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news / journal 11.01.2018 Words:Stir Crew
Photography: Bethany Powell Artwork: Lukas Benson

Dropped In: Kristian Akhurst

Kristian Akhurst is a local animator. We caught up with him recently and he told us a bit about himself, and how he practises his unique art form. Read more about him below.


 

Q1. What led you into Animation?

It was sort of a slow build. If you had asked me while it was happening if I was planning to become an animator I probably would have said: “Who are you how did you get in here?”

Then after that had been straightened out it probably would’ve gone something like “Wait, that’s a job?!” In all seriousness though, I’d been interested in all things animation since I was a kid and that interest never abated, it seems silly but I just never connected the dots that someone was making this stuff.

About five years ago I was just starting my arts degree at ANU and I noticed a phenomena. My lecture notes were getting shorter and messier and the sketches I did to fill the time were getting bigger and more elaborate (Still bad though…) That trend sort of kept on until one day I up and announced that I wanted to be an animator. I deferred the degree and just started. It was really refreshing to know I was then working towards something that I could actually be passionate about.

Q2. What does a typical day look like?

When? I’m mainly an Independent/Freelance animator because that’s really what the Canberra industry can support at the moment. A regular day is a matter of being very deliberate with planning and prioritising to make sure that you get your work done but also take enough time to have a life. Animation is the art of “The illusion of life”, and to paraphrase Brad Bird, you can’t create life if you don’t have one. That’s something I have to work on, as a perfectionist workaholic, every day. Also exercise, its like brain nitrous and you have to build a good relationship with it if you’re going to do your best work. All the best animators are shredded (Not actually a fact, haha) but that’s something else I try to add daily. When your job is so long in the completion and requires hours of seated focus on paper or screens, habits become important and taking care of your body, mind and soul while you do it are essential to not conforming to that depressive artist vibe.

 

Animation is the art of “The illusion of life”


Q3. Where do you create your work?

In 2017 I’ve been lucky enough, along with a friend, to have been given a studio space at the ANU as an artist in residence. This was initially for a start-up, service animation studio we were working towards. Unfortunately, circumstances nixed that idea but having the space has been really helpful as a private studio while I work on contracts and also finish off that degree that’s been sitting there. I would like to thank everyone there for putting up with me throughout the year if you are reading this, haha.

My folks also have a property out of town and they’ve been kind enough to section off a part of their shed for me to keep all of my studio paraphernalia in. It’s so quiet out there and I love using my off hours to focus on personal projects amidst all that nature and solitude. ‘Ows the serenity, eh?

Q4. Where do you go to get inspired?

When I started out it seemed like I should be doing master studies at the portrait gallery or whatever but that never really inspire me. I’m a people watcher at heart and I love sketching cartoons of the people who walk past at cafes and stuff. Drawing from life fills up my brain library with different movements and attitudes for use in animation and leads to some pretty funny sketches. Humour powers me even though I tend to be better at more serious work. I’m kind of funny that way…

Q5. What creative work have you been inspired by recently?

I love animation, but apart from a comradery that I feel when the medium is doing well, I don’t really draw from it creatively. I like to rely on other mediums and represent what hasn’t already been made. I recently re-read the hobbit by the professor, Mr J R R Tolkien and even though I’ve read it so many times before I’m always struck by the depth of imagination and imagery in it. The adaptations really haven’t done his writing any favours. Written imagery is something that is fun to be inspired by because it’s not a visual medium and everyone’s view of what has been described will be different. If you know how to draw…Hey presto, something new! I also really enjoyed “Get Out” directed by Jordan Peele. There are so many layers to that movie and I don’t think anyone is really examining Peele’s brilliant directorial choices beyond the looming spectacle of the overt conceit. But don’t set me off on that one, that’s a rabbit hole and a half. My favourite movie of all time though is “The Darjeeling Limited” directed by Wes Anderson. His style is similar to the emotional impact I try to have in my personal work though I spend most of my time on app trailers and game previews at the moment. I love the cinematography as well. Generally, I get inspired by anything objectively good or different and I try not to be restricted by convention.

Q6. What piece of work are you most proud of?

The very first CG model I created. It was a fighter jet (With terrible topology) that I made in Blender. It represented to me then and still does today, the power of trying something and just starting without the circumstances having to be perfect. I went from thinking computer animation was like programming binary to making fighter jets, cars and space helmets in about four months. I started with the thought, “I could never do that. That would take forever to learn!” And then I thought, “Hang on, I have as much forever now as I’m ever going to get!” I just sat down and started modelling on my corei3 laptop that I used for uni. The Jet represents to me the power of just doing stuff. You can’t steer a parked fighter jet so you might as well start flying in any direction.

