A digital maverick and an animator. It’s hardly surprising that young creative, Harry Butt has been taking the industry by storm in recent months. From rapid fire projects to organically cultivated aesthetics, Harry continues to push boundaries as a practitioner, working out of his self titled Butt Studio. But what does it take to make it big in this fast-changing industry? With recent work for Nike, Boiler Room and WIRED to name but a few, here, he gives us his insights on what it’s like to work freelance in one of the creative capitals of the world.
Can you briefly introduce yourself to anyone who isn’t familiar with you? Who is Harry Butt, and what does he do?
I’m a designer and animator based in London. I work out of my Hoxton studio, using a range of digital techniques. My practice so far has been working mostly in the fields of music and fashion, and in the future I’m looking to hopefully expand into doing more editorial illustration.
When did you set up Butt Studio?
I went solo at a weird point in my life. Back in June last year I quit my job in London for this internship in New York, but the visa fell through, so I was cornered into re-assessing what I wanted. I had been working for various clients on the side, so I decided to give it a shot going full-time freelance. I guess it was a typical transition... but it might not have happened without unexpectedly facing unemployment like that. The silver lining that the American visa system provided me was Butt Studio.
What’s it like as a Grimsby guy working in London? How can young creatives survive in this kind of environment?
To enjoy working project to project as a freelancer in London is difficult because money is always a worry. You take on work you wish you hadn’t because there’s pressure to make enough to make rent, which makes it harder to form an artistic practice. On the other hand, it’s unrealistic to expect a smooth ride with dream clients from day one, so I guess to survive it’s about finding the balance. There’s ways of coping, finding your little pocket is definitely important and keeping on a small scale works for me. London can be a wonderland though; it provides endless amazing people and places and I’m lucky to have found many of them.
This has been an incredible summer for you, what would you say is the catalyst that’s driven your most successful work?
This summer has been super full on and I’ve loved every moment working on various different projects. Whilst I’m most comfortable in quick-paced projects the most exciting times have come with relaxed deadlines and longer projects. The ability to spend lots of time planning has been really important, and has been key for me to push the aesthetics forward. Then when the rapid fire projects come in you have this confidence to put forward tried and tested ideas.
What’s your process like when designing for digital or analogue? Do you prefer one medium over the others?
I work almost exclusively in a digital format, but projects often have beginnings in the real world. For example, the design of a recent record cover for the Timedance record label is this super heavily layered digital image, but all the base material were these claustrophobic scans I took of plants sprayed with water and stuffed into vacuum bags. So the scanner is an important tool for me as well as the sketchbook, but right now I’m mostly focusing on exploring the spectrum of digital tools.
When it comes to creativity, your talent doesn’t lie solely in digital design, but also in music. It’s Friday night and you’ve had a long, busy week... where can we find you and what are you listening to?
There are a lot of nights I look out for, the Left Alone parties at the Waiting Room, Body Motion, No Symbols. Super excited to see Tirzah next month, I recently caught her at Corsica Studios and it was very special. Honestly though, chances are you’ll find me in the kitchen listening to Radio 4 on a Friday night.
If you could collab with anyone right now, who would it be and why?
There are too many to mention! My dream collaboration would be with Mica Levi. We’d spend a year in the Peak District and make a super long and self-indulgent 3D animated film together. There are designers like Bryan Rivera and Fisk Projects who manage to create consistently exciting and experimental work no matter how corporate or small the client is and it would be great to collaborate with someone like this to learn to create work with that confidence.
Tell us more about the inspiration behind your recent Boiler Room Sting?
I began by looking into the surveillance systems that Chinese authorities are implementing across some cities over there, after reading about it somewhere. They have extensive CCTV systems run by companies like one called SenseTime, which on the outside is this friendly corporate security company but is actually rolling out city-wide surveillance that tracks individuals movements and behaviour using facial recognition. I kind of love the idea that this is where we are right now, it’s hard not to marvel at the achievement of complete depravity. I was approached by Boiler Room to make a sting, ending in their logo. What people had done before in the series was very beautiful abstract pieces, but I wanted to cram as much narrative as I could into the 20 second time constraint. I would say I only just scraped by to make a coherent narrative arc but I smashed together so many aesthetics that you might not notice.
How do you envisage underground culture changing the face of emerging design creativity over the next 5 years?
I hope small underground music labels and parties across the world continue to provide a platform for experimenting in design, and maybe even progress into different formats for releasing music, creating more opportunities for exciting design experiments. In the mainstream industry world everyone is concentrating new technologies like VR as a way to add to creative industries, but it’s perhaps too isolating an experience. If that technology can progress to become a collective experience I think it will have so many applications in public art, public institutions and galleries.
Your work is a hallucinatory cosmos of distant astral planes, blurry forms and bright, twinkling lights. What led you to discover this vivid and ethereal aesthetic?
I’m still learning how to articulate clearly when talking about my work. I guess partly because I struggle to define the aesthetic and the practice as a whole whilst still developing in different fields. In a world where everything is so clear cut and defined, with information at your fingertips and boundaries around our daily lives it’s super fun to be in front of something vague and ethereal. What I’m really interested in is creating a bridge between abstract and recognisable, creating a space for the viewer to situate themselves within; to project their own feelings onto something so that they can discover something about themselves.
Did you attend Notting Hill Carnival this year? If you could create artwork for any Carnival soundsystem, which would it be and what would you create?
I was on holiday living my best Ray Winstone in Sexy Beast life this August so I missed Carnival it this year! The visual culture of Notting Hill is dense and colourful and I was lucky enough to create some artwork for the previous year with Boiler Room when they were working alongside Braulio Amado as the art director. But this year I would have loved to design 30ft backdrops for every street corner and then people would be like “meet me at the huge silk curtain with the cartoon dog on it.” Maybe next year?
Have you got anything exciting in the pipeline for the new year? Can you tell us anything about it?
My calendar definitely doesn’t stretch that far, but I have some loose personal plans for the new year. I’d love to take a month or two out to study traditional pen and paper animation techniques and see how this can translate into a 3D animation practice.
images courtesy of HARRY BUTT
interview HANNAH DEAKIN
More to read