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The Directors: Hayley Morris



NERD Productions director on working with hand made animation, creative challenges and getting her hands dirty

The Directors: Hayley Morris

Hayley Morris is an award-winning animation director specialising in mixed media and stop-motion animation. Using layered textures, handcrafted techniques and inventive storytelling, Hayley can bring any idea to life uniquely and fascinatingly. Her studio practice revolves around experimentation with tactile materials such as paper, fabrics, found objects and natural materials. She is inspired by nature, surrealism, folklore and wandering city streets. She lives with her husband, Randy, who is a printmaker and their two cats, Bowie and Gladys.

Hayley has directed commercials for Samsung, Hewlett Packard, Burt's Bees, Kate Spade, The Detroit Zoo and many others. Her previous credits as an animator and fabricator on commercials include Special K, McDonald’s, Toyota, The New York Times and Cadbury. Hayley also has a passion for creating music videos and has created work for Iron and Wine, Explosions in the Sky, Grammy-award winning violinist Hilary Hahn, and pianist Hauschka.

Fun Facts: Hayley loves Bjork and is a self-confessed plant hoarder. She loves spicy food, too!

Name: Hayley Morris

Location: Providence, RI

Repped by: Nerd Productions

Awards: 6 X Vimeo Staff Pick

Living with Alzheimer’s Film Competition, Jury Prize

London International Awards, Bronze in music video category Slamdance, Grand Jury Prize Best Animated Short “Undone” Shoot Magazine, New Director Showcase

Advertising and Design Club of Canada, Gold Award in Animation Advertising and Design Club of Canada, Best Animated Short

LBB> What elements of a script sets one apart from the other and what sort of scripts get you excited to shoot them?

Hayley> I get excited by scripts and projects with a strong message and a design starting off point that I can imagine expanding upon through my style. I love to be challenged creatively in this initial phase to take a script and envision what the character design could be, what materials I may use, what the sound design could be, etc. It’s always a big puzzle and I find it a lot of fun taking the bits and pieces I’m given at the start and weaving them together into something the client will enjoy.


LBB> How do you approach creating a treatment for a spot?

Hayley> I spend a lot of time reading over what the client is looking for in the look, message and overall feeling they are striving for. I specialise in hand made animation, so for me materials really lead the way. If a client is looking for a paper animation or say, something with fabric, I gather a bunch of materials and start playing around. Play is a huge part of my process. Through working with my hands, a lot of ideas come to me. From this time of experimentation, I discover how I want to approach a project. I also like to write all my ideas on a piece of paper, a giant brain dump and from here try to piece it all together. From the material exploration and this writing process, I then move onto clarifying my ideas into a proper treatment explaining the story, technique, characters, music, and sound ideas etc. I then move onto creating some more solid sketches and creating style frames. I usually like creating my style frames out of the materials I imagine the piece being made of in the finished piece, rather than it being a digitally drawn interpretation of what the physical materials will be. Working with the real materials right from the start shows the client the potential for what it could be and helps me figure out the look and technique in the process.


LBB> If the script is for a brand that you're not familiar with/ don’t have a big affinity with or a market you're new to, how important is it for you to do research and understand that strategic and contextual side of the ad? If it’s important to you, how do you do it?

Hayley> Research is so important for any project, whether it’s a commissioned piece or a personal project. If I’m not familiar with the brand, I usually do a deep dive into some of their past design and moving image work, read about their mission and origin story to get a sense of what they are about. I then think about how I can take my specialties and creatively expand upon what they’ve done before to create something new.


LBB> For you, what is the most important working relationship for a director to have with another person in making an ad? And why?

Hayley> I think a producer that understands the creative process is very important. They can communicate with the client about all aspects of the project while I can focus on the creative parts.


LBB> What type of work are you most passionate about - is there a particular genre or subject matter or style you are most drawn to?

Hayley> I love creating all types of projects, whether it’s a commercial, a segment of a film or an animation for a live event etc. Animation is such a powerful visual communication tool and there are so many places for it to live. I find the potential for possibilities very exciting.

As far as genre or subject matter goes, I’m open to most work if it challenges me creatively. I love creating projects for brands with a strong social or environmental message. I also love making work for and with musicians, whether it’s a music video or concert visuals.

I’m most drawn to stop motion and mixed media animation.


LBB> What misconception about you or your work do you most often encounter and why is it wrong?

Hayley> The only misconception that I’ve encountered in the workspace is the speed with which animation comes together. I work in a very physical way (physically building puppets, physically making sets, physically working with real life materials, etc.) – this physical grounding in my work is not something I feel can be manufactured by digital illusion. So, perhaps some of the short-cuts abstract digital workspace may provide, my process doesn’t allow. I like to get my hands dirty – and that takes time.

LBB> What’s the craziest problem you’ve come across in the course of a production – and how did you solve it?

