Christopher Rutledge is a New York based animation artist creating twisted yet glossy 3d animation. Matt Taylor aka Human Balloons had a brief chat with him about his work and process.
Matt: Hey Chris! First of all, thanks for taking the time to chat with us. Let’s start at the beginning, if you don’t mind. How did you get into animation? Were you interested in it from a young age? Any particular shows or films you remember that have stuck with you?
Chris: Hey Matt! Yeah definitely from a very young age I got into animation. I took a claymation class in first grade and after that did a little bit of messing around with stop motion on my parents camcorder (quickly pressing the record button on and off and slightly moving stuff). I really got into animation in sixth grade though when school computers got copies of flash.
I loved homestarrunner and flashplayer.com at the time. Eventually I got into making cartoons and spending a lot of my middle school days either messing around with flash, watching flash cartoons on newgrounds and posting work on sites like deviantart and the more flash animator friendly knock-off “sheezyart” (which didn’t mind if we used copyrighted music). Seeing that there were others close to my age who were able to make animations on their computers with flash was hugely inspiring and definitely made me realise it was something I could really do.
Matt: I first discovered your work through watching The Loaf Zone. The cartoonish style mixed with detailed 3D simulations really took me by surprise the first time I saw it and I’d love to discuss some of its details. But first, I noticed the strength of your 2D animation in the end credits. Did you start with 2D first and do you still have interest in creating drawn animation?
Chris: Thanks! Yeah coming from that flash animation background it only made sense to use flash (that around then became Adobe Animate) for storyboarding and animatics, so I made The Loaf Zone as a cheap flash cartoon/animation before I dove into proper 3D production. I thought it would be fun to use some clips from the animatic in the credits, so I’m glad you were digging that. I also used flash to do the 2D animation, some of the characters mouths, some of which were animated by me and some were animated by Joel Nixon who I actually became friends with over the internet back in middle school from doing flash animations together and being involved in those communities.
Matt: Your 3D animation style really stands out as it incorporates a lot of cartoon aesthetics but combines it with CG elements often not present in cartoon style animation such as detailed textures or simulations. This is very apparent in The Loaf Zone, which makes it such a refreshing film. How did you develop this style?
Chris: I think pretty early on I decided that I wanted the project (and my personal work in general) to be really stylized/cartoony in design, but realistic in materials/lighting/rendering. Coming from that 2D background I already had a “style” of characters and drawings that I would do, so it was just a matter of translating that into 3D, and then for the textures and simulations and lighting, that’s just what computers have gotten really good at doing so it made sense to take advantage of that.
I also really like the idea of taking 2D techniques like smear frames and translating them into 3D because it’s such an appealing thing in animation and it’s a fun challenge because it’s not really what 3D rigs are generally designed to do. I’d also say that along the way I was really inspired by the work of studios like Mindbender and MEAT DEPT which have those stylized characters and incredible realism in lighting/textures, as well as Magnus Møller and his studio Tumblehead which does some really fun stuff with making 3D characters and rigs that are designed to work really well at a specific camera angle, almost like the characters are meant for 2D.
Matt: Both of us make more motion graphics type commercial work alongside our main practice. Do you find it hard to walk back and forth over that line? Any tips for balancing your personal practice/style with more restrictive commercial projects?
Chris: I think it’s great to do a bit of both. I would be lying if I said that working on commercials was anywhere near as fun as working on personal stuff, but it’s also nice to take a little bit of a back seat and let someone else drive while you just focus on solving technical problems. Either way it’s all creative problem solving, and I think that the demand for Houdini work in the commercial world has sort of sent me down that path which in terms results in me applying those learnings and tools to my personal work. And alternatively the personal work, learning how to write, direct, design, and pitch projects can definitely come in handy from time to time when working in commercials, especially if you need to help sell a client on an idea or just work more closely with a creative director. It’s definitely tough to balance between commercial and personal stuff, I think the most important thing is to just keep making it whenever you can and not get complacent. Being a freelancer helps a lot for sure also, I can’t imagine being full time and not having the light at the end of the tunnel where you can go back to your personal stuff after any given job.
Matt: You were recently one of the winners of the Houly Daily Challenge. One of the reasons your work really stood out was that you created really appealing original characters. Why do you love derpy pokemon so much?
Chris: Hahaha, I think copyright infringement is a fun line to straddle. I’m all about sampling, remixing, and messing with pop culture stuff. I’m a huge fan of Girl Talk and I used to make a lot of mashups and goofy remixes that you can still find on my soundcloud. Any time someone uses one of my songs or art pieces for their own thing I always find it charming and fun to see my thing re-contextualized. Recently there’s been a bunch of videos of people playing some of my old remixes in beat saber which i think is just the coolest thing ever.
This one guy even made a whole animated short in source filmmaker with one of my dumb mashups, and since it was a SFM short he was sort of remixing valve character and pre existing video game assets as well which just takes it to another level of remix/sampling. In terms of the derpy stuff though, I think I just have a hard time making literally anything that isn’t silly, and the fact that I do so much character work in combination with the fact that I’ve gotten so into houdini for work and personal stuff just means I have to add vellum jiggles and floppy effects to everything.
Matt: Please let us know what you currently have going on and what’s coming up next for you.
Chris: I have another short with Tom Goulet that should be on Adult Swim Smalls in March! I’m also working on a fun music video that will hopefully be done really soon. Other than that, I’m in the process of moving to LA by March 1st, and I just started remote teaching intro to 3d animation for the first time at the University of the Arts in Philly which I am enjoying quite a bit! I’m hoping that once this stuff wraps up I can maybe start on another big ambitious project for the first time since Loaf Zone, but it’s too early to say anything about what that could be.
Matt: Thank you so much, Chris! Finally, if there are a few animated short films you think we may not know about, please link us and give us a few words about what you think about them. You can check out more of Chris’s work by heading to his vimeo or instagram.
Chris: Johnny Bubble is one of my all time favourite animated shorts. Alan Resnick is a genius and I’ve been a huge fan of all of his work since finding this while I was in school still getting ready to work on the Loaf Zone.
Chris: How I get appluaded by Baris Clavosglu is one of the jam packed CG shorts I’ve seen with a range of techniques and styles at 100mph. Some folks may be familiar with his insane instagram filters that are basically short films themselves.
Chris: Body Patterns by Milo Targett is one of my favorite CG shorts in recent memory from Off the Air. Really impressive illustrative animation style.
Chris: I am Billy by Moshe Gilboa was one of my favorites from Pictoplasma this year.
Chris: The Birdwatcherwatcher is my friend Tom Goulet’s graduation film from college and I think is a truly underrated gem. He’s finally started to get some attention for some of his more recent work but The Birdwatcherwatcher is a timeless masterpiece. Give it a shot when you have 20 minutes to spare and stick around for the end, it’s very worth it.