Portrait_images_handrawn6

Regulars / Ones To Watch 2018

Ones to Watch 2018: animator Jonathan Djob Nkondo

Words:

Jenny Brewer

Illustration:

Mason London

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.

For Jonathan Djob Nkondo, everything begins with comics. “Since I was a kid I’ve been obsessed with (manga artist and creator of Akira) Katsuhiro Otomo,” says the French animator. “Also Hergé, Spiro, Marvel, DC, video games, cartoons, graphic novels… at the time, I wasn’t thinking about it being a job, it was just entertaining and that’s it.” With these narratives taking deep root in his creative consciousness, his eventual career in animation has so far seen Jonathan conceptualise every idea in this form. “All my ideas seem to come out as comics first,” he laughs, only realising that fact as he says it out loud. “I’m more comfortable doing something in the form of a comic. I’ve been doing animation for six years but I’m still looking for myself. I’m confident in drawing, so I start there.”

He didn’t, however, find his calling straight away. First Jonathan studied for a degree in literature, then graphic design at Atelier Hourdé, part of ESAT in Paris. But that wasn’t for him. “I did graphic design to learn how to play with logos, illustration, type… but I didn’t like it at all. It wasn’t my comfort zone.” So he quit, and got a cleaning job at Disneyland Paris. “I enjoyed meeting new people from different cultures and places, and it wasn’t a hard job – it was like playing cat and mouse with the managers, trying to avoid working. Quite fun, but not my thing.”

Time away from a creative career seems to have given Jonathan perspective, and spurred him to apply to Gobelins to study animation – something a number of people had suggested to him over the years. “Animation was just more me. People who saw my drawings always mentioned Gobelins. I didn’t know anything about animation, though I was curious about it.”

Before he graduated in 2011 he already had a commission for mobile network Orange, and had begun to develop his personal work, mostly gifs, which he shared on Tumblr to much acclaim. Focused on visualising narratives with the simplest components, and in unexpected formats, the animator brings a refreshing approach to his medium. “The mentality behind all my work is to tell a story in a unique way,” he explains. “Simple stories, few elements, with a smart way to add narrative. It’s a challenge I give to myself.”

This stripped back aesthetic has come to define his style across all sorts of animation types. Line-drawn characters on block colour backgrounds, packed with expression and suspense despite their simplicity. Partly developed to allow Jonathan to experiment freely with his ideas, the technique also achieves an effect he’s looking for. “Everyone can read the picture easily,” he says. “It’s important to me that the viewer can read what’s happening. I feel like it’s stronger when it’s simple.”

Jonathan-djob-nkondo_ones-to-watch_animation_itsnicethat_cobra
Jonathan-djob-nkondo_ones-to-watch_animation_itsnicethat_7

Harking back to his passion for comics, the other theme to his work is an underlying reference – more subtle in some than others – to panels. Each work begins as a comic, and in some, the frames stay a strong part of the story. Case in point: The First Exhibition, which sees a female protagonist grapple with a four-square grid landscape in myriad ways, jumping from one to the other, peering through it like a window, hanging on to it from the outside, trying to outrun its bounding lines. “I wanted to try something that played with the frame as a surface and part of the story, a character as well,” Jonathan describes.

Another, The Last Exhibition, linked to the former by its art gallery context, reimagines the comic panels as the sides of a cube. Constantly shifting perspective from inside the cube, one can see how the story would also be told as a graphic novel. His film Futur Sauvage gives a similar impression, and is one Jonathan is most proud of, saying its approach “leads the path of my work”. Again using the comic panel as inspiration for an original way to depict a narrative, it zooms in and isolates three sections of the same story, spotlighting three subjects and showing it from different angles in uniformly square crops.

Island Bozo and Fiente are also well worth a watch, to see the animator expertly build a dramatic atmosphere with the simplest of creatures and geometric shapes; and you can see their direct influence on his ident for MTV as well as his launch film for the 51st Montreux Jazz Festival. In subject matter, these too reflect his comic roots. A combination of real and surreal, and a sense of fantasy and magic, ribbon through his animations. “There is an element of surrealism but I want them to be relatable,” he says. “I don’t want people to think it’s a dreamy world and not reality.”

Now he’s working on another personal project, a short film set in the near future. Again, he reiterates, it has elements of fantasy while being anchored firmly in the real world. He’s also collaborating on a number of exciting, under-wraps projects: a top secret project with Charles Huettner and Joseph Bennett, and a film he’s co-directing with Tuna Bora, concerned with body image. “She brings something I wouldn’t be able to bring,” he says, raving about the benefits of collaborating with other creatives. He reminisces fondly on his work with Eran Hilleli, helping to design the opening film for the Style Frames Design Conference in 2016. “His style resonated with mine so I was really happy to work with him. The simple shapes, and the cinematic aspect it can bring, were something I wanted to observe. When Eran is doing it, it just seems more professional, serious, poetic,” he smiles.

Keen to continue evolving his style, and collaborate with the best in the business, Jonathan is far more excited, however, to talk about the future than the past. He gets bored fast, he says. “I can’t look at old work, I just want to keep moving on all the time. That’s why it’s hard for me to promote my films. Most people post WIPs or storyboards after they release a film, but I find it hard to do that. For me, it’s completed and it’s like, what’s next?”

Supported by Uniqlo

The idea at the heart of all of Uniqlo’s clothing is LifeWear – clothes that make your life better. Style doesn’t have to be superficial; it can keep you warmer, cooler, drier. Uniqlo creates LifeWear by evolving the ordinary, producing innovations big and small that benefit you every day.

Jonathan-djob-nkondo_ones-to-watch_animation_itsnicethat_5
Jonathan-djob-nkondo_ones-to-watch_animation_itsnicethat_17
Jonathan-djob-nkondo_ones-to-watch_animation_itsnicethat_29
Jonathan-djob-nkondo_ones-to-watch_animation_itsnicethat_14
Jonathan-djob-nkondo_ones-to-watch_animation_itsnicethat_13
Jonathan-djob-nkondo_ones-to-watch_animation_itsnicethat_9
Jonathan-djob-nkondo_ones-to-watch_animation_itsnicethat_go-to-work

Supported by Uniqlo

The idea at the heart of all of Uniqlo’s clothing is LifeWear – clothes that make your life better. Style doesn’t have to be superficial; it can keep you warmer, cooler, drier. Uniqlo creates LifeWear by evolving the ordinary, producing innovations big and small that benefit you every day.