Hypeart Visits: Will Child
Hypeart Visits: Will Child
Hypeart Visits: Will Child
From rappers to footballers, we toured the Bristol artist’s studio to learn more about his obsessions and what he’s sculpting in 2024.

After bouncing around England, Will Child has found his niche. Trained as a graphic designer and now fully dedicated to the forgotten craft of claymation, the Leeds-born, Bristol-based artist is relishing his newfound career. It all started to form when he moved down to London to be closer to his girlfriend (now wife), where Child promised himself that he would try as many hand-made mediums as possible. “As soon as I started doing claymation, it all started to make sense,” he tells Hypeart. “I started to realize how much I loved the shows, films and comics I consumed as a kid — an amalgamation of things.”

Browsing his Instagram and you’ll find loads of actors, rappers and footballers reimagined as chunky plasticine figures that are simply fun to look at, just like the films that inspired them — from Team America and Fantastic Mr. Fox to Wallace and Gromit. While maintaining the core elements of each subject, Child imbues his own imprint — most noticeable in the exaggerated features and little imperfections styled by the human hand. Eric Cantona’s already caterpillar eyebrows become extra bushy, as do the frumpy haircuts of Lil Dicky and former British prime minister, Boris Johnson.

At the start of the pandemic, Child began his own animation studio called Gravy Mercedes, named after a Cam’ron verse from “I Really Mean It”. In just a short span of time, he’s created amusing claymation work for musicians from around the world, including Big Zuu and Trippie Redd, as well as commissions for the BBC, Nike, adidas and Apple.

“I think my style, because it’s not clean and kind of lo-fi, is only applicable to certain brands,” he adds — “which limits the amount of jobs that I’m offered, but it means I can get the jobs I’d really like to do.” Hypeart traveled to Child’s Bristol studio (which can double as a Leeds United fan cave) to discuss his practice, tour his army of plasticine figures and get a sneak peek at what the artist is sculpting for 2024.

Hypeart Visits: Will Child

“The imperfection is what I find most interesting.”

Did you always know you wanted to pursue the arts or was it just a hobby?

When I was young, I always loved to draw and make things with my hands. My mom, dad, sister and I were all creative — always making stuff.

I went to art college in Leeds and then studied graphic design up in Newcastle for uni. So I’ve always been setting myself up to work in the creative industry. I worked as a graphic designer for three to four years after uni at an agency called Golden, up in Leeds. It was great, our main client there was Nike. We did loads of work for NikeTown and football club shops — I designed Athlético’s club shop in Madrid and loads of kit launches.

I really enjoyed being a graphic designer, but I’ve always liked making things with my hands. So my misses was down in London at the time, so I ended up moving down to live with my grandpa and started from there really. Or at least this version of working in the creative world.

How would you say the claymation and figures first started? Going from drawing to graphic design to where you’re at now.

Again, when I was a kid — I don’t think you guys had Thunderbirds (1965), which is a puppet style like Team America. It’s what Team America is inspired by. I remember loving that and Wallace and Gromit when I was younger. I was always drawn towards stop-motion TV shows and just had forgotten about it for years. It was a dated style from the ‘90s and even more now. When I went to study graphic design, it seemed like the most probable way to get a job afterward.

Films like Team America, Fantastic Mr. Fox — I always just loved the craft behind it, but was never working in that world at the time. So after moving down south to live with my grandpa, I was lucky that he had an empty garage that I used as my studio. I was making the clay models at first, like the Cam’ron and DJ Khaled pieces. I found a bit of plasticine in the studio and ended up making an animation, just for the hell of it really.

I ended up sending it to a rapper and I spoke to his manager about doing clay work for him. He gave me my first music video and it just snowballed from there.

What year was this?

2017. About three months after I quit my graphic design job to go full time.

Such a cool 180. Were you just making clay models of people you’re interested in or a commentary on culture?

Yeah a bit of both. I made a resolution for myself after I left my full-time job in Leeds to go down south. I said to myself: ‘I’m going to try as many things as possible in that hand-made realm.’ I locked myself away for 18 hours a day in my grandpa’s garage and did loads of things. As soon as I started doing claymation, it all started to make sense. I started to realize how much I loved the shows, films and comics I consumed is a kid — an amalgamation of things.

You’ve nestled your own lane within the creative world, which is rare.

Stop-motion, the way I do it, takes 12 photos to make a second. Some people do 24 photos to make a second. That, to me, is such a dated and time consuming process that not many people rightly choose to do it. 2D and 3D animation is so much more accessible. But that’s what it appeals so much to me — it’s handmade and a real object.

How does one of your clay figures come to life? Walk us through the process.

If I’m just making a bust or sculpture, rather than to be animated, I’ll choose someone who has an interesting face. The best ones are people with big noses or distinctive faces or haircuts. It tends to be a footballer, a musician or some pop culture icon. Then it starts with a ball of plasticine, where I build it up and take it away.

For the ones I animate, I make a wire armature and build the plasticine over that. You’ve obviously have to make the heads a lot smaller and hopefully it can stand at the end of it. It often doesn’t [laughs]. The plasticine can be expensive, so initially I didn’t have a budget and started with wire, which started informing my style in how it moves. I like my figures kind of clunky and a bit ugly and lo-fi. The imperfection is what I find most interesting.

“It just gives them a bit of extra character, doesn’t it?”

How long does one of the busts take?

It depends. Sometimes they get thrown out and I start over again. But usually two to three hours. Lots of them never make it on the shelf. The rest of them get thrown in the scrap box there.

