Animator James Curran (aka SlimJim studios) sat down and shared with us how an NFT collection he created has became a thriving NFT global artist collective
The playful style of Los Angeles-based animator and designer James Curran stands out for its distinct combination of vibrance, simplicity, and visual interest. His talents have been tapped by a range of brands, including Samsung, T-Mobile, IFC, Disney XD, and eBay, under his SlimJim Studios banner and through Partizan/Making Pictures, which have represented him since 2011. His latest project, creating a 3D version of his 5,000-piece sold-out SlimHoods NFT collection, was rendered using Conductor. Each unique hoodie-wearing NFT character was randomly generated on the Ethereum blockchain based on Curran’s designs, with countless traits and color combinations. Now, inspired by the sense of community among NFT enthusiasts, Curran has joined forces with like-minded animators to form Random Character Collective, an incubator for NFT creators. Their work has already been purchased by celebrities. We recently spoke with him about his experience as an animator, how he got into the world of NFTs, and what advice he’d give to up-and-coming artists.
What made you want to get into animation professionally?
I’ve always been into art and drawing.I created my first animations playing around with Flash when I was about 16. In the UK at the time, video game development was the clearest path to get into animation and there weren’t many options outside of that, so that’s where I started after university. About six years later, I moved to London to do graphics work and started directing commercials. At the same time, I was really into creating GIFs. When social media platforms like Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr came along, that really changed things for artists. Suddenly there was a way to share your work with so many more people and build up a following.
How did you learn to animate?
I started using Autodesk Maya at university for 3D animation. One of the biggest challenges I found working in 3D was the required rendering time. While at school, I created a three-minute animation that took days to render and it wasn’t even high res! I eventually found that 2D was just easier to use when you are responsible for your own rendering, and that’s what got me using Adobe After Effects. I also learned a lot working on video games and licensed apps like “Peppa Pig.” When I moved into graphics and directing, I started to develop my own style and got really into creating GIFs and would showcase them easily on Vimeo. Most of this work was still 2D, but I’ve since gotten back into 3D.
What inspired your SlimHoods NFT collection?
I got into NFTs pretty early on, initially selling 3D versions of my GIFathon animations in limited editions. I quickly realized that the community is most interested in collections such as profile pics and avatars. I figured out a way to create 5,000 unique characters in After Effects using code and generated GIFs with those assets. I chose to outfit the characters in the hoodies as it’s a type of clothing that spans many different types of people.
How did you create the SlimHood characters?
I used After Effects to create the animation of a character running; then came the logic coding to generate different colors for all the GIF elements. You end up with hundreds of layers. When someone makes a purchase, the combinations are rendered, but they don’t know what they’re getting beforehand. For the new 3D SlimHood NFT collection, I rebuilt all the elements in 3D using Maya. I travel a lot so I mostly use a Mac Book Pro for my work. I like to keep things as simple as possible, so if my work is too complicated to render locally, I use Conductor to render on the cloud.
What is the most challenging aspect of NFT creation?
The hard part is figuring out what comes after you’ve done the art and coding, which isn’t as tough as people think it is. I spent some time researching how to release an NFT collection, then found developer Mikkel Malberg to build smart contracts and release the collection that way. It’s done on a dedicated website and the NFTs are minted as purchased. Prospective buyers can get on a whitelist ahead of time to help minimize some of the unpredictable transactional costs of crypto purchases.
Tell me about the Random Character Collective.
A Discord channel was set up around the initial SlimHood NFT collection, and it grew to be a sizable community. This created an opportunity to help other artists take similar paths. I’ve known animators Lucas Zanotto and Markus Magnusson for a while, and we’d talked about different ways to collaborate. Once SlimHoods sold out, we decided to combine efforts and share the community as well as the developer resources needed to mint NFTs. We launched in November 2021and our followers have continued to grow. Lucas’ Mood Rollers came out in December. Next came Markus’ Invisible Friends, which was insanely popular. We had 100K followers on Twitter within a week. Our Discord community for the collective is now about 223K and growing.
Our plan is to keep expanding and work with new artists. We want to give them tools right away so they can figure out how to make it happen. The main goal is to help other artists. If a talented animator comes to us with an idea, we’ll help them figure it out. They don’t have to build a huge 5,000-piece collection either. It’s difficult to plan too far ahead since NFTs are so new. There is no set route to success so far. We just adapt and do what we feel is right as we go.
Rapper Ja Rule purchased one of your NFTs. What was your reaction when you found out?
That’s just part of the scene. A lot of celebrities were trying to get a spot on NFT whitelists, which gives them early and guaranteed access to mint at a specific time and date. We were right in the middle of the peak of the NFT hype when Invisible Friends came out. It makes sense that those with the means would want to be part of that scene. I buy NFTs because I happen to like them. Also, Beeple (aka Mike Winkelmann, a graphic designer from Charleston, SC) definitely started to make the concept of NFTs more mainstream, which helped all of us.
What advice can you share for young animators interested in creating NFTs?
Take your time. People feel like they’re going to miss out on an opportunity, but if you don’t first figure out the best way to approach your concept, it’s not going to work. Really ruminate on your idea. Don’t rush something out. My other advice is only do things that you enjoy. When I got into NFTs, I was still creating the same artwork, not changing what I was doing completely. The NFT world is just a different way of releasing what all of us in the collective have already been working on. Having the right tools is important as well, not only creative packages but also hardware. Rethink traditional approaches based on what suits your specific needs. Look at cloud-based technologies like Conductor to scale up when you need, without the cost and maintenance overhead.
What’s up for you next?
I recently launched the SlimHoods 3D NFT collection. I’ve been rendering that work with Conductor, and those NFTs will be available for purchase in mid-July. I’ve also been collaborating on new collections through the Random Character Collective, including with new artists, and we have a few other exciting announcements on the horizon.