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An interview with Lesley Barnes: Creating the animated video for the Belle and Sebastian single I Didn’t See It Coming

The wonderful illustration work of Lesley Barnes gets animated in a video for Belle and Sebastian - it's a match made in heaven. Let's find out more...

Written by Amelia Gregory

Lesley Barnes didntseeitcoming_conceptart
Concept art for the video.

The talented illustrator and animator Lesley Barnes has only gone and done it again: she’s produced the most wonderful video for Belle and Sebastian‘s joyous new single I Didn’t See It Coming. For Lesley though, link there’s a dark side to this tale of surrender in love. Time to find out how she made this stunning animation.

Lesley Barnes didntseeitcoming_monster

This collaboration came about via a twitter exchange. How come Sarah Martin of Belle and Sebastian was following you on twitter? Is there some kind of close knit Scottish creative community that is helping out and supporting each other online? 
I actually met Sarah Martin through her Liberty print purses, adiposity which I bought for my mum! She in return bought my bookmarks. They were both stocked at The Masionette (a lovely wee shop in Glasgow selling indie goods) I was then asked last year to do a ‘panto’ horse tote/t-shirt design for Belle and Sebastian’s last tour. I guess creatively people in Glasgow are very supportive of each other – it’s a small place so it’s probably easier than in London where I imagine you could get lost amongst the masses. My friend Libby Walker helped me to organise the ‘premiere’ as part of her event for the West End Festival so there were lots of other Scottish illustrators there to support us. I do think, however, that the illustration/creative industries all over the world are pretty supportive of each other on twitter.

Lesley Barnes didn't see it coming launch
Lesley Barnes at the launch party for the video. All Photography by Niall Walker.

What inspired the imagery? How many times did you have to listen to the song before you had a clear idea of what you were going to do?
I listened to it many, many times…sometimes just to hear the words and sometimes just the music. The music probably dictated the tempo and told me where scenes should change or events should take place. The lyrics, on the other hand, dictated more of the narrative and the imagery. For this song I pictured B and S, a boy and girl happy and in love, but with a kind of ‘Sword of Damocles’ hanging over this contentment (the events they ‘didn’t see coming’) I also wanted to do something that looked quite sweet but had a bit of a darker unsettling undertone with lots of eyes watching and waiting…

Lesley Barnes didntseeitcoming_bikes

I also tried to keep the look and feel of a children’s book (reflecting the fact that Belle and Sebastian took their name from a French kids book about a boy and his dog) so I designed all the characters first as paper puppets. I did want it to have a slightly scary element…but I’m not sure I really succeeded in frightening anyone…. I also felt that the music and lyrics had the sense of a journey like a train/bike ride, so I presented the narrative as a trip through a magical land via different modes of transport (bikes, trains, ships, airship….)

What’s with your current obsession with bears? And especially dancing ones…. Can you think of any reasons behind this?
Oh dear I must have been tweeting about bears a bit too much! I think I only became obsessed with dancing bears after we had made the one in the video move…his dancing was so addictive that he became like a mascot cheering us on to finish the animation! He was meant to be like the ‘Great Bear’ constellation in the sky so that’s why he has stars dancing all over him. I also made lots of bear puppets for the launch night so there were plenty of dancing bears around Glasgow that night….

Lesley Barnes didntseeitcoming_dancing bear

Are there any other recurring themes in your work?
Geometric shapes, patterns, repetition, eyes (I also love horses although there are none in this animation…an oversight perhaps?)

Lesley Barnes didntseeitcoming_castle

A lot of your work has a eery fairy tale quality to it. Do you have any particular books in your collection that continually inspire your work and if so what are they?
I have such a massive vintage book collection it’s very difficult to pick out one story in particular. I quite like unusual folk tales. There is a great book by Angela Carter, called Angela Carter’s Book of Fairy Tales, which is full of extremely strange folklore from all over the world… I wouldn’t recommend reading it at bedtime though….

Lesley Barnes didntseeitcoming_spinning eyes

There is also a strong surrealist element (I’m thinking of the winking eyes in the clouds) – are there any specific artists that you are inspired by?
I have always drawn eyes everywhere…I’m not sure why…that might be a question for a psychoanalyst?!

Lesley Barnes didn't see it coming launch sarah martin with bears
Sarah Martin with a dancing bear at the launch.

Where do your idea for decorative patterns come from?
I think I am generally just attracted to repetition. I really like the work of director Michel Gondry who uses pattern and repetition to create amazing moving image work. His video for Star Guitar by the Chemical Brothers, for example, where the view out the train window repeats itself in time with the music creating a unique pattern of landmarks and music, was definitely an inspiration.

Lesley Barnes didn't see it coming launch bears
More dancing bears on the wall.

How long did the video take to direct and produce?
From start to finish about 4 months. There was a lot of illustrating first as all the characters were designed as paper puppets (I wanted to do the whole animation stop motion but this proved impossible in the time available) I had an ace team of animators helping me, including Bruce Cameron.

Lesley Barnes didntseeitcomingwindowdisplay

The launch party looked fun – where was it and how many bear masks did you have to make?
We held it in the basement of Offshore (a coffee shop in the west end of Glasgow) I created a window display of masks and puppets from the animation to tempt people in. I probably spent a good month cutting out masks and assembling puppets and I am still surrounded by scraps of card… We also created a ‘Bear Squadron’ where people could download their own bear masks and then upload their photo to my Didn’t See it Coming blog. Quite a few people turned up in their masks, which was really fun.

Lesley Barnes launch

Have you got any more exciting projects coming up? Will we be seeing anymore Lesley Barnes typography in the near future?
I am working with mercury prize nominated jazz musician Kit Downes on a project called ‘Gods and Monsters’, which hopefully (funding dependent) will be a live jazz and motion extravaganza! We collaborated earlier this year at the Cheltenham Jazz Festival for Animation Migration, (sponsored by the Wellcome Trust), an event that fused jazz, animation and genetics!

I’m not sure about typography…although there’s always room for a nicely rendered font…

You can of course find Lesley Barnes online in many places, on her website, on twitter, the I Didn’t See it Coming blogspot, in numerous places on the pages of Amelia’s Magazine and in both my books, Amelia’s Anthology of Illustration and Amelia’s Compendium of Fashion Illustration.


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2 Responses to “An interview with Lesley Barnes: Creating the animated video for the Belle and Sebastian single I Didn’t See It Coming”

  1. Faye West says:

    Brilliant! I love Lesley’s work :) Congrats!

  2. thanks faye! and amelia for the amazing post!

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