Creative People

Interview - Lucy Dyson

Lucy Feagins
Lucy Feagins
25th of May 2012

Still frames from Gotye's Thanks for your Time video clip, directed by Lucy Dyson
First, Second & Third - artwork by Lucy Dyson
Girl - artwork by Lucy Dyson

Lucy Dyson is a Melbourne-born, Berlin-based artist, animator and music video director with an incredible body of work under her belt for someone born in 1981! Since graduating from RMIT in Media Arts in 2005, she has produced, directed and animated a seriously impressive list of music videos for a number of legimately famous people, including Paul Kelly, Gotye, Sarah Blasko, Dan Kelly, Kate Miller-Heidke and Washington. Amazing! Lucy's marvellous animated films have also screened at many Australian and international film festivals including The Melbourne and Sydney International Film Festivals.

In addition to her commercial film making and animation projects, Lucy has also achieved significant success as a fine artist since 2008.  She has exhibited in numerous group and solo exhibitions in Australia - and in 2010 her work was curated as part of The National Gallery of Victoria’s Stick it! Collage in Australian Art exhibition, featuring collages made in the past seventy years by prominent Australian artists.  Another overachiever in our midst!

Both Lucy's animations and her artwork have such a unique sense of nostalgia about them, stemming from her fascination with collected images from vintage magazines, children's books and journals.  My favourite piece of Lucy's work is her film for Gotye's Thanks for your Time - I love the way the cut-out characters move in symmetry, layer upon layer, like some kind of quirky character-based kaleidoscope... it's clever and funny and such a perfect match for the song. (see below!)

In 2008 Lucy received a British Council Realise Your Dream award, and spent two years living and working in London, before moving to Berlin with her partner and creative collaborator Joseph Jensen.  These two clever creatives currently work from their home studio on a great variety of creative projects... they just don't seem to slow down!  Lucy's video for Ned Collette (also Melbourne/Berlin based) 'Long you Lie' has just come out, and her second video for Australian singer Kate Miller-Heidke, 'Ride This Feeling' will be out later this month.

Right now though, Lucy's is MOST excited about a video due for release next month - 'I directed a clip for UK artist Adam Franklin, for his song 'I Want You Right Now', which will be be out mid June. I am very excited about this one, as it features Jessica Pare from Mad Men - Meagan, Don Draper's wife!' - says Lucy!  Ha!  Nice to be reminded, no matter how impressive your CV, everyone gets a little starstruck once in a while!

As you might expect from a technical genius and animation whizz kid, Lucy Dyson has an excellent website / blog and all her work is here on Vimeo for you to admire! Such an impressive catalogue of work for such a young film maker - I have a feeling we'll be seeing more big things yet from Ms Dyson.

Gotye's Thanks for your Time video clip, directed by Lucy Dyson
Lucy Dyson at work in her studio in Berlin

Tell us a little about your career background - What path led you to become an artist, animator and music video director? What did you study? How did you get your start?

When I finished high school I really wanted to study fine art painting, but my parents (an artist and high school art teacher) persuaded me to do a BA in Media Arts first, to get some exciting new media/animation skills (it was the year 2000) and instead consider fine art as a post grad option. As it turned out Media Arts was way more concerned with developing artists, rather than formally training animators. This allowed me to specialise in both experimental art animation, and became the perfect way for me to combine animation and visual art.

I started making music videos towards the end of my honours year, just for friends in bands. Those friends then started recommending me to other people, and that's how I started making music videos. When I'm not making videos I go straight back to my art.

Artwork by Lucy Dyson

You've worked with some of this country's best and well-known musicians including Paul Kelly, Gotye, Sarah Blasko, Dan Kelly and Washington just to name a few. Your films have screened at both the Melbourne and Sydney International Film Festivals, The National Film & Sound Archive, and The Australian Centre for the Moving Image. That's an impressive list of credentials, but what have been one or two of your favourite projects so far?

