It’s hard to not dish out a slew of puns when talking about New Zealand-born and Lonon-based visual artist and animation director Robert Strange. The work is in the name: strange. But, it works. “My signature visual language is to feature bold and hallucinatory colours and design styles, complimented by a genuine emotional core,” Robert tells It’s Nice That when we catch up with him off the heels of his BBC 6 Music project. “Humour and emotional depth create a feedback loop that makes the funny moments funnier and the exciting, scary, or sad moments that much more resonant.” It’s an interesting balance that Robert perfectly strikes, and which has led him to a wealth of success. His work is genuinely exciting, and always rewarding to follow. “You can look at each different section in my recent film for BBC 6 Music and see how despite the extremely different design styles, there’s a signature thread running through,” he says. “The film opens in a 1920s black and white rubber hose animation style à la Popeye or Betty Boop, but this sits perfectly with the futuristic 3D animation sequence.” The BBC 6 Music work (made in just four weeks) is indicative of how Robert’s “disparate styles” are wide-ranging, “but the tone and visual approach remain the same,” as the director tells us.
It’s not just BBC 6 that was impressed with Robert’s art – his talents have also recently been seen on the new BBC Three idents in the channel’s reintroduction to television screens. “For the BBC Three idents we had a series of writer’s rooms at the Blinkink studios, which can be daunting, but it forced me to just dive in, like conducting an orchestra of minds,” Robert explains. “Every project is different, so ideas come differently for each type.” Part of Robert’s pack of references for his distinct animation relies on an undisputed classic: The Simpsons. “It’s like the bible of modern animation,” he says. “I like to look at cinematic references as well, like in the recent Mini Cheddars Crunchlets commercial I combined Edgar Wright-style quick cuts and zooms with some very close references to the skydiving sequences in Point Break.” This array of references all align with Robert’s “slightly strange place” of humour, often straddling edgy with hopeful, science fiction with reality, and so on.
But how did Robert end up with such an illustrious career? As many know, animation isn’t always an easy industry to crack. “I got started in animation back when I was making music videos in the band Superorganism,” he recalls. “I fell into [it] after pushing the limits of these lo-fi found-footage music videos.” Working mostly on the “expressive” nature of animation to “elevate the music and reflect that immediate emotional response” made Robert realise how expansive the medium could be. “The scope of the work I made for Superorganism meant I had to build an entire aesthetic world,” he says. “Characters seemed to appear like magic and I started weaving these character-based stories through all of the music videos and live visuals.” From there, he made music videos for Stephen Malkmus, Gorillaz, and Tinie Tempah, then started getting increasingly involved in the 2D animation realm.
“The most exciting thing about animation is when a world you’ve created takes on a life of its own,” Robert adds on conclusion. “When you get that sense that the characters have real emotions inside them and a real life just off the edge of the screen, it’s like magic.” Now, Robert hopes to keep “stretching and exploring different techniques” in both 2D and 3D animation, exploring the possibility of mixing all medias to create something new and exciting in his portfolio. “My big goal is to create a long-form adult-animation that’s very British in feel but universal in resonance,” Robert adds. “I’m still trying to figure it out but I think I’ve got something to say about emotions and life experience that would resonate with people the way some of my favourite TV shows and films have resonated with me.”
BBC Creative: BBC 6 Music Step Out of the Ordinary (Copyright © BBC 6 Music, 2022)
About the Author
Joey is a freelance design, arts and culture writer based in London. He was part of the It’s Nice That team as editorial assistant in 2021, after graduating from King’s College, London. Previously, Joey worked as a writer for numerous fashion and art publications, such as HERO Magazine, Dazed, and Candy Transversal.