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Sit-Down with Sue: Hattie Newman


Jelly is back with its second installment of ‘Sit-Down with Sue,’ this time with papercraft extraordinaire Hattie Newman

Sit-Down with Sue: Hattie Newman

Paper artist Hattie has a knack for building wonderfully immersive worlds. From a single prawn to a bustling cityscape, Hattie injects charm into each and every creation.

Her sets and images live in adverts, magazines, installations and much more. With clients such as Lacoste, NSPCC and Gas Networks Ireland already under her belt, Hattie’s work takes us to another world; one that is both magically ethereal and remarkably realistic. 

To welcome Hattie to the Jelly family, we invited her in for a good old chat with our UK executive producer Sue Loughlin for the second installment of ‘Sit-down with Sue’  where they covered everything from the challenge of making a small model of a wicker chair out of paper, to the importance of the human touch in advertising.

Sue> Welcome to the roster Hattie! Alright then, first things first, what was your first introduction to papercraft?

Hattie> I remember doing a pop-up book workshop for a term while I was at uni, by the end of the term I was the only person left still going!

Sue> So you were obviously intrigued and inspired by the paper as a medium from the get-go?

Hattie> Yes, completely. I also did an animation project where my focus was on stop-motion. I was also making puppets at that stage and I made a music video which included my first papercraft townscape.

Sue> Wow, so, without ageing you, you’ve been living in a papercraft realm for a while now.

Sue> Seeing as how you’re branching out more into direction and creation of longer animated spots, do you work with other materials as well as paper?

Hattie> My main material is paper and I like to make sure that no matter the medium, my work keeps the integrity of paper craft, but yeah, lots of materials: wood and even plastic creeps in sometimes – you can’t tell what it’s made of so, as long as it feels like it all fits together – as long as it’s visually consistent then I like to work with lots of different mediums. I like the challenge of making it all work together.

Sometimes, if I’m working on a really big piece of set design then working with a different medium can add a strength that just couldn’t happen with paper. So whilst I’m happy to introduce other mediums, it all has to keep the integrity of the design and the inherent look of papercraft.

Sue> So, when you’re looking at an overall production and how your pieces need to function when being animated, it’s more mixed media?

Hattie> Yes exactly. I’m most often called a ‘paper artist,’ which I suppose I am at heart, but I do like it to be known that I use other materials when it makes sense.

When I first started out, I was a little bit intimidated by wood-work. I made a few things… but decided never to go back! So all my wooden models now are laser cut – which I’ll do as an Illustrator file and then pass off to the laser cutter. If I have to make anything out of wood, I have a carpenter who helps me – and he’s a real perfectionist, so that suits me! I’m happy to bring in experts on my team to help achieve the exact look I’m envisioning.

Sue> It’s breathtaking actually seeing your pieces in the flesh. I didn’t imagine the scale of some of them – with some of your models being a realistic scale, some smaller, and some massive. How do you tend to decide on the scale of things

Hattie> It’s normally to do with the project brief. A lot of the time I’m asked to build a world for a product to live in, and it has to be to the scale of that product. For example, perfume or a watch.

So, half my work ends up being kind of set design, for brands and products and the other half is more illustration, where there is no product and is more interpretative of an idea or the brief, it’s more about telling a story…and I can build it to any scale I want.

There’s usually a nice balance, I really like to add in lots of tiny details so it needs to be big enough for that, if its too small then some of the small details can be lost, it’s also harder for the photographer to light if its too small – so I have a scale I like to work at now which is a good balance for crafting the details, portability, and the practicality of lighting and photography or shooting.

Sue> So, when you have a product in the shot, how do you come to the final look and design of the ‘set design,’ are you inspired by particular shapes, patterns or colours of the brand itself?

Hattie> I usually work with an art director on an idea or theme that is inspired by the product. If the script is about going away on holiday, it will be a holiday themed set, but I’ve also done some more abstract things for editorial, like a complicated subject for a science magazine, so they want something abstract that presents the whole subject. So, it tends to be a mix. Often the client will know what they want. They might have seen some of my past work, and they might want something similar to that or they might know exactly what they want... or, sometimes they have no idea at all and I get free creative reign!

For example, the TFL project was much more client led, they knew exactly what they wanted, and came to me to execute their idea.

Although, I do have a palette that I always go back to! My ‘default’ palette tends to be a lot of green and red and blue.

Sue> There’s a real organic and flowing feel to the worlds you create. How do you decide about the aesthetic of shapes you use?

Hattie> I think I’m just attracted to strange and silly things, to the playful!

Sue> You have some extraordinarily beautiful food in your work  the prawns, the noodles, it all looks almost good enough to eat. Have you done a lot of food in papercraft?

