What is your name and your current occupation?
My name is Andy Sykes. I go by the name ‘Hexjibber’ onlline. I work as a part time lecturer at The University of Leeds, where I teach Animation and Digital Storytelling. I also work as a freelance commercial illustrator and animator.
What are some of the crazier jobs you had before getting into animation?
I’ve worked as a visiting artist in schools. Working with kids is rewarding, but very frenetic and tiring. I’m lucky that most of my jobs have been related to art in one way or another.
What are some of your favorite projects you’re proud to have been a part of?
I created 3 animated films with funding from Screen Yorkshire, called ‘Special Glue and Other Stories’. One of the films, ‘Stupid Table’ won the award for Best Short at Bradford Animation Festival in 2009. You can see it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tbkLwF8O7Jw, I have self-published 3 illustrated books. The first ‘The Hexjibber Colouring and Activity Book’, is a subversive activity book for adults. I created some bizarre adverts for it here: http://www.hexjibber.com/colouring-book/.’The Hexjibber Anti Revision Book’ is a creative procrastination book. ‘Hexjibber Hobbies Vol.1’, is a compilation of the first year of my illustrated blog http://hexjibberhobbies.blogspot.co.uk. I am currently working on Vol.2, which is a complete story, centring around my recent battle with insomnia. I enjoyed creating large scale interactive art projects for Light Night in Leeds. It is an art festival that takes place on the first Friday of October, involving installations, performance and projections. It is great get so many people involved in creating illustration and animation. You can see some video of it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eL2xAmTbg34, I created the ident for the Bradford Animation Festival in 2010, with illustrations from Tom Wooley. It is Jekyll and Hyde meets 90s anime. You can see it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_wd0NIOuvbc
Where are you from and how did you get into the animation business?
I am from Leeds, which is in the north of England, in the UK. Think Winterfell in Game of Thrones. It’s a bit like that:) I studied Interactive Arts in Manchester (which is also in England), where I worked mainly in animation. I taught myself Flash and started creating short animated films. It took me a long time after graduating before I started to make a living from it. I did some work for free for experience anywhere that I could find it. I created a lot of visuals for nightclubs and gradually started getting bits of paid work. Shortly after graduating, circa 2004, I applied for some production funding from NESTA (National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts) to make some ‘Pocket Shorts’. These were short films designed for mobile phones. These films started to get shown at festivals, which helped raise my profile a bit. Then I got some production funding from Screen Yorkshire to make ‘Special Glue and Other Stories’ in 2008. This did quite well at festivals and won an award. It has been a long drawn out process.
What’s a typical day like for you with regards to your job?
I work in a co-working space, where I rent a desk along side other new media freelancers. I teach one day a week, so the other 4 weekdays I will spend in the co working space working on commercial projects, or my own personal projects, if there is time. It is stimulating environment and helps me to get paid work. It is a good way to avoid cabin fever and expand your network.
What part of your job do you like best? Why?
I like drawing and animating the best, because it gives me the most satisfaction. I get a lot of satisfaction out of teaching, when I feel like I am getting through to my students and they are enthusiastic about learning.
What part of your job do you like least? Why?
Admin, marking work and chasing up invoices are my least favourite part of the job. I can spend quite a lot of time just trying to get my clients to pay me promptly, which gets tiring. It is part of being freelance though.
What kind of technology do you work with on a daily basis, how has technology changed in the last few years in your field and how has that impacted you in your job?
I’ve always been very keen on working digitally, so I like to keep up to date with tech. I draw on a Wacom tablet, mostly in Flash, After Effects, Photoshop and Illustrator. Tech hasn’t changed radically for me in the last few years. ‘The cloud’ has probably been the biggest change. It is much easier to work collaboratively and share work with clients than it used to be. It is also very easy of me to work across my laptop, phone and desktop now.
What is the most difficult part for you about being in the business?
Finding a constant stream of freelance work. I typically have either too much or too little. I am lucky to have a teaching job that is more stable to get me through the quiet periods.
If you could change the way the business works and is run how would
you do it?
I think the business is changing slowly and sourcing ideas from a larger pool of people, which is positive to see. The internet is allowing for more unusual ideas to find an audience. I would like to see this carry on.
In your travels, have you had any brushes with animation greatness?
I’ve met Bill Plimpton and Bob Godfrey at animation festivals. I was lucky enough to be invited to Bristol to show my film Stupid Table, where I met Phil Lord and was given a tour round Aardman (although not by him). I have never worked on anything with anyone of ‘greatness’ yet, but you never know what might happen!
Describe a tough situation you had in life.
I had a case of chronic insomnia that lasted for a couple of years. I am writing/drawing a book about it at the moment. I wanted to write a book about insomnia/mental health that was approachable and funny, as well as emotionally truthful. I am not interested in making people feel sorry for me, but I am interested in sharing my experiences with other people. I hope that once it is finished it might bring some people comfort as well as making them laugh and think. If it is successful, I would like to make it into a series of animated shorts.
Any side projects you’re working on that you’d like to share details of?
I make a lot of tutorial videos for my students, that I share online. I cover everything from the basics of Flash and After Effects, to complex elemental animation. Plus they are all available for free on Youtube!
Any unusual talents or hobbies like tying a cherry stem with your tongue or metallurgy?
I have a very loud voice:) And I can do the lotus position.
Is there any advice you can give for an aspiring animation student or artist trying to break into the business?
Have a good idea of what area of the business you want to get into and keep practicing. Try and get some work online and ask blogs (like this one!) to feature it. Go to animation festivals and try and meet people in the industry. The Children’s Media Conference and Bradford Animation Festival are good places to meet people to pitch to at the major broadcasters in the UK. Don’t give up on creating new work and don’t hide your light under a bushel. Make sure people are seeing what you are doing.