Chris Cunningham (born October 15, 1970) is a British film creature-effects and conceptual artist, film, commercial and music video director, and comic book artist and painter who was the alien creature effects artist on the 1992 film Alien3 and a character designer on the 1997 film Alien Resurrection (credited under the alias Chris Halls). Cunningham also worked on Aliens magazine and the unreleased graphic novella Aliens: Matrix for Dark Horse Comics (again under the pseudonym Chris Halls).
Born in Reading, Berkshire, England in 1970, Cunningham grew up in Lakenheath, Suffolk.
Today, Cunningham is most well known for his award-winning work in music video directing, producing iconic videos for such well-known singers and acts as Bjork, Aphex Twin, Madonna, Portishead, Autechre and others. Cunningham often works cutting-edge science fiction concepts into his music videos, such as when he turned Bjork into a realistic android for her "All is Full of Love" video. He has also directed TV commercials for PlayStation, Gucci, Levis, Telecom Italia, Nissan and Orange.
In the course of his TV, movie and film effects and concept art career, Cunningham is perhaps still best known for his 1990s turns as a creature and concept artist on such 90s sci-fi films as the Alien films, the 1994 feature film version of Judge Dredd and on the Stanley Kubrick/Stephen Spielberg film A.I.
In the comics field, from 1990-1992 Cunningham contributed the occasional cover painting and comic strip for Judge Dredd Megazine, as well as Aliens magazine for Dark Horse International from 1992-1993. This comic book work was largely published under the pseudonym Chris Halls, the surname of Cunningham's stepfather.
Subsequently, Cunningham was chosen as the concept artist, special makeup effects designer and builder behind many of the successful effects in the 1994 feature film version of Judge Dredd, specifically in bringing to life the classic Dredd character Mean Machine, and the ABC Robot — both mainstays from Dredd's 2000 AD comics origins on which Cunningham (as Halls) also worked as an artist.
After seeing Cunningham's work on Judge Dredd, famed movie director Stanley Kubrick head hunted Cunningham to design and supervise animatronic tests of the central robot child character in his version of the film A.I. Cunningham worked for over a year on the film A.I., before leaving to pursue a career as a music video director.
Other earlier work in film for Cunningham included model making, prosthetic make-up and concept illustrations for Hardware and Dust Devil with director Richard Stanley, as well as Nightbreed.
Cunningham then began his close ties to Warp Records as director on a series of music videos. His first production was for the British electronic duo Autechre. Videos for Aphex Twin's "Come to Daddy" and "Windowlicker", among his best known, would follow. His video for Bjork's "All Is Full of Love" won multiple awards, including an MTV music video award for Breakthrough Video and was nominated for a Grammy for Best Short Form Music Video. It was also the first ever music video to win a Gold Pencil at the D&AD Awards. It can still be seen at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. His video for Aphex Twin's "Windowlicker" was nominated for the "Best Video" award at the Brit Awards 2000. He also directed Madonna's "Frozen" video which became an international hit and won the award for "Best Special Effects" at the 1998 MTV Music Video Awards.
Cunningham also created photography and cover artwork for various clients including artists whose videos he has directed, such as for Bjork's "All Is Full of Love", Aphex Twin's "Windowlicker" and "Come to Daddy".
Cunningham also started work on a number of independent video art pieces in 2000. His video installation Flex was first shown in 2000 at the Royal Academy of Arts, and subsequently at the Anthony d'Offay Gallery and other art galleries. Flex was commissioned by the Anthony d'Offay Gallery for the Apocalypse: Beauty & Horror in Contemporary Art exhibition curated by Norman Rosenthal and Max Wigram at the Royal Academy of Arts in 2000.
The Anthony d'Offay Gallery also commissioned Monkey Drummer, a 2½ minute piece intended for exhibition as a companion to Flex at the 2000 Apocalypse exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts, however the piece was not finished in time. In it an automaton with nine appendages and the head of a monkey plays the drums to "Mt Saint Michel + Saint Michaels Mount", the 10th track on Aphex Twin's 2001 album drukqs. Monkey Drummer debuted as part of Cunningham's installation at the 49th International Exhibition of Art at the 2001 Venice Bienalle, which consisted of a loop of Monkey Drummer, Flex, and his video for Bjork's "All Is Full of Love".
In 2005, Cunningham released the short film Rubber Johnny as a DVD accompanied by a book of photographs and drawings. Rubber Johnny, a six-minute experimental short film cut to a soundtrack by Aphex Twin, remixed by Cunningham was shot between 2001 and 2004. Shot on DV night-vision, it was made in Cunningham's own time as a home movie of sorts, and took three and half years of weekends to complete. The Telegraph called it "like a Looney Tunes short for a generation raised on video nasties and rave music".
