Hamburg based designer & animator Raman Djafari
Hamburg-based illustrator and animator Raman Djafari creates surreal portraits and illustrations of alternate realities. Mixing a vibrant colour palette with imaginative ideas, Djafari's work defies the conventional.
Can you tell us about your background and journey into design? Where did you grow up and go to study?
I was born and raised in Berlin, Germany. Drawing was always present as a space that provided safety, kind of like a refuge for the mind. I really am happy that I found this connection to drawing so early and was lucky enough to not loose sight of it. Then, after high school I was so fortunate to be able to study illustration at HAW in Hamburg. The illustration course there provided a lot of freedom and room for curious exploration, which I start to comprehend as being an invaluable experience more and more over the years. After I also had the chance to teach there for a while, I think it’s a beautifully forgiving and encouraging place to take your first steps as a creative.
What drives you? Can you tell us about your inspirations and ideas?
I like to think of producing creative work as a way to make sense of and engage with the world. There is a real possibility of letting your curiosity about the world drive you, providing an action to take for the overwhelmed, confused and beautifully bewildered mind. Up until now, projects either offered themselves from the outside or the choice of subject was almost subconscious. Upon reflecting on those past projects though, I think there is a kind of through line up to this point. I work a lot about how we as individuals and also collectively experience the world. How we think about who we are, how it feels to be. I guess it is always some kind of take on the human condition for me. So regarding these subjects, my inspiration is very much in the observation and the reflection of a general state of being and a thorough look at emotional experiences. How we feel and what drives those feelings, is something I want to keep exploring.
Do you have any creative heroes? Writers, artists, musicians, family members or friends who influenced you as you were growing up?
Growing up, I was really fascinated by the alternate realities that I found in literature, films, animation and video games. Amongst the most powerful and imaginative ones definitely were J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter, which to this day stays true as a real source of wisdom. Also Bill Waterson’s Calvin and Hobbes, I still look to as beautiful piece of work from my childhood.
Nowadays, I draw a lot of inspiration for various film makers, painters, writers and musicians. Amongst them are people like the ever great film maker Andrej Tarkowsky or the miraculous Yorgos Lanthimos, just as well as the japanese animation director Masaaki Yuasa. There are German speaking authors like Navid Kermani or Peter Handke and contemporary musicians like Noname, DJ Koze, Tyler The Creator, Yussef Kamaal, Kendrick Lamar or James Blake who I admire greatly. Then various painters form different time periods and countries. Painters like Russo, Neo Rauch, Nicole Eisenmann, Tal R or Dana Schutz.
Most of all though, I honestly can say that I am always really inspired and impressed by my peers. I feel fortunate to be surrounded by a lot of very great creative minds, really.
How does Hamburg influence your work? Do you enjoy being there?
It has really influenced me in a way, that I had the chance to meet a lot of great people in this city. People who have become really close friends and creative collaborators over the years. Here I learned how to support and help each other doing creative work side by side. Also I think we have created a really great discourse around here, that helps us all grow to become more aware, nuanced and daring creators.
Where is your studio? Can you describe your work space?
Our studio is situated in Hamburg, Wilhelmsburg. It’s a beautiful space, right at the canal, that we share amongst 15 people in total. We are a group that consists out of sound designers, illustrators, film makers, painters, animators and graphic designers alike. Somehow we were lucky enough to find this place and build a real home for all of us, for this moment in time. The building our studio is located in was a former lamp factory and our atelier is really spacious part of it, which is in a constant state of flux. New people becoming part of the group, some leaving for a while, and with them the space itself is changing. We have a really cool new vacuum cleaner now, that has a handheld function, some great new plants and a really decent hair brush with the body of a duck.
When you’re not working, whats your favourite way to spend the day? Where do you like to hang out in Hamburg or farther afield? Where do you go to escape and get some thinking time?
Since we are currently working on a new music video project, that has taken up most of our working hours, driving out to the lake at the outskirts of Hamburg, is almost like a magical way to loose yourself. Also visiting different animation festivals in Europe is a really fun way to qet out for a brief time period, right now. It really makes you feel connected to a bigger community of creators that dare to take part in a more general discourse. For some alone time I really really really love just sitting in cafes and reading, taking long walks, trying to consciously get lost. If I’m lucky, if I do it well, I might need some time to find my way back.
How do you create work? Can you tell us about your working process – what materials do you like to use?
Always start with the sketchbook. Sometimes for planning, sometimes for contemplation, sometimes for meandering, often for safety. It’s a door, behind it is air that I can breathe. And then Photoshop, TvPaint, Blender, AfterEffects and Premiere too. So much for the tools. For work that I do alone, there is an attempt to just create spaces to explore something small really quickly, this mostly goes for illustration work, or short animation things. I juggle with some visual and conceptual ideas and do some thumbnailing for a brief moment.
Once I found something that intrigues me, that I don’t quite understand yet, I go into the actual process of the making with a very loose idea. Often the piece then just finds its form through the process. For collaborative efforts, I really enjoy the creative back and forth, the discussions, the circulation of ideas. Between my partner in crime Daniel Almagor and I there is a beautiful flow that we are able to create very often, were you just feel your own thoughts amplified so much by the other. Then being an animation director, working with the animators, is really similar like that. We discuss ideas for movement and expression, and try to push the result to be fun and expressive even in the smallest of details. Man, the amount of cel animated eyelashes, shoe laces and horse manes we’ve done lately….
As a professional illustrator / animator how do you split your time between making commercial work (and money!) and personal work? Is it hard to strike a good balance? How do you manage it?
For the moment I can say that I have been very very lucky to get approached by some really great people. The issue of balance lies more so in understanding how to find the “no, I can’t but thanks”, at least that is what I struggle with the most. As a young creative, there is a danger of losing a vision, of not finding the clarity for what kind of projects you want to partake in. Honestly, I don’t know how well I manage do do this right now. I try to get better at it, but I still say yes too often, I think.
Can you tell us anything about the projects you’re currently working on?
Actually, yes, I can. I am really lucky to be working on a music video again, with a great team of four. It’s Daniel Almagor, Charlotte Spies, Inger Bierma and I, who are making something together right now. Daniel and I scripted and story boarded the project and are directing and designing it together. It’s an exploration of the ones who stay and the ones who leave. It’s an attempt, trying to grasp what making a choice is? means? feels like? It’s a beautifully ambitious endeavour for us and we’re really looking forward to see it being released soon.
Where do you see your work taking you in the next few years? What kind of projects, collaborations, experiences do you hope to cultivate for yourself?
There are ideas, but not goals necessarily. There are hopes of making films, playful thoughts of all kind, we’ll see, let’s see. Hopefully we can find spaces for uncertain thoughts and hesitant breaths, a curious tapping of the fingers. There are some seeds on the edge of the table, I’m not sure how to plant them yet, but until then I’ll try to care for the soil, the water and the winds.
I think if we and I are careful enough, we can also make room for others. Create opportunities to share amongst different people. As mentioned before, I feel really happy to repeatedly get a sense of a creative community that is looking to help each other out, share experiences, knowledge, and opportunities, pursuing to take part in a broader societal discourse. I hope to be fortunate enough to be part of this community and maybe even contribute a little bit to the bigger picture.