Daniela Sherer is a freelance animator and illustrator based in Tel Aviv. The Royal College of Art graduate’s images can be found on everything from music videos to vinyl sleeves, and even in commissions for Harvard University and the Barbican Centre. Fresh from a trip to Tokyo and Osaka to celebrate her 30th birthday, she chats with Teardusk about her trademark minimal designs and how to build up a strong portfolio.
How did you get started out in animation?
I spent my twenties abroad studying. First, I was a student in LA at the University of Southern California. I went there with the intention of studying animation – I didn’t exactly know what I was getting into, but it turned out to be just my thing. They had a really good film school with an animation department, so I landed there and did my first degree in animation. I adapted so much so I continued to do my masters at the RCA in London. I started off as an animator and I still consider myself an animator. I do illustration sometimes, but mainly I do short films.
How would you describe your style?
It’s a minimalistic approach to animation, because I was taught that to be a good animator you don’t have to be good at drawing. The movement is more important than the actual drawing. In terms of content, I would say it’s like an abstract narrative. Films that I make that are private, for myself, are that way. They have a story, but it’s up to the viewer to interpret them.
I prefer to use colour in a really spare way. Black and white is great – it goes again that the movement comes first, then how many details are in the image itself and how many colours. I think it distracts a bit. Lots of people can use colour in a really sophisticated way, and it’s wonderful. But for me, I like the simplicity of having just a few colours to work with and in the case of ‘Blue’ it had to do with the story. It had four colours – black, white and two kinds of blue. Animation takes quite a long time, and when you’re an indie animator and you’re making everything yourself, it helps the work process as well because you can focus on, ‘Ok I can make this move really smoothly’ . It’s not a Disney production, it has to be manageable. I find it suits me aesthetically. Even if I could use more colours, I wouldn’t. It keeps you focused in a way. I always like films that – I enjoy films that do more with less.
What inspires your work?
Inspiration comes from anything. I enjoy early animation, abstract films. There are a few animators that I really enjoy – George Schwitzgebel, a Swiss animator, he has the most wonderful transitions. I think it takes him years to complete a short film. It’s a lot of work. Also modern art and abstract animations, like Alexander Calder. For the moment, I think it’s easiest for me to look to other animations and for shapes and colours. I prefer modern spare aesthetics.
It’s strange to say because I’ve just visited Japan, but the Japanese aesthetics – I felt really at home there. The spare aesthetics of Japanese gardens; everything is orderly, they have a lot of wonderful shapes in their design. They have all kinds of principles about lack of symmetry and everything is aesthetic in a clean way.
Can you talk me through your animation process?
It depends – if it’s a commission, it’s more of a predictable route because when you’re working with someone, it’s their film in a way. You prepare a storyboard, everything is orderly, there’s a script and then you begin to animate and send your work. When I work for my own films, I work a little bit differently just because I can do whatever I want.
‘Blue’ was actually a film that started with the soundtrack. Duncan Thum has made every one of my student films, and we’ve been working together since college (he was doing a degree in music). We teamed up because we had this connection right away. The last film he did for me was my graduation film for the RCA; he made the soundtrack and we finished that film, and then he sent me another track. He said, “hey, this is my graduation score, why don’t you make something out of that?”, and it was lovely. It’s the full orchestra piece that was in ‘Blue’. He called it ‘Blue’.
The next step, which is what I do with every personal film, I gather loose inspirations – say I have an idea for a story that is not fully there, I usually make a few post-its and put them on the wall. It crystallises, and then I start animating right away to see what I can come up with and the story builds very organically. That’s the way it’s different from when I work commercially, because I can allow myself to find it. I like to discover the story as I make it.
Sometimes it changes, that’s the beauty of making something like a film. It speaks back to you, “that’s what needs to happen here”, “wouldn’t that be cool if that happened before?” – you can play with it. That’s what’s wonderful about doing your thing, you can get your hand in there and see what happens and allow it to crystallise by itself. At the end you have to let go at some point and say, “OK, that’s what I have which feels complete”.
What is the hardest thing about your work?
It can be challenging, because I also work freelance, and if I want to make my own films it can take a long while because I have to do it after work. Animation is really labour intensive. But in a way that’s also OK; it takes a while to make but I don’t feel like I’m in a hurry to make my own films. I like having time to think, even if it takes months and months. But that’s inherent in the work, that’s animation. To me it’s worth it.
What advice can you give for aspiring illustrators/animators?
I think it’s important to do your thing, and keep doing it. It’s cool to be trendy, but you have to do your own thing, because that’s your voice. It’s important to study and get some training and have time to develop it, but even if you are a student, it’s important to do your own thing and care about your own work. And keep doing it. Even for people that do it a lot, at some points you can get into a rut, or just start to let go of stuff, and it’s important to always be in the process of making something. Even if I don’t have a freelance project, I will do something to keep the ball rolling. It’s easy to let go of it, because we’re busy, life happens, you have responsibilities, but it’s important to keep that little plant nurtured. Then you find that you have a portfolio and you know what you’re about, you know what kind of medium you like to use. But that comes after you make stuff, even while you’re studying or working, keep it going.