UK-based animator Billy Allison fell in love with cartoons and film at a very early age, and simply can’t remember a time in his youth when he wasn’t drawing or doodling something.
Over the past 20 years this hard-working creative artist has succeeded in developing his childhood artistic passion into a very fulfilling and rewarding career, gaining a solid reputation as an exceptionally skilled animator with a wealth of experience and an uncommon gift for giving his characters emotion.
Allison got his start in 1986 at Siriol Productions in Cardiff, Wales, as an in-betweener, and in the years since he’s acquired an impressive portfolio of work for both traditional animation and video game companies. These days he concentrates on character modeling and 2D and 3D animation, and has lent his talents and expertise to a wide range of projects for television, advertising and film shorts.
Amusing references to sci-fi, classic film, pop culture, aliens and cute, furry monsters abound in Allison’s artwork. Not surprisingly, his vivid imagination and delightfully warm sense of humor are often showcased in his t-shirts available through such online design marketplaces as Redbubble, Threadless and Goodjoe.
Allison, who also is known by his online moniker “Bleee,” resides in West Yorkshire, UK, with his wife and their two sons. It was my pleasure to recently talk with him about how he got started in the animation business, his influences and what he considers his favorite subjects to illustrate.
At what age did you begin drawing?
Allison: People always say this, but I have drawn forever. I don’t remember not drawing. My uncle was a painter who lived with us when I was a child, and I was inspired by him. Sadly, he gave up any form of art, but he did encourage me to carry on.
Did your parents draw?
Allison: Yes, Mum often designed and made her own dresses for family get-togethers, and my late Dad, although he preferred to write song lyrics, used to doodle a bit, usually for his woodworking projects. But when I was a toddler he would occasionally do a drawing of me.
Are you right or left-handed?
Allison: I am right-handed, but do try to use the right side of my brain.
How did you get started in animation and cartooning?
Allison:I started early, making flipbooks in my schoolbooks and comics for a local newsletter in my teens. I applied to art college and failed — three times — so while working at a local factory, I spent time hunting down a film school.
I could only find three in the UK (we are talking 30-ish years ago, now they seem to be on every street corner), but only one of them wasn’t a postgraduate course. The others meant that I had to have already completed a degree course. So I applied and was accepted at Newport Film School in South Wales for their two-year film and animation course.
The first year was a general film course and the second year I specialised in animation. There was not a computer in sight apart from the Commodore PET controlling a rostrum camera!
After graduating I got my first job in animation at Siriol Productions in Cardiff (the company that brought us “SuperTed”). I’ve stayed in animation ever since, occasionallyin later years crossing the line between television and video games.
Have you ever taught animation?
Allison: Although I’ve never officially taught animation, I’ve often helped out students who emailed me, messaged me on Facebook, or stopped me at animation festivals with critiques and constructive critiques. I’ve never had a problem with this, in fact if the student is getting something from it then so do I, as long as the students know that I don’t always have the time and they may have wait a little while sometimes.
What was the hardest technique for you to learn?
Allison: I’ve never actually thought about techniques as separate things, it’s all part of the big picture as it were. Techniques are easy to learn, animation is not. The “rules” are not rigid, and are very fuzzy-edged. Most of the time animation is a dynamic flow of work, hard to explain in words, and with so many decisions being made as you work. It’s a very dynamic process.
What sort of equipment and materials do you use?
Allison: For most of the 3D work I do, I use Autodesk Maya these days. For 2D stuff, I use TVPaint when doing t-shirts and 2D animation, along with my ancient and scratched Wacom Intuos2 (graphics tablet). What I wouldn’t do for a Cintiq!
Who are some of the artists whose work inspires you?
Allison: There are so many! I’ve been inspired over the years by the work of Michael Dudok de Wit, Frédéric Back, Chuck Jones, Richard Williams, W. Heath Robinson, Norman Rockwell, Frank Frazetta, Jonny Duddle, and Matt Dixon. I’ll leave it there, as I could go on forever.
One person who inspired me to keep going when I once felt full of self doubt is animator/filmmaker Joanna Quinn. We first met when she was a guest lecturer at films school back in 1985, and we’re still friends even now.
What’s your favorite part of being an artist?
Allison: I get to get the ‘space invader’ out of my head and onto paper or screen and then I’m in total control of it.
Do you currently have a favorite theme or technique?
Allison: My personal favourite to draw are my “cute” monsters and aliens, and I love to animate in any medium or technique.
What things do you hate to draw?
Allison: I hate to draw…erm… No, I really hate to draw…erm… I don’t think I can answer that!
Do your kids draw?
Allison: Yes, both of my kids draw. One even has a deviantART account, his work is generally darker than mine. One even has a design on Redbubble (with a little help from me).
What advice would you give to aspiring artists?
Allison: First thing: be aware, art in any form is not an easy way out. It is hard work even if it just looks like we’re sat there doodling. I know so many kids who took the art option in school to get out of doing other so-called harder subjects and ended up dropping out after a short period.
In terms of animation, its like the Force, let it flow through you! Avoid formulaic animation (unless that is the style/budget of you’re working on). Think weight and form. And most of all, if it’s character animation, make the character appear to think about what they are doing. That’s the hard bit.
More of Billy Allison’s artwork can be viewed on his website: http://blimation.com/