During this period Cunningham also made another short film for Warp Films, Spectral Musicians, which remains unreleased. The short film was edited to music by Squarepusher, My Fucking Sound, from the album Go Plastic and a piece called Mutilation Colony, which was written especially for the short and was released on the EP Do You Know Squarepusher.
From 2003/2004, Cunningham took a sabbatical from film-making to learn about music production and recording and his focus shifted to developing his own music projects.
In 2005, Cunningham played a 45 minute audio visual piece performed live in Tokyo and Osaka in front of 30,000+ fans over the two nights at Japan’s premier electronic music event Electraglide. These performances evolved into Chris Cunningham Live, a 55 minute long performance piece combining original and remixed music and film. It features remixed, unreleased and brand new videos and music dynamically edited together into a new live piece spread over three screens. The sound accompanying these images includes Cunningham’s first publicly performed compositions interspersed with his remixes of other artist’s work.
He then began work as a music producer and produced two tracks on The Horrors' Mercury Prize—nominated second album Primary Colours in 2007. In December 2007 Cunningham produced the tracks, "Three Decades" and "Primary Colours", for the album. In the summer of 2008, due to scheduling conflicts with his feature film script writing he couldn't work on the rest of the album which was subsequently recorded by Geoff Barrow from Portishead.
Meanwhile, in 2007, an excerpt from Cunningham's video piece Flex was shown in the Babican's exhibition Seduced: Art and Sex from Antiquity to Now curated by Martin Kemp, Marina Wallace and Joanna Bernstein. alongside other pieces by Bacon, Klimt, Rembrandt, Rodin and Picasso.
Back in the music field In 2008, Cunningham won a Cannes Golden Lion for his reworking of Donna Summer's "I Feel Love" in his 2008 Gucci Flora commercial. He produced and arranged a new version of the song for the commercial, which he also directed. He had travelled to Nashville to work with Donna Summer to record a brand new vocal for it. In other music producing work, Cunningham also created audiovisual remixes for Gil Scott-Heron and Grace Jones.
Chris Cunningham Live debuted as one of the headline attractions at Warp 20 in Paris on May 8, 2009 with other performances scheduled at festivals in UK, and a number of European cities later in the year. Having now headlined festivals around the world with his live show, Cunningham is presently working on his first audiovisual album.
In 2008, continuing his photography work, Cunningham produced a fashion shoot for Dazed & Confused using Grace Jones as a model to create "Nubian versions" of Rubber Johnny. In an interview for BBC's "The Culture Show", it was suggested that the collaboration may expand into a video project. In November 2008, Cunningham followed on with another photoshoot for Vice Magazine.
Cunningham's career all seems to be heading toward the inevitable final culmination as a director of feature films, and he has already had certain steps in this direction. In 2000, Cunningham and noted cyberpunk author William Gibson began work on the script for Gibson's 1984 novel Necromancer. However, because Neuromancer was due to be a big budget studio film, it is rumoured that Cunningham pulled out due to being a first time director without final cut approval. He also felt that too much of the original book's ideas had been cannibalised by other recent films.
Development funding was in place for Cunningham to direct and co-write his first feature film for Warp Films, to whom he was at the time committed "for all future full-length film projects." He has since left Warp Films to set up his own production company 'CC Co' to produce his films independently.
In November 2004, the video collection The Work of Director Chris Cunningham was released as part of the Directors Label set. This DVD includes selected highlights from 1995–2000.
In Alien3, Cunningham was one of the principle effects artists, helping to sculpt the Dragon bodysuit worn by Tom Woodruff, Jr., the Dragon's head, the infant "Bambi-burster" Alien, the Queen Chestburster seen emerging from Ellen Ripley at the end of the film and the Royal Facehugger. Cunningham noted later that much of his work in the film was actually removed from the final theatrical cut. Like several of the cast and crew on the film, he found the production to be an unpleasant experience, with a hostile atmosphere, constant script changes and long periods of inactivity. During his downtime, he would alleviate his boredom by painting a large pornographic mural on the back of one of the toilet stall doors at Pinewood Studios, and when filming wrapped he had a caretaker saw the door off of its hinges so that he could take it home. The door remains in Cunningham's possession to this day.
Comic Book Credits
- Director File - Chris Cunningham
- Chris Cunningham at IMDB
- Music Video Database entry
- DirectorsLabel.com - co-founded with video directors Spike Jonze and Michel Gondry
- 2000 AD profile
- 2005 interview
- Gucci Flora film