AN ANIMATOR'S FERVENCY TO TELL A STORY
While Disney’s ‘Steamboat Willie’ became the widely popular first ever animation cartoon in 1928, the medium of animation has been used since 1906; the first animated ‘Humorous Phases OF Funny Faces’ created in France, appearing in 1906. What followed then were a series of animation feature films the first of it being ‘Snow White’ in 1993, cartoons, music videos and more. The significance of animation in shaping one’s lifestyle is its emergence and existence during the mind’s adolescent era. The ability and capacity for the role of animation to tell a story cohesively yet profoundly allows the viewer and watcher to comprehend the artist’s perspective through each nuance of their design principles. Randy Chriz is one such artist whose work is a series of mobile images, animated to convey his vision.
Randy Chriz is an award winning Video Director, Artist and Animator with a global following for his unique style of art and animation. He had 12 years of experience working as an artist/animator under his belt before he ventured out on his own to create his production house Meraki United, with his wife Portia Ratnayake, in 2017. Since then he expanded his portfolio rapidly and vastly introducing his unique style of 2.5D animation and extremely detailed comic-style art to Sri Lanka and the world. We conversed with video director, artist and animator Randy Chriz to understand the creative processes behind his works, his inspiration and more.
Q | How did you begin your journey in the arts?
A | I have been keen on drawing since I was a kid. I am from the pre-computer / pre-internet era. So the 4-6pm window for cartoons on TV was my source of inspiration. I have been fascinated by the art, the story-telling and the overall concept of cartoons and animation.
So I would sit down and try drawing the cartoon characters while the cartoon was running on TV, I would create cardboard cut-outs of these characters and play with my brother making up our own stories about them. I was really into it since I was young. My father and mother took up extremely academic careers, but they are both very creative individuals at heart so they gave us plenty of pencil and paper to work with and the freedom to do so. My father taught me some basic skills in drawing and since then I have been drawing every day of my life. I got into computer animation later on in life when I was hired by a TV network to do so. And to date it has been 15 years drawing and animating as a profession.
Q | What are some of your inspirations and muses?
A | Since I am a video director as well as an artist my influences come from individuals from a few different fields. For example, Gary Veinerchuck and Casey Neistat are two individuals I derive inspiration from for my work and work ethic, even though they are not professionally in the art / animation industry. And I am a storyteller, I use art to communicate messages: In that sense I admire the work of people like Quentin Tarantino, Tim Burton and Christopher Nolan. As a child I was also heavily influenced by musical-artists like Eminem, Korn, Limp Bizkit, etc. I used to collect my lunch money to buy the original CDs of these artists to appreciate the lyrics and cover-art of their albums. The art in the albums of Korn was a major influence in my own art style. And my muses in the field of art and animation that I belong to, and l look up to are Hayao Miyazaki and Takashi Murakami. Also I have always been in love with the art and storytelling of Allan Moore, Frank Miller and Todd Mcfarlane.
Q | You created the 'Punchi Dupathe Kathawa'. Can you tell us the creative process behind the making of this video and what of the elements did you feel were significant to highlight in conveying the message and how did you do it?
A | When the Easter attacks happened I lived 1km away from the Katuwapitiya Church. Post-attack there was a week or two filled with terror and fear for our own safety and for the future of this country. I knew the best I could do as an individual was to share a message on social media that would hopefully help de-escalate the situation. Just as I was looking to do so, Gehan Block called me and said he and Dino Corera have a voice-over done and wondered if I would do a video for it. They sent me the voice recording they had done and I knew it was the message I wanted to share. Gehan and Dino's script had depicted both possible endings to the story mentioned, the worst possible scenario if the country went into another war, or the best outcome if the community embraced peace. And I thought this was what made the message hit home. So I was keen on showing that the future of our country depended on our people making the correct choice of action. So in delivering this message visually I made sure I portrayed the two outcomes as strongly as possible.
Afterwards, I sat down with Portia (my wife, creative partner and business partner) and sketched out a rough storyboard, after which I quickly got started on drawing and animating the video since I wanted it to be released as soon as possible. I was able to do it in about 5 days. And when I sent it back to Gehan and Dino they called me back and said they were in tears watching it. It was a collaborative effort and we uploaded it online for anyone to freely share. And we are happy that all TV networks also shared the Punchi Dupathe Kathawa video we did and it had the intended effect on the community. I used a sepia-monochrome colour pallet for the video, along with a simple but attractive bobble-head character design which is my default favourite style of drawing characters. This style has now become what people in the advertising industry refer to as the ‘Punchi Dupatha’ style and it has become the style of choice for many more videos that had important and serious messages to deliver. For example, I used the same style for a series of COVID-19 awareness videos I did for UNICEF in 2020.
Q | Can you tell us the story behind the creation of Eminem's music video and how it came about?
A | In February 2020 I had cleared my work schedule briefly to spend time on a passion project. And as an Eminem fan I wanted to do something based on the ‘Music to Be Murdered By’ album he had released. The track named ‘Godzilla’ was one of the most talked about tracks in that album and I was intrigued. So I started out doing a little animation of Eminem and I realized I could turn this into an entire music video. This is usually too time consuming and with my work-schedule being as packed as it always is, I knew this was going to be a problem. So I asked Portia, who is also my manager, if she could clear out my schedule for a few more weeks till I finished this video. She was able to do this and so I spent 19 days in total producing the fan-made video for Eminem's ‘Godzilla’ track. And I guess I was lucky because while I was completing my video Eminem announced that they would be doing an official music video for the very same track. So my video for ‘Godzilla’ ended up becoming the first Sri Lankan produced video to receive 1 million global views within 24hrs and the numbers kept climbing. And it so happened that Eminem released the official video 8 hours after I uploaded the fan made video I did.
