Jac Grenfell never chose a life of animation and steampunk – it chose him.
“It just sort of forced itself on to my life and never went away,” the former Oamaru animator said.
Grenfell has been involved in the steampunk movement in Oamaru from the start, creating a movie and artwork for the first steampunk exhibition at the Forrester Gallery in 2009.
He was also part of the creative team behind Steampunk HQ, responsible for, among many other things, the design of the signature grinning, goggled skull logo.
But his interest in steampunk imagery was sparked much earlier, when he was a student at Otago University.
Grenfell grew up in Oamaru and left when he was 19, to study English and law in Dunedin.
“I finished my degree and then didn’t do anything with it – I actually ended up working as a graphic designer in newspaper, at the Otago Daily Times, for quite a while,” he said.
He was about 20 when he was introduced to the work of Hans Giger, a Swiss painter best known for his images of humans and machines linked together in a cold biomechanical relationship.
“I saw this book .. I never bought it, it was in a bookshop, but the images were so strong that it just stayed in my head,” he said.
“Eventually, I just started making stuff . and got quite a following on the web for a while doing biomechanical, science fiction, rise of the machines, apocalyptic stuff.
“I didn’t really choose to do that, it just sort of forced itself on to my life.”
He also started teaching himself, and experimenting with, animation.
“I just got fascinated by it – someone gave me a computer, I think, and I just got hooked into the potential of what it could do,” he said.
“I worked on games with overseas companies – one of them was with some guys in New York and the game was dieselpunk [Children of the Sun].”
Coined in 2001 by game designer Lewis Pollak, whom Grenfell worked with on game Children of the Sun, dieselpunk, in a historical sense, might be said to fall between cyber and steampunk.
His connection with Steampunk HQ came through Don Paterson, an old friend of Grenfell’s.
“Don and I have always worked together on really mad projects – and [Steampunk HQ] was just another mad project,” he said.
He loved the informal nature of the evolution of Steampunk HQ.
“It was totally informal and that’s what we loved about it – we just made stuff happen.
“Me and Don and Brian [de Geest], we’re all just mad inventors – we just drank a lot of coffee and brainstormed heaps of different ideas.
“We had some good fun – and Brian is just as creative as anyone, he had all kinds of crazy ideas like me and Don, it was a real blast.”
For the past three years, he has been based in Dunedin, working in the film industry as an animator.
“At the moment I’m working on contemporary New Zealand dance film. I work with Daniel Belton and his company.
“It’s really different to Steampunk.”
He has left a large steampunk footprint in Oamaru, which he said was “pretty cool”.
“It’s a real blast – in fact, I see that [Steampunk HQ] logo on T-shirts all over the place,” he said.
“Down here, it’s just everywhere – and that’s kind of crazy.”
He could never have imagined that steampunk would take off in Oamaru the way it did.
“Because I grew up in Oamaru, I remember what it used to be like in that area,” he said.
“There was nothing there – it’s pretty amazing what it’s all turned in to.
“I think it’s wicked.”
Grenfell is looking forward to returning to Oamaru next weekend for the Steampunk NZ Festival.