Vol. 29
Jacqui Hudson Typography Portrait

Playing with Paper with Jacqui Hudson

February 2018

Visual merchandiser, designer, model maker, world builder.

Jacqui Hudson’s amazing paper model making appeared on my Facebook feed one day and I was immediately intrigued (turns out her brother and I went to design school together and she later attended the same one).

Jacqui’s fashioned a career which is very unique, using her creative flair for arrangements and creation of 3D objects first as a visual merchandiser and now as a concept model maker (a small part of her ‘Events and Entertainment’ course which she was drawn too and excelled at). As she explains, in an otherwise chaotic and disorganised life, model making is her escape - a time to zone out and focus.

Against all advice, she’s become a successful and sought after model maker, working on stop motion animations for AirBNB and Hungry Jacks among others and on big budget blockbusters such as Alien: Covenant and Pacific Rim 2 for Fox Studios.

Jacqui Hudson--- 9 December 2017

By Lorenzo Princi

What you do?

Yeah, I’m a production designer for film and television but also specialise in props and miniature models, especially for stop motions. So, yeah...

Where did your love for design and craft come from?

Yeah, I mean my mum, she was a Montessori kindergarten teacher so-- and we-- growing up by the beach and nature, we were always drawing and painting and being in the garden, that kind of thing. So, (I) had a very creative childhood I guess and then I was in fashion for about seven years working for an Australian designer which-- I loved being in a creative industry but never wanted to be in fashion so I actually went back to study and it was a course for design, film & television and theatre. And one of the elements was Set Design and we had to build the miniature scale models for the designs and I’d never done it before in my life, like didn’t even know that was a thing and I absolutely loved it and yep, that’s where it all came from, so yeah...

“Growing up by the beach and nature, we were always drawing and painting.”
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Earlier in your career you were doing visual merchandising, how did that come about?

Well that sort of started out-- I was actually just working in a-- as the sales girl I guess in the shop and from there you know I had a keen interest in visual merchandising at the time, I’d done a course for that, so my boss gave me a bit more freedom and I ended up doing some beautiful window displays for the Melbourne and Sydney stores every month and you know, that could have been anything from crazy paper outfits on the mannequins to, you know, big handmade Australian flags and that sort of thing so I had a lot of creativity in that role and that’s stemmed from there so yeah...

“We had to build the miniature scale models for the designs and I’d never done it before in my life, like didn’t even know that was a thing.”
Jacqui Hudson

You went back to Design Center Enmore to study events and entertainment, what drove that decision? It’s always a bit of a risk to go back and study...

Yeah, it definitely was. A long time ago, it would have been over ten years ago now, I worked for an art director on one commercial as their assistant. Buying all the props and bits and pieces and I just remember-- I always really loved it and one of the things I loved about it was like the whole crew and the team that came with the film industry. Like, working in that team environment with all the different people, like I remember that really stuck with me.

After completing your course, you came away as a freelancer and have worked on some amazing projects for AirBnB, among others. How did you get into freelancing? What were the challenges?

It’s very difficult. Like, I’ve been freelancing for over five years now and it’s really tough, like just financially it’s a massive thing [laughs]. No one really wants to talk about money but it is kind of not knowing when you’re going to be working next, when you’re going to get paid because the thing is, working freelance; they basically ring you two days before and they want you to start and have it all done in the next two days, you know what I mean? You can’t-- no one books you in a month in advance and gives you time, it’s all, “we want you to start tomorrow” and you know… like, so time management is really-- definitely a difficult part...

Lorenzo: So you can’t really afford to pick and choose too much?

Jacqui: Exactly, yeah and sometimes it’s a bit of a risk, like a couple of months ago I had four jobs just waiting for the go ahead and I had said yes to all of them because potentially they all could have fallen through or you know… so then you’ve got that stress of thinking, “oh my god, what if all these jobs come through and then I’m completely stuffed!” [Laughs]. So, you know, it’s-- you kind of-- but also I’m getting a little bit better at saying no to the jobs that I don’t want to do now because if-- it’s just not worth it somethings, the stress and if it’s just not going to be fulfilling at the end, so...

You leverage social media to showcase your work, how important do you think it is for artists and creators to leverage these platforms?

Yeah, definitely. I’ve definitely had people contact me for work through Facebook or Instagram so that's definitely why I do post a lot of stuff. Like, I don’t particularly like putting stuff out there and going “hey, I’m amazing” [laughs] you know, that’s not-- it’s-- you do kind of have to do that. You know, I don’t have a thousand followers or anything like that but yeah I definitely do post things just to keep people you know-- reminding people that you’re there. So yeah...

