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Ones to Watch 2018: animator Jamie Wolfe

It’s Nice That’s Ones to Watch shines a light on 12 emerging talents who we think will conquer the creative world in 2018. From a global pool of creative talent, we have chosen our 2018 Ones To Watch for their ability to consistently produce inspiring and engaging work across a diverse range of disciplines. Each of our selections continually pushes the boundaries of what is possible with their creative output. Ones to Watch 2018 is supported by Uniqlo.

The animated world that Los Angeles-based Jamie Wolfe depicts is a manic, vibrant and uncompromising vision that she is fully responsible for, but also completely in thrall to. The characters she creates are compelling, dynamic and grotesque in equal measures, carrying a frenetic energy that’s a product of her unique talents.

It’s Nice That first encountered Jamie’s work when she collaborated with musician Sneaks for the video of a track called Tough Love in 2016. The animation saw Jamie’s characters melt into each other to a soundtrack of Sneaks’ complex rhythms and we fell hard for its offbeat charms. This was followed by Roommates a year later, a claustrophobic but no less energetic animated story about cohabiting characters pushed to breaking point on a hot summer’s day. With a pumped-up use of colour and a style that is resolutely Jamie’s, 2018 will see her emerge from academia ready to take on the world.

“I’m writing my thesis film right now and it is driving me a little crazy,” Jamie tells It’s Nice That. “It’s a step up from everything that I have done so far, and I am deep, deep, in the middle of it. I am spending every waking hour doing it. Hell, I’m even dreaming about it.” The film, one of the final products of Jamie’s MFA in Experimental Animation at CalArts, is more narrative driven than anything she has done before. “It’s about the downfall of a gameshow winner,” she explains. “This girl gets on a game show that ends up being evil. It’s an experimental narrative. You won’t be sure exactly what is happening as you move forward and back in time. I am excited about the ways in which you can tell stories, this is an exploration of that.”

Jamie exudes energy. It is apparent in her work and over the course of our interview, she fizzes to life as she alights on ideas that excite her. It is, she explains, very similar to the way in which she works: “I am always drawing forms and building characters. I have to feel it and understand the tone; I have to discover. It’s like I have a piece of marble and I am chiselling through it to find the forms I want. I work and work until I discover what is really happening. Then it gets loose and free and I am working really quickly. I am always surrounded by sheets of paper and the stupid cats are walking all over it and smearing the ink.” Each animation belies the effort that has gone into making it look effortless or incidental. Jamie’s work is a conscious pursuit of tension, energy and contradiction. “You’d think I was less intense than I am. I am constantly on the search for the perfect imperfect line. I draw it a million times until I find a weird nuance that no-one will notice because it is so specific,” Jamie says. “I think it is secretly very specific. People think it is raw and loose and don’t believe it is all on purpose. I am intensely drawing at all times.”

Born to a graphic designer Dad and a mother who worked first as an illustrator and then as a ceramicist, Jamie’s life was consumed by art. “In a way, words have always failed me,” says Jamie. “Drawing was a way to get to thoughts and feelings that I didn’t have the words for. The nuances of what I do, I can’t describe without drawing, it is how I connect with the world.” She first studied graphic design as an undergrad, and then spent 5 years in a studio in Brooklyn, earning a wage by day and animating by night. “At some point, I realised I was living for the work that I was doing at night. I loved my day job, but I felt fuller as a human when I was animating. There was a point where I decided to put all my eggs in one basket and left graphic design to fully pursue animation.”

It’s all-consuming for Jamie, something that her parents drummed into her from a young age. “I always have four sketchbooks with me at all times, a drawing one, a writing one, one for new film ideas and one for the film I’m working on,” she explains. “My parents were like ‘You’re never allowed to be bored because you can draw, you can just draw.’ I still feel that way and am constantly cranking out stuff.” “Cranking it out” may be a little glib considering the obsessive way that Jamie works, and her explorations have roots in more conventional styles. “I like old cartoons and style and old cell animations. I was attracted to that line work. It’s me looking at that and interpreting it myself. Taking that line work in a fine art context. It’s a lot about the Sumi ink I use and my brushwork. Many of my characters are really just brush marks. I spend days and days just drawing the same thing over. As an animator that’s what you do, and it has allowed me to perfect building line, forms, characters and the way I animate them. It’s about doing things over and over and over again, then seeing them move on top of themselves,” she says. “Then there are things that I have always been attracted to such as bold colours and the frenetic energy. It’s an innate thing, it’s intuitive.”

So whatever is waiting just over a horizon clouded by the completion of the MFA this year, Jamie’s future looks bright. She has her sights set on being a director and seeing if the characters she creates can occupy a “kind of Looney Tunes world together”. She’s also pragmatic, wanting to do “something that involves cranking out a lot of stuff,” she pauses and then laughs. “Basically I want to do this. For money.”

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Jamie Wolfe: Vidual

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Jamie Wolfe: Vidual

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Jamie Wolfe: Tough Luck

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Jamie Wolfe: Roommates

Supported by Uniqlo

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