Introducing: Hannah Vernon on pushing animation beyond traditional techniques
As part of our series focusing on new creative graduates, we celebrate Hannah Vernon from Cambridge School of Art, Anglia Ruskin University. She chats to us about her love of animation, moving outside her comfort zone, and the joys of working as a team.
Hannah Vernon is an illustrator and animator, originally from Dublin, who's just graduated with a BA (Hons) in Illustration and Animation from Cambridge School of Art, Anglia Ruskin University. She loves creating pieces focused on storytelling and colour, often combining multiple working methods to achieve a specific look.
During her time at university, she's explored 2D illustration and animation, 3D modelling and model making, and enjoyed finding new ways of incorporating elements of each into her work. Her graduate film Opsis is a short animation about love and death featuring a diver and a coral reef.
In our interview, Hannah tells us about growing up in a creative household, experimenting with different animation techniques and why you should always keep learning.
Where did you grow up?
I lived by the sea in Ireland and grew up in a creative household. My mam was a theatre set designer, and my dad is a sound engineer and composer. Thanks to their encouragement, I was always doing something creative as a child. I'd often make papier-mâché creatures, sew dolls' clothes, and shoot terrible stop motion ﬁlms with my toys. Stop-motion ﬁlms and television shows were my favourite things to watch when I was young. The Clangers, Trapdoor and Coraline were some of my favourites.
How did you get into animation?
Despite animation being my favourite thing to watch as a child, I didn't realise it was something that could be seriously pursued as a career until I was a bit older. As a teenager, I attended a local art and design university open day and fell in love with the animation room. After seeing the students' ﬁlms and learning about what goes into animation, I couldn't imagine myself studying anything else.
Why did you choose your course?
My course appealed to me because it encourages students to explore 2D, 3D and stop motion animation, as well as illustration and model making. As I was unsure which area to focus on at this stage, I was glad to be allowed to experiment with different filmmaking techniques.
What was the experience like?
My time at university was a lot of fun. It allowed me to develop my technical skills and gain an insight into how the industry works. I had some very talented classmates and brilliant tutors. And I was often pushed beyond my comfort zone, which helped my skills develop faster than expected.
The pandemic obviously had an impact. I don't think any of us particularly enjoyed having to work from home for a term and a half. Especially as an important aspect of the course is being able to work in the studio, alongside classmates, and use the university's facilities. However, I think our tutors managed the switch to online learning well, and luckily we could get back onto campus for our ﬁnal year.
I ﬁnd the animation industry quite intimidating because it's so competitive. Landing your ﬁrst job in a studio can be challenging. Despite my fears, I'm looking forward to working towards being part of a team in a studio.
What can you tell us about your final-year project?
My graduate ﬁlm, Opsis, is a short animation about love and death, featuring a diver and a coral reef. I was inspired to make it after watching the 2017 documentary Chasing Coral, in which a team of divers, ecologists and photographers record and document the disappearance of coral reefs. They did this by capturing a time-lapse of the bleaching process over a couple of months.
To create a 3D virtual reality look, my ﬁlm combines 2D animation with a physical set for the background. Live action clips were ﬁlmed inside the set, as if from the diver's perspective as he looked around the scene, and the 2D animated sea creatures were added afterwards. I hoped that this way of working would make the ﬁlm more immersive because I wanted the viewer to feel as shocked and heartbroken as the diver does as he realises what is happening to the reef.
Who or what inspires you?
I'm most inspired by artists constantly ﬁnding new ways to use animation. One of my favourites is Eran Hilleli, an Israeli animation director who explores augmented reality and audio-reactive character animation in his work. The projects and experiments he releases are often made using software or processes that are completely new to me. It's exciting to see some things that can be done with animation beyond the more traditional techniques.
Film is something that constantly inspires me, both animated and live-action. Recently, I've been enjoying doing studies of scenes with interesting lighting and framing for practice.
What do you hope to do with your career?
While I loved working on my graduate ﬁlm this year, at times, I found it quite a challenging and solitary experience producing every aspect of the ﬁlm myself. In the future, I'd like to collaborate with others and hopefully work as part of a team. It would be exciting to play a tiny part in a big production. Currently, 2D animation and visual development are the areas that interest me most. I also don't feel like I've ﬁnished studying yet, and I'd love to do a master's in the future.
How do you feel about graduating in 2022?
I think I'm quite lucky to be graduating in 2022. Ours was the ﬁrst year that was able to put on a physical degree show for two years. We also had screenings of our films at a local cinema. Sharing our work in person with friends and family was a brilliant way to end a year of hard work, and I'm so glad it was able to go ahead.
Now things are starting to go back to normal, many animators and artists are returning to studios rather than working from home. And the idea of working in a studio environment appeals to me.
What are your fears?
I ﬁnd the animation industry as quite intimidating because it's so competitive. In the last year of our degree, several industry professionals came in to speak to us, and they all mentioned that landing your ﬁrst job in a studio can be challenging. Despite my fears, I'm looking forward to working towards my goal of being part of a team in a studio.
What advice would you give to others following in your footsteps?
Always keep learning. Over the summer, while I was at university, I learned how to use new software and did online courses in subjects like gesture drawing and animation. And I'll do the same now that I've ﬁnished my degree. I'm never completely happy with my work, but I see this as a positive, as it encourages me to keep learning and improving.