In 2009 when I first moved to London I felt a little out of my depth and not very confident about my work. Being in a huge new city was inspiring, and I had lots of ideas for projects I wanted to get started on, but I was having trouble finding my feet. I was also having trouble finding work and took a job in a bookshop. A friend I made at the bookshop was in a really great but relatively unknown band Still Corners, and they needed a video for a song called 'Wish' that they were releasing on 7”. I spent the entire (tiny) budget on two rolls of 16mm film, which I double exposed, on purpose. It was a slightly risky experiment but my DoP knew what he was doing and it worked beautifully.

When the video went online it was really well received and the band got signed. It was an exciting time for my friends, but it also felt like a small coup for me and I made a second video for their song 'Cuckoo'. 'Cuckoo' and 'Wish' are definitely two of my favorite pieces of work, visually and conceptually they work perfectly with the songs. They also remind me of the highs and lows of living in London, from feeling so uncertain about the city to then not wanting to have to leave.

Still frame from 'Cuckoo' by Still Corners, video directed by Lucy Dyson

A lot of illustrators fear animation because of its technological side.  Is this a warranted fear? Do artists hoping to combine their illustrative work with the moving images have to be highly computer literate?  Are you a technical genius or do you outsource this process?

I figure out how to do most things, but what I can't do I throw at Joseph Jensen, my main collaborator when it comes to animating. He works patiently and tirelessly to animate all the visual malarkey I put together, he's a very talented character animator. The things I struggle to animate come naturally to him, so we make a good team. At the moment I tend to take care of art directing, compositing and animating backgrounds.

I don't think you need to be highly computer literate to animate. You can animate without using a computer, but if you know how to use Illustrator or Photoshop you are halfway there. Some animation software is really easy to learn, you just need to know what you want do with it.

Lanu ' Fall' featuring Megan Washington - directed by Lucy Dyson

Can you give us a little insight into your process from concept to finished animation? I.e. From storyboard to moving images what process is involved? How do your clients find you? Do your clients approach you with a specific idea in mind or are you given free reign? How long does the music video production process take?

Most of my clients find me through my work or recommendations from other clients. Sometimes bands or managers will come to me with very specific ideas for a music video. If I'm not feeling it I tend to pass on those projects, however if it's a great song I'll offer them an alternative idea. Mostly I am given free reign to come up with something that will work within budget. Sometimes along with the song, I'm given a short brief describing themes my clients want the video to explore, or what they don't want. I'm enjoying working on a treatment right now that can't be performance based, or literal or narrative, for me that's a perfect brief.

After an animated treatment has been submitted and approved, Joe and I start storyboarding and fleshing the treatment out to the song. Once the storyboard is done, Joe starts working on character design and I start developing the world of the animation, selecting the colour palette and designing backgrounds and scenes. We then fill each scene out with still characters and backgrounds and cut the filled-in scenes to the storyboard, creating an animatic.

At this stage the storyboard might change, either creating headaches for us to problem solve or forcing us drop things we thought would work but don't. We then send the animatic to the client for feedback and then we start animating and bringing the scenes to life. For a 4 minute music video the process can take 6 to 8 weeks to complete.
Still frames from Kate Miller-Heidke's 'The Tiger inside will eat the Child' - directed by  Lucy Dyson

Which Australian designers, artists or creative people are you loving right now?

I'm finding a couple of other Australian artists based in Berlin inspiring right now, I love Rilla Alexander's work, and Lily Mae Martin has been documenting her life in Berlin with really wonderful drawings on her blog.

Can you list for us your current top 5 go-to resources (i.e. specific websites, magazines or books) for creative inspiration?

1. Vimeo

2. BBC Radio 4's Desert Island Discs podcasts, I can work for hours listening to it, to any random episode. One I recently enjoyed was Vidal Sassoon.

3. About six months ago, for 10 euros, I picked up a box full of more than fifty National Geographic magazines from the 60s and 70s. There are small piles of them dispersed around our flat, and since we've had no shortage of something interesting to read at hand's reach, they're also starting to make their way into my work.

4. I got into the habit of reading The New Yorker regularly and for free when I worked at the bookshop, but in Berlin it's really expensive, so now I read it online. One of these day I'll get a postal subscription.

5. Matthew Collings' Facebook Art School, the British artist and writer conducts art tutorials on his wall, it nearly justifies wasting time on Facebook.

What does a typical day at work involve for you?

