Maison Autonome, Universal Everything, image courtesy of the artists
Maison Autonome, Universal Everything, image courtesy of the artists

Learn how a collective of very talented beings worked together to produce Universal Everything's latest exhibition.


Matt Pyke, Founder and Creative Director, Universal Everything

When I started on my own, I was sat in the attic of our house in Sheffield; it was very much me on my own but I had ambitions to do many things. I just thought, 'what is the biggest word possible that could describe the space that our studio exists in?' and that's where 'Universal Everything' came from.

I've always been naturally interested and bored quickly; I've always been interested in many, many different things, in terms of aesthetics or mediums or subjects, so it certainly wasn't like, 'here's a business plan we're just going to focus on this'. We just followed our hearts on many, many different projects, and the figurative work we do now is one small slice of what we do as a studio – we're known for it more but we do many other things as well, and we're always going to be interested in exploring many directions with many people.

It's naturally been a collaborative studio. I started it on my own 20 years ago and soon hit a wall of my own abilities, and that's when I started bringing people in. Because I was in Sheffield not London I didn't think to just shout down the corridor of the design studio and hire the animator or the sound designer or the programmer down the road. It was like, 'okay this person in Japan's a fantastic programmer, let's work with them; and this person in America is a fantastic product designer, let's work with them', so, it became this natural remote network of collaborators and that's happened organically ever since, all because I wasn't living and working in the centre of where the industry happens i.e. London or New York or whatever.

We all work together a lot but everybody works for other studios as well, so it's very much like a film production thing where people come together for one project and then they disperse and then we all come together for the next project.

Claire Cook, Executive Producer, Universal Everything

I think as an exec producer in Digital Art or in Interactive, you do tend to stay a bit more hands-on than you might do in TV or film. We're definitely all producing or overseeing all the productions that we make. What I've always loved about Universal Everything's output is that it generally makes people feel good and positive, and it's not dystopian. It's kind of why I got into the industry in the first place: it's that idea of inventing and things feeling positive and different and exciting and new, and everything we do is bigger than human scale, so we need to see it big to make sure it kind of works and has the right effect.

We definitely do a lot of tinkering and tweaking and adding and removing – it's like when you're mixing a record, I guess, you keep playing with it until you get it into the sweet spot. Then you need to remember to just leave it alone, like, 'it's good, stop playing with it and don't wreck what you've you've started'.

Matt Pyke

It's very much to do with this sort of intentional naiveté that comes from collaborating with all these brilliant people that I work with, where I've intentionally never learned to code or never learned visual effects software; I'm very much analog and it's simple sketches on paper that I'm then talking to these people I collaborate with.

When you're drawing and sketching, the ideas can be as limitless as you like because you have other experts to help bring these to life. You're not limited by your own solo skills.

Joel Gethin-Lewis, Interactive Creative Director, Universal Everything

It's extremely collaborative. I think it's very much demonstrative as well where we're trying to use, in some cases, the latest technology but always bring back to this sense of play and joy.

I think the thing that Matt has enabled through the establishment of this collective is a possibility of experimentation. The amount of experimentation that he does visually when drawing, or that I do conceptually in terms of words, and then bringing that into the work of other members of the collective to build prototypes – whether it's using software or sculpture or whatever material we're using at the time – it's very much this kind of feedback loop of finding things that engage us, and testing those things constantly.

The thing that's exciting about the collective is that there's so many different skills there, so many different histories and backgrounds that when those things come together, I think it it synthesises something that wouldn't be possible for many of us as individuals. I think that's the generosity that exists in the centre of what Matt's made at Universal Everything.

Sam Renwick, Motion Creative Director, Universal Everything

The whole studio is remote, really, and me, particularly, because I live in New York, so very much a different place and a different time zone as well. We always get on the same page right from the beginning; we always have a a kind of a kickoff of sorts to understand what the project is, what the opportunity is, what we'd like to achieve and how we think we might be able to do it.

The process follows the cadence of, we research and develop around whatever that brief is – getting reference sketching, playing, making and all the rest of it – and working out how this might feel and look, and then I would start to say the fidelity goes up and so forth, and then we get into actual actual making and production which is its own beast.

There's definitely a process but within it there's lots of opportunities to make mistakes and work out just as much what would work as what wouldn't.

Chris Mullany, Lead Interactive Designer, Universal Everything

So in the ACMI show we're using several pieces of modern technology, one of which is the use of modern cameras which detect and track people in the space and essentially act as a bridge between physical people in the space and the digital content. So, traditionally, an animator would have animated individual frames to create a kind of flip book, and more recently, people use computers to animate, but they're still animating frame by frame and they're controlling every single aspect of what that image looks like.

With a generative process we're giving some of this up to chance essentially, to chaos, to a roll of the dice, and what this means is that every time people step up to one of these artworks, they're seeing something completely new each time.

Each person will experience these pieces in a slightly different way to other people.

Matt Pyke

We create quite abstract forms and imagery using 3D software, but when you inject that with some human movement through motion capture software or data, even the abstract form, if it moves in a slightly human way just on that edge of abstraction, that's when the soulfulness emerges and the abstraction comes to life and you sense that there's a soul inside it.

It's always finding that kind of tension between the abstract and the figurative that we're kind of sitting between the two.

Simon Pyke, Sound Designer, Universal Everything

A lot of the work that we do is is based on sort of interpretations of reality, whether that be characters or weathers or environments, and so sound is always very central to bringing those things to life.

I'm always thinking about sound in terms of the nostalgia and the emotional connection and the meaning that it has for me.

In We Are All Unique what I did first of all was compose some melodies and then I went through and I sang all the different parts myself. Then I used an AI system to transfer my voice to various different voices and create a choir from my voice, but with different different characters.

Claire Cook

Kinfolk is one of our newest interactive artworks, and we're going to premiere that at ACMI in Melbourne at the new show.

It's a really interesting project for us because it's an iteration of previous films that we've made which were not interactive. I've kind of overseen it as a producer and then we had Chris who's tech director and developer on that, and Matt creatively directing it.

Chris Mullany

As the creator of this piece, the person who has written the computer software that drives it, I don't sit down and design individual costumes in the way that a traditional costume designer would. I think about the type of variety the extremes of variety we want to achieve, and then I write computer software that is able to express these different extremes.

So, a very simple example is I decide what the shortest hair length is and what the longest hair length is, and then essentially roll a dice that generates hair within that spectrum somewhere. There's also a big variation in the colour palettes as well so we kind of randomly vary the colours so you might be a bright pink creature, you might be a sort of blue and white stripy creature, but again we can achieve almost like an infinite amount of variation which means that each person sees a unique life form each time they approach the artwork.

Matt Pyke

There's a term 'pareidolia' which enables people to see faces in clouds or toast or whatever it is, and I love that idea that again it's that primal thing of seeing two eyes and a face; it just connects to people, so I think we're really just a newer generation tapping into that feeling.

Related exhibitions and events