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Work / Animation

Steve Smith’s slick yet absurd animations induce uncomfortable laughs and ASMR

When someone states Home Depot and their dog (called Shoe) as inspirations for their work, you can pretty much guarantee that you’re in for a treat. With a portfolio packed full of intricately satisfying but often satirically witty short films, it only took one video for us to fall in love with the work of Los Angeles-based animator Steve Smith.

Originally from Farmington Hills in Michigan, it was Steve’s strange yet utterly captivating animated short, Facelift that first caught our eye. “I made [Facelift] with my good friend and subject of the short Jerry Paper,” he tells It’s Nice That. Experimenting with the concept of the uncanny valley, Facelift features a head on an unusually long neck which then proceeds to undergo a series of uneasy yet altogether hilarious scenarios, stretching and bouncing across the screen. The face was constructed from a scan of Jerry’s head using the process of photogrammetry. “I was really going for the uncomfortable laughs with this one, but also wanted it to look like a sleek Nike ad. I feel like the juxtaposition of that aesthetic versus the absurdity of what’s happening is pretty striking,” Steve explains.

Steve got his start in animation experimenting with Flash during high school. “I’ve never been that great with my hands so working on the computer always appealed to me because you could iterate small aspects without any time-consuming repercussions,” he recalls. After studying entertainment arts at the College for Creative Studies in Detroit, Steve has honed a distinctive style and for “too many different jobs” including a live-action TV editor, designer for Team Coco and interactive designer at Snapchat.

Much of Steve’s slick portfolio works to re-contextualise everyday objects. For example, in a series of looping animations for GiphyTV – which he later re-edited into a vignette – Steve took a host of bats and balls and turned them into pleasing scenarios. In one scene, footballs float rhythmically up a tube and in another nerf darts are fired at just the right time to hit the centre of a moving basketball backboard. “I tried to access a little bit of that ASMR feeling because I knew these would be looped for extended periods on people’s TVs,” he explains. “I thought trying to evoke that with sports imagery creates a fun dissonance because we usually associate sports with high adrenaline moments.”

Whether he’s appropriating tropes from (bad) big-budget films in videos like A Thousand Tiny Hands or playing with disjointed, surreal characters in videos like The Guys, Steve’s work always features an undercurrent of humour, no matter how dark or serious his visuals may appear. “My work consists of a bunch of different moments riffing on the same basic principle mashed together with harsh editing,” Steve offers, “It can feel like a naive process at times, but ultimately I’m always satisfied with where I end up.”

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Steve Smith, Jerry Paper: Facelift

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Steve Smith, Jerry Paper: Facelift

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Steve Smith, Jerry Paper: Facelift

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Steve Smith

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Steve Smith

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Steve Smith

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Steve Smith: A Thousand Tiny Hands

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Steve Smith: A Thousand Tiny Hands