One half of the Lion-winning duo reminisces about their cultural upbringing.
Narrowing your influences down to just five subjects is a difficult task for everyone we feature in this series, but it’s even harder when you throw a creative partner into the mix. Thankfully, Matt and Paul Layzell grew up together on the same cultural diet. Matt couldn’t meet me in London as he lives in Los Angeles. But Paul, his younger brother, assures me that he’s qualified to speak for the both of them on this occasion.
Following their recent Film Grand Prix win at Cannes Lions for Harvey Nichols it was interesting to discover the fuel that stoked the flames of the BlinkInk duo’s creative engine.
"I think everyone our age skateboarded in their early teens, around the late 90s and early 00s. But I think we stuck with it a bit longer than we should have. I’ve still got the shin splints. I never really got any good though.
There’s something about the culture and the creative side of it. It was a physical activity but different from other sports. There are no rules. You can do it however you want. It’s more than a sport.
What I think we took from that was the whole DIY ethic and more specifically skateboarding videos. Me and my brother would make videos with our friends. We’d incorporate animated or sketched bits. So we got practice infilmmaking, editing, working with music, timing, all in one. That played quite a big role in shaping us. Subconsciously it taught us a few rules of filmmaking, but in a completely un-academic setting.
That’s carried on. We do fun, fast stuff. Music plays a big part in what we do and editing’s really important. All of that applies to our Harvey Nichols film, which ended up with the music we originally suggested. And also the quality of it. It kinda looks shit but that’s the charm of it. Like skateboarding films, it doesn’t need to look glossy as long as all the parts come together.
For me, it was doing stuff with our friends and being able to make something in your bedroom. That resonates with what we still do, even if it’s in a studio with 14 people, not a bedroom. But that same love is still there."
"Growing up I used to watch all the cartoons like Transformers and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. The British equivalents on children’s TV, I never really had the same love for.
When I was in my early teens I remember seeing these cartoons that were really weird and really funny on late night Cartoon Network. One of my favourites was Space Ghost Coast to Coast, which was super weird. I remember watching it as a kid and really loving it. It was like nothing I’d ever seen before. There used to be an old Hanna-Barbera cartoon called Space Ghost, which was a kind of lame 60s cartoon. But they took the characters and all the assets, even reused the animation and turned it into a late-night talk show that goes really wrong. He was really egotistical, like a kind of Ron Burgundy character. And they had actual celebrities come on as guests on a TV. It was kind of leftfield humour.
It taught me that you don’t have to do action-adventure superheroes – nice, friendly stuff – you could do whatever you wanted.
Animation is a laborious process and time consuming. I don’t think we’re necessarily top-skilled animators or anything, but I think you can use animation in a way that’s just enough to tell a story and communicate. It’s good if it looks nice, but that’s not what’s most important. Adult Swim wasn’t always the most beautiful, polished animation, but the humour came through."
Tim and Eric
"They were on a website called Super Deluxe and had a show called Nite Live. Humour-wise, when people look back on it there will be a pre- and post-Tim and Eric humour. You see what they do slowly leaking into advertising and films and loads of people are borrowing what they did, but to my knowledge they were the first to do it.
It’s about enjoying the sloppiness of stuff, celebrating QVC for example, finding the humour in it. Or using the language of news graphics in silly ways.
We used to watch a lot of that and they definitely influenced us. The low-fi quality, the delivery, things going wrong. I don’t think we try and emulate what they do because they do it better than anyone, but we respect what they’re doing.
It resonated with us. It was a sense of humour that we liked, felt fresh and we hadn’t seen before. It lends itself to being online and I think the format of online videos is another thing that they got right. They were big on the internet before they got on TV."
"We grew up with shows like Dragonball Z and Gundam Wing. We’re not anime buffs, but we definitely spent a lot of time drawing Dragonball Z characters. That played a part in our technical development. I had those books about how to draw anime and manga style characters.
As a kid, anime is accessible and fun. It’s more poppy and vibrant and hyper real, but it does still pay attention to anatomy and some details. It was really good in terms of the economy of animation, like focusing on a still frame and zooming in, or the character’s mouth doesn’t necessarily need to be perfectly lip synced, but you get the idea. It gets across the emotion but takes less time. We definitely learned from that.
But then it also uses big, fluid animation in bits where it’s important, like action sequences. It’s all about keeping a balance in order to tell the best stories."
"For all I’ve just said, Hayao Miyazaki’s films are the complete opposite of that. He doesn’t value that kind of anime as an art form. He’s a traditionalist and would argue that in filmmaking it’s important to actually see human emotions and you should animate them. If someone’s sad, don’t just give them a sad face. Pan in, have someone quivering or something; have characters act it out in the same way as they would in live-action film.
For us, he’s more important for the kind of stories he’s telling. We saw some of his films when we were kids, which is cool. Our mum took us to the cinema to see Kiki’s Delivery Service. I don’t know how our mum knew about it. She’s not a film buff necessarily. We used to be into Dragonball Z and stuff so she thought we’d like a Japanese cartoon. We didn’t know anything about it, but it was so different from a Disney film or anything we’d seen.
They’re kids films but they don’t only relate to kids and they don’t talk down to their audience. Kid characters are celebrated for themselves. They don’t gloss over the difficulties of being a child, growing up or moving to a new place. You see it in a lot of Pixar films now. They tell stories the same way, with multiple layers.
We’d always try to work up to that kind of storytelling. Even though maybe we don’t see eye-to-eye on the animation style. We think you can still do that kind of storytelling in an economical way.
We would always try and add something deeper to even the silliest film, even if it’s all action and physical humour. Underneath there’s a message about something more serious. I think that resonates with people. Even in Harvey Nichols there’s a loose narrative of someone stealing something, getting caught and then being sad about it. A good example is the Future Travel short we did with ADHD. On the surface it’s a silly, brash, shouty thing, but it has a relevant story in it too about finding love in the modern age."