I'm Simon Mulligan, a UK-based Illustrator, Animator, and Director. I've been passionate about art since childhood, evolving from street art to formal art and music education. It was in the world of comic books that I decided to fully commit to honing my craft. This dedication eventually led me into the music industry, where I've spent years crafting music videos, iconic cover artworks for singles and albums, and a wide range of animated content for music releases, promotions, and beyond. My skill set spans both 2D and 3D work, encompassing live video production and animations that breathe life into stories. I've had the privilege of collaborating with renowned artists and top-tier companies, including Seether, UFC, Trippie Redd, and many others.
I have drawn and created art ever since I could hold a pencil. I was always very creative, but with no specific direction when I was a child. I was a huge film buff growing up and spent most of my time watching movies. They meant so much to me, and I recall being very affected and inspired by the stories from a very early age. I also loved music and started playing guitar in my teen years. So this led to me spending hours laid on the floor in my attic bedroom sketching my favourite actors/actresses and musicians. This is where I taught myself to draw. I’d often draw the artwork from my favourite CD/album covers. During my rebellious teen years, I also got very into street/graffiti art and would draw punk and metal inspired graffiti on my textbooks and on school tables. This led to choosing to go to Art college after school (where I mainly studied Vivienne Westwood’s fashion line), and then music college after that, but coming out of both still with no real specific direction in mind.
I always knew, in some way, I was going to be either an artist or a musician, or just a creative person in general.
I was creating music and drawing daily. I started creating mini cartoon ideas for shows, just sketched in rough on paper, and writing songs and music, as well as writing film script ideas.
I loved music and images and how together they could make people feel something. Writing became a huge thing for me as well. At this point all I thought was, maybe I would design music CD covers and album art. My lack of direction all changed when I watched a show called Heroes. They had a character that could draw the future, and the art used for the character artwork was by a comic book artist called Tim Sale. It was bold and dramatic with simple shapes and vibrant colours in a vintage comic art style, and really caught my eye. Every image told a story in itself, it seemed to pull the writing aspect into the art itself.
This was something completely new to me. From this moment it was decided…I was going to be a comic book artist.
Comics included two of my four loves at the time, visual art and storytelling, just not music and movies, but I thought…I can live with that. Two out of four ain’t bad! I then went on a journey of becoming a comic artist. I took it very seriously and dedicated every moment to perfecting the craft. Even in my day jobs, I would sketch on little pieces of paper every chance I got (when my boss wasn’t looking). I sacrificed everything in aid of my goal, relationships, friendships and job promotions. I knew if I took on bigger job roles, it would take my attention away from drawing. I always knew I would be successful if I just continued, so I remember deciding, I’ll give up the rest of my youth for a better, brighter, successful future. During this time I was also studying film scripts, script writing, colour theory, camera shot and composition, all for film, as this was a huge part of how I wanted my comics to be. Cinematic and like films in still frames.
Being a perfectionist, it took a long time for me to really put myself out there, but once I did, I got all the recognition I needed from industry professionals to finally join the rest of the world in making an Instagram page and putting my work out to the world. I hated computers and tech, so I was, at the time, keeping my art approach very traditional with pencil on paper. Within a few months of creating my Instagram art page, I was approached by an American punk band to design and draw an entire music video, for a director to animate and bring to life. It was a huge deal for me, with a ridiculous amount of work and an impossible deadline…so I said yes. I had to create all the environments and characters that would work to the directors needs. I managed to pull the job off and it went down very well.
This was another huge turning point for me, because now my third love was brought into the mix…music. So despite my certain path of becoming a comic book artist, I now had this new option of working in the music industry, which allowed my art, storytelling, and love of music, to come together. Plus, comics took years on one project, that might not necessarily go anywhere with the comic industry being how it is. The music industry allowed for me to bounce from project to project in quick succession and kept me more motivated and excited as I was constantly learning new things and trying new styles. Which was more the type of artist I was. I don’t necessarily stick to a style. I like to constantly put myself out of my comfort zone.
After seeing the end result of the music video, I had an epiphany. I can learn to animate my drawings, and have full control and creative output of what was ultimately, small movies. This was the ultimate goal for me. Movies just didn’t seem like an option when I was younger as in the 90’s, being a director just didn’t even seem like a possible option, but now I could see it was. For the next year I took on bigger and bigger projects within the music industry, and with each project, making sure it forced me to learn something new and pushed me beyond what I’d done before. I still had a day job at this point to pay the bills though.
