There’s always something special about short and charming animations. Unlike longer pieces of work with epic stories and narration that took dozens of rewrites to get just right, smaller animations tend to come from a seedling of an idea, to then be built upon with love and attention. It’s more personal and often playful in tone, touching an innocent side of you that you thought was gone. You’re compelled to sit and watch and, after all, you’ve probably got 20 seconds to spare, right? You'll find yourself smiling, ready to share the clip with a friend.
In People, London-based designer and animator Mikey Dowdle has captured the magic that these mini animations can behold. In the short loops, simple geometric shapes bob and bounce, forming silhouettes of people. Soft synths play in the background as these shapes transform, reminiscent of early computer ads and public service announcement inserts of the 80s and 90s. “I spend most of my time on commercial or client motion graphics work but have always tried to work on my own projects when I can as well. Stylistically, People has quite a few similarities to some of my other personal work. I love simplified geometric characters and animation that feels a bit handmade or stop motion-esque,” Mikey tells It's Nice That.
“The execution of this project was a little different though. I focussed a lot more on different ways to use light and colour and the scope was a lot bigger than I'd usually aim for. People involved creating more than just a single animation that I'd typically aim for in a usual project but also a logo, identity, posters and even the words of a copywriter to give the project an edge,” he says. These words came from copywriter Kathryn Slater, who contributed quotes to the poster that contextualised the characters and unified the tone of the separate loops he made.
The project started before the pandemic, when Mikey started doodling people’s silhouettes in his sketchbook while riding the train. At first, these started out as black and white silhouettes without dimension, colour or texture, but eventually grew as he explored the project deeper. “The first big progression was figuring out the visual direction to take them. I then picked the project back up, after having a bit of a pause on it, when we went into lockdown and I think this massive shift in situation and perspective helped with the main evolution of the project,” he says.
Speaking on his decision to go with prismatic 3D form, Mikey mentioned that the final decision came from exploring a few different options. “I was also looking at old computer adverts from the 80s, like ones from Apple, which quite often would use a rainbow of colours or over-the-top gradients that I really loved. The work of Art Director Nidia Dias is also inspiring to me too, her use of light and colour is fantastic!” he says.
“I really wanted to lean into the retro vibes of the visuals. I started with the music, heavily inspired by Mort Garson's Plantasia, by layering up a few soft synths. The sound design was mostly just an extension of that, using soft digitals noises to accentuate the motion of the characters. Mixed into that were some subtle glassy noises, taps on a wine glass and marbles dropping.” The result is a short animation that compels you to watch over and over again, as you enjoy the clever transpositions of these shapes into familiar figures.
Mikey Dowdle: People (Copyright © Mikey Dowdle, 2021)
About the Author
Alif joined It's Nice That as an editorial assistant from September to December 2019 after completing an MA in Digital Media at Goldsmiths, University of London. His writing often looks at the impact of art and technology on society.