CCS Customs X First Thursdays Interviews: Jay Howell
November 05, 2021 - CCS launches the Customs X First Thursdays program with one of our favorite artists: Jay Howell.
When we came across Jack Hyde’s Instagram page, we were blown away by his animation style. In an effort to better understand his technique and his background, we quickly sent him an email to see if he was interested in doing an interview for CCS.
Hyde grew up in England watching skate videos like Flip’s Sorry on VHS on rainy days and trying to emulate Mark Appleyard's style on the days when he could skate. Today, he’s reemerged into the skate scene through animation. While most of his animation work is done for educational animations, eS did hit him up to do a video recently, and we’re pretty confident you’re going to be hearing more about him real soon. His animation style is perfect for skateboarding and skate videos.
What’s up, Jack? Your animations are legit. How’d you get into animation?Hey! Thanks so much. Well, when I was about 8 or 9 years old I went to this little animation workshop for kids and learnt a little bit about stop motion animation there. It was a fun workshop but I definitely didn’t fall in love with it or anything - in fact I didn’t try animating again until about 10 years later. I always enjoyed animated films growing up, like Pixar, Wallace and Gromit etc (did Wallace and Gromit cross the pond to America? If not you should seriously check those films out), but it certainly wasn’t a passion. I was definitely quite late to the game in that sense.
Did you go to school for animation/art?Sort of, I actually studied World Cinema at University. I absolutely loved it but it wasn’t a practical course, it was like 90% theory based. Essentially it was a mixture of History and Film as it was the exploration of why films were made at certain points in time - what was happening in the country that made filmmakers make the statements they were making with their films. There was an animation module but ironically, I didn’t take it!
Have you always done stop motion, or do you do 2D and 3D animation as well?I do all sorts; 2D, motion graphics, rotoscopes, 3D etc, but stop motion has always been the format that appeals to me the most, both the look of it and the practical process of making them. Personally, I feel stop motion is the format that allows me to have my own, unique style the most.
What’s your stance on the California Raisins? Are you a fan?Ha! I’m a fan in terms of the advertising side of it, it was such a great (& odd) idea and I love that they took such a gamble with it. However in terms of the actual animating, they actually kinda freak me out a little! Something just doesn’t sit right with me. I have the same thing, although way worse, with Dr Seuss drawings. I have no idea why.
How About Laika Studios? What’s Your favorite Laika animation?Oh man, they are just at the top of their game right now. I still haven’t got round to seeing their new film yet, Kubo and the Two Strings, however I saw a behind the scenes video the other day and it just blew me away. Just ridiculously intricate stop motion work, it’s incredible. My favourite film would be Corpse Bride, but only because I can’t choose Nightmare Before Christmas because technically it wasn’t made by Laika (I think the director joined Laika after – but I might be wrong).
Who were some of your early inspirations? What got you into animation? Growing up it was definitely Wallace and Gromit, but more recently I’ve taken a lot of inspiration from animators such as Ivan Maximov and Kristofer Ström. All of their work is on YouTube so I highly recommend seeking it out. In terms of actually getting into animation, it was actually my old housemate, Andre, who just happened to be making a stop motion film while I lived with him. He showed me his film and I loved it. The next day I got a free trial of some software, plugged a crappy old camcorder in and started animating! At first I just made a bunch of little adverts for friends, but then I started getting enquiries from friends of friends and it snowballed from there.
How has your approach to animation changed since you got out of school/become a freelance animator?I’m a lot more organised, that’s for sure! I’ll do detailed storyboards, project plans etc, all of which have to be signed off at various stages before I start any stop motion work. When I started out I never did any of this and I just found it led to more changes to the final animation. It’s important to get the idea nailed before making the stop motion as it’s a lengthy process, so repeated takes can be pretty testing. It’s certainly not for the impatient.
Your resume is interesting. You specialize in educational videos, but you’ve also done stuff for eS and Furr Skateboards, and your Insta has a ton of skating. Did you grow up skating?Absolutely. I started skating when I was about 12 and skated pretty much every day until I was about 18/19 (although somehow never got very good) but then had a huge gap of about 10 years and only got back into it in the last year. I can’t skate anymore due to a long-term injury but I’ve got back into the world of skating through animations and social media etc. All my brand knowledge and lingo is missing the last 10 years, so I’m very much behind the times in that respect!
