Thursday Spotlight: Daniel Sousa

Tell us about your background.

I was born in Cape Verde and grew up in Portugal, just outside Lisbon. My family came to the States in 1986. I studied at RISD, where I focused on illustration, painting, and animation. After graduation, I spent a few years in Boston, working at Olive Jar studios, where I animated and directed a variety of projects, mostly TV commercials.
I’ve been in Providence, RI, since 2001, and I split my time between teaching, freelance work, and personal work.

Name some people, artists, artistic genres, etc. that have been influential in your work.

I think for the most part I’m always trying to describe a very internal and private world. By reaching for that kind of specificity, I believe that I can connect with people on a more universal level. I gravitate towards work that achieves that kind of universal connection, or resonance. For that reason, I think nothing inspires me more than music, which can be so visceral. I grew up on British post-punk music, like the Smiths, Joy Division, Bauhaus, and I still feel a very strong emotional connection to that music. Unfortunately, I can’t play any instruments, so I try to achieve an equivalent emotional result through animation. I am also inspired by painting and other films, but not nearly as much. In terms of animation, I was very influenced by Russian and Eastern European animators like Norstein, Svankmajer, Kucia, Dumala, Kovalyov. Closer to home, I greatly admire the work of Steven Subotnick, Amy Kravitz, and Flip Johnson. Also, I owe a great debt to the poetry and film language of Andrei Tarkovsky.

In addition, I have been informed by painters like Velasquez, Inness, Freud, and more recently, Anselm Kiefer and Cai Guo-Qiang.

And then there’s just the world around me, everyday life. I think how you filter the infinity of information that surrounds you is what defines you as an artist.

Where and how do you get your ideas?

Thematically, I try to draw from cultural archetypes, mythology and fairy tales, as well as my own subconscious and childhood memories.

What materials do you work with? Describe your technical processes.

It really depends on the project and the kind of graphic universe that it inhabits. Minotaur was a stop-motion film, so I used a variety of materials, including wood, wire, plastic, and paper. Fable was a more traditional 2-D film, so I worked on paper and then scanned the drawings into After Effects and composited digitally.
For my new film Feral, I roughed out the animation in Flash, then printed each frame onto paper and re-traced each drawing with pencil. The drawings were then re-scanned and composited. The backgrounds are usually acrylic on paper.

What do you find to be the most challenging part of being creative?

Consistency. Good ideas come and go, and sometimes you have to work through a lot of bad ideas to get to a good one. But if you don’t do that you may never find that one good idea you were looking for. So discipline and faith in the process is really important.

What is the best part of being creative?

When you get into a groove where everything just flows and time stands still. Doubt goes away, and you’re just present with the work. Those moments are rare but they make up for everything else.

What advice would you give to someone seeking advice about being an artist?

Being an artist means something different to each person. What works for one artist may not work for another. So you have to be true to yourself and follow your own vision. Don’t be discouraged or frustrated by setbacks, but work through them to keep improving your technical and conceptual skills. It’s a lifelong quest, not something you master in a couple of years.

Daniel’s website
Daniel on Vimeo
Daniel’s Blog

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