Kezia Hulse on making stop motion animations, the joy of imperfections, and the importance of creative play
We talk to multidisciplinary animator, designer and illustrator Kezia Hulse about creating stop motion shorts, her artistic influences and her new role as an in-house graphic designer.
Yorkshire-based creative Kezia Hulse is something of a triple threat. When she's not painstakingly piecing together delightful stop motion animations in her spare time, she's whipping up dioramas out of paper and card and creating everything from visuals for Hallmark and the University of York to her own specially-designed jigsaw puzzles.
Her tireless drive and creative output are rewarding for us as viewers – what's not to love about seeing a little model car slowly make its way over hills made out of fuzzy felt? – but it's also recently paid off for Kezia herself as she's recently landed an official job as a creative graphic designer for The Good Life Society.
To hear how Kezia has carved out her creative career, we tore her away from her beloved Bananagrams to sit down for a chat covering everything from Wes Anderson, dealing with deadline pressures, and the significance of her favourite biscuits.
Tell us a bit about your background. Were illustration and animation something you always wanted to do growing up?
I grew up in quite an arty family. My parents worked as architects when I was younger, and I always enjoyed watching them use their big drawing boards to draw out their plans on big sheets of tracing paper. My siblings and I were often encouraged to be creative and do arty activities.
Growing up, I don't remember being aware that you could be an illustrator as a job, but I always imagined myself doing something creative! Films like 'Chicken Run' and 'Wallace and Gromit' meant that I always loved stop motion and was excited about it, though I only really started thinking about making my own stop motion animations towards the end of my time at university.
You're inspired by the Yorkshire landscape, David Hockney and Wes Anderson films. What is it about these things that get your creative juices flowing?
Ooh, great question! David Hockney's use of colour and texture is so wonderful. I think his work has so much character and energy, and that excites me to create energetic artwork and think about how I use colour to convey atmosphere and mood.
Wes Anderson's extreme consideration of every single detail shows such a love and appreciation for design, and that inspires me to show the same level of care and consideration in my own work. His films are so fun, and I love getting lost in the amazing and mad worlds he builds. I also love having one of his soundtracks playing as I work!
I've been privileged to grow up with easy access to the Yorkshire landscape, and I love seeing the changes that the countryside goes through throughout the seasons. My Christian faith means that I believe that God is a creative God who has made these landscapes, and I believe that I can reflect his character by also being creative.
What is it about creating tactile work that appeals to you especially?
There's something about sifting through a pile of paper to find the perfect colour or sorting through a drawer of material to see what will make the best hill or cloud, which means I can have this immediate connection to a physical scene that I'm building. Having this hands-on approach means it's easy to experiment and I don't feel tied down to one way of making.
I also think there's a unique connection that a viewer experiences when looking at tactile work – they can see how the creator's hands have interacted with the materials and can see 'imperfections' which add a level of charm and relatability.
Stop motion appears to be having a renaissance at the moment. Why do you think people keep coming back to it and is it easier to create than before with the help of digital tools?
It's so exciting that there's so much stop motion happening at the moment. Going back to what I mentioned before, I think this renaissance is possibly due to this human connection to tactility which is so obvious in stop motion. For example, in Aardman's work, you can often see fingerprints imprinted in the clay. I think communicating that this is a created object that can be held, sculpted, and brought to life in the real world is something you can't replicate in other forms of animation.
I think it's great that there is technology to help create stop motion. However, I hope these tools are made to make the work more efficient rather than to eliminate the character charm of the slight 'imperfections' that come out in stop motion.
We love your woolly hills animation personal project. What made you want to create it, and what do you think you learnt from it?
Back in March, I helped out with a stop motion for Deliveroo as part of the set-building team at Scale Model Studios. Our main task was to make huge hills out of foam for the set. When I got back from London, I really wanted to experiment with making 3D hills in my own way, and I landed on the technique of paper-mâché and balloons, using a combination of paper and felt to cover them. I think I learnt that it's important to not just stick with one way of working and be open to experimentation and having a sense of play as you create.
How is working with fuzzy textures like wool different from materials like card? And do you have a preference?
I think fuzzy textures can add a lot of charm – I never want my work to feel too rigid or perfect, and adding textures with wool or felt can help bring in more movement and character. My strengths lie in using card, but I'd love to improve my textiles skills!
What's the biggest challenge when creating stop motion animations, and how do you overcome it?
Patience is the biggest challenge – especially when things go wrong, and you're on a deadline. Staying calm under pressure is a valuable skill I'm still working on! If I'm feeling a bit stressed, I'll try to have a break and do something completely different, like going for a walk or a run, and then returning to it with a fresher and calmer brain.
What advice would you give to aspiring illustrators and animators?
Firstly, maintaining a sense of fun with your work is so important! Experiment and play around with different methods and make a mess!
Secondly, try and find as many sources of inspiration as possible – watch films and TV, look at old books, go for a walk and look at leaves, look through windows, and be nosey. You can't go wrong.
Congratulations on your new job as a creative graphic designer for The Good Life Society! What will you be doing there?
Thank you! I will be helping with the branding and visuals for their different businesses and coming up with creative designs to promote their events. Recently, I've been creating floorplans for their holiday cabins up in Glen Dye, Scotland.
What have been your highlights of 2022, and what are you hoping to achieve in 2023?
I have quite a few highlights, but my main one would be managing to land a graphic design role after many applications and interviews! I also really enjoyed turning my work into wooden puzzles. I'd sketched out the rough concept months ago, and it was really fun to bring the idea into reality.
What work have you made so far are you most proud of and why?
The illustrations and stop motion animations I've created for London Nightline are part of a project I feel proud of! I've been lucky enough to work on a couple of commissions with them over the past year and a half, and I feel honoured to have created work that communicates the vital support they provide for students.
If time and money were no object, what would be your dream project to work on?
This is a hard question! I would love to create a stop motion for a charity like The Samaritans or a company like Ecosia. I would love to create a tactile animation to communicate the important work that both organisations are doing.
I would also love to have the chance to design a window display at some point in the future!
When not cutting paper, you say you love a biscuit. What is your biscuit of choice, and what do you think that says about you?
I go through phases of favourite biscuits. Currently, it's probably a chocolate Hobnob enjoyed alongside (and dunked in) a cup of Yorkshire Tea. I think Hobnobs are fun and friendly – two adjectives that certainly describe me!