“If you don’t push yourself, who’s going to push you?”
It is January 23rd, 2015, and the day is spotted with pockets of both sunshine and light rain. Mathew Hudson, Trinidadian animator and illustrator, sits down for a portrait and interview session on the porch just outside of his Woodbrook apartment. Distractions abound, from the birds whistling continually, to the occasional traffic driving by, to his younger daughter repeatedly peering at us through the apartment door, to see what she could see.
Mathew has been a 2D animator for as long as he could remember, starting as a youngster by drawing flip animations into any and every thick book (including his schoolbooks), on which he could lay his hands.
His animation knowledge, which was fed by examining the cartoons with which he grew, was later formalised when he attended John S. Donaldson Technical Institute (now called UTT Creativity Campus). He readily grasped the concepts and learnt quickly, as the training helped to cement those principles, like ‘weight’ and ‘speed’, which he had spent years emulating.
Mathew’s style of art and animation has grown into a combination of all of those childhood influences, his ‘John D’ training, then further inspired by the artwork of legendary, Trinbagonian, editorial cartoonist; Dunstan E. Williams (DEW), and all the way fed by his own observations of Trinidad. He admits that because he used draw from imagination, he had been ‘brainwashed’ by all of the foreign settings and backgrounds he’d seen in the programmes he watched. To correct this, he started to really inspect what Trinidad looks like, noticing how different even the colours of the trees and grasses are from what he imagined, the style of the buildings, and even the heavy prevalence of power lines and lamp-poles throughout the island’s residential areas. In his approach to art and animation, Mathew says he focuses more on creating characters, rather than on intangible concepts.
“If you don’t push yourself, who’s going to push you?” he says. Constant improvement of his craft is something to which Mathew firmly subscribes, saying that one ought to be one’s own harshest critic. As this applies to commercial work, he says, “It’s not always about (just) meeting the objective. That’s one of the main things, but at the same time you want your stuff to have some kind of quality!”
He started doing professional work around the year 2000, though perhaps longer, admitting that the exact date eludes his memory. One of the first projects on which he worked was a short-lived venture to help produce a series called ‘The Caribbean Bunch’. Though that enterprise failed, Mathew went on to several other commercial projects. He relates a few of his favourite assignments, including the ‘Postman’ advertisement for Lucozade, although Mathew is perhaps more well known for animating the Lucozade Carnival ad, which featured a Lucozade-empowered stick-figure wining and dancing with other, more voluptuous, stick-figures. He says he also really enjoyed a long, public health awareness, campaign for ‘clean hands’, as the job allowed him the creative flexibility to invent many original characters such as various ‘monsters’ and ‘germs’.
Among his personal projects, his favourites to date have been ‘Ning Ning, the friendly Duenn‘, which was a black and white piece featuring one of his interpretations of Trinbagonian folklore. He also animated one of his many original characters, ‘Crystal‘, which was entered into the Animae Caribe animation festival. Both films, even though they both were rushed to completion, won the People’s Choice awards for the years in which they were submitted.
“I’m not going to do leaves falling and wind blowing and people looking sad, no.”
Mathew is not a fan of overwrought, emotional pieces, as many film festival movies seem to be, saying, “I like to not be like what [some may call] ‘artsy fartsy’. You know [some] people like to make a film about [some] emotion; I have no interest in that whatsoever! I like to do what I call ‘merchandising’. I’m not going to do leaves falling and wind blowing and people looking sad, no. It’s going to be a character that could somehow be done in a comic book, done in an animated series, put on a t-shirt.” He relates however, that sometimes his character-based work does happen to strike an emotional chord with some viewers, as had happened with ‘Crystal’.
The storyline of ‘Crystal’ is about a schoolgirl who was being harassed by shady troublemakers, but all the while concealing martial art skill, which she finally used to overpower the hooligans. “I was asked if this was supposed to represent women’s independence and strength. I said, ‘It’s fine if you see that, but it was just, simply a comic book character I drew!’ And it was as simple as that.” It seems likely that the connection that the film made to audiences was because the story was based on real-life observation, “You see some of these wotless people interfering with little girls. So I just imagined if a little girl had the power to kick their tails, what it would be like. And it starts from there… The best way to get anything relevant is from what you know or what you see… All content to me will always be made from something that is tangible and it’s not [just] an emotion.”
But he does note that environmental issues are one topic for which he may consider being ‘artsy fartsy’, as he’d done in a 2006 animated-short; ‘20 20 FTP‘, which was made in protest of the Aluminium smelter which was proposed around that time. He also made another short; ‘A Lil Caring‘, which subtly urged viewers to be mindful of their environmental impacts by saying, “A little caring is all it takes.”
As our interview session ends, Mathew closes by lamenting the lack of a real animation industry in Trinidad and Tobago, describing it as more of a ‘hustle’. For the country’s future he would like to see, “…a real interest in diversification. Because any new industry that pops up would help the economy and help take people off the streets.”
These days Mathew is working on a series of character-based, web, comic books, in-between the odd, commercial job, and sorting out the details of a teaching programme.
- Production music by Jason Shaw.