Working as a concept model maker for FOX, how have you found the big studio system, working on large projects like the Alien: Covenant and Pacific Rim movies compared to the comparatively smaller projects?

Just the scale of everything. Normally, so the commercial I’m working on at the moment is basically, I think three or four of us, besides the bigger agency and everything. On Alien (Covenant), the props department alone was about seventy and that was just props. Then you’ve got paint, sculpture, soft furnishings, carpenters, you know, just the scale of it is massive. And in a way that has its good points because you’re working with all these awesome people-- it’s-- the sets were just incredible and everything but then the downside is, because it is so massive you get lost in the, not in the system, that’s not the right word-- you know lost in the crowd almost and it’s not as hands on as a small commercial where I’m talking to the director and the producer and might have a say in the design. On a bigger film, all the design is worked out before you get it, like you have no say at all.

You just become a set of hands to some degree, however working on films like Alien: Covenant must be beneficial for the rest of your career?

Yeah definitely, Alien (Covenant) was an incredible film to work on. Like you kind of don’t realise it at the time and then afterwards you think and you see the film and all the old films as well and it’s like, “oh my god I actually had something to do with that franchise”. Like watching the film and then seeing on screen things that I had made for it was pretty mind blowing you know what I mean?

And yeah, definitely leads to meeting people which then carries on to my freelance work and that sort of thing so it all-- it comes hand in hand you know...

“Watching the film and then seeing on screen things that I had made for it was pretty mind blowing.”
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Do you feel there is opportunity in Australia for work on films in this field? What are the challenges of breaking in?

Yeah, it’s pretty difficult, like they don’t advertise jobs, you can’t just look in the jobs section and get a job on Alien (Covenant) or whatever, so it’s all about knowing someone and getting your foot in the door. You know I did so much free work while I was studying so I didn’t have to (do) free work when I’d finish you know, just to build up contacts and meet people and get a bit of a portfolio happening but yeah I mean there are heaps of films happening. You know Australia, especially Fox Studios and they’re doing all the Marvel and [DC’s] Aquaman, things like that up in the Gold Coast. So… I think it’s got something to do with the tax threshold which is bringing them all in [laughs] which is awesome for us because there’s a lot of amazing Australian TV shows and movies. Things like that, that are made here but for us to have the opportunity to work on some of those huge Hollywood blockbusters is pretty cool.

I guess there is more interesting work in the props field when you work on genre films?

Yeah working on Alien (Covenant), all the props were really amazing because they were all based on [H. R.] Giger’s drawings like the original one so yeah everything coming out was pretty amazing. I mean, it’s hard to say because the films I’ve done; Alien (Covenant), Pacific Rim (2) and Peter Rabbit, they were all very visual kind of films so-- but I’m sure there are films, that the prop department are probably just making a boring table or something [laughs]. I’ve been lucky enough to do three films that have all been very prop heavy in design like Sci-Fi and that sort of thing so...

You’ve worked on many collaborative projects where your work is brought to life through stop motion, how does this process work, does it change your approach?

Yeah, I mean it has to because, you know especially with the paper artwork and that kind of thing which is essentially quite fragile but then I’ve got to make sure someone can touch it and grab it and move it and the whole thing’s not going to fall apart. So that-- that was really hard for me in the beginning because making models and things like that, I just wanted them to look absolutely beautiful and I didn’t want anybody to touch it and, you know what I mean, I was like really precious about someone ruining it or whatever and I really had to just let that go now and realise, “okay, someone’s potentially going to break that and then-- or they’re going to want to change it, so they’re going to rip that apart and stick it back on.” I just now-- to me know my work is mine but at the end of the day it’s there for someone else, like whether it’s the agency or whatever and it’s kind of up to them at the end of the day what they do with it but yeah, making sure it’s functioning is like half of it because if it doesn’t function then I haven’t done my job I guess because they’re not going to be able to use it, so yeah...

Lorenzo: How much do you get involved on set?

Jacqui: Yes, all the time because if something goes wrong I have to be there to fix it or whatever but yeah I’m always there. I don’t do the stop-motion, someone else does it, thank god! [Laughs] because I don’t need another thing to do but yeah I’m always there to make sure it’s all working properly and-- because often things do break or need to be changed, just to be there-- and I like being there and watching it and often because of deadlines I’m actually still there working and like literally finishing the second before it needs to be used, so yeah...

Working with paper and miniatures requires focus and consistency, how to you stay focused while working? Does it come naturally to you?

