Skyrocketing: An Interview With Jake Armstrong
Updated: Aug 3
Once upon a time in the not so distant past, Aussie Garage Rocksters The Murlocs composed a beautiful song. They named it Skyrocket. And with this song came a beautiful visualiser devised by the fair hands of filmmaker, photographer and animator Jake Armstrong. He caught frontman Ambrose Kenny-Smith's attention with a number of his videos for another Melbourne based artist, absurdly brilliant illustrator Bjenny Montero. 'Ambrose hinted at what he envisioned: 'a guy going through a breakup and he gains a bunch of weight while getting grosser and grosser until eventually, his house turns into a rocket at the end.'
'He also mentioned the idea of waiting around for something good to happen, having a game plan, a set goal, and 'always waiting for the right moment to pull the trigger and reach for the stars'. I took the breakup part and his advice and formed this loose narrative that you see in the video.'
Naturally, the character is stuck in a slump and dabbles with Dr Murl's Miracle Cubes to 'transform his life', playing on the 'third times a charm' saying: the final tablet rescues him and propels our fella into a rosier climate. The intention of the video is more to entertain the eye than it is to have some complex storyline. Although, I do love hearing what peoples interpretation of the plot is.'
Originally a native of Towson, Maryland, in the US, Jake's artistic stimulus is not extracted from a solitary source but from memories of growing up and fond friendships established that still work themselves into his practices to this day. As if in disguise, the viewer may not always recognise these specific, historical moments of poignancy.
'If you pause Skyrocket at 2:27, there is a sign for Star Lake: a small lake in the Adirondacks that's a little tip of the cap to a trip I went on with some friends in 2019. It is also the lake shown in the drone shots in the video. I live in Baltimore now, and it is a pretty culturally diverse area - I actually live in a little arts neighbourhood called Hampden. At 1:48, there is a picture of a person in a gorilla costume riding a 'toilet bike', which is a staple of the Hampden fest that happens every year- they race go-karts and anything that rolls, I guess, but there has to be a toilet involved. Also, the skyline at 3:32 is Baltimore's'
The vivacious creator became au fait with the workings of countless cameras and editing equipment from a young age as his pa's job was in News. Even though science was on the cards initially for Jake, it was not long before the filmmaking industry lured him back with the realisation that his passion could excel into his career; he made the right choice, we see that.
'My full-time job is actually in News because the security and benefits are way higher than in video production. I realised in sophomore year of college, while I was studying Biology, I should transfer to a college that had a film degree and find a job in that field. Since I was making animations and videos my whole life, even when studying Biology, I thought, why not? I studied at Towson University for Electronic Media and Film. I only had one animation class. However, my teacher Lynn Tomlinson is an amazing animator with a unique process, where she paints on glass with clay.'
So, after graduating comes the big world of work with luck on your side, but in Armstong's case, he felt privileged to be paid for something he loves dearly and reaps enormous amounts of joy. His first commission arrived in the shape of animation for the music video, Your Letter, by Jazz and Indie Rock infuser Paul Cherry.
'I felt really honoured to get any money for my work because I had complete direction and had a lot of fun making it, which is why I still enjoy making videos. I experienced constant excitement every time I finished a three to four seconds part that I thought looked cool. I don't usually work on videos that I don't direct because I don't want it to feel like a job to me but more of an exploration into ideas that work or don't work.'
For traditional frame by frame animation, paper is the preferred medium of J, insisting 'It's just a raw medium that always looks amazing.' Disordered representations, unsterile, 'like it's all beat up but still works' is indispensable to his art. 'Sometimes I'll even crinkle every couple of frames so you can see folds and creases in it when it plays. I also like seeing the smearing of ink and fingerprints scattered throughout. It gives you an intimate feel of how close an animator is to their work.'
Sensing the significance of friends on his voyage through life and respect of his crew, pals and Rock outfit the Reagan Cats trusted Armstrong to produce his first music video, realising a revelation that musical visualisers are where his enthusiasm lies. It is where he wants to place his energies with limitless scope to let the imagination and techniques applied run wild.
'This video also is nostalgic to me because there was no stress. It's just all my friends goofing around while we all had part-time jobs, going to shows, hanging out almost every night during the week. It also is the first time I mixed mediums - Super 8mm film and 35mm animations - which I think is why I almost always mix mediums and film with animation for all my videos.'
Our dexterous originator is an avid photographer, not only working professionally but ready to seize those intimate moments in his stratosphere, including his yearly trip to Hatteras Island in NC with the lads. 'We go every year in January and have pretty much the entire beach to ourselves; we always have a good time. On the left of this picture, you can see my 16mm Bolex, which I was using before and after this picture to get shots for a music video for Bjenny Montero: the one Ambrose noticed and then eventually reached out to me about.'
Listing Tim Burton's masterpiece that spans generations, The Nightmare Before Christmas and Richard Linklater's trailblazing Boyhood as his favourite films to engross him and because of his background, he can comprehend the mastery involved. 'The animation in The Nightmare Before Christmas is so insanely good and flawlessly done, it's hard to comprehend that it was made almost 30 years ago on over 108 thousand individual film pictures. It's what made me want to try stop motion animation when I was in elementary school. Boyhood is just such a unique film - being shot over ten years and seeing someone grow up is something I've never seen in any other film.'
Article by Beverley Knight