The Wall-Nuts Interview with Rubberhouse (NEW!)

We’re back on ‘the beat’ with another fab chat with the Rubberhouse team Ivan Dixon &  Greg Sharp; creators of several Gotye music vids from Making Mirrors and Like Drawing Blood. Ivan and Greg certainly have “made a name for themselves as purveyors of cartoony vulgarity and psychedelic fun”  in the Gotye universe!

We spoke with them about their life stories, their career trajectories, what inspires them and what it’s like to draw for one of music’s most lovable oddballs!

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Even Ivan & Greg aren't immune to their own antics C. Rubberhouse

Even Ivan & Greg aren’t immune to their own antics C. Rubberhouse

Where did each of you grow up? Were you artistic as a child? At what age did you realize that you wanted to make a career out of animation? Who /what were your early influences?
Ivan: I grew up in a small town called Old Bar in NSW. I always liked drawing, but
didn’t realise you could do it for a living. I tried studying graphic design, but I
wanted to do something with more character and personality.
Greg: I am from Wellington, New Zealand. I thought I would be a designer, but
after I started fine art college I realised that making animated film allows you to
design everything; architecture, fashion design, acting, and writing. You can
explore everything

 

When/how did you meet? What was the first project you worked on together? When did you decide to go into business together?
Ivan: We were both employed as production designers on an animated series for
Australian TV. Our job was to create backgrounds and props to be used later down
the track by animators. We sat across from each other and would talk about
animation all day. Eventually when our contracts finished up we decided to form
our own studio. Rubber House was born. The first thing we worked on was a short
called “The Big Winner.”
Greg: We knew we each had skills and weaknesses, and that we’d be stronger as a
duo. Over the past 4 years this decision has proven very fortuitous.

Wally through the eyes of Rubberhouse

Wally through the eyes of Rubberhouse

How did you begin working with Wally? Did he contact you about doing animation for a  specific song, or was it more of a general interest in your work?

Ivan: Wally wrote to us prior to the release of his album Making Mirrors. He told
us we was looking for animators to make visual accompaniments for his upcoming
live performance at the Sydney Opera House. I believe he’d seen The Big Winner.
He came into the studio, which was then in Gertrude St, Fitzroy, and played us the
song “State Of The Art.” He asked us to make a video for it.
Greg: This is so.

Original "SOTA" concept art

Original “SOTA” concept art

SOTA is brilliant and is an amazing accompaniment to the Gotye live show. You said
(NFSA Visual Music Screening) that Wally had some specific ideas for this clip. What
were some of the things he absolutely wanted in the video? Did you leave the
television in the lounge room on purpose?
Ivan: The lyrics were pretty prescriptive, but we had the idea of making the organ
an monstrous embodiment of evil. We really wanted to match the tone of the
music as it shifts between playful and ominous. The presence of the TV seems to
bother a lot of people. We considered removing it but it ruined the composition of
the close up shots. Remember, we were designing this for a stage show and we
really wanted it to feel like organ was on stage with Wally and his band. So we
tried to keep it symmetrical. Removing the TV just looked odd. In hindsight, I’d
probably remove the TV. Maybe we’ll go back and do a George Lucas style recut.
Greg: We knew we were making the film primarily for his stage show, but wanted
it to work on small screens as a music video. So for the first section of the film
there are no moving shots and everything conforms to a perspective that mirrored
the stage – then, we go off into space and fly around – we purposely contrasted
these conventions.
One of the more interesting things we did was to have complete darkness with
fluorescent strobing images (when the organ is mutating), and this worked really
well on stage.

The ‘Seven Hours With A Backseat Driver’ clip has some pretty risqué themes,
especially the ending…and there were no lyrics to guide you. What was Wally’s initial
reaction to your interpretation of the music?
Ivan: That clip was a challenge. We only had the title of the song and the beat and
tone music to guide us. Greg and I spent many afternoons in a cafe in a miserable
part of East London trying to come up with a solution for the video. I don’t
remember Wally having many specific notes on that one. I think he just let us
loose and said do whatever we want. I like that this video has lead to so many
theories about what it represents. I think Greg and I had a fairly clear idea of what
we were discussing, but I don’t mind other people having different
interpretations.
Greg: Having no constraints can often be a burden. And even more so with
animation because you must rein in your imagination – you can go overboard and
over budget.
Wally was pleased with the final video, but no less confused than the rest of the
audience I think.

The meaning behind ‘Don’t Worry’ has been widely discussed/disputed by Gotye fans
online. Did Wally come to you with a concept for the video, or did you base the
animation on your own interpretation of the lyrics? Was it a challenge for you to make
something with such dark themes? (most of your clips are humorous/playful/cheeky)

Original "Jesus Wally" concept art for the 'Don't Worry' video

Original “Jesus Wally” concept art for the ‘Don’t Worry’ video

Ivan: This one also has some interesting interpretations. We knew from the lyrics
that it was discussing dark themes. We purposely avoided pointing fingers at any
one cult or religion. Instead we wanted to highlight the predatory nature of
institutions that offer comfort at a cost. I think we’d like to try and do something
dark like this again.
Greg: Wally wanted to evoke the sense of a youth attempting to leave a
charismatic cult, and these cults are fairly predatory, but how to show “cultish”
things without being specific? We chose to grab imagery from all sorts of
religions and cults, conspiracy theories, and generic rituals, and mash it up in a
tableau that we cut in and out of.
At the end of the day, throw a bunch of dancers in cloaks with pointy hats and
you’ve got yourself a cult.