[Laughs] in my personal life I’m probably really unfocused, I don’t really have a lot of motivation in some areas but I don’t know, when it comes to working I really just get in the zone. I know that sounds really lame probably but the thing with the model making as well is while I was studying you know I was around twenty other people that had to do it; the just hated it! They would get angry and frustrated and break things and for me I actually find it really relaxing. If I’m-- yeah I find it really relaxing and I have no problem working at home, sometimes seventeen hour days, like just working away with this one miniature prop or whatever. I just-- I don’t know, I guess if it’s something you really enjoy doing as well you don’t mind. I mean I wouldn’t want to be doing those hours for something I hated. So, I guess it comes down to, to really loving it.

Lorenzo: So it alternates between, almost meditative work and chaotic deadline shuffling?

Jacqui: That’s the thing, like yesterday-- I’m trying to get a lot of things ready for a shoot on Monday but then at the same time, I’ve got emails coming through, I’ve got the client ringing me-- wanting me to take photos and email and so that takes time away from actually making everything. So, it’s a lot of time management; making sure-- like I’ve got lists stuck up on the wall so it’s all there and I can cross them off and It’s kind of just constantly going around in your head, like, I need to get this done and this, and having different things going at the same time you know. So, yeah it’s definitely a massive part of it.

“I wouldn’t want to be doing those hours for something I hated. So, I guess it comes down to, to really loving it.”
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This is very much a different lifestyle from the norm, was there ever a moment where you thought this was all too crazy?

Yeah, I had a little bit of a break earlier this year because last year I had been on three films and then, those hours were just, it’s like twelve hour days, six, seven days a week and then I was doing freelance work when I wasn’t on them which was crazy. And yeah, I actually had a little bit of a break this year and did do the nine-to-five for about six months because I just needed a break [laughs]. I just wanted to have a normal income coming in and I wanted to hang out with my friends and family and keep plans and I moved house and you know-- just a lot of that life admin kind of stuff but now I’m totally back into everything again and I’m kind of glad I had that break and I think—what we spoke about before—now I say "no" to the jobs that I don’t want to do. And I still work part-time for an artist so that helps financially so I can say "no" to the jobs that I don’t want to do anymore. And that’s kind of nice, working for someone else as well because, you know, just kind of being in a totally different environment and getting away from it and that sort of thing, so yeah...

What’s Next for Jacqui Hudson?

Well, I thought I’d be quiet at the moment coming up to Christmas but it seems all of a sudden all of this work’s sprung up. I guess people want to get stuff done before Christmas. I want to redo my website over the Christmas break because I haven’t done that for a long time and then yeah, start the new year fresh and I don’t know, see what happens!

There seems to be a lot of interest in traditional model making and stop-motion, do you feel you’re in the right place at the right time?

Yeah, yeah totally, I mean, when I was studying and all I wanted to do was model making, all my teachers said I would never, like I’d never find a job being a model maker. They were like, “it’s dying, it’s non-existent, everything is done on the computer these days.” But I think it’s that thing like when something’s really popular, like CGI (Computer-generated imagery), then you get the opposite of it becoming popular, so that’s stop motion, handmade paper art. Yeah, definitely for me it’s right place, right time. It’s popular at the moment and not too many people do it so it means if you’re good at it, like, people will keep on coming back to you because you don’t have a lot of competition.

Lorenzo: It’s also not a very easy skill to master, you're always going to have a finite number of people offering it.

Jacqui: Yeah it’s good for me that not too many other people do it and yeah-- I mean I feel very lucky-- like sometimes I do think, “oh my god! I’m actually-- this is my job” you know what I mean, it seems crazy sometimes to think that’s actually what I do! Especially when, like I said my teachers were like, “you’ll never--” I mean, not because of my ability or anything just that it’s not there anymore, so-- but you know that’s why I do other things as well like art direction and production design. Things like that for commercials and music videos because you need to-- I think most people in the film industry kind of have a few different skill sets because it means you can cross over and there’s constantly different work that you can be doing, so...

“When I was studying and all I wanted to do was model making, all my teachers said I would never-- like I’d never find a job being a model maker.”
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Do you see yourself doing more of that other stuff as opposed to model making going forward?

I’m not sure, I kind of thought this year, going into next year that I wanted to get back into doing more, like onset dressing and buying and things like that but then actually I did a commercial a few weeks ago—I can’t say what it’s for—and I actually realised how much I don’t think I enjoy it anymore [laughs], like just going and buying random household objects and things like that, I realised how much more fun it is to be making cool little miniature models or props or you know, something that’s just totally different. So I don’t... we’ll see!

Find Jacqui at jacquihudson.com.au and on Facebook and Instagram, @Jacqui_Hudson

Proofreading by Luke Yates. Photography by Lorenzo Princi.