London-based director Hannah Jacobs specialises in 2D animation and illustration. Her work is diverse – she has tackled a wide range of topics from solar eclipses to parenthood in commissions for Vox, Selfridges, the Barbican and the New York Times – but if there’s one thing that runs through it all, it’s a human touch. While her work is created digitally, it has a distinctive handmade aesthetic, thanks to her skilled use of colour and texture.
Jacobs’ animations are the result of a painstaking process: “I work in 2D frame by frame animation, which means there are 12 individual illustrations to every second of animation – so it’s pretty labour intensive,” she explains. The process starts with sketching out ideas by hand, before designing individual frames which are then coloured and animated in Photoshop.
While there are quicker and easier ways to animate, working in Photoshop allows Jacobs to use a broad range of brushes and ensure that each frame has a handcrafted feel. “That’s really important to me. When I was studying, I used to work entirely on paper, and I absolutely loved it – I always said I was never going to work digitally. Obviously in a commercial environment, it’s just not feasible to be working on 5,000 sheets of paper and scanning them in, or waiting for paint to dry, but I really wanted to translate that kind of tactile, human approach into the digital world as much as possible,” she adds.
At school, Jacobs says she was obsessed with comics: “I was always drawing, and I loved Asterisk and Obelisk. I guess that whole world [of comics] isn’t a million miles away from animation, in terms of having a narrative that is told through visuals, so I think I naturally developed an interest in animation from there,” she explains. She also loved The Simpsons, and was convinced she would grow up to be an animator on the show. She went on to study illustration at university, before enrolling on the Royal College of Art’s MA animation course.
Her work is filled with imaginative details, and she often combines a narrative approach with more abstract elements. “I guess on the whole, I’m drawn to pretty emotive themes in my work. I’m quite observant – I’ll notice quite tiny things in my day to day – and those are often the starting point for me, so I try to take those moments and kind of shine a bit of a spotlight on them, or magnify them, and think of a little backstory or narrative behind them,” she explains. “That’s usually how my ideas start, and that tends to feed into my commercial work.”
In 2019, she signed to production company Strange Beast, and she now splits her time between working at home and at Strange Beast’s London studio. “I have a really nice balance of having that space where I can just get into the zone on my own, and then go and socialise and share ideas and get feedback [from other creatives]. I’ve spent years working completely on my own in a home studio, and it just wasn’t for me – I think it’s really important to be able to bounce things around with people, and I’ve learned so much from that,” she adds.
One of a series of animations created by Hannah Jacobs for the Museum of Happiness
When it comes to commissions, Jacobs says she is drawn to projects that are emotive and allow her to tell a story. Her work spans music videos, online guides, short films and editorial illustrations – from a set of animations depicting patients’ stories of recovery for the Mayo Clinic, to an animated meditation guide for mattress brand Casper and a short film accompanying Tim Siebles’ poem First Kiss for TED’s education platform TED-Ed.
While she has developed a distinctive and recognisable style, Jacobs also tries to ensure that each project she works on feels different from the last. She is keen to continue pushing her practice, and regularly works on self-initiated projects to develop new ideas and techniques – something she says has led to more interesting and varied commissions from clients.
“[Working on personal projects] takes away any pressure of needing to fulfil a brief or being overseen by a client – it’s more creatively free I guess, I don’t have to answer to anyone but myself – and I think that’s when these little nuggets of inspiration can land, which I can then weave into another commercial job, so I’m hopefully always pushing and evolving the way I work and not just landing in one place with it,” she adds.
She has also worked on collaborative projects with other directors, teaming up with Anna Ginsberg to create a colourful film about sustainability for Selfridges, and working with Ginsberg, Wang and a team of animators to create a music video for Dinosaur Love – a song created by musician Tom Rosenthal’s three-year-old daughter, Fenn. Rosenthal called Jacobs in February, after the song went viral online, and asked her to make a music video in just 24 hours – a challenge she pulled off with help from Wang, Ginsberg and a team of animators. “We ended up with about 20 people doing bits here and there – it was absolutely bonkers, but everyone was amazing, and it was weirdly satisfying to do,” she says.
Frame by frame animation can be a slow and arduous task but for Jacobs, the end result is worth the time and effort. “It’s an intense process, but insanely rewarding when you see it all come together – I still just think its magic, no matter how many projects I do,” she adds.
She is now working on her first narrative short, which is due to be completed later this year, and is also keen to continue developing her illustration work. “I love doing editorial illustration, because it’s a completely different process for me and its really satisfying sometimes to just draw one image, so I’d love to push that a bit more – maybe doing a mural or something on a larger scale. I’d also love to take my work away from the screen, and into a physical space or something more tactile, like print or a graphic novel.”
hellohannahjacobs.com; @hannahjacobs_animates; read more about Jacobs work for Museum of Happiness here. New Talent is part of Inspire, a partnership with Facebook and Instagram to highlight outstanding creative work on the platforms