Hattie> I love to do food, I find it quite simple, and satisfying because people will instantly know what it is. I get asked to do food quite a lot and it’s quite a fun thing to make because it’s simplifying the natural shapes and colours.

Sue> Would there ever be a food stylist on set?

Hattie> No, it’s more art directed. I’ll send over a sketch and they’ll give me feedback. Food’s a fun thing to create. I find myself creating pizza and hamburgers quite a lot! And also coffee cups for magazine editorials!

Sue> So what other genres of work do you find clients coming to you most for or that you’re naturally most drawn to in your own work?

Hattie> I love to do the beauty products, I really love getting into the detail of such gorgeous things and recreating them in paper craft, giving the illustration the same elegance and glamour as in the real product and within the composition, in the particular placing of the objects and in the other props that I make to enhance the scene.

Sue> Is there any subject matter that you find more of a challenge?

Hattie> Most of my work is usually more literal in terms of the subject matter in the brief, so when I get a chance to do something a bit more abstract, it pushes me more to be creative in different ways, which I enjoy. For example, I did a piece of work for the Japanese sunglasses brand Nackymade, which called for me to think out of the box a bit – in the end, the glasses are displayed on a climbing frame made up of abstract shapes. Also, I recently did some weird and wonderful animations for Alexandra Palace. For this project I created something more surreal – and a bit different!

Sue> And I hear you’ve just completed an exciting project for a big broadcast client which we can't talk about yet but sounds very exciting…

Hattie> Yes, it was a great project to direct and execute… but more on that when it goes live towards the end of the year!

I will say that it helped me tap into something a bit different though. My work tends to be quite colourful and graphic, it’s sunny and fun, and I’ve done a lot of that kind of style, but I would love to do a bit more atmospheric pieces. Something a little bit moodier. I’ve worked on some personal projects like ‘Dream Homes,’ which was more surreal and moody, and the same goes for the series of spots for Alexandra Palace.

Sue> What are the things that you find yourself most drawn to create?

Hattie> I’m always drawn towards houses and cities, very structural scenes, but now I’m trying to mix it up more with how I create them and can bring more dynamism to them. With the ‘Dream Houses’ series, which was a personal project, I stuck with the theme of houses, but didn’t use any paper whatsoever. In the background of one, I used a smoke machine, and real houseplants to create trees and a forest – so my work does seem to be moving more into the direction of mixed media craft.

Sue> With the campaign work you did for Home Depot, there are so many amazing and intricate little objects, and they’re all so realistic looking. It got me thinking about what you think makes the client prefer to have their products rendered as a paper model, rather than a photograph of the real thing?

Hattie> It’s something quite different than what they always do, something to be intrigued by. In the case of Home Depot, the client wanted them to have a particular charm but to still be realistic. This made it a fun project, and I had a team to help me make some of the objects, since everything had to be accurate enough for the products to be found on, because they were ultimately selling them!

Sue> Is it a challenge to make things particularly accurate?

Hattie> It depends, really. The barbecues were fine, but things like the wicker chair were difficult to make in paper, the texture and the shape had to be simplified.

Sue> Do you use software when you design your models at all?

Hattie> No, but I do use Illustrator to make a ‘net’. I’ve got quite good now at visualising how a net should look, and where the folds and cuts go. Once I’ve worked that out, I make the models in Illustrator then cut them out or laser cut them if it’s a particularly intricate design. It’s made my life a lot easier, because I used to do everything with a pencil and a ruler, so it tended to be a bit wonkier, and there were pencil marks here and there. Now I just print it out and cut it, which makes the process a lot easier and cleaner.

Sue> Let’s talk about the beauty products. You’ve got loads of campaign work in that sector; Lacoste, Stylist, Conde Nast, British Vogue, and Kiehls, to name just a few…

Hattie> Yes, I love to do beauty products.

Kiehls was a fun one, because they wanted an image for Earth Day, and I had complete freedom to do what I wanted.

With something like Conde Nast, the product was important and inspired the set and props more. For this, the art director came to me with the idea for a jungle themed story, so I made it all in my studio and then took it to the photography studio for the shoot where I put the whole set together in collaboration with their team, which was a two day shoot.

Sue> Let’s talk about one of the UK’s most beloved brand advertisers, John Lewis, and the campaign work you’ve done with them…

Hattie> I worked on set design for a shoot with them and they wanted the same background for all of the products, but because the products were all real and all different sizes, I had to make the sets fit to the scale of the products, so the production solve was to make five identical sets but in different sizes. As such, it was kept relatively simple and was great to have the discipline of doing the same thing more than once.

Sue> You do a lot of cityscapes, maps, houses. Would you like to continue doing that?