Q7. What is a challenge you’ve faced recently and how did you overcome it?

In the last eighteen months, I’ve been trying really hard to start something that I can settle into and work really hard at without worrying about finances and other basic life things. I’ve tried to start a Virtual Reality scenario creation company, a 2D animation studio and a PR and Advertisement for games agency. They’ve all met with different levels of disastrous demise. Either the time wasn’t right, my collaborators got a better offer or we just didn’t have enough money. I’ve learnt a lot but it starts to weigh on you after a while. The trick is to just get back up and try new things until they stick, I hope. I don’t know if I have ‘overcome’ anything yet because it’s a lifelong pursuit. I’m already building my next thing and that’s about as moral a victory as you can hope to have.

Q8. What are you working on at the moment?

Oh, ho, so many things. That might be the problem? Because of necessity I’ve been doing more 2D and storyboarding stuff and that’s all I have on my showreel. I’m trying to get some work to showcase my CG animation and Compositing skills because that is really where my strengths are. I’m crash-coursing myself through animation techniques for real-time renderers and game engines, hoping to tap into a bit more of an active industry in Canberra. My new venture is going to be focused on using client work and asset creation revenue to support making, maybe,  a TV series or something short form. I’d also love to maybe jump into another startup that’s already rolling and use my experience to help someone else for a change. I’ve had a few leads in that direction so it’ll probably be an either/or situation. I’m also doing some teaching through tutorials and I might have the opportunity to run some workshops in 2018.

In my spare time, I’m working on a 2D animated short film which I’m hoping to have out by the end of 2018 and I’m tossing up whether to take on a standard muggle job so I have more freedom with my art. Watch this space I guess but I am always open to offers from interesting projects and people. The grail would be earning a living wage doing something interesting with cool people.

 

Q9. Any advice for someone getting started?

Just start. Seriously, with Blender, Open Toonz and all kinds of other free software as well as educational versions of thousand dollar software that students can access for free, If you want to be animating the only thing stopping you from animating is you. Personal projects that are finished are better than any piece of paper on your resume, it’s what you can show you can do not what you say you can do that counts. That right there is advice that I need to follow better. Don’t bemoan that there are only 24 hours in a day, rather, find a few minutes here and there that you wouldn’t otherwise be used constructively. Perfect is the enemy of done.

Also, decide if you are a technician or a dreamer. I got that terminology from Linus Torvald of all places. Figure out if you can be a cog in someone else’s machine before you get there. I get antsy when I’m just going through the motions of my part in a huge project, I need some creative control. Others I know are perfectly happy to “do the thing” and then go home and do their own thing as a hobby. If you know who you are you can build the life that you want. That being said if you are a dreamer, slum it in the trenches for a while. Having some cash to enable your wicked crazy animator brain will always be worth the drudgery. I like Canberra and I love trying to build stuff here but I’m constantly running out of work to help get stuff going. People up sticks and move more often than not so local collaborators can be hard to find. We’re growing fast and eventually it will take but there’s something to be said for going out into the world and learning from others. Just do me a favour and bring some of it back with you.

 

Q10. Is there anything you want to promote or plug?

Nothing concrete as yet, watch this space and all that. However, I am interested in demystifying animation for people. YouTube tutes are great but you have to know what to know in order to get the most out of them and knowing what to know is usually locked behind expensive paywalls which make starting quite difficult. To that end, I’ll probably be working on some tutorials which I put up cheap so that people have some skin in the game and I can make them a bit more in-depth then free tutes for YouTube. Maybe Patreon? I don’t know yet. I encourage anyone who is interested to get in touch with me about it, any technical assistance on the actual production of said tutorials would help as there is a lot of stuff I just don’t have time to learn at the moment. I’m also starting a Discord server for Australian creative industry freelancers to help build a bit of that community I think we’re lacking by being so distributed. With such a small industry we really should know everyone but it seems like geography is still a big thing here. So, I guess I’m looking for expressions of interest on that as well.


Kristian Akhurst will be writing for the Stir Blog about all things animation, If you would like to write or do an interview for the Stir Blog in the future feel free to email us at Magazine@causeastir.com.au

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