Interview with image-maker and animator Alice Isaac

As part of our media partnership with Us By Night we talk to London based freelance animator and upcoming speaker Alice Isaac.

Alice Isaac is a freelance image maker and animator from East London. Her diverse background within the worlds of fashion, editorial, illustration and animation feed into her ability to understand and create disruptive and unique work for her clients.

She thrives in creating engaging content by combining her passion for hand-collaged imagery with layers of modern digital processes and effects.

As part of our media coverage of this year’s Us By Night in Antwerp this September, we caught up with Alice ahead of her appearance on stage to find out more about her work and what drives her.

How would you describe your work process?

Pretty disorderly and schizophrenic! I don’t feel like I really have a consistent process, everything I work on is so different… the only thing that I really try to do for every job is research and mood boarding – although this is entirely dependant on how much time I have,  the depth of that research can be a very quick hour to a weeks worth of prep.

Each job usually demands a different stylistic approach, sometimes I will physically hand make collage images, cutting stuff out and sticking it down, other times its all completely digital but more often than not its a mash up of the two approaches.

What were the main hurdles and challenges you faced in the early stages of your career? 

Well to be honest, I’m still in the early stages of THIS career…I spent about 7 years working as a project manager / producer for illustration and animation at a couple of different studios before realising that I wasn’t happy and wanted to give myself the opportunity to have a go at being more creative. So a couple of years ago I walked away from the spreadsheets and started from the ground up!

At that point the biggest challenges I faced were that, even though I had spent years working in the industry, I had no real technical skills or a portfolio and if I was going to make this work I needed to catch up FAST. I used every spare moment I had to learn how to animate, to get better at photoshop. But really, the turning point for me was bagging an assistant job with one of my heroes, Quentin Jones, where I could pick up skills and learn on the job. Working with her was undoubtedly my launch pad to where I am now.

How did you support yourself financially when you were starting out? 

I managed to get the assistant job with Quentin but I also took on every single job I was offered, no matter how small, no matter how badly paid – money was money and I would work round the clock, 7 days a week. Looking back I realise I massively overwhelmed myself but it also meant I was gradually building a portfolio, my technical ability and confidence.

I  learnt A LOT of lessons during that time, it was a total struggle and almost every day id ask myself if I’d made the right choice by walking away from the very secure world of a full time Producer job but, looking back,  it was worth every single sleepless night!

What advice would you give to emerging / young designers about ‘making it in design’ – do you think grads need to manage their expectations? 

The best thing I could ever advise anyone is to get a job in a studio or with an artist or ANYWHERE were you can learn from other people who have been in the game longer than you. Build your experience slowly, this shit takes time and it will make you better, more accomplished version of yourself at the end of it.

Alice Isaac

Be patient, you still have so much to learn and you’ve got the rest of your career to learn. It sounds really blunt but I also think it should be reassuring to people just breaking out into the industry – you are not expected to know it all and be brilliant straight out the gate. The best thing I could ever advise anyone is to get a job in a studio or with an artist or ANYWHERE were you can learn from other people who have been in the game longer than you. Build your experience slowly, this shit takes time and it will make you better, more accomplished version of yourself at the end of it.

I’ve seen and spoken to recent graduates having meltdowns because they don’t think they have a solid enough portfolio to get work or that they have only created work in a certain style and have ‘pigeon holed’ themselves. Which to me is just bonkers, for the overwhelming majority of people it takes years to figure out stylistically ‘who they are’ and that in itself is always in flux, you are constantly changing and developing as a person and that will come through in your work; it takes years to build skills. To put that amount of pressure on yourself at such an early stage is so unfair and potentially destructive.

The best thing I could ever advise anyone is to get a job in a studio or with an artist or ANYWHERE were you can learn from other people who have been in the game longer than you, build your experience slowly, this shit takes time and it will make you better, more accomplished version of yourself at the end of it.

Can you talk a little about your influences and ideas? How did your style evolve?

I always say my style was kind of born out of necessity… when I first took the leap away from production I had minimal skills, I was ok at Photoshop, I could open After Effects…. But technically I was a total beginner. My style is pretty low fi because my skills were pretty low fi, collage is also a great medium to work with if you can’t draw that well! My background was very fashion / editorial orientated ( I actually trained and worked as a makeup artist for a few years in my early 20s) obsessing over magazines like I:D, King Kong, Pop etc. and working in that area felt very natural to me.

I’ve only recently noticed that I gravitate towards faces and the human form in my work which I think again is a bit of a hangover from my make-up artist days. Working with Quentin Jones obviously bolstered my choice of collage as a medium, her use of fashion imagery, creating things for her very high end clients had a huge effect on me.

I’m also really interested in animation, specifically motion graphics, and I’ve really tried to develop that skill set. Now, I’m a better animator now than I was 9 months ago, (let alone 2 years ago!) and its changed my approach and way I treat work, I am definitely at the stage now where I’m taking what I’ve picked up from Quentin, my own influences and pushing it in a direction which feels more inherently ‘me’. Essentially, I’m still learning and growing as an artist and that means my style is still adapting, Im not ’there’ yet.

My style is pretty low fi because my skills were pretty low fi, collage is also a great medium to work with if you can’t draw that well!

Alice Isaac

What has been the biggest career highlight over the last few years? Any favourite projects spring to mind? 

This past year has been insane, I’ve genuinely loved everything I have worked on but the one that I keep coming back to is the collage and animation I created for Flaunt Magazine and Prada. Working with the photographer Carlos Serrao was a bit of a dream, id been a fan of his work for years, and getting to work with his photography was a bit surreal – I also got to pretty much do whatever I wanted with the images and animation, while still respecting the Prada aesthetic and the models integrity!

Also the animation for Billie Eilish mini doc was super fun but also kind of challenging (in a good way), working alongside an amazing mob of animators and director Kris Mercado who is a bit of a genius.

Have you spoken at design festivals previously? What attracted you to Us By Night? 

I’ve never spoken at a festival before, I have done a few talks at universities so this one is kind of a big deal – more so because Ive been to Us by Night a couple of times before when I was a producer and loved it, so to be asked to go there to speak as an artist a couple of years later is pretty mind-blowing for me.

The festival itself has a really good buzz, its not just about the interesting talks, there is so much going on and to look at and get involved in. The bar is pretty good too…

What can the audience expect from your talk?

Probably just a bit of me going off on long irrelevant tangents mixed with a bit of process and the many different lives I’ve lived!

Finally, what are you currently working on? Can you reveal what’s next for you?

I didn’t have ant time off for 7 months so Im actually having a bit of downtime right now, purposefully not taking on too much! Im also using this time to work on a bunch of self directed stuff, a bit of R+D, things I haven’t been able to do for a long time! We’ll see how long that lasts though!

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Us By Night is a unique nocturnal experience combining an inspiring lineup and an endless nightmarket guaranteed to provide 3 nights you can’t miss. Come for the talks, stay for the experience. Explore the arcade, a wide range of local and delicious food, get tattooed or play some fluorescent ping-pong. Tickets on sale now: usbynight.be/tickets

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Posted on Aug 15th, 19 by | Twitter: @lisahassell

Founder & director of Inkygoodness, Lisa is a published writer and arts journalist, focusing on creative business, graphic art and illustration and design education. Her words regularly appear in Computer Arts, Creative Bloq, Digital Arts and IdN.

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