Hattie> Yes, I do enjoy it but I like trying new things, and keeping it mixed. Cityscapes require lot of time and effort because they are so intricate and detailed and have to be geographically accurate too, especially if the end deliverable is a map like the one I did for the London Olympics.

Sue> We love your directorial mind, and seeing the pieces in your body of work that are either fully animated or in part. How did you get into animation?

Hattie> I guess I came at it from two ways. The first was making stop motion animations at university, and the other was by directing small animation projects over the years. Now clients want more and more content that is moving, either in a very simple way or for something more complex or longer format spots, so by virtue of that I’m getting into animation a lot now and the more I do it, the more I can’t help but imagine how my work can function when moving.

The first one I did was for Stylist Magazine, the animation wasn’t actually part of the brief but after the stills shoot was finished I was talking to the photographer and we decided to leave the set, models, the lights, everything and come back the next day and I animated it, it was little papercraft cars travelling around the cityscape. I loved it, and just wanted to do more animation from that point.

Since then, I’ve been asked for similar things by other clients and it’s just grown from there. I do quite a lot of those moving animations of my sets, they seem to lend themselves easily to movement.

Sue> Which brings us to your work for Gas Networks Ireland, which is a fully animated 40-second spot, tell us more.

Hattie> I had done the Lacoste ad a few years ago, and the client had seen that and wanted something similar. It was my first animation of that length. We made absolutely everything in paper for the print element of the campaign. It was a huge set with a lot of detail and lots of characters and accurate locations.

For the animation, I thought that we would need to be more economical and find a solution that didn’t compromise the paper craft but that allowed for complete freedom within the animation.

So we ended up doing it in CGI rather than stop motion, which was a new and interesting way of working for me. This was also the first time I really had to design people so this was definitely new for me.

Sue> Now you’re moving a lot more into animation, what are you wanting to develop?

Hattie> I love telling stories, rather than being limited to a simple looping gif or looping animated set. I like creating animals and inanimate objects, and creating stories with them. Now that I’ve done Gas Networks, I feel more confident that I can do people and tell stories with them as well.

I would love to move the camera, and change the time of day, and add more to the scene, something that has moved on from the cityscape, with more interaction and characters moving around a set within a timeline. I’ve got a good instinct for storyline, so I’m excited to work more on that!

For Alexandra Palace, there was a lot of movement, done by a mixture of stop motion and After Effects. I did three spots in total, one represents theatre, one comedy, and one music.
They wanted me to show the eccentric history of the Alexandra Palace Theatre.

Sue> So for longer format spots, CGI or stop motion?

Hattie> Before the Gas Network project, I wasn’t sure that CGI could capture the quality of the paper models but I’m really happy with the result and that using CGI is definitely a great way to create complex animation whilst retaining the integrity and the look of paper with all of its textures and imperfections and my ideas could be more ambitious. I had made everything firstly in paper for the illustrated print campaign portion, so we scanned those objects and then imported them into the 3D software to create identical CGI versions of those paper models, although, I had to almost make the imperfections of the paper more obvious because it was a little too perfect!

Sue> Was the Olympic Park project all made with paper?

Hattie> Yes, that was all papercraft. There’s a bit of wood and plastic and some dowel but mostly it is paper. It was a huge undertaking, we built that all in only 10 days. I don’t know how we did it! There was so much accurate detail and the positions of the roads and locations all needed to be spot on.

I only had two people helping me. And we only had a day to shoot it. It was all worth it though as it led me onto lots of other jobs.

Sue> In a way, quite similar to TFL, because it’s realistic, but an interpretation of what it is, and elevates it all into a new amazing thing. And that’s what it all does; it elevates the subject by giving it extra charm.

Hattie> Because there is so much craft in it, clients can put a bit more of a human touch into their advertising.

Sue> You have so much range in what you do, from beauty, food, fashion, to transport, and cities to the John Lewis and the Selfridges window displays, it’s really striking.

Hattie> Paper is so versatile, there’s so much you can do with it and in many different ways: three dimensional objects, flat plains and layers, set design, fashion shoots, with models in the set…

I do a lot of illustrations for magazines and newspapers, illustrating an article, or advertising an idea or product. I also do installation, and did something for London Fashion Week this year, a big set for a fashion designer, and he won a prize for best presentation out of the up-and-coming designers, which is great. It is a real mix of different things!

Sue> And what’s your dream project to work on?

Hattie> I love doing everything, especially building a world and directing a story within it. My absolute dream would be to do a kids TV series. I’m on my way to it. I’ve made a pilot with my friend who’s a writer for kids TV. We have quite a few ideas for it, and it’s something I’d love to pursue in the future.

Thanks so much for the time Hattie. We can’t wait to see what we’ll do together with you.
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Jelly London, Wed, 07 Aug 2019 13:30:58 GMT