I started just saying yes to every art project that came my way, even if I didn’t know how to do that specific thing, knowing I would then have to learn how to do it. I was learning on the job. Which was constant pressure but I loved it. I started sleeping only 3 to 4 hours a night so I could manage it all.
Eventually I’d done enough work within the music industry and for American clients, that I was approached by an American musician to draw, direct and animate a music video, entirely on my own, for his song that had just gone Gold in America. It was a dystopian, Cyberpunk themed animation where I also had to integrate the bands greenscreen performances throughout the video. This again was something I had never done, so of course, I said yes.
It was an impossible job for one person, with insane deadlines, especially for the size and scope of the video, doing directing, drawing, designing, animating and editing. So I took my sleep down to 2 hours a day, sleeping next to my computer most nights, and pretty much gave up my day job. I still had the day job, but let's just say I wasn’t exactly doing it for that period. I knew I had to take my chance on this huge opportunity, and if I pulled it off, it could change everything.
So I did it, and everything did change from that point onwards. The jobs I got off the back of that carried me through to doing animation and art full time. Heavily based in the music industry. For that job, I decided I wanted to try to incorporate 3D environments as well, something I’d never done, but I knew I wanted these huge dynamic camera moves through cities and buildings. This sparked my love for mixing 3D environments with 2D characters.
I ultimately prefer the 2D animation style and look, and it’s always what I did, but there were always limitations to the 2D style due to the amount of time it takes to create. So this job is what started my move into utilising 3D within my animations. I wanted to create animations as huge as the shows and movies created by entire production companies and teams with hundreds of animators involved. So this shift into incorporating 3D was yet another huge move for me and my style and got me closer to creating the movies I always wanted to make. Later, the show Arcane, and the movies Spiderverse and TMNT would further be huge influences for me to push even further into 3D mixed with 2D. Seeing 3D made to look as beautiful as 2D pushed me to experiment even further.
I went on to do several more music videos, both animated as well as live footage. Through Covid it became common for bands to send me greenscreen footage of them performing, and leave it to me to turn it into an exciting music video. This forced me to learn more techniques and styles. I had several other jobs not in the music industry as well and lots of promo work. To allow me to do it full time, and keep the level of detail and perfectionism I wanted in my work, I created a life that allowed me to work around 13-15 hours a day. It’s extremely stressful keeping up this level of work, but I love every second of it. I eat, sleep and breathe art/animation and storytelling, and I think this shows in my work.
This all led me to working with the amazing people at Storiaverse. Again, I get the opportunity to combine everything I love, art, music and storytelling and film.
My animation/art style is ultimately a combination of 80s and 90s punk and metal influenced street art, combined with comic book art and manga/anime, all wrapped up in a cinematic filmic like finish. I started out doing graffiti style influenced by my music taste, before finding comics, which led me to manga and anime. So when I got into animation and saw a chance for my movie making interests to come into it as well, it all just came together as a whole.
I don’t necessarily have a set style as I’ve noticed other artists do. I like to put myself out of my comfort zone for every project I take on, and try to do something new. This keeps me hungry and motivated and inspired, constantly learning new things. Despite this, in all my projects I think my stylistic roots always shine through. My style tends to constantly slightly shift with everything I consume. When I saw the show Arcane, it showcased that mixing 2D and 3D could be taken to a whole new level, and that’s what I was already doing.
I always feel restricted by 2D, despite 2D being my favourite type of animation, as the time it takes to create means movement has to be smartly chosen and you have to be very efficient with where you spend your time. On the other hand, 3D allows for more constant fluid movement, but the visuals, to me, aren’t nearly as beautiful and rich as 2D and not as creative. So seeing Arcane bring the beauty of 2D into the 3D world in such an impactful way, really hit home with me. Being more of a movie maker than a standard animator, I’m always looking for ways to make more dynamic, fluid animations that are as effective and emotive as live action movies and big studio shows, but with the rich texture and creativity of unique 2D animation. So when I started out doing animation, I didn’t want to lose the drawing quality that needs to be dropped in aid of doing frame by frame animation. Even the biggest companies have to drop drawing quality to make frame by frame possible and efficient. So I found a hybrid of using frame by frame sparingly, then using 2D rigging and puppet tools to keep movement constant, mixed with 3D backgrounds. This together allowed my drawing quality, and the detail I love, to remain. The movement was still limiting, which is where I started pushing the 2D stylings into 3D even more.
