Black Childish How the artist created his animations for WeTransfer

WordsAlix-Rose Cowie

If you use WeTransfer regularly, you’ll be well aware that the transfer process involves colorful little spot illustrations that accompany you as you send and receive your files. Well, this year, it was time to refresh them. The space—which was previously reserved for Alva Skog’s illustrations—will now be filled by animations of feet doing feet things by Mickaël Mehala (aka Black Childish). Alix-Rose Cowie spoke to him about his story, and how he put his best foot forward to create something so playful for the platform.

Illustrator Mickaël Mehala goes by Black Childish. Growing up on the French Caribbean island Martinique, he was introduced to drawing by his childhood best friend. Around the time he got into the visual arts, an older artist, William Thomas—also known as Willtho Sekko—started weekly workshops and Mehala and his best friend were his first students. Mehala’s parents pushed him to excel at school, and he obliged, but what he really cared about was basketball, hip hop and drawing. Thomas became a mentor to him, and when it came time to leave school, he encouraged Mehala’s parents to let him study graphic design in Paris, which he followed up with a specialization in motion design.

For the last few years Black Childish has lived and worked in Amsterdam, first at an animation studio, and then going freelance at the start of 2023. He returns to Martinique often in his work, depicting streetscapes, beach scenes, and characters from the tropical island in his fun, color-soaked style. His rounded figures have the plastic quality of vinyl toys. Interestingly, he was mimicking this 3D look in 2D for some time before he learnt 3D modeling. He likes to break the smooth sheen associated with 3D with imperfections like grain and painterly textures that he adds with brush tools in 2D programs—blurring what’s what. This ambiguous result was something the creative team at WeTransfer liked when they briefed him on a refresh of their well-known and loved brand animations, previously created by Alva Skog.

WeTransfer gave Black Childish free reign to propose ideas to animate the messages that pop up while transferring files on the platform: a prompt asking for a password, a little something to ease an error message, or the equivalent of a high five when your transfer is complete. He was asked to create a visual treatment using his existing works as reference. While going through his archives, he found a recent animation that would prove perfect for the project. It was a pair of feet in tube socks and pink slides, one foot tapping, waiting impatiently for summer to come. He was inspired to think of all the other things legs could do—the moonwalk, a happy jump—to act out the various messages. The shoe fit on a conceptual level: something as mundane as feet made into something fun, just as WeTransfer aims to make file-sharing less dull.

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“We tried different stuff,” he says. “There were things that worked very well as an idea but didn’t work visually. So it was a lot of trying, but also very fun. It was new for me to focus on a series like that.” It was important that the animations spoke the same language. Ideas were scrapped or tweaked if they didn’t work with the rest. In the animation of a skater doing an ollie, the skateboard originally flipped, but the motion was too busy for the more subtle movements in the other scenarios. Making work for a service used in so many different countries, each animation also had to be understood everywhere. For this reason Cinderella’s glass slipper was given the boot. 

A few of the final executions include stepping in sticky chewing gum for ‘transfer blocked’, an astronaut walking on the moon for ‘transfer complete,’ and a foot slipping from a foothold on a climbing wall for ‘something went wrong.’ “They try to climb back,” Black Childish says, “Something went wrong but it’s not over.”

Transfer Completed C

Black Childish describes the mood of the project as “fun and intense”. He had two weeks to animate nine pieces and taught himself on the job to incorporate his signature 2D textures into 3D animation, which he hadn’t done before. Animating just half the body was sometimes tricky. When modeling the climber’s legs in an unusual position, for example, it helped to imagine what their arms would be doing. “Your brain grasps the movement and the animation better if it sees a hand or arm moving.” 

Besides what they’re into—athletics, golf, space travel—you can’t tell much about who the legs belong to. There's no more information on who they are,” Black Childish says. “I think it’s nice because you can imagine.” The characters he created could be anyone, or, “they could just be legs!”

Something Went Wrong