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August 22, 2006

Steve Edge: Animating Robbie

We sat down with talented animator Steve Edge - the man behind Robbie's wonderfully absorbing clay-animated videos Me and My Monkey and A Place to Crash, and caught up on work, Robbie and his umm... love of monkeys!

You may remember that Robbie's music has already taken a foray into the animated world with the stunning video to Let Love Be Your Energy. However, what you may not know is that Robbie can also boast that he has had two breathtaking clay-animated videos produced for him.

Steve Edge is the young, talented animator from Berkshire who created and produced these two fantastic music videos for Robbie. At just 22 years old, he has only just graduated from college, but judging by his evident skill and expertise in animation, it looks like his name will be sticking in our minds for a long time to come. When asked for his inspiration for the two videos, Steve simply replied: "Monkeys were my main influence. I love them. They are just a lot of fun to animate." And after watching the videos, it's clear that he had much monkey mischief during their creation.

But although Steve loves his work, he freely admits that there is a lot of hard graft involved: "Me and My Monkey took around 79 days to create from start to finish," he solemnly told us. Visit the site later this week for more from Steve, including an interview where we find out how he came to be working with Robbie, and we exclusively premiere the fantastic video for A Place To Crash. First up though, Me and My Monkey...

Me and My Monkey

Me and My Monkey is a memorable ballad featured on Robbie's Escapology album, released in 2003. It tells the story of two maverick pals - Robbie and his monkey - who go on an adventure, driving down the open road, with the wind coolly flowing through their hair (and fur)! Their destination: the Mandalay Hotel in the sin city of Las Vegas, where they encounter not only excitement but great danger!

Steve's bespoke video to the song is a charming and dramatic seven and a half minute clay-animation. The video is painstakingly detailed, the characters are endearing and the plot is incredibly gripping, with a fittingly tense and climactic finale. We've posted the full-length video for you to enjoy below.

How did you become involved with Robbie?

It was with the Me and My Monkey video. I created it in my college foundation year after I heard the track. My tutor really liked it and thought we should send it in to Robbie's management people to see what they thought. They got back in touch with me a couple of days later and told me they really liked it and and our ongoing relationship just sort of kicked off from there really. In fact, it was lucky that Robbie's management company kept in touch, because I had no idea what to make for my graduation film. They said that they would like me to make another video for them... for A Place To Crash. So I suddenly went from having no ideas at all to a concept for my graduation film!

Can you tell us a little bit about what Me and My Monkey and A Place To Crash are about?

I remember hearing Robbie's song to Me and My Monkey and as I really like monkeys, I thought I'd make sure that the story in the video follows the story in the song. It's just one of those brilliant songs in which you can picture the story in your head and you can immediately envisage how it will look on film. With A Place To Crash, I was really racking my brain for ideas for the video but one day I came across this drawing one day of a guy with an angry monkey on his back. That just made me think that maybe I could create a set of monkeys each with their own unique personality, and their personality could perhaps control the person whose shoulder they were sitting on.

Who are you inspired by?

Wallace and Gromit are a massive inspiration to me. It's what made me want to get into animation. When I first saw A Grand Day Out, the first of the three Wallace and Gromit episodes, I fell in love with it. I'm a fan of everything that Aardman (the creators of Wallace and Gromit) do, it's just so, so good and makes me want to improve my animation when I see it. In terms of animators themselves, Nick Park in particular is a big inspiration to me.

You've obviously put a lot of painstaking detail in your work. Can you give us an idea of how long it took to create both videos?

It all really depends on what you're animating. Here's an example: In A Place To Crash when the doors start to rumble and the monkeys come through the hatch, those few seconds took around twelve hours in total to animate. With a less detailed piece of animation, five seconds in real-time would take around five hours. The scene with the angry red monkey pouting on Robbie's shoulder, which doesn't seem very complex, took around eight hours for just a few seconds of real-time film. I clearly remember that Me and My Monkey took around 79 days to create, as I had to keep a work-log of it for my course. With A Place To Crash I started it in January and finished it in July...yeah it took ages, around six months from start to finish.

Did you learn anything from the first video that helped with the second?

There was a four year gap between when I made Me and Monkey and A Place To Crash. In that time, I just worked on getting my technique better. I worked really hard in that time on getting the animation for my characters much smoother and more life-like.

Which of the two is your favourite?

It's got to be A Place To Crash really. When I look back on it, Me and My Monkey embarrasses me a little now as A Place To Crash looks so much better. It's definitely my best work to date, but in the back of my mind I'm still really proud of what I achieved with Me and My Monkey.

Does the cheeky spiky-haired monkey on Robbie's shoulder at the end of A Place to Crash have a name?

He hasn't really got a name. He's just meant to be Robbie's alter-ego. He's inspired from the Let Me Entertain You video. He was initially designed as an evil character, but then I changed him because I wanted him to portray the entertaining performer side of Robbie's character. I once read an article by Robbie saying that when he gets on stage, he always wants his evil twin to turn up - that was where the main idea for this monkey came from. So yeah, he doesn't really have a name but sometimes when we're alone I like to call him Barry!

If you bought a personality monkey for yourself, what characteristics would it have?

This is a tough one. To be honest with you, this has been the hardest question so far! Well, if you're putting me on the spot, at the moment I quite like Russell Brand and wouldn't mind his characteristics. He's funny and a bit nuts. I really like that kind of energetic, make-everyone-laugh, funny kind of character.

Do you have any new projects you're working on at the moment?

I wish! I'm looking for jobs at the moment. I'm trying to break into the industry and earn some dosh. I would absolutely love to write and produce my own feature film. I'd really like to work for Aardman and that's what I'm working towards. If you know anyone who wants to give me a job, let me know!

A Place To Crash

Robbie's infectious rock-edged song, A Place To Crash, is the penultimate track on his Intensive Care album. It's a song that evokes thoughts of a high-spirited and playful Robbie. Steve has reflected this fantastically in the video by portraying Robbie as a downtrodden guy who buys himself a 'personality monkey', transforming him into the fun and charismatic entertainer that we know and love. The video in turn, serves to highlight Steve's own playful nature, as he serves up a generous helping of monkey-related comedy in this animation.

There are countless highlights in this brilliant piece, but it's the purple personality monkeys themselves that are the stars of the show. Their cute, cheeky expressions and their playful interaction with the humans around them is exceptionally sweet and very funny. Look out for the cool, spiky-haired monkey that befriends Robbie at the end of the video; he has a personality that rivals the real Mr. Williams for entertainment value.