What to expect from the next year in... Illustration and Animation

We talk to Christoph Niemann, Belle Palmer, Caitlin McCarthy, Johnny Kelly and Haein Kim about their predictions of what to expect in animation and illustration this year.


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Existing in the unique space when a photograph can’t quite capture an idea, and it can’t be designed either, both illustrators and animators have a lot of responsibility on their shoulders. Bridging editorial, publishing, music, advertising and film, in both mediums too, it is difficult to predict where the next brilliant piece of animation or illustration (or both combined!) will pop up next.

Thankfully, we know some very talented practitioners in the industry whose predictions of what we’ll see in the animation and illustration industry this year we’d definitely back. Each having a stellar 2019 full of new work, below we chat to literal Young Gun Caitlin McCarthy, the well-versed and enviably talented Christoph Niemann, the humorous and discipline-pushing Haein Kim, animation genius Johnny Kelly and Belle Palmer, an executive at Passion Pictures who knows a little more about what’s going on behind the scenes.

GalleryCaitlin McCarthy: Coldsore

Animator, Caitlin McCarthy

It's Nice That:What’s the biggest change in animation you would like to see this year?

Caitlin McCarthy:Though there’s still plenty of work to be done, I feel like there’s a fantastic amount of chat, as well as real action being taken, re: the gender balance in animation. That said, I think race and ethnicity is a huge thing that isn’t talked about enough. The animation industry is overwhelmingly white, and I think there’s progress to be made in uplifting and amplifying the voices and work of people of colour, in the same way we’re doing with non-male animators.

Ideally, we could all be seen as just animators, but as it stands being female or not being white are almost part of the job title. I think we’re making leaps and bounds in terms of laying down the groundwork to make the industry more gender balanced, but we need the same energy surrounding racial diversity in the industry.

INT:What trends or stylistic attributes do you think we’re going to see within animation in 2020?

CM:More illustrators animating! I’ve noticed it a lot already, and from lots of people whose work I love – Molly Fairhurst, Aysha Tengiz, Bridget Meyne, Helena Covell and loads more.

With pretty much everything migrating online, I think lots of publications are taking advantage of animated formats and it makes me very happy to see! I love looking at animations that come from people with a non-animation background. There’s always such unconventional approaches to movement that you just don’t get from someone who’s learned it by the books, so they feel really refreshing and full of personality.

I also have been noticing a lot of people animating frogs. But, that might just be confirmation bias since I love them.

INT:What would you like to personally do within your work in the year ahead?

CM:More personal work! I love commercial work – it pays my rent – but nothing beats the feeling of completing a film that you’ve come up with all on your own, and not had to take any feedback on.

I’ve also written a short film that’s been on the back-burner while I pay aforementioned rent, but I’m hoping I can make it this year. I also really want to make a music video, which I think is a rite of passage of animators, but I still haven’t done it! My dream music vid would be for Frankie Cosmos, but I haven’t figured out who to email to make it happen yet.

GalleryChristoph Niemann: Travel drawings, Mexico

GalleryChristoph Niemann: Travel drawings, Mexico

Illustrator and artist, Christoph Niemann

It's Nice That:What is something you would like your industry to tackle or discuss in 2020?

Christoph Niemann:Better attribution of artists. In an editorial context: more prominent attribution. In the context of the web and social media: any attribution at all. When I see an article promoted on Twitter, it is often done with an exciting illustration, but it’s often impossible to find out who did it. Illustration is such an important part of editorial design – editors should proudly yell the names of contributing artists from the rooftops (as they usually do with the writers).

INT:Is there anything you’re looking forward to trying in terms of tools or methods of working in 2020?

CN:I want to learn more about automation. Certainly not in the context of creation, but I realise that I spend a huge amount of time exporting, rendering and combining files. I’m sure that there must be ways to streamline this (hopefully even across multiple applications.)

INT:What would you like to do personally within your work in the year ahead?

CN:I want to continue my travel series. I love sitting at my desk, a little too much. I found that exposing myself and my art to the real world is pretty healthy.


Haein Kim and Paul Rhodes: Peepin


Haein Kim


Haein Kim


Haein Kim


Haein Kim


Haein Kim

Animator and artist, Haein Kim

It's Nice That:What’s the biggest change in animation you’d like to see this year?

