Each month we invite a creative from Behance to curate our social feed for a week. Our Guest Curator for June is Norwich-based 3D artist and animator Alex J Jefferies.
“I’ve always been a huge animation geek — as a kid I would devour anything animated I could get my eyeballs on,” recalls AJ Jefferies. “There used to be these late night showcases of short films that I would tape which regularly featured these incredible CGI animations by studios like Pixar and PDI (Dreamworks).” These animated films ignited his young imagination and gave him the dream of one day creating his own films. Today AJ is one half of MDI Digital, a CGI production studio, whose client lists includes global brands and publications including Johnny Walker, Cadbury’s, and The Atlantic.
“As a kid I was constantly drawing, painting, model making or finding some way to create my own little worlds. This urge has never really left me, thankfully!” After graduating from art college, AJ started his career at a studio specializing in 3D illustration, where he got a taste of the diversity of projects that the world of commercial art had in store for him: “Something that really hooked me in was the sheer variety of the work we produced. You could be creating key art of battling robots for an AAA+ video game one day, then designing a disco dancing duck the next.”
In 2008, AJ joined forces with his former classmate Matthew Dartford to found their own studio. “Even though it’s just the two of us, we do a LOT of varied work for the advertising, music and gaming industries, from CGI illustrations to photographic retouching, digital sculpting, animation, motion graphics, photography and more. We both love learning new techniques and once you start adding strings to your bow, it’s difficult to stop!”
During his spare time, AJ continued to pick up new skills like coding, animation, and sculpture so that he could pursue his dream of bringing animated films to life. He admits that it was a long road to get to where he is today: “The sheer number of different skill sets I had to master meant it took me a long time to get there! I’m now at a point where my skills finally match my ambition.”
One of AJ’s most meaningful personal projects to date is his animated film H O R S E. The original idea came from a conversation he had with a friend about horses being very difficult to draw, and the narrative evolved to tell the story of a horse struggling to exist.
“The horse’s journey perfectly represents the creative process (or my process at least): you start with nothing but possibilities, then slowly things start to take shape only for it all to suddenly spiral out of control. Now it doesn’t look anything like you expected and you’re ready to give up, however reassurance from others can spur you on and what you end up with might not be exactly what you set out to achieve but it’s new, exciting and it wasn’t there before.”
AJ’s original plan was to show the short at festivals, but COVID struck and he decided to release it online instead. He was overwhelmed by the positive responses he received: “Things were pretty bleak around March/April 2020 so I think people liked having something to smile at, even only for a minute or so. It really helped take the edge off a particularly tough time.”
Humor is a big part of all of AJ’s work.” At the simplest level, I just get a real kick out of making people smile or laugh,” he explains. His rule of thumb for making something funny is to make something that appeals to his own sense of humor: “If something makes me laugh, it will probably make someone else laugh too, and I think that’s a good thing to aim for.”
“Incredibly intoxicating” is how AJ describes the feeling he gets when he sees audiences laughing along with his animations. “Eliciting any emotional response from a viewer is rewarding but getting someone to actually laugh out loud feels like witchcraft. Exceeding someone’s expectations or showing them something they’ve never seen before and getting a positive reaction is powerful stuff.”
Behance has been a major source of inspiration for AJ over the years. “Seeing new work from artists I love is always a huge boost and the thrill of finding new creatives to follow never gets old,” he explains. “I especially enjoy looking at projects from artists who work in completely different styles and sectors to my own. Having a broad spectrum of influences is always beneficial to pushing my own work and while I would never copy another artist, seeing how other people have solved their own creative problems can help me gain a new perspective.”
When curating his moodboard, AJ looked for projects that gave him an instant jolt of inspiration. One such project was Viktor Pyatkin’s humorous take on Medieval knights. “I laughed out loud when I saw these images. Viktor’s illustrations tick all my favorite boxes: they’re well executed with a charming sense of style and the ideas in each little scene are just wonderful. I would happily buy a whole book of this series.”
Another artist who caught AJ’s attention was Atlanta-based illustrator Daniel Shaffer. "I love ALL of Daniel’s work. [His art] feels like a page from the best kid’s book you could ever hope to read. It’s spooky, mysterious and enchanting. I instantly want to follow the characters on their adventure."
Malcolm Tween is an artist who has had a big influence on AJ’s career: he gave AJ his first job out of art college. “But in the 20+ years I’ve known him, I’ve barely ever seen him work on any of his own concepts,” says AJ. “Then suddenly these impossibly cool (and cute) robots escaped out of his brain and I love them so much. I especially like the contrast in complexity between the simple forms and flat colors with the sudden intense details of their mechanical structure and texture of the stickers.”
“The bar is constantly rising in my own field,” says AJ. “Seeing new work from my peers gives me a good understanding of where my current work stands, both commercially and technically.”