Animator Ben Bocquelet is a household name, or at least he is in our house.
You would not believe how much of his work I have personally been subjected to over the last few years. Every time I switch on our virgin media box, Ben’s work is on. Literally every time! My 10-year-old son has done some crazy voodoo that only ten-year-olds can do and managed to get the TV to record every single episode. This programme is none other than the The Amazing World of Gumball.
For those of you not in the know, The Amazing World Of Gumball is an amazing visual mashup cartoon of one dysfunctial-yet-very-familiar family. Great storylines and themes underly this sometimes insane visual presence. Comprising with ease 2D, 3D, vector, flat illustrations, and photographic characters all superimposed onto hyperrealistic 3D environments. It first aired in May 2011 and is currently in its fourth season with well over 140 episodes produced.
As a creative director myself, it’s part of my job to lead the team in putting together moodboards and visual references for clients and ourselves. I have, unashamedly, included slides from The Amazing World of Gumball several times over the last 2-3 years. Without a shadow of a doubt it has instilled itself on my psyche. It reflects a lot of the things I personally like and touches upon some of my core inspiration as a designer (notably to collage work created by artists [Winston / Dead Kennedys and Crass] which include using mixed media and subvertising to re-create images with a new sense of depth and interest).
So, when we found out that Ben was coming to Chapter Arts Centre as part of the Cardiff Independent Film Festival – we weren’t sure who was more excited, my son or me.
Ben’s presentation certainly did not disappoint. Relaxed and funny with fantastic delivery – plus we were treated to a sneaky preview of a new episode, which went down like a storm. I’m not going to recount word-for-word Ben’s great presentation, as I’m sure you can probably find it online somewhere, but for me there were one or two key things to take away, that – as a design professional – truly resonated with me.
1. Recycling works
If anyone hasn’t had the chance to read 37 Signal’s ‘new business book’ re-work, then you probably should! One key chapter, which parallels here with Ben’s talk, was: ‘is there anything during your work that you create that is discarded – can you re-use that for something else?’. The concept is higher than my poor re-iteration.
Essentially, in the process of making something, you create waste that could then be re-used in the future or provide an alternative ‘thing’. In the case of Ben and the Amazing World of Gumball, it featured characters that had started life much earlier in Ben’s work when he compiled designs and advertising concepts at a London agency.
In Ben’s own words ‘the client hated them’ and subsequently they were never used. This seemed to be a recurring pattern for Ben’s pitch work, until he finally developed a show reel idea and AWOG was born. It borrowed a lot of ideas and earlier concepts that really show through the programme. So, for me, and as a design studio – a good idea never dies. Keep those concepts, develop those ideas in the future for clients and/or personal projects.
2. Hard work wins
Obviously during the Q&A section, it did feel like ‘who let the students in’. I jest, but most of the questions centered around ‘getting into the industry’ which was a shame as it should have been more about his work and the work of his team. Questions like: What do you need to do to get a job at your studio/in the industry? Is it who you know blah blah? You know the drill.
Quickly to retort, Ben brushed aside these smatterings and simply stated: he arrived in the UK knowing no one, and it was only through sheer hard work and determination (and development of his own skills) that he got anywhere. I’m not sure this is what some in the room wanted to hear, but its the truth. Work hard. Develop your skills. Keep learning. Don’t be afraid to fail. Keep developing your own ideas. Work hard and you will find those opportunities will open up for you.
What was magical about Ben’s talk is that he took us through each of the shows and explained the process behind them. In Ben’s own words, they have made the process a lot more difficult than it could have been, but the results are truly worth it.
There was one question I wanted to ask, which I never got time to say, and that was: “If I was a fly on the wall, what would a typical brainstorming session look like?”
As a ‘professional’, this is what I’m interested in. I love getting an insight into the subtle nuances of other people’s workflows and that mystical world from where ideas and inspiration develop into fully fledged things.
So, thanks Ben for such an awesome insight. And yes, that was us who pinned you down first to sign my son’s book. The book didn’t leave my son’s hand for about a week – it even made its way into school and it now resides as a permanent fixture on our shelves.
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