David O'Reilly on his surreal animated worlds
July 6, 2015

The artist behind the video game in Spike Jonze's 'Her' and of his own real-life games and animated shorts gives a glimpse into his free-wheeling imagination and warped digital tools with a characteristic dose of dark humour

“Don’t worry, it’s just animation.” A sharp edge of self-referential humour runs through all of David O’Reilly’s work. It is a character in his 2011 film The External World who decries O’Reilly’s own trade as an animator, a hunched father advising his son on the darker corners of the internet. The influence of the digital world is clear in O’Reilly’s films, from his earlier Please Say Something (2009), where the relationship between a cat and a mouse is rewound and fast-forwarded by a remote control, to the birds who peck away at pixel censorship in The External World (2011).

Surreal and darkly humorous, the absurdity of the world as we know it is twisted into relief. Medicated, lonely and violent, O’Reilly’s characters perform in a frantic circus of self-destruction and exaggerated expectation. Nowhere is this overlap of his animations into our own lives more clear than in Spike Jonze’s Her (2013), in which the alien child of O’Reilly’s fictional video game shouts insults directly at its players. Mountain is O’Reilly’s real-life computer game, released last year following his work on Her. With no explicit challenges or goals to complete, it is a serene reinterpretation of the video game model.


Surreal and darkly humorous, the absurdity of the world as we know it is twisted into relief.


Watching O’Reilly’s films, we are left with a distinct sensation of his animator’s eye being trained squarely on each of his viewers. As we watch his wild, unchartered scenes unfold upon the screen, a sense of our own role within his creations emerges. Landscapes roughly sketched from twisted lines and jotted pixels are ideally placed to suggest the distortions of dreams, delving into the odd meanderings of our own minds. It is by reinventing the expectations around his medium, manipulating and warping his own tools, that O’Reilly is able to directly reflect the world around us. This is just animation, but not as we knew it.

POSTmatter: What is your background, training and approach?

David O’Reilly: I was trained as a gymnast for 6 years before I had a debilitating spine injury, which occurred during training. It left me in a coma for six months, and when I woke up I was convinced nothing had happened. I went about learning 3D software as a means to recover my memories. That plan backfired when I remembered I couldn't actually remember anything…

PM: What are the main themes that you deal with in your work?

DO’R: I deal with themes like Default, Axla 2, Windows XP Classic, Default 2, Aero, DoorKnob XL, Metropolitan, Default 3, Maple, 0bscure 7, White Child, Default 4, Menkomony, MadeUp, Default 5, Big Dumpster, Bloodclot, Yemen, Field Burrito, Jinx, Tavern, Default 6, RetröFuture, Cyberweave, Donkey Black, Birth Certificate, Frank, Default 7 and Sassafras.

PM: How do you make use of physical and digital media and materials?

DO’R: I enjoy using digital media, new media, materials, and cyber pixels, and the new n-dimensional floating-point format, which can only be observed by actual computers.


I went about learning 3D software as a means to recover my memories. That plan backfired when I remembered I couldn't actually remember anything…



PM: How do you see the place of digital art in the evolving digital landscape?

DO’R: I think the term digital landscape makes me wanna barf all over it, over and over and over, until rivers of my barf flow through the digital landscape and nourish it’s digital citizens for centuries - which, in digital time, are just fractions of an iBlink.

PM: What future projects do you have lined up?

DO’R: I’m slowly guiding a new generation of fresh, young artists to eclipse me so I can get on with burying myself and being forgotten about as soon as possible.

For more information on David O'Reilly's work, click here


For more information on David O'Reilly's work, click here

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