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The Directors: Chris Cray


Somesense founder and director Chris on playful scripts, the joys of optical illusions and dialling up whimsical charm for Rowse Honey

The Directors: Chris Cray

Chris Cray is an animator and director based in London. His work is digitally hand-drawn, with an emphasis on bold design, well crafted motion and quirky character performances.

Chris studied Fine Art and History of Art at Goldsmiths, University of London, and Character Animation at Central Saint Martins, University of the Arts London.

He has directed and animated commercials, short films, apps, sitcoms and music videos and is the founder of the animation studio Somesense.

Name: Chris Cray

Location: London

Repped by/in: Somesense


LBB> What elements of a script sets one apart from the other and what sort of scripts get you excited to shoot them? 

Chris> I love scripts with a playful spirit and a clear idea. Animation is the most direct link between a creator’s mind’s eye and what we see on screen. So, animation is the perfect artform to express a unique point of view and have it seen in every element of the production, from character design and world building to a nuanced character performance. 

LBB> How do you approach creating a treatment for a spot?

Chris> I’ll start with a broad exploration of the project, doing a deep dive into the brand and the concepts informing the spot. 

This will help find the best way to express the script in terms of design, film making and animation technique. 

Holding a clear vision of the core of the project in mind, I’ll work on character and background designs. Including designs and style frames is a very direct way of communicating a vision for the project, though it’s often only the starting point of a collaborative process of design, so I may include a mood board of references to show the direction of the project outside the scope of the treatment.  


LBB> If the script is for a brand that you're not familiar with/ don’t have a big affinity with or a market you're new to, how important is it for you to do research and understand that strategic and contextual side of the ad? If it’s important to you, how do you do it?

Chris> By the end of the research, I’ll invariably be fascinated with the brand and market. It is a wonderful feeling having your eyes opened and experience broadened by a project. Animation is a very collaborative art form, so I never hesitate to reach out to experts in areas I’m new to, either to be part of the team or to consult.

LBB> For you, what is the most important working relationship for a director to have with another person in making an ad? And why?

Chris> I believe the most important relationship is the connection to our industry as a whole. We all work in concert with each other, creating an amazing body of work from an amazing pool of talent. I very much believe in Brian Eno’s notion of ‘scenius’ the genius of the scene, going beyond the isolated genius of the individual.


LBB> What type of work are you most passionate about - is there a particular genre or subject matter or style you are most drawn to?

Chris> I find a lot of joy in both comedy and optical illusions. I find that their quirky worldview helps give me a fresh perspective on things. That moment of surprise and amazement, where all is not what it seems, is so magical and is equally true of a punchline of a joke or when looking at an Escher staircase. 

LBB> What misconception about you or your work do you most often encounter and why is it wrong? 

Chris> I think it’s surprising to see how expressive and relatable character animation can be. That so much more is possible than simply taking an illustration and moving it around, when you invest in an animated character performance. 

LBB> What’s the craziest problem you’ve come across in the course of a production – and how did you solve it?

Chris> We had a situation where the filmmaking and storytelling approach of the project was completely changed mid production. We had to take a step back and effectively remix our own work in real time and it turned out to be a rather freeing and exhilarating experience!

LBB> How do you strike the balance between being open/collaborative with the agency and brand client while also protecting the idea?

Chris> An idea is such a strong entity that all it needs is nurturing and amplifying. The best approach is for everyone to get onto the same page with the idea early on and then we can all get behind executing the idea with the elegance and panache that it deserves. 


LBB> What are your thoughts on opening up the production world to a more diverse pool of talent? Are you open to mentoring and apprenticeships on set?

Chris> I’m so happy to see the increasing diversity in our industry. In a time when opinions are often split and divisive, I love how impactful authentically authored storytelling can be in broadening our minds and affecting positive change. 


LBB> How do you feel the pandemic is going to influence the way you work into the longer term? Have you picked up new habits that you feel will stick around for a long time? 

Chris> The pandemic forced us all to be flexible in the way we work and I believe flexibility has a major role to play in the inclusivity of our industry. With virtual office tools like Slack, we can work towards blending the experience of the office with the home office and increase the chances of having our dream team on a project.

LBB> Your work is now presented in so many different formats - to what extent do you keep each in mind while you're working (and, equally, to what degree is it possible to do so)? 

Chris> There is a rigorous logic and structure behind animation production, that lends itself well to working with many different formats. The key is to create a workflow that anticipates versioning, and has a modularity built into it. The earlier the formats are considered, the more integrity they can have with the creative vision.


LBB> What’s your relationship with new technology and, if at all, how do you incorporate future-facing tech into your work? 

Chris> Each development in technology creates new opportunities in animation. Some technologies suggest new approaches and others are an exciting expression of traditional animation techniques. As all technology comes back to being an expression of human creativity and ingenuity, there’s always the opportunity to turn any new technology into a creative medium.

LBB> Which pieces of work do you feel really show off what you do best – and why? 

Chris> Illusion Dimension

I had an exciting opportunity to blend hand drawn animation with interactive CGI when creating this VR Exhibition. It was wonderful to have a dialogue between new and traditional technologies. Illusion dimension indulges my love of optical and animated tricks, such as morphs, ambiguity and isometry.

Rowse Honey

It’s very fun to dial up the whimsical charm, with bees reaching for a stripy umbrella and having their ‘clothes’ blow off. I leant into the organic line quality of frame by frame hand drawn animation and for the character design had an opportunity to write a love letter to classic children’s illustration.

Uneasy Going

I have great fun writing and directing this animated comedy web series. In this brightly coloured sketch comedy world, I have an opportunity to poke fun at all the hypocrisies and silliness of our daily lives, from commuting, plastic pollution, to finding a soul mate. This series is also a great opportunity to hone my comedic storytelling, design aesthetics and animation workflow, which can all then feedback into my commercial work.  

Fruit-full Communities

It was a great honour to create the legacy film for this incredible charity that has changed troubled lives through encouraging a relationship with the natural world. The animation needed to express a full range of emotional experiences, from trauma, through depression, into a burgeoning sense of confidence through a connection to community and nature, embodied by a friendly tree. It was incredibly fulfilling creating an animated world that contained all of these complexities with warmth and hope.

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Somesense, Mon, 13 Sep 2021 14:55:21 GMT