When you’re making them, do you first render the model on the computer?

I just go on Google Images, pop my laptop on one of those boxes over there and get to work.

The likeness is so spot on, but obviously done in a rough, deliberately imperfect way, which actually makes it look more cool.

It just gives them a bit of extra character, doesn’t it? I suppose that ends up becoming your ‘style’. I couldn’t really put my finger on what my style is. It’s just the way that I make them.

Do you have a personal favorite?

I really like the Mike Tyson one. It’s been my favorite for this year. I also like Modric, Haaland and Maguire.

Was 2017 also the year that Gravy Mercedes was formed?

No, that started in 2020. I was at my grandpa’s form 2017 up until 2019. Right at the top of 2020, we moved over here [in Bristol] and that’s when I registered the business. I’d always kind of wished I called it Gravy Mercedes from the start, but at that point, I had to come up with a name legally for the business. So that gave me the chance to.

It’s a Dipset song and the final verse from Cam’ron. I always thought it just rolled off the tongue quite nicely. And I’ve always loved Cam’ron, so it was a little homage to him.

If you were to pick five footballers and five rappers in your ‘hall of fame’, who would it be?

Favorite five musicians: Big L, Cam’ron, Vince Staples, Erykah Badu and Kano. Footballers is easier: Zidane, Ronaldo [R9 Ronaldo], Mark Viduka (ex-Leeds player), Juan Sebastián Verón, and Ronaldinho. He was like an elastic band. I did six busts for a football exhibition last year. I did Zidane, Edgar Davids, Ronaldinho, Dennis Bergkamp and Carlos Tevez.

All your inspirations are literally on the wall. I feel like you’re a big football kit collector.

Loads of them are from when I was a kid. I’d get a shirt every year when we would go on holiday with my family to Spain, Portugal or Greece. I’d always be like: ‘Come on mom, buy us a football shirt.’

I hope this never happens, but if there were a fire, what are you trying to save first in your studio?

Haha that’s a good question. As many of my Leeds shirts as I can. I’d also take my Ronaldo football game, 50 Cent: Bulletproof, these shirts from when we were in the Champions League.

“…it means I can get the jobs I’d really like to do”

What are some projects you’re working on right now that you can talk about?

I’m trying to get into TV and film more right now. I’m developing my own TV show called Costa del Call. It’s set on the Costa del Sol, which is a British expat community where a lot of British families go on holiday. But it’s like about washed up gangsters in the Costa del Sol who have gone there to previously escape extradition and have just settled there, living in an underbelly of crime.

I’ve been enveloped in that and am also working on a few other shows that I’ve been pitching with the production company that I’m signed to. I’m still really keen to do music videos, but it seems that music video commissions have become less consistent than a few years ago, where it was blowing up. There’s a lot more short-form content nowadays.

I think my style, because it’s not clean and kind of lo-fi, is only applicable to certain brands — which limits the amount of jobs that I’m offered, but it means I can get the jobs I’d really like to do. I’ve done jobs for HUF, adidas, and Old Spice. They’ve always been really fun scripts — I think it’s because it’s because my style is kind of rough. Long-term, though, I’d like to try a live-action film done or a stop-motion series.

Have you worked on bigger pieces, like the size of a large-scale sculpture?

Yeah I did do one on Carles Puyol. It was for a job for BT Sport a few years ago, where they asked me to make a life-sized sculpture of his head.

He had a really good face to make for it. After I made it, they did an interview with Gerard Piqué and one of the bits was of him walking up to the sculpture and asking him about Carles Puyol. They told me that Piqué ended up taking that sculpture and giving it to Puyol, and then they sent me a picture of the sculpture in his office with all of Puyol’s Champions League medals. I was absolutely buzzing.

Can you talk about how you’ve adapted to your new change of pace in Bristol and how it compares to living back home up north and in London?

I came here from London, because the pace over there is so hectic and I was living on the edge, while my wife was in central. So I was there a lot and really enjoyed how much was happening and how you could do something every night. I was already used to the slower lifestyle [of Bristol], being from Leeds.

We were looking to buy in London at the time, and it’s obviously very expensive there, so weren’t too keen on it. We ended up coming to Bristol for my birthday weekend in 2019 and just loved it straight away. Bristol is kind of a perfect cross between the lifestyle of Leeds and London, because it’s a bit of a slower pace, but still loads of gigs and acts that play here. There are also a lot of great artists from here, like Banksy. So there’s one of the densest concentration of creative people here than anywhere else in the country I’d say.

Aardman’s here, who created Chicken Run and Wallace and Gromit. So there is a great animation heritage as well. It seems like every creative person I’ve met here has worked at Aardmans at some capacity, who have really interesting insight into that level of stop-motion animation.

You’re also not too far from the ocean, not too far from Wales and if you want to go back to London, it’s only an hour-and-a-half. We’re going to be here for the long run.

What would be the dream project or collaboration?

I’ve got a few of those. I’d love to do more music videos, like a Lil Wayne video, because I’ve always loved him since I was a kid. I just think his persona, look and everything would make for a crazy claymation video. He’s also always had this sort of alien sound. Or 50 Cent, just people I’ve love as a kid and I think I could do something good with those as well — something quite different to what they’ve already had done in the past.

Commercial-wise, I think I could do a good Stüssy advert. I think their brand ethos, I could do something good with it.

All artwork by Will Child for Hypeart. Photos by Shawn Ghassemitari.

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