We first covered William Child’s work in 2013. At the time, he had created a distinct animation rife with paper machê figures, showcasing the rise and fall of Pablo Escobar. Now, ten years later, his work maintains its entrancing quality and humour, with a series of short films for the poet Tim Key’s Chapters.
Originally from Leeds, William studied graphic design at university before going on to work as a designer. A lover of creating with his hands, he hurled himself into the freelance life in 2017, and began experimenting with model-making. “I came across my plasticine art kit and that very day I made a very crude ten-second clip of Donald Trump vomiting the word ‘Bigly’,” he tells us. “I fell in love with claymation and never looked back,” he adds. One thing that audiences realise about William’s work very early on is his commitment to amplifying the story. His characters and scenes have a way of expanding our perspective, through his visual exploration of words or lyrics beneath the surface. One of his most striking pieces of work to date is his music video for PartyNextDoor’s Loyal, where he expands on the song’s romantic narrative. In a sea of Canadian flags, army symbolism and weaponry, he sends the character on a mission to save his city, taking the theme of loyalty beyond a relationship and personifying the artist’s hometown.
In the case of Chapters, it is immediately clear that Nuisance, Clacker and Cuppa came about through collaboration and trust. First meeting at one of Tim Key’s live shows in Bristol, it wasn’t long – the very next morning – before Tim was in William’s studio, listening to his ideas about bringing it to life with claymation. “He really gave me free rein to choose which poems I thought would work best as visuals, and how to direct the action,” he adds. In Clacker, Tim mocks Brits and their battle with the sun in the summer’s hottest months – “when Ray Wells staggered back inside he was as red as a lobster” – and William creates a literal representation, with a lobster-man character. But, it doesn’t feel out of the ordinary or tread too far from his style; it’s in fact a wonder how he’s resisted poetry animations until now. “Tim’s poems are so rich in absurd, hilarious imagery that it just felt like a really good match to visualise them in my lo-fi, slightly surreal style. For me, a big part of the beauty of his work is that the scenarios he creates often have a basis in real life, before rapidly becoming bizarre and quite unhinged.”
Throughout the films, Tim delivers his poems in a rhythm akin to pub-talk – setting the outrageous scene, entrenched in shock and some over-exaggerating. When deciding on how he was going to create the animations, William first found it difficult to match the pace without making it “feel too hectic,” he tells us. Take Cuppa for example, where the poem gradually goes from bad to worse in a course of the character perverting the British’s beloved tea – adding shredded carrot, hot pepper and even beef mince, before presenting it to his grandmother. There are many ways that William could have animated the scene, with exaggerated emotions and gestures, but he instead sticks to a naturalistic style that fits in perfectly with Tim’s irreverent poetry, that keeps us wondering what’s real and what isn’t.
Keen to start moving into the world of comedy television, both us and William are sure that this project is a striking first step. Currently developing an animated TV show with the People Just Do Nothing creator Steve Stamp, he’s excited to get on his way pitching to broadcasters with the help of his production company Blink. But, he’s not leaving music videos – or hopefully – poetic animations behind, because it’s clear that the animator has a standout flair for bringing lyric, script and prose to life.
GalleryTim Key: Chapters (Copyright © William Child, 2023)
William Child: Clacker, Tim Key (Copyright © William Child, 2023)
About the Author
Yaya (they/them) is a staff writer at It's Nice That, with a particular interest in Black visual culture. They have previously written for publications such as WePresent, and worked as researcher and facilitator for Barbican and Dulwich Picture Gallery.