There have been many artists and works of art that have influenced me over the years. It’s not necessarily animations that have been my primary influence though. I’m influenced by everything around me. Films are probably my biggest influence. The standout influences on my work and storytelling would probably be…
Specific works that have influenced me greatly are:
I love all genres and tend to have several works that have impacted me from each. The genres I prefer are probably Horror, Cyberpunk, Sci-fi and Thrillers. I like to try to showcase the beauty in darkness, and these genres allow for that the most effectively. Horror has been a huge genre for me since I was a child. My dad let me watch the scariest and most graphic 80s and 90s horror movies from a very early age. So I spent most of my childhood terrified and haunted by my own imagination, amplified by all the horror I was watching. Probably why I had night terrors at a very early age also haha. This somehow resulted in me having a huge appreciation for the art of psychological horror and the power of our own minds. What we can imagine, and don’t see, is always way more terrifying than what we do actually see.
I started out on good ol’ pencil and paper and refused for years to use anything else, but the further I went down my career path I realised I needed to move into digital to start animating and making videos. So I now use…
I always like to start each project with a design phase. This is where I lock down the style and mood of the story, environment and characters. This is a heavy phase as I like to try to make and personalise as much of my assets as possible for each project. If I’m writing the story, I do this before the design phase or at the same time. After the design phase I do a rough storyboarding phase. Often a lot of this will be done in my head as I LIVE my projects. From the moment I take on a project, I submerge myself into that world. I watch only films and shows centred around that genre or vibe I’m aiming for, or that puts me in the relevant headspace that I need to be in to create the most effective story. I then let my imagination run wild with all the material, images, sounds, music and feelings, as I daydream my story boards in movie form. The reason I do it this way is, having a looser storyboard allows me to be flexible and let the visuals flow and grow as I work. One visual or sound might inspire or influence the next. It keeps me constantly on my toes and in a constant state of creativity (and unhealthy anxiety haha). Though it’s not the healthiest way to work, it is the most exciting and keeps me 100% submerged in my projects every second of every day. Obviously when a project calls for it, I will storyboard in a more structured way, but most clients trust the best comes out of me when I’m left to be the messy artsy artist I am. This also means I can mentally storyboard while I spend more time on designing and creating all the detailed characters and elements needed for the world I’m building. I do still love the structured storyboarding process as well.
I love all parts of the process of creating animation. The design phase is maybe the most fun as the most imagination comes into play. But I’m a perfectionist, so seeing half baked ideas at the beginning also hurts a bit. I love seeing it all come together in the final compositing stage. Taking all the individual scene renders and layers that I’ve spent so long creating, and bringing them all together and adding effects and elements and music/sound effects, then colour grading, and finally seeing everything I had imagined in my head, weeks or months before, slowly becoming a work of art. It's hard to choose though as I really love every moment of the creation process.
I read a quote when I was a child that really stuck with me and got me to where I am now, doing my dream job for a living. The quote was this…”If you truly want something badly enough, you have to be willing to sacrifice everything else to get it”. I took this to heart and led my life by it. I truly believed, and still do, that if you’re willing to sacrifice everything else in aid of achieving something, then it’s literally inevitable that you will. It’s not the healthiest approach to life or achieving your goals, and is a lot harder than it sounds and creates many other issues in life that you will need to consider and accept, but it certainly works if you’re strong enough, or stubborn enough, or crazy enough to see it through.
Other advice I would give, and maybe healthier advice…learn. Always keep learning. I’ve been doing this for years now, up to 15 hours a day, 7 days a week, and have never burnt out, and I’m as hungry and in love with art and animation as I ever have been…if not more so.
I never let myself do what’s comfortable. It’s hard to find time to do so much work, have some sort of social life, and find time to learn such complex and info heavy programmes and techniques. So I take jobs that force me to learn on the job to be able to pull the job off. If I want to learn something or feel I need to learn something, I make sure my next job is centred around that thing I can’t do. This forces fast paced learning that you have to see through to complete the job you’ve taken. Every project I take on I make sure I need to learn something new. This keeps me motivated and fully invested in every project, and means I never get bored. Of course this comes with a lot of constant pressure, but I thrive under that pressure and stress, and my best work comes out of those situations. So make sure you love the pressure too.