Joe and I work from home so we try to keep a routine, or else we end up working all day and night. I work best in the morning so I like to get an early start. We live on the fifth floor and the first thing I see in the morning from bed is the Berlin TV Tower. It sounds cheesy, but it's a nice reminder that we are in this amazing city doing work that we love and it helps get me up.

Our studio is bright and peaceful. I have two work desks, one for my computer and all its peripherals, and another that is covered in cut outs, storyboard pages, tools, a light box – it's a mess. On a typical day my chair rolls between the two desks: writing emails, having Skype calls, and doing production stuff, editing, rendering and animation at one desk; and building paper scenes, storyboards, and cutting up magazines for references at the other. Currently I'm trying to fit in a collage a day for an exhibition I have coming up at Das Gift on June 29, which is infiltrating and beginning to take over my art desk. Joe works all the way over on the other side of the room, animating, editing, acting as technical support, and asking me for any updates from our clients. We have a lot on right now so our typical work day is also a typical work night. Luckily we live in a great neighbourhood, so we don't need to venture far to take a break and meet with friends.

What's the best thing about your job?

I get to combine my love of music, film and art.

What would be your dream creative project?

I don't know if it's a dream creative project, but it's something the 15-year-old in me won't let go of. I would like to work with Beck, I could create album art or a video, or live visuals. I last saw him play in 2003 on his Sea Change tour in Australia, and he had these amazing Jeremy Blake colour field videos projected on stage. I thought it was a very successful collaboration between a visual artist and musician. But I'm not sure if Beck will put out another record, or if his future output will inspire me the way his early work did. Maybe Ween would be a better band to pin my dream creative project hopes to.

What are you looking forward to?

Work wise I'm looking forward to finishing a lot of the projects I have lined up for the next few months, I'm also looking forward to friends and family visiting me this Berlin summer.  Later this year I hope to return home for a several month-long summer visit to Melbourne, that's what I'm looking forward to most.

Lanu 'Beautiful Trash' - directed by Lucy Dyson

Berlin Questions

How did you end up in Berlin?

I moved from Melbourne to London in 2009 after receiving a British Council Realise Your Dream award. I spent two years in London and I would have liked to have stayed longer but my visa ran out. So I moved to Berlin with my boyfriend Joe, it was a good decision, we are able to focus solely on art and animation here, we love it.

Your favourite Berlin neighbourhood and why?

Kreuzberg and Neukölln! I've moved between the two neighbourhoods, but I'm currently loving living in Kreuzberg, near Bergmannstrasse, it's a beautiful neighbourhod and one of the few parts of Berlin that mostly survived the ravages of war. I also love Neukölln, Kreuzberg's grungy neighbour. Neukölln is a cool neighbourhood to cruise around on your bike in summer, a lot of artists live there, so there is always something new and unexpected to discover.

For instance I recently went to look at a space for a group exhibition, expecting just a back room in a cafe, instead I was lead down basement stairs to a subterranean 1960s disused and untouched two lane bowling alley (the lanes were really narrow). The lights weren't properly working so I was guided into the space by candle light, then a working light switch was found and the bowling lanes lit up. I was blown away. The space hadn't been used forever and was intact and completely preserved, the original wood paneling made it smell like a church.

Where would we find you on a typical Sunday morning? At a trödelmarkt sifting through bottomless piles of old photographs. Or swimming a lazy backstroke and taking in the stunning neoclassical surrounds of the Great Hall Pool at Stadtbad Neukölln. It opened in 1914 and has Corinthian columns, mosaics, a dome ceiling, gargoyles, fountains and Saturday mornings and evenings are reserved for nudists.

Berlin's best kept secret? The swingers club I live above, just joking, it's hardly a secret as its hilariously blatant signage is a huge giveaway. What I really think is one of Berlin's best kept secrets towers 204 meters over everyone's heads; the daggy and unassuming cocktail bar at the top of The Fernsehturm (the TV Tower). You have to pay to take the lift up, but you can do laps of the observation deck with an extra strength Long Island Iced Tea in hand. The view is spectacular, as is the late 1960s DDR décor, and the bar is open until midnight. Or make a reservation for coffee and cake at the revolving restaurant one floor up, the view is even better!

Servo - artwork by Lucy Dyson

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