow at his desk as he clicks away and listlessly trawling through social media while slumped over a chair, James shows us exactly what his freelance life feels like.
The themes encapsulated in the short, however, are not the result of narrative techniques. Keeping simple compositions and ensuring that the universe remains sparse is instead what conjures up the isolation he felt. “The feeling of inadequacy was embellished by giving the social media posts and unreasonably high number of likes,” he adds. “Motion design was expressed as an entire community of people creating similar cube animations.”
“The entire project turned into a cathartic exercise for me. It was an opportunity to create an honest depiction of how I spend a massive amount of my time,” James explains. “The feeling of creating a piece of art that you are proud to share is rare, but it’s worth the battle.” The main shot of Freelance is inspired by a sketch that his brother made of him 22 years ago. “It represents a time where everything I was making was new,” he says, adding that working on this project briefly gave him that feeling back. This animation, ultimately a tribute to freelancers everywhere, will hopefully help inspire others to never give up on their practice.