In May 2014, the Glasgow School of Art was engulfed in a blaze that destroyed the historic Mackintosh building as well as a hefty portion of students’ final year degree work. The event rattled artists across Britain, with Grayson Perry telling the Guardian: “It’s a tragedy. It’s the most famous art school building in Britain. It’s also the masterpiece of [Charles Rennie] Mackintosh. It’s a double tragedy.”
Restoration of the Mackintosh building began in November 2016, but earlier this year, J. Walter Thompson London launched a campaign to help raise funds to aid the school. Renowned artists received pieces of debris, rubble and charcoal from the fire to use in art projects, which were then auctioned off to raise money for the building.
Sharon Liu, the new signing to Jelly London’s ‘Futures’ roster, was selected to create a stop-motion animation using charcoal from the fire to promote the auction. The film was well received, being shortlisted at Cannes Lions 2017 in the Film Craft category.
LBB’s Liam Smith caught up with the up-and-coming director to find out more.
LBB> Your trademark is hand drawn and painted animation. When did you first start experimenting with this style? And what inspired you to do so?
Sharon Liu> I’m inspired by classic artworks. My undergraduate degree film
was about the expressionist artist Emil Nolde. I am always impressed by the expressive qualities of every brush stroke of a painting, and imagine moving the paint to form animation. Classic artists also inspire me to use any handcrafted medium as well as paint, which is why I was interested in using charcoal in Ash To Art.
LBB> Your Ash to Art animation for the Glasgow School of Art was recently shortlisted in the Film Craft category at Cannes. Can you tell us a bit about that project?
SL> The campaign was commissioned by JWT to promote the auction of artworks created by 25 top British artists. Using only charcoal remains from the fire, they created art pieces to raise money towards the restoration of the iconic Charles Rennie Mackintosh Library at the Glasgow School of Art.
The animated film was made to describe the process leading up to the event and concludes with the actual amount raised. The animated film is also made exclusively using charcoal from the fire.
LBB> Stop motion animation can be a lengthy task at the best of times, but you were working with actual charcoal from the fire. Can you tell us about the process, and how long it took to finish the animation?
SL> I started by designing style frames. It was important to get the design of each scene right first. I spent as much time as I needed on the design artwork to get as close as possible to how I saw things in my imagination. Once I had the designs working as still images, I had a clearer idea of how the finished animation would look before committing to producing the whole film.
When it came to animation production, I needed to chip away at the large pieces of charcoal, which had once been a chair or a bookcase, so that I could have a piece that was manageable to draw with. Sometimes, if it was very small, I held it with tweezers so I could draw with it.
I drew with the charcoal frame-by-frame under the camera. Every drawing I made on paper was shot and then erased, then I drew the next drawing on the same paper. This process was repeated so that ‘ghost lines’ from previous drawings are visible in the animation.
The animation took about six weeks; during that time I drew and erased around 600 frames.
LBB> You're the first director to join Jelly London's 'Futures' initiative - set up to find and nurture new, up-and-coming talent. What drew you to Jelly?
SL> I’ve been following Jelly’s work on social media for some time now. I like the variety of work and the overall creative look of their artists. I also like how they promote their artists. I was inspired by their recent Turn Up campaign with Bite the Ballot. It’s nice to see a lot of designers uniting together to make a difference to increase young voter turnout in the UK.
LBB> Which other projects are you particularly proud of and why?
SL> I’m proud of my first commercial, for Boots. I feel very happy to have worked on the project as it’s about Lady Florence Boot, the influential lady who pushed the social boundaries at the time to support, educate and respect her female workforce whilst being a pioneering force in the development of the Boots brand.
LBB> What have you got in store for the next year?
SL> I’m interested in further developing ideas around the combination of animation and live action. In particular, I’m looking forward to getting more involved in the fashion industry. Fashion animation greatly interests me.
I’m very much looking forward to working on some exciting new projects with Jelly.
LBB> Aside from drawing and animation, what do you get up to in your spare time to relax and unwind?
SL> As animation is so time consuming I don’t actually get much spare time! Ideally, I will go outside to work out for an hour after I get home from work. But mostly I just spend my spare time watching cat videos online and imagining I own a cat.