Kaleidoscopic delights: Q&A with animator Emanuele Kabu

We talk to London-based Italian animator and visual artist Emanuele Kabu about his hand-drawn, stop-motion music videos for the likes of the Helio Sequence and Little Dragon, and the cathartic effect of creating the moving image 

Can you tell me more about your background – how did you first get into the industry?

I started doing animation in 2001. Just for fun. I didn’t study animation or anything like that. I was into the graffiti and punk/DIY scene and surrounded by great people who were doing whatever they wanted – music, art, poetry, photography. It was natural for me to think: “ok, I want to try to animate my drawings”, and that’s how I started.

When I was super young I was fascinated by the Amiga/PC demoscene and I think this is one of the things that made me think about animation. At that same time I started to be involved in the Italian contemporary art scene with my drawings and paintings as well as my videos.

The first music video I made was for the Italian punk/hardcore band La Quiete. For a while I shared a flat with their bass player in Bologna and he asked me and my friends Ericailcane and Blu to produce a video for each song on their 7”.

Since then I never stopped doing animation, ranging from personal projects to music videos.

Can you tell me about your production processes?

When I started I was into digital animation. I’m good with computers and software so it was easy for me to learn what I needed in order to do my little experiments. It took me a year to complete my first short, which I could now do in two weeks.

I immediately realised that I missed using ink and paper, so I slowly began inserting some hand-drawn details (such as paper textures, small hand-drawn, stop-motion animations etc.). Meanwhile I was experimenting with live-action footage, photographs and real texture.

I’m really interested in the creation of mixed-media videos, which is why I’m still experimenting with new techniques and different ways to use the tools I already have. My main tools are paper, watercolours, a scanner, and of course my laptop and the internet.

How would you describe your aesthetic?

I think my work has evolved through the years and yet sometimes I think that I’m always doing the same thing, just in a different way. It is more abstract now than in the past. There are some clear references to psychedelia as well as minimalism/suprematism I think, and definitely some nods to my graffiti past. But I’m always researching new things and trying to evolve, that’s for sure.

Where do you find inspiration?

When I work on a music video I always talk with the band or artist, asking questions about the song, the mood they are after and if there is a story behind the lyrics. Then I try to forget everything and start to think about what kind of video I want to do and what the song means to me. Then I do something that is in the middle.

With my personal projects it’s different. Inspiration could come from a lot of things – a book I’m reading, a movie, another video, art. But especially in the last few years, I’ve been inspired by events in my life. For instance, I made the video It’s Called “Moon” because I really wasn’t able to sleep, and while making 31 Ways to Say F*ck Off I was in a terrible mood.

I think a real turning point for me was a super short video I did called MAIL. That video took ages, and it was the first completely hand-drawn video, when I didn’t know all the tricks that I know now. It was a sort of catharsis for me.

Can you tell me about the concepts behind recent videos you created for indie rock band The Helio Sequence?

For Upward Mobility (see first video), I had some long discussions with the band about the mood and the atmosphere I needed to create. I asked them to write a short piece about the song mentioning anything they connected to the song: images, words, abstractions, thoughts.

The main concept came out of these conversations and involved creating something that would continually collapsing into something else, as if it could never reach a proper form. We decided that a mixed media video with constantly changing techniques was the best way to express that idea.

With Battle Lines, Robin Washburn, the other director, did the live action footage and the first edit with the neon effects. When I saw the footage I started to think of a way I could add to the glitch/error effect that Robin had created digitally and I went for a background of confetti that reminded me of old TV signal noise. I created that scene using all the cuts of the original edit where Benjamin and Brandon (from The Helio Sequence) were dancing. The scene grew and grew as I added more elements until it peaked and I started to take things away.

This particular scene is strictly related to the lyrics of the song. I always try to insert something that could be a kind of narrative element, even if it’s deeply abstract like this dancing scene.

Are you working on anything at the moment?

I just finished a super silly video called #CURRENTMOOD – A typical day of a London jobseeker. Like 31 Ways to say F*ck Off it’s a type of fun project that I need to do from time to time, which helps me to experiment with different techniques and tools and empty my mind for a bit.

I’m working on some other ideas. And there are a lot of super short animations on my Instagram page you can check out!




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