Joe Melhuish’s weird and wonderful creations can’t help but make you smile. Set in a world of ecstatic colours and glossy surfaces, these zany compositions and the curious characters which populate them radiate joy. With such a distinctive and lovable body of work to his name, it’s unsurprising that, in the year since we last spoke, the London-based animator and illustrator has been commissioned by the likes of MTV, Adult Swim, Bloomberg and Spotify.
Vibrant backdrops and peculiar props to one side, it’s the characters in Joe’s work that really draw you in. Exceptionally cool, a little bit sassy and brimming with personality, these digital people and their “manic, chaotic auras” give Joe’s work its unique charm. Whether they’re applying lippy, gazing into alternate dimensions or wearing ketchup bottles for shoes, Joe relishes the projects which allow him to experiment with these characters and their environments. “The best type of projects are the ones where I have the time and freedom to play and experiment,” he tells It’s Nice That. “If by the end of a project I end up with folders full of little ideas I tested out along the way, that’s the sign that I had fun working on it.”
For Joe, a big part of this experimentation is subverting viewer expectations. “My female characters often have quite masculine aspects to their appearance with bony fingers and large hands,” he explains. “Sometimes I swap parts of 3D bodies around; for example, I will make a ‘male’ character with parts from a ‘female’ one. It makes for more interesting and unique bodies, I think.”
In the year and a half he’s been a full-time freelancer, Joe has spent time honing his animation skills. In the Collaborative Instruments series he created for Red Bull Music Academy, his talent for smart dashes of motion really shines through. Their sweet and simple playfulness also gives a sense of the fun Joe had making them. “The article was about all these instruments that require two or more people to play, and the stories behind them are super fun and interesting,” he recalls. “Like the Dulcimer was used when a man was ‘courting’ a woman: her family would leave them alone together only if they were accompanied by the instrument. It requires both hands of both players, so the sound of the music from the other room would mean they’re behaving themselves.”
Moving beyond looping gifs, Joe has flexed these impressive motion muscles in animation features for Vice and Adult Swim. His latest venture in this space – a music video for Moon B’s song Welcome – centres on a young stargazer as she explores fictional planets and star systems, scanning their flora and fauna with her binoculars.
With just two weeks to complete the work, Joe’s solution for meeting this tight deadline came from an unlikely place. “I looked at lots of Japanese woodcuts – where huge scenes were broken up into ‘islands’ of illustration separated by clouds or water – and thought that would be a cool way to break down my scenes into fewer moving parts,” he explains. “From there I had this idea to make lots of looping elements in Cinema 4D and collage them together using After Effects into long vertical scenes. That way I wouldn’t have to render out giant complex panoramas on a tight timeline.”
The result is a fittingly calm embodiment of Moon B’s track. As Joe tells us: “I thought this idea of a character stargazing and lighting incense down on earth, would go nicely with the slow beat and create an interesting contrast of scale between the enormous planets and the humble spectator.”