In early July, BAFTA will be sponsoring the Changemakers strand at the Children’s Media Conference (CMC), the only UK event for those involved in developing, producing and distributing content to children on all platforms. Two of the recipients of our learning and new talent initiatives will also be representing BAFTA: children’s screenwriter Javid Rezai, who was one of the finalists of the BAFTA Rocliffe New Writing Competition for YA and Children, and games artist Anna Hollinrake, a BAFTA Breakthrough Brit. On the eve of the Conference, we spoke to the latter about her big break, becoming a Breakthrough Brit and maintaining mental wellbeing in the workplace – a topic close to her heart, which she will be addressing at CMC.
Words and interview by Chris Schilling
Anna Hollinrake can pinpoint the moment she took the first steps that would lead her to become a celebrated games artist, illustrator and 2017 BAFTA Breakthrough Brit. While playing Lionhead’s BAFTA-winning RPG Fable II, she found herself drawn to the paintings on the game’s loading screens. “After spending time on DeviantArt and around other artists, I realised games don’t descend fully-formed from the heavens. It was a moment of realisation – that I could hypothetically do the paintings for these loading screens and create art for games,” she says.
By the age of 12, Hollinrake had already developed a keen interest in computers, making games in BASIC. Her father was a guitar tutor, whose friend wanted guitar lessons for his son; in return, she was taught HTML and CSS, and art packages such as PaintShop Pro 9. A love of anime encouraged her to develop her style throughout her teens, before her epiphany about game art led her to a course in the subject at De Montfort University in Leicester, where she developed and refined her distinctive style. After graduating, she became a freelance artist before accepting a first studio role at Chester’s Paw Print Games, working on co-op fighting game Bloody Zombies.
Then came an unmissable opportunity to work at Stainless Games on Magic: The Gathering spin-off, Magic Duels. “I’d always been obsessed with the card art,” Hollinrake says. “In my cover letter I mentioned I had a bit of a hoarding problem with the cards, and that actually went down pretty well in the interview.” After a series of redundancies at the studio, Climax Studios stepped in and scooped up Hollinrake and her colleagues. As fate would have it, Climax had just begun work on a project that seemed even more ideal: whimsical VR adventure Lola and the Giant. Hollinrake’s portfolio dovetailed perfectly with the project lead’s vision, and the results were dazzling, leading to her selection for 2017’s BAFTA Breakthrough Brits list.
You know when people say, ‘Never meet your heroes’? It was absolutely not like that. He was so thoughtful. It was a really wonderful experience
“I got to be on a roundtable with Tim Schafer [who had just been presented with a BAFTA Special Award – ed.], which was amazing,” she says. “You know when people say, ‘Never meet your heroes’? It was absolutely not like that. He was so thoughtful. It was a really wonderful experience.”
Her work in VR continues – enchanting puzzle game Arca’s Path VR is currently nearing completion, while she’s also prototyping an as-yet-unnamed personal project with a writer friend. Meanwhile, she’s adopted a new role, speaking regularly and openly about mental health and the importance of self-care. Hence her talk at the Children’s Media Conference 2018, which will draw upon her own experiences to help others learn how to creatively thrive without exhausting themselves.
It’s all about giving people the tools and the language to figure out why they’re feeling a certain way and taking the next steps,” she notes. “I think just coming out and acknowledging this stuff makes people feel seen, and I think that’s really important
“It’s all about giving people the tools and the language to figure out why they’re feeling a certain way and taking the next steps,” she notes. “I think just coming out and acknowledging this stuff makes people feel seen, and I think that’s really important.”
As an artist, Hollinrake is naturally compelled to constantly hone her craft but recognises that her desire to help others has become equally vital to her. Indeed, it’s informed her future plans to make games that are more about sanctuary than stress; she refers to developer Brie Code’s concept of a tend-and-befriend impulse, as opposed to the industry’s preference for fight-or-flight.
I’m keen to make something that is openly LGBTQ+; something that is very representative of the way I want to see the world
“It’s very relevant to the kind of things we need to focus on today,” she says. “I’m keen to make something that is openly LGBTQ+; something that is very representative of the way I want to see the world. Creating art that makes people feel better and connected I think is very worthy, and that’s something I’d really like to do.”
Find out more on CMC 2018 here.
BAFTA Breakthrough Brit Anna Hollinrake will feature on the Tips and Hits from Animated Women panel.
BAFTA Rocliffe New Writing Competition finalist Javid Rezai will feature on The Art of Animation Design panel.