Working at Shootsey Studios there were often brief hiatuses when the studio was quiet and between jobs. Len Lewis – my first employer – was quite free and easy about allowing freelancers to find other work, and in fact encouraged it and it made no sense to keep me there since I wasn’t on a payroll.
Prior to forming the studio he had worked as a director at Grand Slamm Animation – a company fronted by the animation director Geoff Dunbar and it was at Grand Slamm that he had met and worked with Annabel Jankel, who later went on to form a partnership with Rocky Morton as Cucumber Studios.
This network of contacts combined with the way in which animators networked in the pre-internet era – basically certain Soho pubs – meant that Len was able to point freelancers to particular studios for work in those early frequent lean periods.
Cucumber had gained a reputation for being a young, happening, studio keen to embrace new technologies and approaches to creating animation that succeeded in looking fresh, innovative and very different from anything being done in London at the time, and I had been following their work since leaving college.
I was interested in the possibilities of computer graphics whilst still at college, primarily after discovering a bound collection of exhibits at an early overview of computer graphics research at the ICA called “Cybernetic Serendipity” but at the time access to the actual hardware was limited to universities that possessed expensive mainframe computers.
My first assignment with Cucumber was to take some photographic reference frames – a sequence of a man tied to a steel pole rotating through 360 degrees – and render them in pencil with a very clean line and then artwork the drawings to match style reference that had been supplied – it was just a very contemporary 80’s graphic style of thick and thin black lines and flat colour that looked very on-trend.
I was given the reference, a stack of animation paper and a bag of black and coloured markers of 2 different thicknesses.
Working from home, I animated the frames required for the sequence – in many ways the drawing style required was very close to my own and since the assignment was a sort of test – I was impressed by Morton and Jankels’ trust in my abilities for someone with very little experience of working in a commercial animation studio – I can remember really sweating over it.
It wasn’t the sort of animation that started with loose blue pencil that would later be cleaned up with a tight pencil line, it had a technical feel to it and at the time I often used ellipse and curve guides to provide a clean technical line to drawings, something that was counter-intuitive to fluid hand-drawn character animation.
The finished piece of work is on Annabel Jankels’ YouTube channel – it was for “Friday Night Videos” in the U.S, a prototype MTV show, and suggests how Cucumber had quickly positioned itself as the go-to studio for young, pop-y and radical animation that was the definition of Cyberpunk, in the brief period before the arrival of MTV.
Shooting the final title sequence involved a sheet of reeded glass that created the effect of TV “raster” or low-resolution 8 Bit computer graphics – this was manipulated frame by frame under the rostrum camera by the cameraman Peter Tupy, who contributed many technical innovations to Cucumbers’ output.