Interview with Christopher Darling


Update, July 16, 2018
Christopher Darling passed away on June 17, 2018. He was a wonderful person, and he will be remembered for his kindness, generosity, and creativity. The world lost a great one.

I met Christopher Darling at the ICON9 Conference in 2016 and again at the Motion Design Educators Summit In 2017 where he presented on the history of the GIF format and its use as an educational tool. Darling's portfolio showcases his ability to work on projects big and small, transcending media all the way from digital animations to giant hand-painted murals. As a fellow educator, I was eager to hear his thoughts on how motion has impacted the world of illustration.

Please tell us about your work. How long have you been working with motion in your illustrations; how did you get started? What attracted you to the animated medium?

Darling: We had to make GIFs and use Flash for animation for a few assignments when I was getting my MFA at School of Visual Arts. I got my first paid job, although I was working with an animation studio, about 8 years ago. I suppose I have always been attracted to the awkward or imperfect quirks of motion–-the medium can be really humorous.

Your illustrations have a tactile, hand-drawn sensibility which is contrasted with the digital tools required to produce them. Does this affect the way you approach motion in your work?

Darling: I like frame-by-frame animation or even an old-timey feel of sentimentality in regards to animation. For me, when there is not a consciousness of technology I feel more attached to things that are going on and because of this everything I do is hand-drawn on paper (although I usually use digital color). To me, nothing will ever beat Betty Boop–-or at least hasn’t yet.

You teach in the School of Visual Communication at Kent State with a specialty as an illustrator. Many schools have distinct programs for illustration and animation. Do you think this separation is meaningful or problematic (or both)?

Darling: Motion is part of our curriculum for all of our design students, every student is required to take at least a class, which gives them a basic understanding of motion. Students can also take an advanced motion class as well, but we do not offer multiple courses in animation within our program. I think more robust classes in animation would be beneficial to any illustration or design student-–there will always be the discussion of whether preparing students for the future and new technologies or teaching them about fundamentals and tradition is more important.

What tools do you use to create your animated work? Is there any technology that you are experimenting with or eager to try out?

Darling: I mainly use Photoshop for GIFs and After Effects. I really want to get into stop motion work, I think trying out DragonFrame or something similar would be cool.

Do you think motion is important to the future of illustration (and do you have any predictions for what comes next for the illustration field)?

Darling: I think there will always be a place for still imagery, but obviously we are seeing motion come to the forefront of the industry right now and that is exciting. I can’t stay in Times Square too long–-the flashing lights, animations, glowing projections–-it is too much. Sometimes I have to go back into a quiet gallery with still imagery––to me this is the current state of illustration, a balance between past, future, and present. I would say that the future will be more dimensional motion–-similar to VR, there will be illustrated and animated experiences leaving traditional 2-dimensional surfaces. I also think illustrated dimensional projection will come up soon.

Thanks to Christopher Darling for taking the time to talk about motion and illustration. Please check out his portfolio here: