In all likeliness, you've seen Matthias Brown aka Traceloops' black and white GIFs at some point on the Internet. If you haven't, you're about to fall in love with his work.
Matthias is a New Jersey-based artist and animator. Constantly experimenting with digital and analogue forms of rotoscoping, a method where animators trace real footage frame by frame to create live-action animations, he creates hypnotic work in his unique style.
I've been following his work for years, and after watching one of his live Instagram videos, I wrote to him asking if he'd be game for an interview. He obliged, and shared insight on his fascination for knowing how things work, his perception of motion, what he looks for in collaborators, and more:
When did you start tracing images and creating art?
I've been making art all my life. I started tracing things when I was around 10 years old maybe. I remember tracing the cover of a paperback copy of Stuart Little and enjoying the translucency of tracing paper. I also copied my older sister and how she put photos inside the clear plastic sleeves of 3-ring binders in school, then coloured on top of the photos using sharpies. I really liked how it was a simplified version of the image that was somewhat automated.
You were doing digital rotoscoping but decided to go old school and trace on paper. What is it about the analogue method that you enjoy more than its digital equivalent?
At first, I didn't have any good hardware for rotoscoping digitally, just my laptop's trackpad, so it was difficult and frustrating to rotoscope using just a trackpad and I had a lot of tracing paper. I like that the analogue method has imperfections that digital doesn't. I also like having what are essentially master copies of the work that can be used at a later date to create new digital video files at higher resolutions as digital media shifts and changes.
Coming to your GIFs, I love your wobbly animation technique, and am curious how the fascination with motion began? Was it an experiment, or could you visualise faces moving when you were drawing them?
I started animating when I was 12, making flip books and using Macromedia Flash. I enjoyed it but found out that most animation jobs have a smaller, specific role than what I wanted. I prefer having a strong sense of ownership and direction and being part of an animation team wasn't so appealing to me, so I started focusing more on graphic design, which is what I studied in college. Animated GIFs were a side project in college and the length of the animation meant I could have complete control. I started getting work related to the short form animations and pivoted to focus on that.
I guess I look for someone with who we share a mutual understanding of artistic direction, ideally it's someone who's work is adjacent to mine, but not all that similar. I like talking to other 2D animators, but I'd prefer to collaborate with people whose work isn't so similar.
Those two projects were much more just like working for myself because the animation and subject matter was closer to what I'd produce on my own. Projects like those are good for focusing since they give a degree of accountability outside of self motivation. There are professional projects that are more specific to the client and I treat it more as problem solving, which may or may not work. Since the goal of the project is not a personal goal, the work I make is sometimes more distant. I'm not sure if that's some sort of defensive mechanism on my part to maintain a clear separation between commercial and non-commercial work. The outcome of professional projects is weird. Sometimes it's better because I have to create a product and sometimes it's worse because it's a product.
Your brain and hands seem to communicate seamlessly, and you've created a well-defined style that's experimental yet classic. How does your art help you work through your thoughts and emotions?
Thanks! It's a meditative experience, and seeing a final artwork feels good. But not all the work I produce is in a TraceLoops style. Some of that work is more emotionally freeing because it can be messier and louder.
From Photo Albums, with images from Matthias' personal family photos
If you were an image, how would you describe/draw yourself?
I really like blind contour drawings.
I love that you're so open to all mediums of art - from hand-drawn GIFs to linocut to pixel art. What is your driving force to make?
I mostly make things because I want to see those things made. I also want to understand how things work. I really like having a phone with me that I can search for something with, like why standard frame rates are what they are at any given time. (24fps for film was because it's an easily divisible number and film is very expensive, so a higher frame rate was not economical. 30fps in the States is because it's half the 60hz frequency of AC current, also why its 25fps in the UK, AC current being 50hz. 29.97fps came about with colour television and the sound signal messing stuff up when 3 color channel signals were in the mix.)
I'm a curious person who wants to understand why things are what they are; to take full advantage of how things work and visually explain complex processes in a simplified manner.
Traceloops' physical explorations of movement, perspective and repetition
What is the bigger dream you're pursuing?
The bigger dream is to make art and be happy doing it.
Thank you for this wonderful interview, Matthias :)