Hayley> I enjoy working with unconventional materials to create animation. Working with tactile materials usually results in a lot of problem solving and trial and error no matter what. The added time constraints of most projects and having to experiment and come up with quick solutions can be very stressful, but also exciting. I learn a lot in each project that I expand upon each time. I love that ANYTHING can be animated. Some examples of challenging materials would be, animating ice, glass, humans (kids don’t like to stay still, animating fragile paper, charcoal frame by frame etc.)


LBB> How do you strike the balance between being open/collaborative with the agency and brand client while also protecting the idea?

Hayley> You are ultimately creating something for someone else, and as a creator you have to let go and be open to criticism, suggestions and revisions, while also knowing your craft and standing your ground on certain things that you know are important. It’s all about communication and as a team finding the best solutions to create a piece that everyone is happy and proud of in the end.


LBB> What are your thoughts on opening up the production world to a more diverse pool of talent? Are you open to mentoring and apprenticeships on set?

Hayley> It’s very important to have a diverse pool of talent in the production world to get different points of view and artistic visions. Diversity is what makes this world an exciting place to live in. I think agencies, production companies etc, need to create teams with POC, LGBTQI+ and women, so everyone has a chance to share their perspectives and a way of making.

In addition to directing and animating, I’m also a college professor, so teaching and mentoring is inherent in all of the work I do. I also have enjoyed bringing interns into my studio and I take a lot of joy out of sharing my knowledge with young people and helping them get a foot in the door. 

LBB> How do you feel the pandemic is going to influence the way you work into the longer term? Have you picked up new habits that you feel will stick around for a long time? 

Hayley> During the pandemic, I was able to create a spot for Charlie Banana cloth diapers with NERD productions in London. It was the first time I collaborated with a team so far away and it worked out so well!  I had a small team in the US fabricating paper puppets and props with me, and I shot these elements on a green screen. Once the animation stage was complete, I sent the finished sequences to NERD in London to be composited, hand drawn elements added, and sound design created. We communicated over WhatsApp and Zoom daily. This experience opened my eyes to how I don’t have to do everything out of my studio, but can work with other artists and producers from around the world. I’d like to keep exploring this way of making.


LBB> Your work is now presented in so many different formats - to what extent do you keep each in mind while you're working (and, equally, to what degree is it possible to do so)? 

Hayley> It’s something I really need to keep an eye on and consider when shooting that all of the necessary elements will not be cropped out. It can be a bit challenging when everything is shot in camera, but if there are a lot of composited elements there can be a bit more flexibility.


LBB> What’s your relationship with new technology and, if at all, how do you incorporate future-facing tech into your work (e.g. virtual production, interactive storytelling, AI/data-driven visuals etc)?

Hayley> The fundamentals of stop-motion haven’t changed all that much since the beginning of cinema. You need a camera, lights, a sturdy surface and a lot of patience. That being said, it's amazing the tools that do exist now to make amazing quality work. Dragonframe software for instance completely changed the landscape of stop motion and has made it so much more accessible and easy to capture and see your work instantly. In terms of incorporating innovative technology into my work, I’d love to explore ways in which hand made animation can bridge more into these digital realms through AI, video games, projection mapping etc. I think there are so many opportunities to explore and merge the hand made with digital ways of creating.


LBB> Which pieces of work do you feel really show off what you do best – and why?

Hayley> The Half of It (Netflix Film)

I created an animated sequence for the Netflix film “The Half Of It” directed by Alice Wu. This sequence was a true collaboration between the two of us. We went through probably 15 versions of an animatic until we settled on the final sequence that really sets the film up in a beautiful way.  The sequence is an interpretation of Plato’s symposium. Alice originally wanted it all to be drawn charcoal animation, which I loved as a starting off point, but I felt it needed more to create an emotional impact. I suggested starting off as 2D charcoal and when the two figures rip apart that we transition to a stop motion paper world with a 2D drawn character. I think this project showcases how I can merge different styles, tell a narrative through playful transitions and timing, and create emotional stories through tactile materials.


Explosions in the Sky “The Ecstatics”

I love working with musicians. Music videos are a chance for me to be a bit more experimental and explore more conceptual themes. In this project I pushed myself to work with transparent materials like plastic, glass, paper and projections to create an experiential piece inspired by the feeling of the song. The band's brief was to create something inspired by "wilderness of the mind." I thought of the beautiful chaos that is in the mind space and how that space has a multitude of transitions, whether it’s a transition from life to death or going from unknowing to knowing.


Charlie Banana  (Cloth Diapers)

I made this project while pregnant, so this was a really special one for me. I also have a passion for sustainability and thinking about how products impact the environment. I was planning on using cloth diapers regardless of working on this project – so it was kismet that we were chosen for this work. I think this project showcases the beautiful materiality of paper merged with a digital compositing and drawn elements that affords flexibility outside the in-camera constraint.


Sesame Street

Working with Sesame Street has always been a dream. This project allowed me to have a lot of fun working with physical puppets, playful interaction animation, and musical timing – all creative comforts within my practice.

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NERD Productions, Wed, 11 Aug 2021 11:39:00 GMT