Enter the bizarre world of Robert Unusual

Animator and director Robert Strange realised he had a talent for the moving image after making music videos for bands he was playing in. “I’ve always loved music videos, so after trying to be an actor and a guitarist for years I realised it was way more fun to do something you’re actually good at,” Strange tells CR. “I made psychedelic mixed-media videos for my band Superorganism and eventually started working on videos for other artists like Tinie Tempah, Stephen Malkmus, and Gorillaz, and recently got some cool advertising jobs including an adult animation style campaign for Mini Cheddars.” 

Strange describes his style as bold colours and cartoonish characters and though he’s worked on an array of projects, he’s maintained his personal look throughout his portfolio. “You can compare my 2D animation for Tinie Tempah and my live-action horror video for Viviankrist’s Behind Mirror and see similar stuff going on there despite the two existing in entirely separate mediums,” he says. “I guess a lot of my stuff is pretty bold and hallucinatory, while retaining an emotional core.” 

Inspiration comes from the things Strange watches or reads, such as sci-fi authors like Adrian Tchaikovsky and Liu Cixin, and character-based TV shows like The Simpsons, The Sopranos, and Gilmore Girls. “I also watched lots of Nickelodeon in the 90s,” he says. “And I like video games a lot, both the animation styles and the crazy plots.” 

When working on a music video, the director tends to put the song on repeat and an idea eventually comes to him. “It’s all about bringing the mood of the song to life,” he explains. “I think of key images and try to build some kind of story around them, while keeping the budget in mind so the whole thing doesn’t crash and burn halfway through due to over-promising.”

In his advertising work, which is slightly newer territory, Strange says there’s naturally a lot more collaboration. The animator is represented by Blinkink, so for commercial projects Strange is in constant communication with them, while also creating initial designs with illustrators.

“I think I brainstorm better by doing, so the more we actually create something, the more I understand where I want it to go as it gets into the production stage,” he says. “In both mediums I tend to explore random ideas I’m interested in at the time – I’ve been thinking about space elevators a lot recently, so a new music video I’ve just finished has one of those, and it also has a bunch of gummy slug characters that look suspiciously like my newborn son at 3am.”

While collaboration allows Strange to do more ambitious projects in his ad work, he finds the most challenging part is agreeing to changes or shifting ideas because of the hierarchy that sometimes comes with the work.

“I tend to believe all of my decisions are the best decisions so someone else overriding me inevitably makes me feel like they’re ruining the production. I’ve tried to overcome this by building a team around me that I like and trust, so that I can get a more objective opinion,” reflects Strange. “And by trying not to worry about any individual element too much.”  

As well as music promos and commercial work, Strange is also the visual artist for his band Superorganism, a role that came about organically. “I was making found-footage mixed-media visuals for a new music project with my friends back in 2017, and the first thing we released (Something For Your M.I.N.D.) got super famous. It was a very fun time,” explains Strange.

“The amount of work I’ve done under the guise of Superorganism has allowed me to create a whole universe based around experimenting with lots of different animation styles. I’ve made something like ten music videos, a 45-minute psychedelic animation show to go with the band’s live performance, and numerous short animations and performance pieces. I try to make all the imagery fit into the same abstract universe with everything referencing everything else as much as possible.”

A long-term goal for Strange is to move into more film and television, so his favourite kind of projects at the moment are ones that help him along that path. “I like projects that rely on character and story and give me the opportunity to do a lot of world-building. I love figuring out a cartoonish character’s physical limitations and seeing how that affects the way they manoeuvre around the world we build for them,” Strange says.

“It’s amazing to see personality develop out of what was once a rough static image. I think every animator knows this crazy phenomenon of really feeling like you live in the world you’re creating.”