Another spooky, original concept for 'Don't Worry'

Another spooky, original concept for ‘Don’t Worry’

Your Very Animated People shorts are hilarious! Do you record stories specifically to
be used in these clips, or do you use sound bites from previous interviews? Do the
subjects have input into the animation? We’d love to see one with Wally as the
narrator!
Ivan: I actually suggested it to Wally once! The audio for the JASH shorts was
usually pre-recorded interviews that the producer MJ Offen cut up into coherent
stories, or somewhat coherent stories in the case of the Riff Raff one. The talent
did get a say in their likeness. Riff Raff was the only one who took issue with his
design. We had to make sure we got his tatts right and change his nose as
according to him it looked like “an elephant’s dick.”
Greg: Animating to real-life soundbites is very nice. It comes off completely
different to a fictional film.

Your ad for Grill’d Burgers is really charming and quite shocking at the end! Did
you experience any controversy over that ad? What was the public response?
Ivan: We originally had a different, subtler ending where it just cut to a sizzling
patty after the bull said the line, “My agent got me a job at Grill’d,” however the
powers that be at Grill’d wanted something edgier. The response from some
viewers was pretty full on. If you think that the most offensive thing about the
meat industry is that someone made a cartoon about it, I think you’ve got your
priorities wrong. As a vegetarian I was personally thrilled to see it spark such a
vibrant online conversation about meat eating.
Greg: When I was a child I worked at a supermarket in New Zealand that had
life-size animatronic cows wearing butcher aprons, dancing and singing a song
called “Meat, wonderful meat!” above the butcher’s counter.
THAT was some illogical advertising – were they carving each other up, or
themselves?

Do you have a particular type of project you enjoy most? Have you been approached by
the networks that you’ve done promos for to do a tv series? Would you be interested in
committing to such a long-term project?
Ivan: We’re actually currently developing two animated series; one for adults
called “Muscles McQuack” about a bodybuilding duck who moves from Melbourne
to LA, and one for kids called “Lasso and Comet” about a little boy living on an
island who catches a comet with a magic lasso. I’m personally interested in
transitioning to longer form projects that will let us focus on one thing for a
while. We’ve already worked on other TV projects for Nickelodeon, Cartoon
Network, Disney, Warner Bros. and Adult Swim.
Greg: This year has been very odd in that we’ve been working with all the large
networks. Are they grooming us for leadership Ivan?

Spoken word poetry has seemingly resurfaced in the USA at least, and some animated
poems already exist. Have you given any thought to animating literature, such as
poetry?
Ivan: I actually have a friend named Ebony Moncrief from the US who is a spoken
word poet. I think it would be fun to collaborate with her.
Greg: Perhaps the closest thing we have done to spoken word is our JASH series!
When you are approached to do a project, how do you go about choosing a direction to
start? Do you sit down together and brainstorm, or do you each come up with ideas to
present to the other?
Ivan: We typically talk a lot before arriving at a concept, then we’ll split up tasks
such as character design, background design, story boarding before moving onto
production where we try and allocate shots evenly. We often work over each
others ideas or drawings to try and find a hybrid style.
Greg: After 4 years we work very smoothly together. We get a variety of work
from a variety of clients, and very differing budgets, deciding on an approach is
often a matter of balancing what is likely to be approved, and what new thing we
want to explore. Then we make it work within the budget

 

What is the most frustrating aspect of your work? We imagine Wally is a pretty easy
client to work with. Have you ever spent a lot of time and effort on a project and had to
start over because the client wasn’t happy with it?
Ivan: Wally has been a great client. Apart from the three videos we also did some t-shirt
and vinyl designs for him. We’ve had a pretty good run of clients. Most have been
patient, supportive and flexible. We’ve had a couple of projects that have been shelved
by the angencies/clients following completion for various reasons that were out of our
control. Which is a shame because us and our team worked hard on them and I know the
crew would love to be able to feature the work in their folios.
Greg: Wally’s a great guy and genuinely interested in animation. But more importantly, as
an artist he knows what a satisfying creative process is, and as a successful artist he was
in a position to give us time, budget and flexibility to make superior work and enjoy
the process at the same time.
Let’s not talk about the bad clients ey?

What would be your dream assignment? What artists are you dying to work with? Has
working with Wally opened other doors for you? You mentioned (NFSA screening) that
it’s allowed you to be in contact with some of your idols?
Ivan: The Gotye videos really put us on the map. We’ve already had some dream
clients. We had nearly complete creative freedom on the Adult Swim shorts we
produced recently and the ident we did for Cartoon Network was also a lot of fun.
We got to work with one of our favourite directors Joel Trussell earlier in the
year. I’m not sure if we’re allowed to talk about that yet though.
Greg: We can trace our company’s trajectory back to that first SOTA video. What we
were making before that is not worth mentioning! Our exposure from the Gotye
videos lifted us to the next level and put our stuff in front of the right eyes.

What projects do you have in the works now? What should we be on the lookout for?
Ivan: Well, we just wrapped on a series of four videos for Childline, a UK child help
line, and we have a second batch of Adult Swim shorts coming soon. But most
excitedly we’ll be launching our very first interactive app in the next couple of
weeks. It’s an arcade game called “Groom Me” and players are required to groom
the back of an orangutan for fleas, ticks and lice.
Greg: We also have our own side projects. Ivan’s animated gifs have exploded over
tumblr at his pug-of-war.tumblr.com and I have a new film in the works over at
ggsharp.tumblr.com.

Thanks Ivan & Greg-you’re champs!

 

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