RUFFMERCY: FREEFORM MANIPULATIONS

Slate + Ash @ 2022-11-07 15:57:27 +0000

Drawing influence from 1940s avant-garde animators such as Norman Mclaren and Len Lye, RUFFMERCY experiments with drawing and painting on super eight rolls of film.

“I am using the same analogue techniques used in the 1940s! However, since buying a scanner, I can digitise super eight film and edit everything in Adobe software!”

RUFFMERCY joined us for a chat before a morning swim. 

You often work with hip-hop artists; could you tell me about your relationship with this genre?

I started listening to a load of electro albums as a kid. From then I was hooked. Beatmakers like Madlib and J Dilla influenced me because they chopped together samples in a hectic and layered way. I like music to be raw and loose and textures such as heavy dust crackles and buzz.

How did your career in animation begin?

I worked at MTV in the nineties. At that time, my job would involve digging through the archive of videos to build together promos for adverts. I would find all the obscure stuff late at night. I would stumble across early warp records videos that nobody had seen in the daytime. I’m influenced by a lot of what I saw back then.

In 2011, I started making music videos by reaching out to artists I liked and offered to work for free. My work got noticed and I began to get hired. At that time, the standard hip-hop video would be very bling. Nobody was using experimental animation. I think I found a niche. 

"I like making things crazy and energetic. With Hip Hop, it often works."

How do you find the initial process of inspiration and creation?

Some people get to the right way of doing things early. I find it takes me a long time to get into a project. If I struggle to get an idea straight away, I go for a swim or cycle. Then I force myself to start something, anything.

If I’m being creative, more ideas come. I’ll improvise and experiment by laying down a texture and doodling on top of it.

Cycle rides bring inspiration and a fresh perspective to RUFFMERCY's projects.

What excites you about how music and visuals work together?

I like visuals that interact with the music as much as possible. I often watch videos with amazing visuals and music that aren't in sync. For me, these videos don't quite do it. I like visuals to interact with the music and feel alive.

What got you into using super eight film?

Defacing and graffiti-inspired me when I was a kid. I like drawing over stuff in a fast and loose way. I like drawing and painting on super eight to design my unexpected grain textures.

I had hundreds of super eight rolls I shot years ago lying around. I couldn’t get them printed or digitised because it was expensive. However, I bought a cheap scanner from amazon, which meant I could digitise the film myself.

"It is quite therapeutic to sit there and draw frame by frame”

How was working with Slate + Ash on the LANDFORMS artwork?

Slate + Ash approached after they saw these experiments I was posting on Instagram and liked the idea of me drawing over live footage. We booked a trip to film mountains in Wales; I planned to draw over the footage afterwards. Unfortunately, the weather made us cancel the trip. 

I went back to Slate + Ash after going away and painting over a lot of super eight film. I submitted thirty minutes' worth of short clips each coloured each visual in five different colours. I edited it all together and did some drawings on top of the footage. It needed to be the perfect match for the software.

Still from RUFFMERCY's animation for LANDFORMS.

How did you get approached to do the artwork for Suspiria?

Early in my career, I made an important connection with XL records’ creative director Phil Lee. When I started making music videos, Phil invited me to meet him. He followed me on Instagram and saw what I had posted over the years. Phil reached out and asked me if I wanted to do the Suspiria project.

How was working with Thom Yorke on Suspiria?

Thom’s brief was vague. He’d maybe give me a thematic word or nothing at all. I started by sending Thom an initial test of a woman dancing in pink and blue colours on the album cover — he loved it. Thom would hint towards what he wanted if the visuals weren’t quite hitting while still letting me have creative freedom. 

It was a bit intimidating as Thom is a creative genius. However, I knew he would be great to work with so I just dived in!

Your Suspiria visuals use many textures. How do you record and collect images?

I needed female hands in the visuals to match what was on the album cover. I asked a friend who shared my studio space to move her hands in front of the wall. I filmed it on my iPhone and thought it would look rubbish. It turned out well! I also used my iPhone to film my kid in a mask, dancing down a corridor. 

I would sample a lot from obscure youtube videos, disguising the source by rotating it or breaking it down into screen print textures.

Still from Suspiria by Thom Yorke, animated by RUFFMERCY.

You often use footage from an external source. How do you get access to this?

For The Chemical Brothers' video The Darkness That You Fear, we used footage from 90s raves. We employed a picture researcher to find the footage — a lot of it came from one source. In my head, I was expecting the footage to be in HD! I was shocked when the researcher told me there wasn't any better footage! 

It was nice revisiting that era because, at the time, I was the same age as these ravers. I grew up around that culture up north but was never involved in it. Half of me wishes I had done it and been there!

“Suddenly someone wants £50k for some footage that you have already edited into the video!”

So using footage is similar to clearing a sample!?

Yeah! It must be frustrating if you can’t release a track because you can’t get the clearance!

The Beastie Boys got screwed over on Paul’s Boutique. When they made Hello Nasty, they created all the samples themselves. They fabricated song names for each and pretended to sample hundreds of records to see if anyone noticed. Nobody knew! 

RUFFMERCY at his studio


How do you maintain creative freedom when working with clients, commissioners and managers?

Projects like Suspiria and The Darkness That You Fear tend to give me more creative freedom. The higher-profile artists and projects usually hire me because they trust me to do what I do best. Resultantly I often come up with better pieces of work on these.

When I first began directing, I would write loads of prep notes. Now, I’ve learned to relax on a shoot and let the actors breathe. You employ someone because you like what they do. I try to give them the freedom to be themselves.

Do you have any techniques or equipment that are essential to your animation workflow?

Super sixteen or eight textures are central to my work — I always have them on hand. I draw using a Wacom tablet and spend a lot of time in Adobe Photoshop, Premiere and AfterEffects. In Photoshop, I have custom brushes that I have tweaked and saved. 

Years ago, a kid came to my studio and taught me this AfterEffects shortcut where you can loop a frame indefinitely — I use it for every job.

"I’m so glad that kid came and taught me the shortcut; it saves me so much time!"

Could you talk me through each stage of your animation process?

I usually start a project outside of the computer. In between projects, I am always experimenting with different techniques and textures. If I stumble across something new that excites me, I will often use it in the next project. 

When using live footage, I use Adobe Premier to chop it up and make a sequence. I might alternate between Premier, Photoshop and AfterEffects — I often go back and forth between them.

I always bring everything together in Adobe AfterEffects. It’s great to hone all my ideas in one place at the end of a project.

Do you approach animating with any generative systems or elements of chance?

I found this software called Lumen that can simulate plugging in different cables and sending voltage to make things react and modulate. I used the software to make the backgrounds for San Francisco by Mac Miller.

As a visual person, I approached this software by playing with it until I landed on something I liked. It was an enjoyable new way of working where I wasn't controlling what was getting generated.

Words by Joe Dean
Photographs by Tom Ham
December 2022