I started receiving so many emails and messages and comments post this, and it was surreal. Four days after that release I received an email from Interscope - Universal Music Group, which is the record label Eminem is signed to and is one of the biggest record labels in the world. The email was from Chris Mortimer, Interscope's Senior Vice President-Digital and he said he will be showing the video to Eminem and wishes to contact me on further projects. He then put me in touch with their team and since then Interscope has been working with me on different projects. In August 2020 I produced the first lyric video for Interscope and with it was registered as one of their official suppliers. I believe I am the first Sri Lankan living in Sri Lanka to be working with Interscope in this capacity as a direct supplier because they had to manually include a few details specific to Sri Lanka into their system so that I could complete my registration with them. And then in December 2020 they asked me if I could do a video for Eminem's Tone Deaf, and I said "Hell Yeah!"
They usually give me complete creative freedom which is something I insist on with most projects I do. They did the same with Tone Deaf and they were extremely happy with the end product. They emailed me saying the team thought the video was "the most amazing thing" they have ever seen. And that compliment coming from Interscope is massive. And I am truly honoured.
Q | What was the creative process behind it?
A | The creative process behind any project is pretty much the same. The client gives us their requirement, Portia and I brainstorm ideas, she builds a screenplay and then I illustrate the assets and finally animate them. I am usually the artist/animator/director of most of the major projects we do. So it was with Eminem's project as well, but it was much harder for several reasons, the biggest being that it was the most important project in my entire career of 15 years. Working on an Eminem project is a dream. Eminem is a major influence on my personal life. And he is the highest selling HipHop artist in the world. And here I am being asked to do a video for one of his tracks that is a complex lyrical masterpiece that not only addresses several issues Eminem had to face in his career like the constant criticism against his work and campaigns to "cancel him", but is one that is packed with multi-references and has no linear story to be told.
As a video director, doing a video for a track that doesn't have a direct story to tell and addresses more than one topic is a creative challenge. This was overcome by a brilliant concept Portia came up with, which was to introduce a jumbled timeline to the visual story we will be telling. This way we could address the topics he is singing about as they happen while combining the events to tell a story that is linear, if the time is arranged chronologically. I believe the video we did for Eminem's ‘Tone Deaf’ track is the only animated music video to feature a jumbled timeline and a time-guide on the video itself. The whole project turned out to be one of the most technically challenging ones as well, resulting in a collection of 68,000 After Effects (software) layers, 600 cameras and 160 total rendered clips compiled to produce the 5 minute video that was Tone Deaf. In technical terms this is far beyond what is normal for a video project produced on the software I use. The Adobe Creative Cloud team had their engineers look at the project to identify how they could develop the software to accommodate this scale of work as the software itself is not built to accommodate more than 1000 layers in one composition. So all in all, this project is without doubt, the one I'm most proud of.
Q | What of your works do you find you most connect with?
A | Like I said I love telling stories; so I always try to tell a story from any art piece I draw or animate. I also thoroughly enjoy drawing people. Bringing out their personalities through their facial expressions and body language. Even if it isn't a project that ideally needs a message delivered, I try to add more into it. Which is why my drawings are also sometimes very detailed. Sometimes the pattern on the fabric of a piece of clothing has a meaning. Or an element in the background tells a story. For example; I included about 30 Easter eggs in the ‘Tone Deaf’ video I did for Eminem, and it was a wonderful experience to watch a global audience eagerly hunt for each of those hidden meanings. I suppose the need to inject meaning to any piece of work I do is a kind of obsession of mine. But sometimes it is extremely difficult to do so when the project in concern doesn't directly inspire me or is not of my usual area of interest. But I always strive to connect with the project myself. We named our production house 'Meraki United' because 'Meraki' means "putting soul into work" and I truly believe I give a part of my soul to each project I do. But to answer your question, the projects that naturally connect with me the most are the ones I did for myself, like ‘Punchi Dupathe Kathawa’, the music video for ‘Godzilla’, the Lyric Video for Eminem's ‘Believe’, the short story ‘Rewind’ and so on. I was very emotional when I made the ‘Punchi Dupathe Kathawa’ video. Just as much as Gehan and Dino were when they saw it. It was a very emotional and personal project for me during that time.
Q | Tell us what you're working on now or what the future holds for you.
A | I am currently working on another music video and there are many things in the pipeline that I am looking to expand into in terms of variant art expressions not limited to what I have been doing so far. The main focus is to try and expand my team and portfolio further.
We believe Randy’s works to be of creative stimulation, storylines combusting at the seams to portray intriguing messages. From ‘Punchi Dupathe Kathawa’ where the country was taken aback in awe and yet moved as they watched the consequences of misguided actions and cruel intentions to ‘Tone Deaf’, music video for renowned artist Eminem’s song where his inventive use of a storyline depicts the underlying allusions from the song, Randy Chriz creatively aligns his vision and thoughts to produce such enthralling videos.