Immerse yourself in the bizarre world of psychedelic graphic artist and animator Dr D Foothead

This article appears in print in Happy Mag Issue 9. Grab your copy here.

Dr D Foothead is the moniker of Daniel Foothead, a graphic artist, animator and creative director originally from New Zealand but now based in Australia – although he’s not the kind of guy to be based anywhere. His being is somewhat more transient than that.

It’s a name that evokes a vivid image: a mad scientist-type perched over a drawing board, stylus grasped firmly in hand, eyes transfixed on something strange and wonderful coming to life below – and when you see his creations, it’s not hard to imagine that’s exactly the way he works.

If you’re into psychedelic music, you’ve probably seen his work before. He’s the mastermind behind the insane clip for Thee Oh Sees’ Gelatinous Cube, the animated explorations of The Babe Rainbow in their video for Secret Enchanted Broccoli Forest, and the technicolour accompaniment to The Murlocs‘ tune Young Blindness, amongst a wide array of drawings, photographs, graphics, zines and other oddities.

His work is captivating, a melange of hyper-saturated colour, melting forms, extraterrestrial expeditions, and captivating characters. When it comes to music video, his work is unforgettable – the kind of animation that is instantly recognisable and always alluring. You never quite know what journey you’re about to be taken on.

Dr D Foothead’s latest creations came in the form of a collection of videos for Melody’s Echo Chamber – a three-part series for three tracks from her new album, Bon Voyageclocking in at over 15 minutes in total. To find out a little more about his bizarre, fascinating world, we took some time with the man himself.

Dr D FootheadHyper-saturated colour, melting forms, extraterrestrial expeditions, and captivating characters; immerse yourself in the bizarre, fascinating world of psychedelic graphic artist and animator Dr D Foothead.

HAPPY: Let’s talk about how your creative journey began. Am I right in thinking that drawing came first for you? What influenced your style?

DR D FOOTHEAD: Surprisingly I never had the ambition of being an artist or an animator when I was younger. As a kid, I was obsessed with the pre-historic and thought palaeontology might be an exciting career path. I would draw dinosaurs pretty obsessively and create little comics and newspapers telling the usual surreal children’s narratives. At some point in high school, a buddy introduced me to Photoshop and my mind popped. I suddenly became aware of this thing called graphic design and became totally absorbed.

At design school I expanded on these skills and had the chance to dabble in many more mediums. I was exposed to an overwhelming array of new ideas, people and experiences which culminated in some kind of rupture of the mind bubble. I felt totally out of alignment with the world I had been a part of up until that point.

My perspective and values had shifted. This resulted in a great deal of anxiety and confusion, which I found could be alleviated through drawing. I would draw without any real intention of creating anything in particular and let the line wander. It gave me a centre of gravity and it was always surprising to see what would emerge. This process became incredibly therapeutic for me and I received positive reinforcement from friends, which helped my work flourish. I was also looking at many other artists work and picking up various methods through osmosis. I remember Alex Pardee being super influential when I was learning to draw. I could clearly see his technique and it seemed he was feeding off a similar anxiety to create his work.

I was reading a lot of beat literature, Kerouac, Herman Hesse, Tom Wolfe which fed into my work. I really resonated with these stories of transformation through a physical or psychological journey. Later Carl Jung and Joseph Campbell had a massive influence on my work and general thought process. The making process became so entwined with the quality of my mental health I had to find a way to make it my vocation. I dropped out of design school and dove into working out how to make a living pursuing drawing.

HAPPY: When did you start getting into video and animation? What drew you towards it?

DR D FOOTHEAD: My first experiments with animation were at university. I learnt how to use animation software but I didn’t feel a strong connection until I experimented with traditional frame animation. The feeling of seeing your drawings come alive after pouring hours into each individual frame is like no other. It’s mesmerizing to see all of this built up time and energy fired into your mind in this condensed package. At university I created a handful of small shorts but I didn’t have the skill or the patience to take it very far.

Many years later I was asked by Sam Kristofski to get involved in a music video project he was working on for OPOSSOM. It was a big leap of faith because my understanding of the process was pretty basic. We just started with a bunch of paper and sharpies and drew one frame after another for a week until we had a big pile and a great deal of anxiety about how it would look. Seeing that 30 seconds of animation for the first time was so satisfying I immediately wanted to learn more animation techniques. The video was well received and other bands began to request animation so the whole thing snowballed pretty naturally from that point.

HAPPY: When did you start seeing a connection between music and your art?

DR D FOOTHEAD: One of the first finished artefacts I created when I started drawing was a music video for The Upbeats that was for an animation assignment. Building an aesthetic world that felt in tune with the track was something that came pretty intuitively as I was so immersed in that scene at the time. There are so many ways that music can be interpreted visually, it’s the perfect accompaniment to the drawing process.

HAPPY: What’s your favourite music video of all time and why?

DR D FOOTHEAD: That’s an impossible question! There are so many incredible videos out there. I’m not even sure it’s a music video but street musique by the animator Ryan Larkin had a huge influence on me early on. It’s animation in a super raw hand drawn form and it’s so beautiful and timeless and full of the life and personality of its creator.

HAPPY: The characters in your clips seem to always have a thirst for adventure, and the possibilities for where they go and what they do seem to be endless. How do you map out your stories?

