Louis Hudson is an award-winning freelance animator and director from Birmingham, known as Dice Productions.
His work is known for it’s absurd character-led comedy. Slipping between 2D animation techniques, visual effects, and live action, often blurring the boundaries between them.
Louis has worked with Nickelodeon, Channel 4, BBC, UK Film Council, Factory Creates and Oxfam. HIs films have attracted over 8 million views online, 4 Vimeo Staff Picks, and dozens of festival selections, with features on sites such as BOOOOOOOM!, Cartoon Brew, Guardian and Telegraph.
When did you know you wanted to be a director?
A trigger for wanting to become a director was seeing Terry Gilliam’s work when I was 13. His humour, subversion, the ability to animate ideas alone, but also the huge ambition of his projects.
It was only while deciding on university courses that I realised that I wanted to make my sketch books move. Looking back, the ability to have total control was probably a big appeal. It’s a common trait in animators. At Handsworth Grammar School, I was lucky enough to meet my best friend Ian Ravenscroft who is a brilliant writer. We spent our time making each other laugh with drawings and coming up with sketches. We both egged each other on with filmmaking and I’m not sure how far I would have carried on into narrative storytelling without him. We both came from working-class backgrounds in Birmingham, where the idea of pursuing art as a career felt indulgent and unrealistic.
I lived in Ward End; however, my parents have a uniquely unconventional way of doing things. Dad spent his time between Walsall markets, running a picture framing business, and using the pubs of the West Midlands as his early equivalent of LinkedIn. Mom, on top of that, pursued art running an adult education art course. I grew up in a strange combination of graft and art, doing very working-class things and very middle-class things.
My earliest idea of what my career might be was running a party supply shop that also sold my drawings. I feel like I landed fairly close to that.
Once you knew you wanted to pursue a career as a director, what were your first steps in achieving this goal?
In 2004 I applied to Edinburgh College of Art. To my disbelief I got in. I had done painting and kept books of silly sketches, but up till then I had almost no filmmaking understanding apart from DVD extras and some dross I filmed on a camcorder.
My first year was a foundation course where I got to try animation for a month. I single mindedly poured everything I had into those weeks and religiously studied The Animators Survival Kit. Some of the animation still holds up:
When I started making animations I had almost no software knowledge apart from a bit of Photoshop, Premiere and a defunct 3D modelling program. I did my first animations purely on paper.
At the time, the internet started to open up to video so I entered my little animations into screenings and online competitions where I could find them. Meanwhile on my course I fought for every chance to lead projects.
This led to getting the attention of a comedy video website and a handful of screenings, which got me a handle into introducing myself to the industry. At the time, the concept of something going viral didn’t really exist. If anyone saw it outside of the room you were in that was exciting. The idea was more who was watching it rather than how many. It’s something that I think people often forget lately. Chasing numbers and being trapped by what works on an algorithm can be creatively corrosive.
What obstacles or setbacks did you face in becoming a director?
I graduated in 2008 as the recession hit. The idea of getting good placements at studios seemed unlikely.
I had already started trading under the name Dice Productions with Ian and our friend Tom. As well as pooling our resources it gave us the appearance of a larger dependable organisation. It was a harder route and relied on lots of faking it, but it ultimately led to getting a name for ourselves.
Screening events really helped in those early days. A screening in Birmingham for animators helped convince me there was a scene here worth being around for, and a night in London called Popcorn Comedy blew open contacts that helped define my career.
A lack of not knowing what I was worth hamstrung my early development. I was underquoting by thousands of pounds, which cost me pitches and left me permanently struggling. Colleges really need to teach day rates, budgets and finances. Everyone starts out hustling and pulling favours to make their projects happen, but it leaves people open to abuse when it comes to making a living.
Career-wise, the biggest obstacle has probably been my own confidence and mental health. Being a director requires self-belief and putting your personal taste on the line for everybody to see. Tying your identity to paid work can be brutal. For me it strained friendships, stopped me going for opportunities, and caused multiple burnouts.
To anyone who’s struggled with their mental health, counselling is the best money you will ever spend. Same with medication if you need it. There’s a stigma with creative people that both of those will remove what makes you creative, but it’s the opposite. You get to find yourself and work out what thoughts are worth listening to. I think of it like making sure the wiring in a kooky old house is safe. The house is still kooky, it just won’t burn down.
How did you develop your voice and hone your craft?
Making small funny animated clips really developed my timing and sense of what I wanted to achieve in animation. Being able to work on my own meant I could make professional work completely self-sufficiently.
Live action was a longer self-taught film school. My first stuff looked rough and was flabby, but had the right comedy bones. Those first self-initiated projects helped us show we were commuted and got us collaborating with people who knew their craft. In turn those more professional looking shorts helped us win pitches.
As time went on, elements of live action and animation informed each other. Practically and stylistically. I like to ground animation with live action rules, and I like to push live action as close to animation where I can.
Most of the short films I’ve put out in the world have been made on small budgets or self-funded. Initially, they were made on favours and pure determination. Now that work is steadier I have to carve out time to make work I want to be known for. I find as an animator/director you have to consistently develop yourself otherwise the work offered becomes less ambitious.
How did you get your first break?
My first defining break was getting funded to make my short animated film, All Consuming Love (Man In A Cat). It was the culmination of a lot of work and set off a chain reaction in my career.
It started out as an unfinished graduation film, but the trailer for it gathered over 1 million views on the earlier days of YouTube. Ian and I pitched it for the equivalent of BFI funding and received £12,000 and mentoring to make it.
The film was already largely storyboarded but we knew the story needed more work. It showed we were willing to collaborate with the executives and script editor Kate Leys. But the fact we knew the story and the splintering options so well helped us develop it in a way that stayed true to the strange concept of the film.
Before this we had been making friends in the comedy scene in London, as well as actively hosting film meet-ups and comedy nights in Birmingham. I had driven myself financially into the ground and started working in a tax tribunal office.
All of this tipped the balance for the funding application, but also gave us a reason to work with our new contacts. Jon Petrie, who is now a commissioning editor at Channel 4, was our producer and pulled strings to get us working with comedy greats, Kevin Eldon and Josie Long.
I stretched the budget as thinly as it would go, working remotely with a raft of animators and clean-up artists. In hindsight, I’m embarrassed with how badly paid and harsh the conditions were. The fact that people worked on those shots and carried on talking to me is a miracle. The budget should have been four times what it was.
A string of film festivals followed, as well as a reasonable amount of press from the comedy and animation circles. It gave us enough reputation to pitch for other projects and work with people we admire.
Photograph: Louis Hudson