The creative hub of the South East of England is alive with many burgeoning talents, from filmmakers to game developers, and Harrison is another example of the successful individuals working in and around Whitehill & Bordon. Harrison’s works have been shown at some of the most prestigious places and events in the calendar, such as the Cannes Film Festival, the New York Film Festival and the London Film Festival. His work has also been featured at Tate Modern, the Whitechapel Gallery, the Barbican Centre, the Institute of Contemporary Arts; his featured film The Fallen Word was premiered at BFI Southbank in 2013.
Oliver honed his craft at St Martin’s School of Art, after doing a foundation course at Cheltenham School of Art. He hit his stride very early on, with his graduation film Amore Baciami receiving great critical acclaim. It looked at music and film in a unique way, making the words and typography the core of the piece.
“I wanted the type to be the star, the letters: the heroes. This was not a film-title-sequence, type was not playing second fiddle to live action, it was not a sequence in a pop promo; it was a new way of thinking about type and about graphics”
His unique style didn’t go unnoticed, and with just his first piece, he received a nomination for Best Animated Film and Best Student Film in the 1988 British Animation Awards. The film went on to be shown at festivals around the globe, such as the Hong Kong Film Festival and the famous Spike and Mike’s Festival of Animation in LA.
Such was the appreciation of Harrison’s use of words to paint the picture, Amore Baciami was bought by DMB&B and used in the huge Letters of Love ad campaign for Royal Mail for Valentine’s Day in 1989. Due to the new reach of the piece, the cut-down version went on to win a Gold Lion at Cannes, a Gold Arrow at the British Advertising Awards, a D&AD Pencil and the Epica d’Or.
“His work has a quality that carries the unusual themes and fantastical elements that reminds one irresistibly of Kubrick” – Jordan Mooney.
His experimentation with his works continued in Spirit of Place, which was the first film to be shot entirely on a motion control camera. This allowed him to do ‘on-the-move mixing, and precise editing between shots’.
This won Best Cinematography at the 1992 Cork Film Festival in 2015 and enjoyed a feature in the Institute of Contemporary Arts exhibition: PoetryFilm Parallax, curated by Zata Banks.
In 2016, the exhibition was invited by the Bauhaus Film-Institut to play at the Backup Film Festival in Weimar.
Harrison was commissioned in 1992 to create the titles for Merchant Ivory’s Oscar-winning film, Howards End. The film has a full roster of stars from Anthony Hopkins to Helena Bonham Carter, and lead actress Emma Thompson took an Oscar home for it.
Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson in Howards End – Oliver Harrison
Following this success, Harrison signed up with Acme Filmworks in Hollywood to work on some new advertising. He created spots for Nike, Marie Claire, P&O Ferries, The Independent newspaper, Molson beer, Toyota, IBD and MTV among others.
Harrison’s Toyota RAV4 commercial, which is unlike any other car ad you will see, was Spot of the Week in Shoot magazine in 1996.
Perhaps his most successful piece, was a three-minute short film called Love Is All. Filmed in 35mm, on a 1917 Bell and Howell camera, using multiple exposures, the short was a huge success – being shown at over 70 festivals around the world – and was selected for the Cannes Film Festival Directors’ Fortnight in 2000. Love Is All picked up seven awards, including the Jury prize at the New York Film Festival and the Jury prize at the Oberhausen Film Festival.
The film went on general release in cinemas with various films in 2000; Time Out described Love Is All as ‘an ineffable sweet ode d’amour’. The film was screened at Tate Modern as part of Thresholds of the Frame, and was featured in the Barbican Centre exhibition: Passionate Obsessions.
His quirky, debut feature film, The Fallen Word, was a sinister fairy tale set in another England.
“An evil sect has taken power, forbidding free thinking and beauty. The only hope of salvation lies with the poets. Their words, like rays of light and colour, save souls and awaken minds amid the horrors that unfurl.”
It premiered at BFI Southbank in May 2013, coinciding with the release of the DVD, The Fallen Word and Collected Films, funded by Arts Council England. Written and directed by Harrison, The Fallen Word was invited to screen at the Beginning festival in St Petersburg in 2014.
His most recent piece which has really struck a chord with many, is a contemporary poetry piece called Apocalypse Rhyme, accompanied by a typography visual, which outlines the stresses in our world today.
Broadcast on Channel 4’s Random Acts, it is a black-and-white, kaleidoscopic, multi-layered, hyper-kinetic typographical poem. Using the letters of the word apocalypse, each line explores different areas of our lives that have been eroded by recent events. The film suggests that a quiet ‘apocalypse’ has already occurred.
“This is a glorious piece of animated typography… There is something irresistible about text… This has a wonderful effervescent menace about the complexity and conveys an almost panicked sense of meaning reconfiguring itself as we watch. Quite, quite lovely!” – review from Atribune.
The way that Harrison combines the music, content and the words creates a really powerful piece and the short won the award for Best Motion Graphics in the British Animation Awards 2014.
Lucy Feibusch described the film as ‘devastating and beautiful’ and it is listed at number 12 in the Creative Bloc ‘must-see examples of kinetic typography’. Harrison’s ambition to follow his style and stick to his guns can serve to inspire, not just other filmmakers and directors, but musicians too.