The way I’ve learned to deal with any creative blocks, sounds cliché, but is very true…one step at a time. Animation and art is so daunting when you’re looking at a blank page/screen and you’re thinking about the ridiculous amount of work that needs to be created to reach the end goal. It often becomes too much and makes you question everything and what you’re even going to do or create. You’ll even think, can I do this, and question your own abilities all the time. But if you just block out all the noise and the bigger picture, and just start small and take that first step. Maybe it’s just a character design, a building design, a logo, a colour palette, whatever it might be that you start with, you’ll soon be onto the next step, then the next, and before you know it, you’re inspiring yourself with your own ideas, which will start to clear the fog. The overwhelming mass of the project becomes less of an issue, and before you know it, you’re nearing the end of the project and the creative juices are flowing again. I’d also say…consume. Watch, read, write, draw, listen. Take everything in around you at all times. Find inspiration in everything, and you’ll find creative blocks happen very rarely.
The most enjoyable part of my latest project was probably creating and designing all the assets and characters. The style I chose for this latest story meant that rather than worrying about modelling and designs being true to life and accurate, I could be very creative and artistic with everything. I wanted line work to be intentionally sketchy and messy, and for the lines to be offset from the models. I also wanted neon everywhere, not just in the lighting. So I was able to play with vibrant colours more and further enhance my visuals and storytelling. I love detail so It was great getting to add even more, as well as making every single thing in every shot, unique to this specific story and very stylised. Which pulls the reader into the visual world I’m creating even more. I also loved creating the music and sound for this story, getting to play with 80s synth pop and 80s horror music and sounds, is a rare but wonderful treat. The most challenging aspect was due to all the extra added detail, as well as the heavy 2D shaders. On top of the fact there’s three main characters that are also very detailed and had their own added line work I drew on to them so it was very heavy on my computer. So I knew it would be much more time consuming to both animate and to render.
I wanted to collaborate with Storiaverse because straight away, I could see the passion and intent behind the project. They were good people, just wanting to create great stories and deliver them in a different and unique way. It’s a huge project, but approached in such a simple, pure and honest way. Great stories, plus great animations, equals great experience. I could also tell they cared about the creators themselves and wanted to do what’s right for them as well. Ideas like this are what will keep interesting unique animations and storytelling, from unique interesting creators, alive and well. Storiaverse is doing amazing things for writers and animators alike.
Animation is great for promoting diversity and representation because it’s so accessible to everyone from all walks of life. Anyone can learn the skills needed and tell any story they want, with any characters they want, from any country or culture they want, with no limitations and without worrying about budgets to allow for location shoots and actors/actresses.
If you can imagine it, you can create it. That’s the beauty of animation. It’s a great tool for educating people also. It’s like a universal language. It being cartoon based most of the time, I think animation subconsciously taps into a more innocent, fragile part of our psyche, that allows for messages to hit home harder when delivered well.
The beauty of animation is the freedom it allows for expression. You can take a blank page/screen, and with a little skill and effort, you can create something that moves people, or inspires people, or educates and enlightens people, or just simply entertains. But it’s truly the creators imagination, and every single life experience the creators have gone through, displayed in all its glory, in any way they want, with zero limitations. I specifically think adult animation is so effective due to the contrast between the animated cartoon style, that we subconsciously link back to childhood and innocence/safety, juxtaposed with adult themes. It makes the stories hit home harder in a different way to standard live action film. Also seeing the hand crafted elements is appreciated by everyone. People can see that every pixel is a piece of the animator that created it. Every moment made, every colour chosen and everything shown on screen, is by design. Nothing is by accident. This means animation has the power to genuinely command and control the viewers thoughts and feelings at a higher level, allowing for a unique viewing/storytelling experience every single time.
Animation is certainly heading in an interesting direction in recent years. People loved traditional 2D animation of the 70s, 80s and 90s. But then that was taken over by computer generated animation. Despite how good CG animation got, people still began to crave the beauty and richer art of 2D animation. This led to some industry defining releases that combined the two worlds in a way that both the animation purists and casual animation fans could both enjoy. They took the fluid, more filmic motion of 3D, and injected it with the hand painted, hand drawn, simplified graphic art nature of 2D art. These releases were Arcane, Spiderverse and TMNT (there are others as well). So along with this, and the ongoing and ever growing love for anime, animation seems to be taking another big boom, and people have never been more hungry for it, in all its forms. This is leading to companies, both big and small, putting more trust behind the projects and backing them with more time and money. Allowing creators to take the helm and be more expressive and experimental, rather than playing it too safe and ending up with mediocre, underwhelming animation. Even anime itself is starting to move into 2D stylised 3D. So ultimately I think that’s where mainstream animation and the industry as a whole is heading. Bringing 3D closer and closer to looking 2D.