This week, we’re shining the spotlight on Aardman Model Maker, Verity Filipow, chatting about her career journey, favourite projects, and how she’s been keeping creative during lockdown…
How did you start out in the industry and what role or roles have you had while working at Aardman?
After my university degree, I stayed in London and worked in a few places around the city. I did a few months working for an advertising company building models for shop window displays, in-store displays, sets- you name it! We were working with enormous physical pieces, so it was a big change coming to Aardman and having everything scaled down! I also worked for 13FingerFX, making all sorts of amazing prosthetics and puppets for live-action horror films, and it was there where I learned the majority of my moulding, casting, painting, and fabricating skills.
At Aardman, I’m fortunate to have been involved in a lot of different processes on the projects I’ve worked on. I’ve done some design sculpting, lots of moulding and casting, fabrication and sewing tiny costumes, and quite a bit of silicone painting. It keeps things really interesting to be constantly moving around and using different techniques all of the time. I really like that you aren’t necessarily pigeon-holed into doing one process, but that you get to explore and build upon your skillset in a variety of ways.
To date, what has been your biggest professional achievement?
I think it has to be the chance that I took on approaching Aardman. I know it’s a very tricky place to get a foot in the door, and frankly quite terrifying! I was selling at ToyCon UK with my friend Rachael Hayes, where we met a few of the model makers who were there as attendees. We spoke to Jimmy Young about Aardman and we mutually followed each other on Instagram. I was at a point where I was between jobs, and seriously considering moving back home to Canada, where I was encouraged by my sister to just stick my neck out and speak to Jimmy over Instagram. Anyway, a few months later, I found myself interviewing at Aardman- Instagram of all places to find a job! I had been quite busy working on personal commissions and becoming more and more consistent with bringing my own work to various online platforms, and Instagram was (and still is!) my main focus. I always tell students how important it is to not only brand yourself, but have an online presence especially now more than ever. It’s such a crazy fast world we live in and I do honestly believe that if you invest in yourself and what you make, and you seek out that community of makers and artists, you can go really far in your creative career- whatever form that takes.
Name three people who inspire you and why:
Oh man, that’s a tough one to pick just three…. buuutt…
Melita Curphy (missmonstermel) – she’s an incredible maker that I’ve looked up to for many years. Hugely varied in a lot of artistic disciplines, she’s a full-time freelance artist creating her own work that is adored by people all around the world. She’s definitely the level I hope to achieve one day!
My many friends I’ve made through ToyCon UK – what an insane bunch of creative and wonderful makers. It’s always fun to get together and be in a big group of people that all share your passions- I always come away so much more inspired after the annual ToyCon UK weekend in London!
Frank Harper – not everyone can count themselves so lucky to be able to work alongside their partner, and even after work we are always encouraging each other to be creative all the time! Our house is a giant craft house: every room has art/music/crafting materials so you’re not too far away from creating at the drop of a hat! It’s a wonderful thing to be with someone as weird as yourself AND understand your bizarre obsessions, and I’m incredibly grateful for that.
Tell us what a typical day is like for you…
I wake up around 6am to get started on all of my medical treatments and physio therapy to keep on top of my cystic fibrosis. Then either a 65min walk into work or a just-as-long bus ride. As soon as I’m at my desk with a cup of tea, I’m either ready to start the day making puppets – OR, I’ve gotten to work early so I’m working on my own little side projects! The rest of the day is collaborating with my peers, building something incredible, and learning a lot of new things along the way. Lunch time is the same, working on my own stuff, and the same again when I come home. My family jokes that I don’t know how to relax- they’re 100% correct. My job is also my hobby and I always feel weird when I’m not making or creating something.
How has your role changed since lockdown and what challenges have you faced while working from home?
Because of my cystic fibrosis as well as a handful of other chronic illnesses, I’ve been on total lockdown since the middle of March and it’s been strange not going outside. I’m incredibly grateful that I’ve got enough at home to keep me busy, with my own personal work and commissions as well as two very demanding cats. I’ve also been busy making fabric masks for various health centres and care homes around the country off of supply and monetary donations from friends and family. It has been a fun little side project and definitely helped stabilize my very rudimentary sewing skills. To date, I’ve made over 280 masks and some 70 cloth laundry bags for scrubs (and the machine is still going strong!). I felt very useless having to stay indoors for the past 4 months so I’m glad I was able to find something that I could do to help out during the pandemic. Having started back at work a couple of weeks now, I have found it a bit difficult because of the lack of face-to-face with my colleagues. The puppet department is incredibly collaborative, so I think a lot more planning has to go in place to make sure that they can coordinate what I’m working on and when they can grab items off me, etc. I’m supposed to be shielding until the end of July, so hopefully I can make my way back into the studio soon.
What do you like most about working at Aardman?
The collaborative and creative environment. I LOVE the fact that I can work alongside all of these amazingly talented people, all of who have such interesting stories and experiences to share. It’s also incredible to hear about the making of the earlier Aardman projects, the ones I grew up watching as a kid. Some people think it ruins the magic knowing how things were made, but for me it enhances it. The crew at Aardman are incredibly passionate and we all feed off each other in that way, so you have this amazing pool of knowledge and skill to draw from. It becomes such a family and it really helps when you’re all working through a rough shoot, or long days, or on really difficult tasks.
What’s your all-time favourite project that you’ve been involved with and why?
Having the chance to work on the triceratops puppet for Early Man. I was a trainee puppet maker then and I’m sure not many people get that chance so I was absolutely over the moon when I was asked to do so. Not only did I get to sculpt the character, but I moulded, helped cast, and then painted the finished puppet. It was such a huge learning curve, and I enjoyed every step of the way. Seeing it move around and perform on screen just made the whole experience even more amazing. It was a total honour being a part of that fantastic and talented team to bring the dinosaur to life and I’m incredibly proud of it still.
What advice would you give to your younger self about getting into the industry?
I think I’m pretty proud of what I did to achieve my goal of getting into the industry. Not to be morbid, but when your life expectancy is shoved in your face as a young kid as probably only making it to your mid to late thirties, it really makes you appreciate all the time you have. I think if you ask any of my family or friends they’ll tell you I’m very driven and I will do a lot to get what I want. It’s that driving force that got me where I am- I don’t give up easily and I can become very obsessed with things- maybe to a fault. Cystic fibrosis takes up my entire life, but I don’t let that stop me from actually getting on and living it. Looking back, I’m really proud of myself for the things I did to get where I am. I’ve been so obsessed with art and making things for as long as I can remember, that it was kind of a no-brainer that I’d make it somewhere in the industry.
But for anyone else who needs or wants to hear it: make those strong connections with your friends and colleagues, find the people that inspire you and get stuck in and be obsessed. Find that weird thing you love and grab hold of it. There are huge online communities that will support your love of the great and the weird things in your life, and I think that’s such a blessing to be able to access that, especially if you can’t physically find those people near you. And absolutely, and most importantly NEVER, EVER stop creating.
Who is your favourite Aardman character and why?
Gromit for sure! I grew up watching Wallace & Gromit from a very young age and I always loved how adaptive and creative Gromit was (and is!) and I always admired his never ending loyalty, through thick and thin.
Check out Verity’s work over on Instagram.