The educational animations make up most of my work as there is such a demand for it at the moment. Universities and colleges are using video more and more in their teaching and whiteboard animations lend themselves well to this. It was only last year that I started making skate animations in my spare time. Working with éS was just incredible because I loved those guys so much growing up. When they first contacted me I actually didn’t realise it was them. I just scan-read the message on my phone from ‘esskateboarding’ and of course it’s all lowercase on Instagram, so it didn’t click. It was only an hour or so later, and after I had replied, that I suddenly thought, holy crap that was éS! I blame Instagram’s lowercase policy.
Favorite Skater?Growing up it was Mark Appleyard. I loved his style and watched his parts over and over again. It’s amazing to see him still going strong.
I’m also a big fan of Jaws, Lacey Baker, Leo Romero and Jerry Hsu. There’s just too many to pick, so there’s my top 5.
Favorite Part/Video?Flip ‘Sorry’ without a doubt. I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve watched that video. Every time it rained (which is a lot in England) me and my friend Josh would just watch it on VHS and pray for it to stop raining so we could go out and skate. Appleyard was my favourite part for sure. I pretty much solely rode Flip decks for years because of that video.
Has animating skateboarding changed the way you animate or given you a new appreciation for the trick? Oh for sure, when I print the footage and break it down into still images you get a clearer sense of all the intricate movements the skater makes for each trick. The best example of this for me was a recent stop motion I did of Brendan Biebel for The Berrics. It’s a huge switch 360 heel on flat and the whole time I was animating I was like, there’s no way he will make it all the way around, but he does and he doesn’t even need to pivot. I had to check I had printed it correctly and not misplaced a frame or anything. That guy is incredible.
Your process is pretty in-depth, are you at liberty to take us through it? I can certainly try! I usually get sent RAW footage, choose some tricks and then print it out at a slower frame rate, if it’s a long piece of footage then it means a very big pile of printed photos. I then use my stop motion setup to create the actual animation, this involves a DSLR camera hooked up to a laptop, taking one photo at a time. I replace the printed picture under the camera with the next one and so on. Once that’s done all the photos are exported as a standard video file and I can edit it in Premiere Pro, After Effects etc.
What are your plans for your animations for next year?More skate animations! I would love to work with some more of my favourite brands, as that’s what really stood out for me last year. I’ve done animations for a few small parts but I would really love to do some work on a full skate film.
Any big projects to look out for?I’ve done some work for Lucas Beaufort’s DEVOTED skateboarding documentary that’s coming out in June so I can’t wait to see that. I love his work so it was an honour to be asked to contribute. I’ve only seen the trailers so far, but it’s looking really great.
Skateboarding is full of multi-talented creatives. Are you into photography, or anything else?I play in a punk-rock band called The Cut Ups which is great fun and has allowed me to tour all across the UK and Europe. We recently released our 4th LP ‘The Nerves’ which I’m real proud of. I also enjoy writing short stories and I’m hoping to do a lot more of that this coming year.
Any advice to skateboarders looking to work in a creative capacity in the skateboard industry?Have confidence in your work! That’s the one thing I wish I had when I first started out making animations. For years, I really struggled to make them for anyone other than myself because I hated the pressure, I would always panic that they wouldn’t like it. It was only when a friend pointed out that if someone has approached you to make them an animation, then chances are that it’s because they already like your work. So many of my friends are incredible artists but they all say that same line - ‘but so many people are better at this than me’. It doesn’t matter! If you practice and practice then you will get your own style, whether you mean to or not, and that’s what people are after, that personal style.
Any memories of the CCS Catalog? Haha yeah, I actually remember the exact time I first heard of it. When I started skating I just had one of those all-in-one plastic boards that all kids seem to get (who makes them!?). I remember being at the local skate park with my friends and we were watching all the older kids skating. One of them had a CCS Catalog, I have no idea if it was a current one, an old one or what, but we just started flicking through it. This was before any of us really had the internet and I remember it opened up this whole world of skateboarding that we had absolutely no idea existed. There were all these amazing decks, wheels, shoes etc and we were just sat there with our all-in-one boards feeling pretty damn uncool!
Shout outs or anything else you want to add? Big thanks to Don Brown and Jaws for enabling me to make animations for some incredible brands.
Make sure you check out Lucas Beaufort’s DEVOTED film, it’s going to be awesome. You can view a trailer here.
If you want to keep up with all my latest skateboard animations then check out my Instagram.
And of course, a big shout out to my local skate shop The Boarding House (if I could still skate I would be in there all the time) and everyone who used to skate at the Ashburton skate park in the early 00’s.