For someone so fresh into her career, Ella Cummings’ CV is remarkably varied. She’s interned at Aardman Animation and is a dab hand at sculpting Shaun the Sheep eyelids. She’s practiced stop motion after convincing staff at her uni to give up a storage cupboard for her handcrafted experiments. She can lend her hand to graphic design and, these days, plies her trade in production at Curious Productions, a creative collective based in London (where she recently moved to in line with her new job).
LBB’s Alex Reeves caught up with her to find out more.
LBB> You’re from Berkshire, where I’m from! In fact, I’m from Bracknell and a lot of my friends went to the same secondary school as you. What was it like growing up there, and how did creativity impact your younger years when you were growing up?
Ella> No way! I actually like where I grew up, Bracknell has plenty to do despite having a bad rep. I spent most Saturdays of my youth at South Hill Park Arts Centre which is an amazing hub for music, all kinds of art and theatre. So, I had a lot of exposure to the creative world from a young age.
LBB> How did you first get interested in animation?
Ella> Growing up, my whole family enjoyed animated films. Even more so, we enjoyed outtakes where CGI goes wrong, I think this is because I like to see how it all works. I like a sneak peek at how things are constructed.
At uni, I was always torn between illustration and film. Animation gave me the best of both worlds. As I evolved, I got into stop motion and somehow managed to persuade the staff to give up a large storage cupboard so I could set up my own studio. Shooting seconds of footage can take hours so I needed a controlled environment that wouldn’t interfere with the studio schedules.
LBB> You first started your career at Aardman. What attracted you to them and what was it like there?
Ella> How could anyone not be attracted to Aardman?! They are so much fun! Out of all their work, Chicken Run is my favourite. I love movie magic and going behind the scenes, so it was an absolute pleasure to walk around and see all the props and large sets crafted for their films.
Completely by chance, after uni I met someone who worked in the film studios and she was kind enough to have me over for the day. After that I was offered work experience. I wasn’t there that long, but the experience was invaluable. The talent under that roof was extraordinary! I shadowed animators and tested puppets but most of my time was spent sculpting faces. I had a whole range of tools and used wet wipes to smooth out fingerprints. I made sooooo many Shaun the Sheep eyelids.
One of the models Ella had a chance to play with at Aardman.
LBB> Then you got into graphic design. What was that like?
Ella> As much as I love stop motion, I had concerns my life would fly by without checking out other creative avenues. Stop motion is time consuming and you don’t see a lot of sunlight! I had some experience in graphic design from uni as my course had multiple pathways, so I made that my next goal. I started with logo design, then moved onto interactive animations using code then ended up trying layout design. I think it’s really important to try new things. After uni most of us don’t have a clue what we want or what to pursue – which is totally fine! Having the courage to leap at new opportunities is a great trait to have for figuring it out.
LBB> How did you decide you wanted to get into production?
Ella> In my spare time I like to get involved on film sets. I’m normally in an AD or set dressing role and I found I enjoy the organisational side of things in a creative environment. Production allows me to see greater variety day to day. I’ve dipped my toe into many creative areas, but production is definitely my passion.
LBB> What has it been like recently starting your first job in London at Curious?
Ella> Pretty crazy! I moved to London to work here at Curious. It’s pretty bizarre moving somewhere so big with creativity on every corner. It’s fabulous. Curious has a lovely studio and it’s full of talented people. The work is super varied and interesting. I’m very happy to have a role I’ve thought about for years. I just didn’t realise I could get here so quick. Outside of work, there’s so much to see and do, I’m making the most of it by going to more gigs and shows.
LBB> What projects that you've worked on are you most proud of? Not just at Curious but so far across your career?
Ella> A proud moment for me was when one of my sketches as a designer ended up as an advent calendar. I bought three! It was in my first graphic design job. I put together a pitch, but I was very nervous the client wouldn’t go with anything I had sketched. Fortunately, they did! Sometime later I started seeing them pop up in supermarkets. That was the first time I could see my ideas in a tangible place, which made it a special moment. Now I’m at Curious I get to see our projects on the tube, billboards and TV. It doesn’t get old for me.
LBB> What are you biggest goals or dreams?
Ella> By joining Curious I have actually achieved one of my big goals to have a job in a production company. At the moment I work with the photography, retouching and CGI departments. As Curious gets bigger I am excited by the idea of growing with them, learning new skills and to potentially work on commercials and film projects in the future as their portfolio expands.
LBB> Where do you draw your inspiration from?
Ella> That’s always a tricky question when you have done so many things. When I am stuck for ideas on something I turn to film. I can sit there for a couple hours or so and draw from the visuals, music, stories and characters. The more epic the film, the more energy I will have afterwards to aim higher. I also find a good conversation with someone driven, whether it’s a friend, family member or another creative, helps me to bounce ideas around about the future.
LBB> What do you do outside of work to cool off?
Ella> I sing and write songs! Now that I have upgraded my ukulele, I am hoping to work on some bigger personal projects this year. Before I moved to London, I would jam with my band on a Thursday evening but that’s more difficult now… So, I have taken up samba drumming once a week. I play the surdo!
LBB> What tips would you give to somebody hoping to break into the animation world?
Ella> Experiment. A lot. You can read as much as you like on processes, but nothing will beat practising and getting your ideas down. There can be a lot of trial and error involved which means a fair bit of failing, but that’s okay! Just keep going. Go out and meet people! Go forth and collaborate!