How to be a rule breaking video artist

London-based Natalia Stuyk reveals her nonconformist guide to being a digital magic-maker, and gives us a dummy’s guide to creating a mesmerising GIF

This two-part How To guide is part of the On the Up series spotlighting the next generation doing great things to push London’s creative scene forward. In partnership with Microsoft’s most recent Windows upgrade, Windows 10, the series explores the past, present and future of eight trailblazing, tech-savvy artists. 

Dazed 100 star, Natalia Stuyk is the east London-based video artist and director whose sleek, kaleidoscopic visuals epitomise the definition of eye candy. From digital renderings of rippling rainbow waves to futuristic floating islands and revolving neon lights, Stuyk’s hypnotic videos and GIFs combine the optical entrancement of James Turrell’s light works with the electric glow of night-time Tokyo. It’s little wonder, then, that her HD reveries have attracted a roster of clients including Kenzo, MAC, Nike, Adidas, Henry Holland and Lazy Oaf, as well as bands such as Crystal Fighters, Django Django and Basement Jaxx. She was also one of the the cutting-edge talents selected to create live visuals for Just Jam's 2014 show at the Barbican – an immersive playground of bass, house and grime set against a digital-art backdrop.

“I don't know what’s happening in the future, I don’t know what’s happening tomorrow! I just aim to make things that are beautiful” – Natalia Stuyk

Working across music videos, fashion films, experimental shorts and GIFs, Stuyk's dreamy hi-fi aesthetic has become increasingly bolder, cleaner and glossier. “As I get older, that's the direction I'm going in”, she explains. But her route to becoming a video artist was not so smooth as her visuals. Although she studied animation at university, it was only after a “long stint in the public sector” (including a job at the UN), that she came full circle to making moving images. Equally nonconformist is her creative process, as we found out when we caught up with the magic-maker herself. Following her mandate: take inspiration from things that you can’t do; don’t start creating images with images, start with sounds; and forget about planning far ahead! Before she gives us a dummy’s lesson into GIF-making (below), here’s Stuyk’s unconventional guide to being a kickass video artist.


“I find a lot of my inspiration from still images even though what I do is motion. Because I want to be able to see things from different perspectives, I imagine them from different angles. Even when I was little I used to look at things and wonder how they’d look if they moved. My dad is a naval architect and I used to sit with him while he designed boats, and he’d explain to me how the fluid dynamics would work in relation to boats, and how everything is designed for motion. I think that’s where my interest in moving image all started. I’m also inspired by architecture, photography and graphic design. It’s always stuff that I don’t or wouldn’t know how to do.”


“With personal work I always start with music. I put together a soundtrack of sounds that I’ve collected, recorded or sampled, which give me sound cues so I can then translate them into visuals. Certain sounds will look a certain way to me and that process of visually translating the sounds will go back and forth until I’ve made a sort of animated storyboard of where everything is going to go. Then I’ll go back and add something to the music if I want something else to 'happen'.”


“When I’ve got an idea in my head and I don’t know how to make it, it's a nightmare. But everything I do is like problem solving. When I was making “Visiter ビデオ” (a two-minute video inspired by a trip to Tokyo) I knew I wanted to create these rotating panels and towers that go on forever with loads of neon lights. So I had this idea in my mind and had to figure out how I was going to create it with techniques I didn’t know yet. That’s when I started exploring movement in 3D space. It’s the biggest challenge not knowing all the stages of a process but once you've figured it out it's like unlocking another feature that you can do.”


“I started a tumblr a while ago that’s filled with three-second gifs, and my Instagram is an extension of that. It started like everyone else’s, taking pictures of food, my friends, the beach, until it dawned on me that it would be a good platform to put up snapshots of what I’m working on, and get an immediate response from my audience. It’s really strange because usually the ones that I really like are the ones that other people like least, and then I know when I’m onto a crowd pleaser when something has rainbow colours in it. But I never make stuff especially for Instagram, it’s always something leading into a bigger project.” 


“I don’t have long-term goals, I don't know what's happening in the future, I don't know what's happening tomorrow! I just go from project to project and aim to make things that I think are beautiful, and other people enjoy watching. At the moment I’m working on a new film that’s not going to be pure animation – it's working towards a way of incorporating green screen, animation and humans in a way that’s aesthetically stimulating. It’s not something I’ve done before but, again, it's just about problem-solving.”


For the GIF guide, Natalia Stuyk used the latest version of Photoshop for Windows 10 on the Surface 3. This recognises when the keyboard is attached to the device or not and accordingly converts the program to keyboard or touch mode, which facilitated seamless creative practice for Natalia. The device also comes with a Surface Pen, which Natalia used to illustrate her animation. 

1. Using Photoshop start backward by designing two layers and a textured background with the Surface Pen. This is kinda what the middle of the GIF is going to look like. I’ve set the blending mode of the two layers to ‘difference’ so we get a third colour where they overlap. It’s a nice way of making a simple animation look a bit more interesting.

2. We’re first going to create all the frames for the top layer. The pink line is going to expand to fill the screen and then wipe again from the centre out. To complete the loop, the dots will grow into place. To do this, right-click & duplicate the top layer and add another line on either side of the central line. Repeat this until the whole screen is filled with pink. Keep duplicating the top layer and erase to transparent again. Each time rubbing a bit of the pink away with vertical lines, leaving the one in the centre.

3. Go back and make a copy of the pink lines and dots. This is where we want to end up again to form the complete loop, so the easiest way is to work backwards. Duplicate the layer again but make sure it’s underneath this time. Erase a little bit away from the circles. You can also delete the copy you made of the pink lines and dots, as you don’t need this layer twice.

4. Now we’re going to create all the frames for the bottom layer (green on its own). This isn’t going to appear or disappear, we just want it to move a bit so that it doesn’t look so static. Since the pink line loop is 25 frames, this loop will also have to be 25 frames. If you redraw it 5 times that’s enough. You don’t need to duplicate the layer this time, it’s easier if you create a blank layer and trace it, though a good tip is to always trace the same one. Remember to set the blending mode to ‘difference’ for all of your new layers. If you do this as you go it’ll be overlap in black.

5. Now to link up all the layers and create the animation frames for the GIF. Click on Window > Timeline & click on ‘Create Video Timeline’. To set up the animation we have to do a few things on the Timeline toolbar: a) Select the small icon in the bottom left that changes the timeline to individual frames; b) Make sure the timing on your initial frame is set to ‘No delay’ or ‘0 sec’; c) Click on the icon next to the trashcan to duplicate the selected frame.

6. The visibility next to each of your layers, shown by the eye icon, is going to determine the combination for each frame. So we’re going to link up all the pink layers with the green wobbly lines to create the looping gif. Since the green wobbly lines are only 5 frames, you’ll have to repeat this sequence 5 times.

Lastly, click File > Export > Save for Web. You can play with the settings but the preset ‘GIF 128 Dithered’ works well for this example. Make sure the Looping Options is set at ‘Forever’.

And here's the finished GIF!

Natalia Stuyk recommends two boundary-breaking projects:


“As someone who works exclusively with digital media, it’s probably a bit weird how much I love real life tactile materials. This platform is my favourite - on the surface it looks carefully curated and purely aesthetic but it’s a great source of information about the science and process behind each image.”


“I love that their work isn’t limited to a computer screen and how they adapt new technology to real life, multi-sensory experiences in a way that’s still really beautiful to look at. It's also amazing when you can't get your head around how something works. That's the best bit.”

The Windows 10 upgrade is available to download free for a Windows 7 or 8.1 PC here