Meet William Child, the claymation artist behind some of hip-hop’s best music videos
William Child is a designer, music video director and claymation master. Since 2017, he’s been making videos for some of hip-hop’s premier talents, rendering the likes of Young Thug, Drake, PARTYNEXTDOOR, Kenny Beats, 03 Greedo, Trippie Redd, Father, KEY! and many more in plasticine. He’s also the artist behind our new cover with 100 Gecs.
Child has also just launched his own animation studio and record label, Gravy Mercedes. Taking its name from a Cam’ron bar in the Dipset classic I Really Mean It, the studio sees the director expand his offering, selling one-off sculptures handmade by Child and taking his love of hip-hop to the next level by releasing cuts from some of his favourite artists.
We caught up with him to chat about making Gecs out of plasticine, working with some of hip-hop’s most high profile MCs and to get some tips on making our own claymations at home.
When did you start making claymation?
I started doing claymation in 2017 after leaving my old design job to go freelance. My first video was an 8-second clip of Donald Trump vomiting the word “BIGLY”.
You’re from Leeds and now based in Bristol, how did you start working with American rappers?
Later in 2017, I replied to a post on Instagram by the New Jersey artist Da$h asking for animators to work on his next music video, and I managed to land the job using that Trump clip as an example. Shout out Stevie and Da$h for trusting me with that first job when I had pretty much nothing to show them!
It was a super tight budget and a massive learning curve but that video went down really well and from there I just kept reaching out to people and eventually getting more and more music video jobs. I’ve done a couple of promo videos for the US hip hop festival Rolling Loud, so I’ve been over to Miami for that a couple of times and met a few of my clients there – Rolling Loud were kind enough to give me backstage access so it was a dream come true for a hip-hop nerd like me. It’s a massive buzz getting to work with artists I really admire and I’ve been really lucky to work with some of my favourite musicians already.
You’ve done a lot of work with Kenny Beats. Is there something unique that fuels your desire to keep working together?
It was so much fun creating the Disco Shit (with 03 Greedo & Freddie Gibbs) and Dig It (with Key!) videos, I reckon my style reflects Kenny’s sound really well – his music feels really cinematic and big to me, so it’s perfect for an all-action music video. I did the album cover for his album with Greedo, Netflix & Deal, too. There’s been a couple of other projects that nearly happened for songs produced by Kenny. Definitely hope to do more stuff in the future, him and his team are great to work with, shout out Kenny and Mike!
On average, how long does it take you to make a video from start to finish?
It depends heavily on the length and the demands of the concept, but a 3-4 minute video tends to take around 8-9 weeks from concept creation and storyboarding to final delivery. I shoot anywhere between 12 and 24 frames to make up a second of footage so it can definitely mean some late nights in the studio!
Do you create the models and shoot everything yourself?
Yeah, I do pretty much everything, all the set building, characters etc and shoot it and edit it all myself. Recently I’ve started to try and outsource a few elements if possible – for example in the recent video for Trippie Redd and Young Thug’s Yell Oh, I got my very talented painter mate Callum Lewis to create the trippy yellow sky backdrops, and my other very talented mate Danny Bird to generate some green screen backdrops for the driving scenes using Cinema 4D.
What’s your favourite of the videos you’ve made so far? Why?
Hard to say, when they take that long they all kind of become my babies, but I think I’d maybe have to say The Grinch for Trippie Redd. I liked how short, snappy and aggressive it was – I reckon the slasher flick flip of The Grinch visualised the sound and themes of the song pretty spot on, and the YouTube comments suggested people caught a lot of the Easter eggs I put it in there which is always nice! Shouts to my guys Aidan and Jimmy at Clocked Inc for getting me in on that one. It was my first video for a major artist and the album ended up going number one in America, so it was amazing to be part of.
What was the inspiration for the laboratory theme of the 100 Gecs cover?
After some back and forth between 100 Gecs management, Crack Magazine’s creative team and myself, we settled on something that would represent Gecs’ ethereal, alchemic collaborative process. We wanted to be somewhere between magic and science, hence the combination of laboratory equipment and slightly more cosmic props, mixed with the ultra-vibrant aesthetic Gecs are known for. And, of course, Dylan’s fondness for witch hats!
