Nata Metlukh’s lively work captures the absurdity of urban life

Nata Metlukh combines thoughtful observations with surreal elements to create animations and illustrations that are full of movement and humour

Ukranian-born, San Francisco-based animator and illustrator Nata Metlukh aims to show the joys of absurd situations in urban settings in her lively work. “I don’t pay much attention to technique, and all my films have different aesthetics,” says Metlukh. But what ties her work together is this sense of movement and happy chaos as fine, purposeful line work combines with splotches of saturated colour.  

Metlukh studied illustration and initially taught herself the basics of animation as she had a desire to make short films. “My knowledge wasn’t enough though, and I went to Vancouver Film School to study animation, and later the Estonian Academy of Arts for a filmmaker/author course by cartoonist Priit Pärn,” explains the creative. 

Since then she’s been able to build a portfolio that balances personal with commercial and editorial work, working with clients such as Google, The Wall Street Journal, GQ, Eurostar and Men’s Health among others. 

All images Nata Metlukh

“In editorial illustration, what’s most valuable is a quick turnaround, when the process from idea to a final piece only takes a couple of days,” says Metlukh. “It can be quite a challenge to find a good metaphor for an article and find its best visualisation.” In her commercial work, Metlukh typically works on animated projects where she can put her more technical skills to good use. 

In between these projects are her personal explorations which often start from a sketch of a “funny or weird” situation. “Then I start thinking about its possible development and what preceded that situation. If the story grows, it becomes a film, if not, it becomes a gif or illustration,” says the illustrator. 

One idea that’s made it to animation status is Metlukh’s latest animation Awkward, which captures uncomfortable social interactions such as bumping into someone on a street corner, knocking over a shop display and someone reading over your shoulder on public transport. It serves as the perfect introduction to Metlukh’s work as it combines thoughtful observations with a touch of the surreal.

As Metlukh’s practice involves both illustration and animation she gives both approaches equal weight. “I treat illustration as a one-frame animation, and I think a good illustration contains a story and further development,” she explains. “An illustration is perhaps even harder to make than animation, as in just one static picture you have to show the whole film with its characters and conflict, all drawn in an interesting form. Trying to solve such problems makes me happy!”

Metlukh works purely digitally with her paper notebook reserved just for thumbnail ideas. While she works in just Photoshop and Animate CC there’s a lovely hand-drawn quality to the creative’s work, which enhances the energy seen throughout. One of the challenges she’s currently facing is making her commercial and personal styles more cohesive. “I want to find a balance between indie and commercial aesthetics,” she says. “But for now more rough works are only for personal projects, and sleek for commercial ones.”  

Despite this, for Metlukh, just the ability to create new work is enough. “Starting a new film is the biggest joy for me, and that’s what I’m doing these days, developing ideas and doing research,” says the creative.

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