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Trunk Animation at 21: "Coming up with silly ideas is our absolute joy."

Trunk Animation at 21: "Coming up with silly ideas is our absolute joy."

David Knight - 8th Feb 2024

Trunk is celebrating 21 years making finely-crafted animated music videos. We talk to animator / director Layla Atkinson and producer Richard Barnett (above left, and right, with director Rok Predin, centre) about their journey from Vessels to Villagers - via The Beatles and The Stones.  

It's 21 years since three animation graduates from the Royal College of Art - Layla Atkinson, Siri Melchior and Steve Smith - assembled to work on a project under the collective monicker of Trunk. That was 2003, and not long afterwards the collective had become a company and a vibrant hub of independent British animation production. 

From the start, music videos were central to Trunk's creative aspirations. That first project was a low budget video for indie-electronic band Vessels and it led to many more. The relationship with music has continued for over two decades, with Trunk's latest video, a marvellous, CG-animated piece for Villagers, arriving last month.

Trunk has managed the considerable feat of maintaining the singular character of a boutique animation house while also habitually working for some of the biggest, most legendary artists in pop and rock - like The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Coldplay, David Gilmour, Elton John, Kylie and U2. They have bestowed the big acts with creative credibility, and kept pushing boundaries with smaller ones, across a range of musical styles and artists.  

Now we are 21, I believe we are now legally entitled to a full national minimum wage...

One person has been part of Trunk Animation from the start and remains to this day: Layla Atkinson, the versatile animation director behind some of the company's most significant achievements. Meanwhile, Richard Barnett has been the producer who has guided Trunk through many fascinating projects (and various ups and downs) for most of the past 21 years - now commanding Trunk's operations from his home in Norfolk.

Directing duo Alasdair Brotherston and Jock Mooney - aka Alasdair + Jock - have been with Trunk since the mid-Noughties and were prolific in music videos for a long time. Trunk expanded in 2010, working with a wider circle of talent - the most significant being Slovenian-born artist and animation director Rok Predin, who has worked on numerous big projects since, including the recent Villagers video.

As Trunk celebrates its 21st Birthday - it's 'coming of age' so to speak - we asked the Trunk team members to look back at the company's best and most important music video projects - and tell a few stories. Richard Barnett, a consummate animation producer, certainly needed no further prompting. 

"Now we are 21, I believe we are now legally entitled to a full national minimum wage and are looking forward to the pay rise!" he says. Good luck with that, Richard...


1. Vessels - Look For Me In Any Crowded Room (2003)

Director: Trunk
Label: Superior Quality Recordings


Trunk’s first ever music video as a collective, which at the time featured animators Layla Atkinson, Siri Melchior and Steve Smith. Shot partly on an early digital camcorder, the Vessels video utilised band footage, 2D hand drawn, After Effects - and sock puppetry.

RICHARD BARNETT:  I think the video is a real flag in the ground for Trunk’s love of mixed-media storytelling, which has infused most of our work over the last 21 years. There are shot selections in there that don’t look out of place today, and although technically slightly ropey in places, it has that confidence of youth and an 'anything is possible' approach.

LAYLA ATKINSON: Steve even went to one of the gigs and shot some stuff from the audience, no crew, no lighting, just grabbing some stuff in the moment. What an absolutely lovely way to work. Admittedly the ‘budget' - scrawled on a piece of paper that was pinned to Trunk’s wall for many years - added up to £300. Mathematically it made little sense, but sometimes with such little pressure, and enough creative belief, you can make something really fun.

2. Psapp - Hi (2006)

Director: Trunk
Record co: Domino Records


One of Trunk’s first ever full stop motion music videos, shot at COG Studio in Elephant & Castle, this became a regular at festivals and at music video screening nights.

LAYLA: Our confidence was up after directing a string of stop motion Whiskas commercials for Passion Pictures, who initially repped the collective before Richard joined as producer. Off the back of that we pitched to Bart McDonagh at Domino - which became a regular occurence over the next 20 years.

The video was a classic Trunk production in so much as it was all hands to the modelmaking pumps! The craft - as in making stuff - plays a huge part in Trunk’s love of animation, and traditionally everyone has always got involved in the process - directors, producers, production assistants, friends and family... and of course actual professional model makers! This joy in making is paramount and really revitalises.

