Work / Animation

Jonathan Rosen on his latest animation of a hippie who lives in a lava lamp

Cones is the musical partnership of the Rosen brothers, Jonathan and Michael. But for Jonathan in particular, an illustrator and animator as well as a talented musician, the band “is as much as a visual project as it is a musical one,” culminating in his animation for their new single, Back In The Brain.

“When I write a song, I am simultaneously visualising it,” Jonathan tells It’s Nice That. “I often see a song as a line moving left to right, but more free.” This movability is visible in the musician’s latest music video which uses minimal lines to illustrate the journey of a wobbling stoner. “When it comes to animating a music video, the synthesis of sound and vision has been intact since I started writing the song, so the animation process can often feel quite natural,” Jonathan continues.

Looking back, Jonathan explains that he has been drawing his whole life but during his senior year at college, and with the “guidance of the late/great visual master Peter Hutton… I decided to really commit to animation.” Introduced to 70s and 80s publications by independent animators, the artist was inspired when his old tutor gave him a lightbox and pegboard to create animations with: “It was one of those few undeniable turning points in your life,” he says.

For his latest animation, Jonathan has expanded his aesthetic tendencies in comparison to the first Cones video, Echoes On. “I wanted to open it up conceptually and visually, grounding it in a character (Bob the hippie) with a loose narrative (he lives in a lava lamp), and throw in some more colours and textures. Referencing the period I was depicting, I created some original oil projects, and then rotoscoped over the shapes,” he explains.

The inspiration for Back In The Brain stemmed from Jonathan’s home, living alone in a house located at the top of a hill, a lease he took over from a friend. “When I asked him what it was like to live alone, he told me it’s like living inside of your brain – your house is the externalisation of your mind. I really loved that idea, and soon found it to be true,” he explains. “When Michael and I were recording our first round of songs, he would drop me off every night – he drives me everywhere (thanks Michael) – and as soon as I got out of the car I would always say “back in the brain” sometimes excitedly, and other times solemnly lamenting my retreat back into isolation,” he says.

This feeling, the negative and positive emotions of isolation, was an experience the pair decided to turn into song. “When the time came to begin the video, I was having some difficulty conceptualising the piece. I went to a sensory deprivation tank (for the first time), hoping to find some inspiration,” says Jonathan. The experience went to deeper into the experience of being fully inside your own brain: “You are nothing but a brain, bodiless and unbounded. Later that day I came up with the idea of embedding the song’s philosophy in a little story of a hippie genie who lives alone inside a lava lamp. Not only did it fit conceptually, but it would allow me to combine two of my favourite aesthetics: tacky sixties imagery and the absurd world of the Nickelodeon shows that I grew up watching with a bowl of sugary cereal.”

The result is a fluid animation that follows this narrative, but also makes way for improvisation. After all, that’s what Jonathan says he “loves most about animation since that first night in college when my mind melted into the paper and I realised anything is possible as long as you draw it.”


Jonathan Rosen: Back In The Brain


Jonathan Rosen: Back In The Brain


Jonathan Rosen: Back In The Brain


Jonathan Rosen: Back In The Brain