Haein Kim:I hope big animation studios will try something new for once, instead of regurgitating the same stuff over and over again because of the simple fact that it’s safe. In this day and age where the tools to animate are readily accessible, so many new artists are emerging with fresh new takes on animation. Every week or so I find another amazing animator that needs money to be thrown at to make bigger, better projects because, in my belief, they can totally take it on, and kick it out of the ballpark!

INT:What’s something you would like your industry to discuss or tackle in 2020?

HK:I’d love to see more people of colour in the writer’s room. I think there’s a pot of gold there, bringing in people with different backgrounds and experiences will only enhance storytelling and open new avenues to explore.

INT:Is there anything you’re looking forward to trying in terms of tools or methods in 2020?

HK:I’d love to incorporate my hand-drawn illustrations into my animation work!

INT:What would you like to do personally this year?

HK:You can never be too organised. I want to get better at pumping things out more efficiently and hopefully, in turn, I can work on more cool projects.

GalleryJohnny Kelly: Cheerios

Animation director, Johnny Kelly

It's Nice That:What is something you would like your industry to tackle or discuss in 2020?

Johnny Kelly:I’m the old man of the advertising mountain so I could bang on all year about my gripes with the industry. Not new, but new to me – I am excited to see things like Panimation springing up, it gives this burned out old husk a glimmer of hope.

INT:Is there anything you’re looking forward to trying in 2020?

JK:In terms of tools I tend to follow the idea. Sometimes the idea tells you to rip it up and think of something else, but currently I have a freshly written short film script that feels like live action, and a music video that screams 3D animation. I say this every year, but 2020 is going to be the year I become a 3D animation overlord.

INT:What would you like to personally do within your work in the year ahead?

JK:If I’m not learning something, I feel like I’m going backwards. So, in order to avoid such panic-inducing first-world anxiety, I want to continue trying out new things, and generally terrifying myself on each project. I also want to reduce the amount of exclamation marks I use!

INT:Who do you think is going to create some brilliant work this year – aside from yourself?!

JK:This year will be good I reckon, some future personal highlights: Michael Kirkham has a brilliant book coming out, James Noellert’s work continues to entrance me, I want to find a way to buy one of Clara Dackenberg’s slugs and I am beyond excited that stop motion maestros Parabella are teaming up with Aardman to make a short for Netflix.


Passion Pictures: Plaisir Sucré by MegaComputeur

Executive producer at Passion Pictures, Belle Palmer

It's Nice That:What’s the biggest change in animation you would like to see this year?

Belle Palmer:I would love for agencies and clients to continue to appreciate and understand the animation process. They don’t need to know the nitty gritty details unless they really want to, but a mutual appreciation for each other is essential. It is always much smoother for all when the labour intensive process is acknowledged. It’s easy to forget that there are often dozens of artists and animators working to create an animated production, so clear and prompt communication is so vital.

It’s not a radical change but a gradual shift in attitude, and the appreciation has a huge impact on many individuals who want to get home in time for bath time with their kids.


Passion Pictures: Honest Tea, Small Decision Big Chance by Mark Waring and Anna Mantzaris

INT:What is something you would like your industry to discuss or tackle in 2020?

BP:The gender pay gap and flexible working is something that I’m very conscious of. Women who take time out to have children shouldn’t be penalised for their choices, and the reality is men aren’t scrutinised in the same way. I’m very lucky to work in an environment that is surrounded by female managers and senior staff who are mothers, and want to ensure the next generation of producers are nurtured and feel valued in the same way I have been. Flexible working should however be something that is available to all, which in 2020 where so much of our work is remote or cloud based, really shouldn’t be a stretch.

INT:What would you like to personally do within Passion’s work in the year ahead?

BP:I want to help make work that sparks joy – Marie Kondo the shit out of each script we receive. My favourite part of my job (aside from sitting amongst genuinely lovely humans) is the problem solving aspect of the role. Gone are the days where we receive enough money or time to make things happen, and I feel we are uniquely skilled to work with agencies and clients to offer solutions for them. They trust us, we are creative and patient, and being able to make things happen is really really satisfying.

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About the Author

Lucy Bourton

Lucy (she/her) is the senior editor at Insights, a research-driven department with It's Nice That. Get in contact with her for potential Insights collaborations or to discuss Insights' fortnightly column, POV. Lucy has been a part of the team at It's Nice That since 2016, first joining as a staff writer after graduating from Chelsea College of Art with a degree in Graphic Design Communication.


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