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Cyriak Harris + Crazy Animations = 42 Millions views!

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Cyriak Harris is a freelance animator based in Brighton – his work is subversive and surreal, and proving incredibly popular; the creative and highly unusual animations have achieved millions of hits on YouTube. He’s also worked with some interesting companies, creating stings, channel idents and TV advertising for people like E4, Coke Zero, Little Big Planet and CBBC. I had the chance to interview him and pick his brains on what makes his style so fascinating:

Please, tell us a bit about yourself: how did you get started? What are your creative likes, dislikes and inspirations?

I studied traditional animation at art college about 13 years ago, god that makes me feel old… I didn’t do much with my degree after I left. I was only really interested in doing my own solo projects, and with traditional techniques that involved a lot of work I didn’t want to do and a lot of equipment I didn’t have. Then several years later I discovered computers and the internet. For a couple of years I made hundreds of animated gifs for my own amusement, and then when I put a compilation of them on youtube my animation career suddenly started happening, and I’ve been making a living from it for about 5 years now.

Cyriaks ‘Meow’ Story-boa

I’m a fan of surreal art and comedy – there are obvious parallels with Monty Python in my videos, but I also take inspiration from artists like Jan Svankmajer, M C Escher, H R Giger and of course Dali. Anything that is slightly disturbing in its subversion of reality.

Can you explain a little bit about your working process?

I work mostly with adobe after effects, often without story-boarding. I start with a vague idea of the entire animation in my head and then improvise with whatever footage I have until it looks right. Occasionally with commercial projects I will need to plan things out in advance, but I tend to work best when I’m making it up as I go along.

Your work is quite surreal, bordering on edgy: what inspires you to create such unusual things?

I’m not entirely sure where it all comes from. I grew up in the days when kids tv programmes could often be quite disturbing, perhaps I feel the need to continue this tradition.

It also seems to have quite a mathematical basis (e.g. lots of repeating elements, use of geometry) – is there a reason for this?

I’m a big fan of mathematics and geometry, particularly when it is misused to warp our perception of reality. A lot of my videos are basically about creating chaos from order, or finding the order within chaos.

What’s been your favourite project to work on so far?

I’d have to say Meow was my favourite, even though it involved the most work out of all my videos it was great to work with my good friend Sarah Brown who did all the illustration. I normally avoid collaborating with other artists, but I’ve always liked her style and really felt like a change with that video.

A lot of your videos have gone into the millions in terms of views. How does this make you feel? What do you think makes them so popular?

I’m always amazed at how many views my videos get, it makes me wonder sometimes if its just one person out there watching them over and over again. I’m glad they are doing well though, I can’t think of any other job I’d be any good at. As to what makes them popular I’ve no idea, some kind of subconscious nightmare we all share perhaps.

I noticed you also illustrate and create your own music (I particularly liked the “No More Memory” track) – are they things that you’d like to expand upon in the future or are they more like hobbies?

I used to do illustration years ago, but since found that I can get my ideas across much better with animation. I’m not sure I can even remember how to use a pencil now…

I think of my music in much the same way as my animation: its stuff I like that doesn’t exist, so its down to me to create it. I’m just lucky that there’s enough demand for my animation that I can make a living from it. I’m not sure I’d ever get a similar demand for my music but that won’t stop me from inflicting it upon my audience!

Are there any dream clients you’d like to work with, or a particular project you’d like to do?

I would like to eventually create something more ambitious than a 3 minute video, perhaps a feature length film or a tv series. The trouble is I would probably still want to do everything myself…

If you could only take 3 items with you on holiday, what would they be?

My computer, my mp3 player and the internet. That wouldn’t make it much of a holiday of course.

Any advice for people just starting out?

If I were to base my advice on my own experience it would be to mess around doing weird animations for a few years and hope they become popular, so I’m probably not the best person to ask. In general though it always helps to make what you enjoy and enjoy making it, and try not to judge yourself by the achievements of others.

Thanks very much for your time – it’s been highly informative!

Take it easy.

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