RICHARD: Animator twins Ben and John Harmer did a fantastic job, and really made some fairly rudimentary assets sing! Layla’s favourite shot is the bookcase, where we see the books all offer themselves up, before a book called Pony Tales pops out, and we briefly follow the lyrics as the pages turn.

Coming up with slightly silly ideas and novelty sequences, like ‘a splash of tea from a cup, becomes a choreographed dancing troupe’, is just the absolute joy of animation. If only there were a few less earnest clients out there, the world would be a happier place!

The craft - as in making stuff - plays a huge part in Trunk’s love of animation.

3. Annuals: Dry Clothes (2007)

Director: Layla Atkinson
Producer: Richard Barnett
Label: Virgin


From having a conversation with the band, Layla Atkinson came up with the idea of a man and a crocodile falling in love - which by the end turns into a horror story. This one became an award-winner at the Annecy Animation Festival.

RICHARD: This video was commissioned by Carole Burton-Fairbrother, a legend, at a time when you were still invited into the office to have a chat about the idea.

Again, in true Trunk style, everyone in the studio features in the video - even our book keeper makes an appearance - alongside friends and family. Layla and myself both found ourselves in a dentist chair, with me having a piece of meat picked from my teeth.

Dry Clothes was made at a time when digital cutouts - the love child of rostrum camera techniques and After Effects - was beginning to allow animators to get some kind of subtlety into the movement. Although it contains some pretty dodgy walking/slipping, and some layers are moving in all directions, it went on to win the Best Music Video at Annecy that year.

In fact, Trunk won three awards at Annecy in 2007. We were mildly dumbfounded to all be on stage together - apart from Layla who was having a night swim and a BBQ down by the lake!


4. Clinic: Bubblegum (2010)

Dir: Alasdair + Jock
Producer: Richard Barnett
Label: Domino Records


On a run of work that included two acclaimed videos for Tom Fun Orchestra, Alasdair + Jock's video for Liverpool outfit Clinic epitomised their hallmark style of 2D animation, putting a hip and quirky twist on classic animation techniques. 

JOCK MOONEY: Absolutely loved working on this. The budget was small, but we really pushed it and ourselves as far as we could. Added bonus of featuring an outfit-changing montage. If only everything featured an outfit-changing montage.

ALASDAIR BROTHERSTON: I remember we were doing a lot of small budget videos around this time and I don’t know if it’s because we had run out of time or money or ideas but we ended up recycling a couple of underwater shots from a previous music video, Bottom of the River, for the space shots at the end. I think I’d just run out of steam!


5. The Rolling Stones: Doom & Gloom (2012)

Director: Rok Predin
Producer: Richard Barnett
Label: Polydor


In 2010, Trunk had a rethink and a reset. Led by Atkinson and Barnett, the company began to work with more directors, all brought together by a shared base in fine art practices. The objective was to reference from outside the animation scene. 

Rok Predin's arrival kickstarted Trunk's work with more mainstream clients, like Elton John and Take That. In 2012, they created the animation for Madness's performance of Our House at the Queen's Diamond Jubilee Concert that was projected onto Buckingham Palace. And then... The Rolling Stones got in touch, about making a lyric video for their first new music in over a decade.

RICHARD: Lyric videos were still pretty new at the time, and this one had 6 days to turn around a 4 minute piece. And it was Friday… We had the text style, and with Rok having studied painting, and being an After Effects wiz, he basically just animated forward - namely, just kept moving from start of the timeline to end.

We’d discussed a list of visual analogies for how the text could come on, that would hopefully reiterate the meaning of the word, but not ideally interpret the meaning of the song, which we have always felt should be left to the audiences pleasure. And Rok just set off, all through the weekend, and by Monday had made amazing progress!

Mick Jagger absolutely loved the video and invited the team to Paris to watch an intimate performance that night. Alas, the tour manager then phoned the studio and said that with the time difference, we would never make it in time. A huge thorn in poor Rok’s side to this day! But it has led to a long relationship with the Stones. Off the back of that, we did the Wild Horses lyric video for a reissue of Sticky Fingers.