Was there a particular Gecs track that soundtracked you making these models?
I really like Money Machine but I kept going back to the Stupid Horse video a lot too. The video is nuts, I love it haha.
What was the hardest part of making the models of Dylan and Laura?
Long hair is always a bit tricky, particularly getting the right texture to it and Gecs’ luscious locks needed capturing correctly! They were fun sculptures to do though, Dylan and Laura have iconic, distinctive looks which is always what I’m after.
You’re about to launch Gravy Mercedes. What does the new venture entail?
Gravy Mercedes is going to be an extension of my current animation studio, so as usual, I’ll be making more of the music videos, commercials and sketches that I’ve been doing for the last three years. But on top of that, there’ll be an online store (the Gravy Mercedes Car Boot Sale), where every so often I’ll be selling one-of-a-kind models, large format prints, merch and more.
I will also be launching Gravy Mercedes Records, a semi-real label that I’m looking to put some artists’ music out through. At the moment it’s just for the beans but I’d love to try and build it up. There’ll be loads of new stuff going up over the next few weeks on Instagram, and there’s a full gallery of my work at gravymercedes.com.
Have you got your eye on anyone for the label yet?
Yeah, the first single is ready to go and I’m so excited to get it out. By way of backstory, I was talking to my mate Danny about how I was getting ready to launch the business, and told him it was called Gravy Mercedes – he sent me the Janis Joplin song Mercedes Benz, which was sooo perfect as a little soundtrack for the launch.
From there it spiralled and I asked my guy Big Baby Scumbag from Tampa if he would cover it for me to use in the launch. He has this amazing song Toy Story where he sings the hook, that felt a lot like the mood of Mercedes Benz to me, despite it being hip-hop. He loved the idea, and went away to do it – I was expecting him to come back with a straight-up sung cover of the song, but low and behold he returned with a fully formed original masterpiece that takes the themes of the original and perfectly translates them into his style. I proper, proper love it, and I’m biased but it’s one of my favourite songs by him. I can’t wait for everyone to hear it, and I think Baby is going to put it on his next mixtape too. He’s a legend, shout out Big Baby Scumbag.
What’s your favourite animated music video? Why?
I suppose it’s debatable whether it counts as animated or not, but I really remember seeing the Beastie Boys video for Don’t Play No Game That I Can’t Win with Santigold for the first time, and thinking that it would be the sickest job in the world to make stuff like that. It’s all done using action figures, deliberately animated super crudely with hands in shot, strings on show etc with ridiculous pyrotechnics and action. I like things that are a bit silly and crass, but clever and lovingly made – I’d put that video and Team America down as two.of the main things that first made me want to do what I’m doing now.
You’re given the chance to remake any Dipset music video in your own style. Which track are you choosing and what are you doing?
I’d have to go with I Really Mean It, as Cam’ron’s bar “Gravy Mercedes, add the cranberry sauce” gave me the name of my company! It’s one of my favourite songs, and video-wise it only ever got that shortened version tacked on to the end of the Dipset Anthem video, though that whole visual is a classic. In terms of what I would do, that brass makes me think of an epic cavalry on horses – Cam, Jim Jones, Juelz Santana and Freekey Zekey as fly, iced out 1700s-style revolutionaries would be funny as shit!
If people want to start making their own claymation at home, where should they start?
Getting some plasticine ordered early would be a good start! Apparently there’s a bit of shortage because of Covid, thankfully I keep about 50kg in the stash. There’s a number of great apps for phones and tablets that really simplify the process of shooting and editing a stop motion video together and make it accessible for everyone. That would be a great introduction to get your head around the basics, then from there its just about practice, practice, practice. At that early stage, you get better every time though, and it’s proper exciting the first time you see something you made come to life through stop motion, it’s like magic. Also, watch the making of videos for Isle of Dogs and Team America, they never fail to inspire me into action!
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