DR D FOOTHEAD: There is a pretty direct relationship between these character motifs and my own life. Most of the years I have been an artist have been marked by incessant movement and regular contrasting environments. There is also this constant back and forth between the worlds I am creating, this inner space and external reality. It seems fitting that my characters would be able to pass freely through these different dimensions.

The stories usually evolve from listening to the track and starting to visualize a world that can be explored, the character being a way of inhabiting this place and discovering something interesting about the environment or yourself. I try to leave certain parts of the story unresolved so that during the creation of the animation there is something left to understand or uncover. This kind of explorative/transformative story is a good analogy for the animation process itself. Lately I have been consciously applying a basic story structure to the videos, experimenting with drawing from mythology and the hero’s journey motif found in Joseph Campbell’s The Hero With a Thousand Faces.

HAPPY: Animals play a subtle yet important role in your clips and drawings. What is it you love about incorporating them into your work, which is often situated in extraterrestrial places?

DR D FOOTHEAD: The inner and outer world is filled with all manner of beings and entities. I find it hard to articulate why certain creatures resonate but sometimes something seems particularly fitting for a symbolic or emotive reason. Animals and monsters have their own complex mythological history which can be fun to tap into and can be a good way to communicate an idea without language. Its also extremely fun creating your own, a new being is something I will never tire of drawing

HAPPY: You also dabble a bit in photography, which seems to embody the same kind of adventurousness as your video work. Do you travel a lot? Or is it just that this is the kind of photography you choose to showcase?

DR D FOOTHEAD: When I first decided to pursue art I had no idea how to survive and retain most of my energy for drawing. In these early years I became mostly transient, hitchhiking all over New Zealand and Australia. I bounced around various friends couches, camped for weeks at a time, sometimes I would work in exchange for a place or look after someone’s property. Travelling became a big part of my existence and fed my art and mind so many good nutrients. I would constantly be exposed to beautiful, intense and challenging situations giving me many ideas for works. It allowed me to invest a good chunk of time and energy into improving my skills and making my life more sustainable. Photography went pretty hand-in-hand with capturing all these wild places and sometimes I will draw from these environments in my animation or paintings. Framing a scene was also a really useful skill to feed into my animation practice. Travel is still a pretty large part of my work and life, often I will set up somewhere new for the duration of a project so that the work can benefit from all the exotic influences and new experiences I am absorbing.

HAPPY: I wanted to talk about your recentl work with Melody’s Echo Chamber too. When did you and Melody meet? What made you want to work together?

DR D FOOTHEAD: Melody and I have never actually met in person but I have long had a connection with her music. I felt extremely in tune with what she was looking to create right from the start and the story felt very much a part of my own world. Melody had recently emerged from a pretty dark time and I got a sense of how the video narrative could rework these experiences into something positive. Along with all the visual material, there were lots of synchronicities in the ideas we formed and Ithink we were both excited to create something.

HAPPY: The videos you did for Breathe In, Breathe Out, Desert Horse and Cross My Heart are stunning. Where did this world and these characters come from?

DR D FOOTHEAD: After some back and forth an idea began to form of a pilgrim character and a muse, seperated in a traumatic event and attempting to find one another again. The reference material drew from fairytales and European mythology and this informed some of the aesthetic and story direction. I felt a really strong connection to the pilgrim character so much of his experiences in the clip have a relationship to my own journeys through strange places.

Much of the backgrounds were assembled from places I have visited and reworked them to include mythical and surreal elements. These base ingredients are built upon and the whole thing evolved from a combination of back and forth with melody and the other artists and animators involved in the project. It was exciting to work with someone who had a great deal of trust in the process which allowed for a much more intuitive way of working out the direction of the video.

HAPPY: When you work with a musician like that, what part of the music do you find yourself interacting with the most? Lyrics? Sounds and effects? The artist themselves?

DR D FOOTHEAD: Every project has its own unique quality. Some musicians like to be more hands-on in which case there will be much more back and forth of ideas and imagery to hone in on a more specific vision. Others want to be free to concentrate on their own craft and leave me to find my own relationship with the music. The track is always the origin point of the process for me. The broader idea’s usually come from me taking a big walk, listening to the song and getting a feel for the kind of space it creates in my mind.

Lyrics have some input but there is usually some overall mood the song creates that give me an aesthetic or conceptual idea. Once this initial seed has taken root I can start to draw and develop the look of the thing and begin to storyboard the broader strokes. The beat and song structure and detailed parts of the track usually have more of an influence on the timing of the edit or the kinds of movement going on in the animation. Every song I work with seems to require a slightly different approach.

HAPPY: Where or when do you find yourself happiest?

DR D FOOTHEAD: The happiest times for me are when I’m able to take a conscious leap out of my comfort zone. Heading into an unknown zone with a naive sense of excitement and curiosity is the finest way to absorb, test, destroy, mutate, synthesize and metamorphosise. This can take the form of a project, a trip somewhere unexplored or a relationship with another entity. I find it an increasingly difficult place to get to, but it’s where the goods are at.

Find out more about the work of Dr D Foothead here.


This article appears in print in Happy Mag Issue 9. Grab your copy here.