Doom and Gloom has pretty much double the viewings on Youtube at 29 million, than Jonas Akerlund’s official video for the same song, which also featured some of Rok’s work. It just goes to show you how successful lyric videos can be. We've had the pleasure of creating lyric vids for Kylie, The Beatles, U2, Lily Allen, Liam Payne, Vampire Weekend, and Paul Woolford amongst others.

6. Coldplay: Ghost Stories (2014)

Directors: Alasdair + Jock
Producer: Richard Barnett
Label: Parlophone 


Coldplay's commissioner Sam Seager got in touch with Richard Barnett with a question: what could the team do with Coldplay’s new album cover? The band were planning a secret two day drop on iTunes of the new album Ghost Stories as a special moment for their fans. They wanted a visual to work alongside the whole 43 minute album, based around the cover: a highly detailed etching created by artist Mila Furstova which told the story of Chris Martin and Gwyneth Paltrow's 'conscious uncoupling'.

Alasdair + Jock were given the responsibility to pull it off. It was, essentially a step into the unknown, but it had far-reaching consequences.

Above: Alasdair Brotherston (left) and Jock Mooney - aka Alasdair + Jock

RICHARD: Our idea was to concentrate on different segments of Mila Furstova's artwork for different songs, as well as playing with the background to change context.

Led by the capable hands of Jock Mooney, a team of artworkers firstly traced the whole image, line for line. Technical lead Alasdair Brotherston then separated everything out into workable spaces, and the animators started on creating hundreds of beautiful animated loops, which could then be put back together and retimed across the different tracks to create unique pieces for each song.

JOCK: When this came around, it was by far the most complex thing we'd ever worked on. I can recall how many extra computers Rich had to rent to deal with the mammoth task of rendering this HUGE project. I then remember how the tiny studio on Bermondsey Street kept having power cuts as a result, literally putting the toaster on was too much for the poor circuit breaker!  We got there in the end though.

ALASDAIR: The whole video was an unbroken 48 minute loop or something crazy like that. We didn’t really consider how much computer power we would need, and the last week was pretty hairy.

It was the first project we did where we were forensically pulling apart and rebuilding someone else’s artwork. It was an approach which led to us working with David Gilmour and Hipgnosis and then The Beatles.

RICHARD: The video directly led to Hipnosis' Aubrey Powell getting in touch wanting to make a Gustave Doré-inspired video for David Gilmour - Rattle That Lock. And that idea of exploring a complicated image led to our first Beatles video for Glass Onion, which we’ll come to…

• The Making of Ghost Stories video here


7. Blur - Ong Ong (2015) 

Directors: Layla Atkinson, Pete Mellor
Creative director: Tony Hung
Producer: Richard Barnett
Label: Parlophone


For the return of Blur, and their 2015 album The Magic Whip, Trunk collaborated with creative director Tony Hung who had created the overall look and feel for the entire album. They had to find a style that fitted in with that, and could work within a very tight production schedule - so Layla co-directed with fellow RCA grad Pete Mellor.

LAYLA: The record industry has never shied away from setting mildly ridiculous schedules, and this video for Blur was no exception.

RICHARD: Collaboration is key to all of Trunk’s projects, like all filmmaking it’s imperative. Trunk have always had a close relationship with illustration collective Peepshow, ever since Layla and Pete’s days at the Royal College of Art. On this occasion we worked with Peepshow’s illustrator extraordinaire Spencer Wilson, and Layla and Pete directed together, mainly due to the sheer amount of work, but also for damned good measure!

PETE MELLOR: It was a bit crazy - the creative director of the Blur album Magic Whip came to Trunk wanting an epic video game - Mario meets Donkey Kong adventure love story music video. In 10 days. So of course we said 'yes'. It was Blur! Layla and I storyboarded, Spencer Wilson illustrated and then everyone animated. I think we did it in 9 days. 

RICHARD: The key to success in these kinds of quick turnaround projects has to be trust! You need a strong and clear creative brief, then you need to communicate a clear creative solution that everybody understands and is onboard with. And then you need trust and peace with which to get your heads down and deliver.

