Michelle Brand is an award-winning German-English freelance animation director, illustrator and sound designer based in London, who loves to explore visualising abstract ideas in abstract ways and discovering new ways of translating a concept into unique imagery.
Throughout her work, she plays with many different visual structures and aesthetics, including unique approaches to sound design, and finding the right visuals for the right idea. Heavily influenced by avant-garde, abstract and contempary art movements, She is completely obsessed with abstract shapes, straight lines and perfect round circles.
Any Instant Whatever
RF: Hey Michelle, excited to share your work on Rhythm and Frames, for me it is some of the most vibrant and rich animation I have ever seen. It is the visual solution to jazz music. I’d love to start by asking you a bit about your background and what led you to animation?
Michelle: Hello! Ah, I love your ‘visual solution to jazz music’ description, I might steal that and use it from now onwards… When I was young, naïve and figuring out my life, I went through 4 main phases – first, when I was very little, I wanted to be an author. Then, when I was a teenager, I wanted to be a filmmaker. And then I wanted to be an artist. And then I wanted to be a philosophy teacher if the art thing didn’t work out. Only when I was a bit older, I realised if you add everything together the equation is animation!
RF: I was wondering what your relationship is to music and whether you are inspired by other artists working within the realms of visual music?
Michelle: My parents listened to a lot of music and had an immense CD and record collection, so I grew up listening to all kinds of music, especially soundtracks. There are so many soundtracks that I know of films I have never seen before (which probably isn’t a thing to boast about!). I also play the piano and when I was younger, I’d make drawings and then come up with songs for them or vice versa, I’ve always been in love with the connection of music and image. I’m definitely strongly inspired by artists such as Alvin Lucier and John Cage and I love the sort of experimental, ambient, organic, rhythmical kind of music – people like Josiah Steinbrick, Yosi Horikawa, Yann Novak, Biosphere or Max Cooper.
RF: Who would you list as your top inspirations, are there any particular moving image works that influence your work?
Michelle: Definitely – I always immediately love anything that screams visual music, so anything like the sorts of Norman McLaren or Oskar Fischinger.
One of my top inspirations though that changed my RCA graduation film at the last minute is the work by Jonathan Gillie, which Edwin Rostron showed us in one of his screenings.
His work has a sort of technical, philosophical and conceptual world of its own, that comes to life only through the eye of the viewer. I think his work is one of the best examples to talk about how a film, a piece of work, can discuss its own medium, its own making, while you are watching it, entangling thoughts that are greater than the pure image.
RF: Some of the scenes you create are incredibly complex and it’s hard to imagine how you would begin to conjure up these ideas in your head. Could you talk us through your creative process?
It’s a hard one to explain, cause it’s a bit all over the place! But generally, in the case of an abstract, geometric image, there is some sort of chain reaction going on in my head. After you study a lot of paintings by Kandinsky or Malevich, there are rules that begin to develop (and I’m not saying these are real rules, this is just my brain running wild!). Although they feel very spontaneous and ‘jazzy’, it’s kind of like a mathematical procedure – you start with one shape, then that shape requires a circle, the circle always gets some triangles inside of it that move outwards, and then let’s add a square here, but no, a triangle is better, but it needs to have a line through it – and then suddenly the whole page is full! In the case of a film, I usually then work along coordinates to decide the order of scenes – from very figurative to very abstract or from very still to very loud for example – and then fill in the gaps.
RF: You recently wrote an essay inspired by the philosophical ideas of becoming, I was wondering how your research in philosophy helps to shape your visual work?
I’ve always been fascinated between the connection of animation theory and philosophies on time, and so nearly all my films are sort of a practical result from those discussions. But often I also read books, let’s say a book by Hawkins about time, where I don’t grasp what he is saying fully at all, I’m no good at maths or physics, but there’s something there that forms some visual inspiration that can get me really excited. Most of the time, I get caught up on one thought, a philosophical question, a concept, and then the work becomes a visual exploration of whatever that is. Only when the work is done, I feel as if I can end that thought process and conclude ‘I’ve thought about this enough now!’, even if I never reached an answer. And then I’m free to get stuck in the next thought!
RF: Thanks a lot for taking the time to answer our questions, look forward to seeing you soon! You can check out her full portfolio here
Michelle: Thank you so much for having me, I really hope the world calms down a bit and we can see each other soon again!