Amidst a pandemic that shut down the world, visual artist and animator Kelly Emmrich found a way to march through the barriers of stagnation and create something new. Though this was a time of hardship, Emmrich found a way to use her artistry, education, and surroundings to create short, animated clips of her illustrations. Not only did these animations lead her to gain a following on social media, it allowed her to connect with other artists, while providing a distraction to those suffering in the midst of the pandemic.
Emmrich, a twenty-four year old student, had to put a bookmark in her education at the University of Mary Washington when the pandemic started. In mid-March, she returned home to Crozet, Virginia to start her quarantine.
Though she studied as an English major, Emmrich happens to be a talented illustrator, showcased through her social media.
Before her claim-to-fame started due to her animated videos, Emmrich catapulted her online art presence on Instagram with illustrations and stills. “Back in 2019 and 2020, the Instagram art community used to have these week-long challenges. I think the first one that I did in January 2019 was called Magic Moon Week,” says Emmrich. She explained that during these themed weeks, the artists would have prompts to follow as they created art to mirror the themes.
Emmrich’s social media presence took off when she joined TikTok in March 2020. After being furloughed from her job and needing a new outlet of creativity, she began posting her animation work.
“I started animating, and I was shocked at such a kind reception from people,” says Emmrich.
When Emmrich began posting her animation work on TikTok (@kellyemmrich) and her Instagram art account (@art.kve), she had only been making animation content for a short time. “I’d taken a couple of animation introductory classes in the past, but hadn’t really put it into full time practice,” she explains.
During her time at University of Mary Washington, she took an introductory course that focused on stop motion and abstract concepts. When she returned home, Emmrich enrolled in the local community college, Piedmont Virginia Community College (PVCC), to stimulate her educational interests. At PVCC, she took another motion graphics course that established the use of storyboards and character design through motion graphics.
Though the first couple of animation clips Emmrich posted did not get much traction, soon her videos gained hundreds, then thousands, of views and likes.
Some of her first videos featured graphic art and motion graphics, like her video of an animated illustration of the New York City skyline. One of the first viral videos featured the then-popular TikTok trend of styling clothes if you had a TV series or movie. From there on, her videos started to feature her natural surroundings, like an animated video of the mountainous area she lives in, which became popular with likes.
With 1.5 million likes and 91.8K followers on her TikTok page, Emmrich was shocked by the attention she gained on this social media platform. “I didn’t expect anything to come out of posting my work, but I’m so glad that I did it,” she explained.
Not only did she gain a tremendous amount of praise and admirers, but also new opportunities to work with other artists. She collaborated with smaller artists to create animated banners on Spotify for their music. If Emmrich had a favorite type of artist to work with, it would be musicians. “My mom is a piano teacher, so I grew up with music,” she claims.
The biggest collaboration Emmrich had thus far was with a musician, Muca & La Marquise. The alternative pop group, based in London, reached out to Emmrich towards the end of 2020 to create an animated music video for their single, “Cheap Red Wine.”
At the start of the five-month process for creating their music video, Emmrich was given the music, lyrics, and free reign to create the video. She was ecstatic to be able to reach this milestone in her animation career. Despite the excitement, Emmrich soon learned how daunting this project would be.
“It was definitely overwhelming,” she expressed.
Emmrich explained how she only had created short clips of animation and this was the first long piece she worked on. Having more experience with longer pieces prior to the four minute and twenty-six second video she created, would have been helpful; however, she was grateful for the experience.
Ironically, her first biggest career goal was to create a music video. Now that she achieved, it Emmrich is excited to start her new chapter, post-pandemic, and set the bar even higher.
As she is on her way to begin her MFA for Digital Animation and Motion Arts at Pratt Institute, she is currently aiming to work on a two-dimensional TV series and do background painting, since she was originally an illustrator.
“Almost every video that I make, currently, I try to push myself with new techniques, strange color palettes, or a different way of involving texture,” she says.
While achieving this great feat, one of the biggest rewards Emmrich has gotten through her popularity is the impact it has left on her followers. Her artwork has left a trail of positivity for those who admire her videos.
As an artist, Emmrich understands the role the messages in her work have on viewers. Though Emmrich believes that artwork inherently has a political undertone or social commentary, she believes most of her work remains free of political and social connotations. However, Emmrich admits that she draws inspiration from nature and the environment around her. As someone who is very passionate about the environment and its well-being, she aims to mimic the tranquility and wonder she observes in nature through her clips.
“This has been such an awful year for so many people, and it warms my heart to see comments that people have written saying things like ‘I could watch this until I fall asleep’ or ‘so calming and therapeutic.’ I hope that my animations give people some comfort and solace,” she admits.
Emmrich is also able to unwind and relax while creating her work. She says, “There’s something about animating that’s more satisfying to me than creating still illustrations. The monotonous frame-by-frame drawings are tedious, but it’s almost meditative as well.”