And Tony was fantastic. He came to Trunk and on day one we solved all the creative and production problems, and then the team were able to move forward at pace. It also helped that Layla and Pete are old hands and banged out a great animatic, Spencer is incredibly quick at producing artwork, and we went down an 8 bit graphic style, so the animation was simple.

Our main character was a ball, so no arms and legs to animate! The list of economic storytelling and technique goes on, but you get the picture: plan the shit out of it, and hope the client trusts you!

8. Benjamin Scheuer: Weather The Storm (2016)

Director: Peter Baynton
Producer: Daniel Negret
Exec Producer: Richard Barnett
Label: Warner/ADA


Top British animator Peter Baynton - now an Oscar and Bafta winner for The Boy, The Mole, The Fox, and The Horse - contacted Trunk about helping him with his third video for US singer-songwriter Benjamin Scheuer. They happily obliged with the project giving the team the opportunity to call upon their backgrounds in in fine art practices. It went on to win the Audience Award at the British Animation Awards.

RICHARD: Collaboration is once again at the heart of Trunk, and when Peter got in touch to see if we would produce Weather The Storm for him, it was an absolute pleasure. Peter has always been a fantastic storyteller, and we’d always loved his previous videos for Benjamin Scheuer: The Lion and Cookie Tin Banjo.

Peter had originally thought to work with an illustrator, but with some mild pressure and reassurance, he agreed to pick up his paintbrush and give the backgrounds a go himself. That was a turning point. Peter really got into the artwork, and they looked fantastic. We animated the characters in TV Paint, whilst Peter worked through the watercolour backgrounds, carefully laying them out by the windows of Trunk’s then studio at Springhalls Wharf, overlooking the Thames.

PETER BAYNTON: I had a wonderful time at Trunk making a music video for Weather The Storm. It was my third video for Benjamin Scheuer, and this time I'd really bitten off more than I could chew. Trunk came to my rescue and agreed to produce it. So I whizzed down from my studio in Dalston to theirs, perched on the south bank of the river, and installed myself for several months of laughs, japery and all things nourishing to the spirit.

RICHARD: One particularly gusty day nearly had the production on its knees, when a number of paintings flew out the window and landed on the foreshore beneath the studio! Luckily the tide was out and the brave and ever resourceful producer Daniel Negret, skipped out, climbed down a ladder and rescued the backgrounds.

Being able to call on the team's background in fine art practices, whether etching, sculpture, action painting, or indeed water colour, really helps when you come to recreate that approach digitally, or certainly in a mixed media approach. Rok once again brought his painting background to the fore, comping the elements together in After Effects. We also worked with our friends at Fonic to add sound effects to the video bringing it more into the filmic world. And it was another notch for Trunk’s open arms policy working with artists and directors to realise their ideas.

PETER: Trunk helped get the project crewed up, gently prodded me into getting it made and made the whole thing seem effortless to boot. Happy memories.


9. Shirley Collins: Pretty Polly (2017)

Director: Layla Atkinson
Producer: Richard Barnett
Label: Domino


English folk music royalty Shirley Collins returned to music after a very long absence with Lodestar - her first album in 38 years. Bart McDonagh at Domino told the team that Shirley had a request for the visual to accompany Pretty Polly - she wanted to use the centuries-old folk art of dancing jig dolls in some way.

LAYLA: We felt that we needed to do something very special, and also very pared back, as is Shirley’s approach to singing and storytelling. So we researched every fibre of jigdolls and then commissioned three to be made; a man and a woman were made by a guy in his 70’s from Kent - there are not many jig doll makers about! - while Richard took on the job of making a horse. Had he made one before? No. Obviously not.

RICHARD: The overall idea was to go down the puppet theatre route, but in keeping with the style of music and era of the original folk song we decided to, wait for it; shoot on film, use analogue lighting controls, and rather than move the camera, we’d move the whole fucking set. (Slaps hand into face and asks 'why?!') We wanted to make the whole piece as analogue as possible, hence the in-camera effects, but also we didn’t have the space or budget to have a roving camera.

Above: Layla Atkinson (far left) and Richard Barnett (next left) with crew on the set of Pretty Polly video

LAYLA: It’s also fun to challenge yourself. So we created sets out of cardboard and attached to wooden rails, some up to 7 meters long, and had four layers to give depth. Jock Mooney expertly painted all the dolls, and created the detailed painted backgrounds.

DoP Pete Ellmore shot on his Super 16mm Bolex in our studio, now at Elephant & Castle, and so there it was. It was certainly nervewracking to spend the whole day shooting with no idea as to what the footage looked like until seeing the rushes the next morning.

RICHARD: Layla has always loved Captain Pugwash, and so she wanted some of that classic cardboard shifty eye stuff for close ups. But how would we get it all moving? Basically a load of us, again everyone in the studio, and a load of friends from Goldsmiths Art College, choreographed every set going up, down, left and right, hands coming in, timed with hands going out. It was balletic.

The shoot took place over a few scorchingly hot days in the summer, at one point there were 18 people in the studio working equipment, controlling the puppets, shifting the sets, shooting the footage and sweating all over the place. It was absolutely amazing, and a true feeling of creative collaboration at it’s best!

• Making of Pretty Polly film here (a must watch!)

This is probably the video that takes Trunk’s approach to mixed media to the Nth degree.

10. The Beatles: Glass Onion (2018) 

Directors: Alasdair + Jock
Producer: Richard Barnett
Label: Apple Corps/UMG


Trunk began an association with The Beatles that has now run to over five years with a video for a new mix of Glass Onion, from The Beatles - aka 'The White Album'. Stefan Demetriou (who had worked on the Coldplay project) got in touch to see what ideas Alasdair + Jock had about the poster created by pop artist Richard Hamilton and Paul McCartney for that album. The video's success has led to 3 more for the Fab Four: for Back In The USSR (2018) and Here Comes The Sun (2019), both by Alasdair + Jock, and Here, There & Everywhere (2022) by Rok Predin. 

ALASDAIR: This was one of those strange pitches where, despite the fact it was for THE BEATLES, I never doubted that we would get the job. It wasn’t arrogance, it was just that the idea and technique felt perfect for the song and the band.

When we won the job though I felt quite intimidated to be working for Apple. I think at that point nobody had really made a Beatles music video since Kevin Godley dropped a piano into the Mersey for Real Love in the 90s. And half of my family are from Liverpool so I really REALLY didn’t want to bugger it up.

JOCK: Our first project of three for The Beatles. Once we got over the collective excitement and shat ourselves slightly, it became an incredibly fun, if complicated project.

RICHARD: Alasdair + Jock were always some of the most attentive directors to detail, and that was shown once again here. Working alongside Apple's archivist Aaron Bremner we researched each and every image on the poster so we understood the story behind each one, and the context in the history of the band. A lot of these stories then informed the kind of technique we would use to bring it to life.

The main narrative thread was that we are watching the artist at work, curating what goes where, making the decisions on composition and flow etc. All that knowledge then lead to great opportunities to be playful with our audience; adding a yellow submarine in Paul’s bath, that then gets covered up by the final image. Or even just telling the story of how we get to that first passport photo of John, we do a sleight of hand, and then show ‘lenticular Paul’ which shows the winner of a Paul lookalike competition. It’s detail upon detail for the diehard fans.

ALASDAIR: I was surprised at how open and supportive and engaged Apple and the band were during the production. It was a dream job.

JOCK: Huge thanks to the very patient team at Clapham Road Studios. 

RICHARD: I think this is probably the video that takes Trunk’s approach to mixed media to the Nth degree. We covered a huge range of animation techniques in that production. It’s all under camera, thousands of photos printed out, full motion control rig, the planning was completely mental, with Alasdair making exact maps which we printed out, so that the motion control camera knew where it was supposed to go, all ready for comp. Jock’s art direction and modelmaking skills once again came to the fore, and everything from paper stock to the right colour lipstick was researched so that nothing could go too wrong.

Of course the motion control camera fucked up and took ages to reprogram, but we got there in the end. Amazing animators, amazing crew, once again led by DOP Pete Ellmore, and the wonderful Clapham Rd Studios bringing decades of knowledge and support. There’s too much detail to mention, and too many people to thank, but it has to be one of our finest technical achievements.

• Watch the Making Of Glass Onion film here

11. Daniel Pemberton - Rising Phoenix (2021)

Director: Layla Atkinson
Producer: Richard Barnett

RICHARD: Trunk has always been forced to move studios, every 3 or 4 years, mainly due to developers. In 2010 we moved onto Bermondsey street, which was to be one of our happiest venues, and where the tales of creative debauchery are best left from whence they took place. Our neighbour and friend was Daniel Pemberton - now Major Hollywood Composer, with the Spider-verse franchise under his belt, and countless more hits.

Daniel was a colourful ideas machine who loved taking a walk to get coffee, and joining in with the crazy animator fraternity for a beer after work. He has become a longtime collaborator and in 2021, after he had scored this truly amazing documentary directed by Ian Bonhôte and Peter Ettedgui about the history of the Paralympics for Netflix, Daniel wanted to release a track that he created with The Krip Hop Nation. The directors, unbelievably, gave us carte blanche to use any footage from the film, and they wanted a really powerful set of text to shine a light on these very emotive lyrics.

When you get a chance to really investigate a film visually, frame by frame, it’s hard not to be overwhelmed by both the story and the artistry. The footage was beautiful, the real job was not ruining it! And so by carefully choosing the visual build to this amazing song, and working to find the best sequences to match the lyrics, over a period of a week, a small team weaved text and visuals together into something that I feel works hand-in-hand with this fantastically powerful song.

12. Villagers: That Golden Time (2024)

Director: Rok Predin
Producer: Richard Barnett

RICHARD: That brings us to Villagers, a project that rather strangely also has a full circle narrative arc to it. Back in 2010 with a revitalised Trunk, Rok, newly signed, pitched one of his first ideas for Villagers' track Becoming A Jackal. That was a song that really embedded in our psyche. Alas with pitching being a fickle game, the idea didn’t land, and we were left licking our wounds. But the song remained, often played in the studio, and often rued as one that got away.

Cut to November 2023 and John Moule got in touch. John had commissioned the very first video that the Trunk team made, before they left their actual jobs and officially set up Trunk. And John was saying words like: Villagers. Music Video. Domino. It was time for the second bite of the apple...

This time, Conor had written a really great brief explaining what the song was about and what it meant to him, and the label also send over a piece that Conor had made himself. The question was whether anything could be done to recreate what Conor had done, but slightly slicker? Which we pondered, Rok had a bit of a play, and then a day before the pitch was supposed to be in said, ‘No, it’s not working’. At which point we all agreed not to panic, and Rok said the story of the song just feels like a moth flying towards a flame, the inevitable path that we’re all on, perhaps not wanting to be, but the writing is on the wall from the very start.

LAYLA: Richard - who is mildly obsessed with all things nature, and even makes Wildflower Meadows for people [in Norfolk] - found some stunning imagery of a moth, shot by Dr Adrian Smith of North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences. Filmed at 6000fps, the footage captured the Dark Marathyssa moths golden shimmering scales and flecks that adorn it’s wings. Rok immediately dropped the music onto the footage as a quick test, and said ‘this could look amazing’.

So off we went developing a simple story, that was to look beautiful, and hopefully a little poignant. Rok chatted Conor through the idea, and he was very receptive, he was able to get involved and add ideas into the process, and all in all was fantastic to work with.

RICHARD: Having licensed the footage from Adrian, the team used it as reference to build a 3D model and animate the moth, with results looking so good, we were able to utilise three of the live action shots in the final piece as well. Conor was overjoyed, and has said it’s his favourite Villagers video of all time. 

It just goes to show how important long term relationships are in this industry, and the need to constantly strive to deliver on creativity, on budget, and on schedule. Commercialsing art surely has to be one of the hardest ways to earn a living. Admittedly it’s not coal mining, but coal miners don’t have to manage creative egos and stressed clients every day! Still we are lucky!

• Find more Trunk music videos, for Hot Chip, Elbow, Kylie, Lily Allen, Skunk Anansie, Paul Woolford and many more, at their website here

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