Summer is here, and while that’s usually the time the creative industry slows down and takes a breather, we here at ADC intend to keep things moving — literally. Introducing Motion & Animation Month, where we will be featuring the small but mighty section of our community that brings art to life on projects from the serene to the bombastic. Whether they’re professionals, students or just keen amateurs, they’re all card-carrying ADC Members.
Our next featured ADC Member is a Brooklyn based designer with a fresh new studio and and age old enthusiasm for animation.
Creative Director & Co-Founder, And/Or
Where did your interest in motion and animation begin? How did it grow into something you could see yourself doing professionally?
I was obsessed with animation as a kid. I loved drawing and I think that I found animation to be a kind of magical transformation of this thing I did in my bedroom into a quasi reality. I ended up going to school for graphic design at the College for Creative Studies in Detroit where I learned about the artwork of Glenn Barr, who was a local illustrator that worked on Ren & Stimpy, and I just thought that was the coolest thing in the world. I guess that was when I had a glimmer that there was a way to make money working on that kind of stuff. I fell in love with design and took a class called Time Based Media which was mostly editing and sound design practiced through the process of graphic design and that was when it clicked that design could move. It wasn’t until I went to grad school at Cranbrook that I really focused my work in motion.
How much of your ability is self-taught versus through schooling?
I am an overeducated designer, I went to both undergrad and grad school studying design. I learned the fundamentals in undergrad; our program was highly conceptual so there was a lot of emphasis placed on concept and meaning, and in some ways it felt a bit like a fine art approach to graphic design. This led me to Cranbrook, which is a very unusual school in that it’s completely self directed. There are no classes, no curriculum — it’s just you and your peers in a studio making stuff. At Cranbrook I taught myself After Effects and started shooting things, getting better at editing and sound design. We had a green screen stage and a soundproof recording studio in the basement, it’s all very DIY. It was a lot of fun.
How would you best describe your style? How did you foster that style?
The most important aspect of any project for me is the idea, the form comes out of that. I love design because it’s about communicating, telling a story, so my work tends to be bold direct, copy-driven and simple. I always search for the most engaging way to connect with whomever is looking at what I’m making. That almost always comes through humor. There is a humanity in humor that includes everyone, it’s democratic. My partner is a copywriter so working with her really drives that aspect of my work. Also just keeping on top of what is happening in culture keeps me aware of trends in terms of what to avoid and what to embrace.
Tools of the trade: what items make your job a million times better? Types of pads, pens, tablets, programs etc.
Honestly the thing that makes my job a million times better is the people I work with. I have had the great pleasure and luck of working with some the smartest and most talented people around. I am not really into locking myself in a room and emerging with a perfectly made thing. I think that’s why motion design is so fun for me — it’s a team effort every time. Aside from that, I am in love with my high-speed internet connection, Bose headphones and MacBook Pro which somehow can run 20 programs at once.
“I am not really into locking myself in a room and emerging with a perfectly made thing. I think that’s why motion design is so fun for me — it’s a team effort every time.”
Which project are you most proud of and why?
Hands down, the work I did at Trollbäck + Co. for Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. It was a dream project. Not only is the show brilliant, the team there was super great to work with. We pitched the open as a curiosity cabinet, a collection of icons with faux latin labels that represent the spectrum of news topics from pop culture to politics to social issues. The concept we pitched was VERY different from what is currently done in the genre, and it really worked for John Oliver because he is taking the format of humor-driven news to the next level. We designed the show open to be completely modular. There is an Easter egg icon right before the logo animates on that we encouraged their team to change for each episode depending on what the hot topic of the week was. They took that and rolled with it, which was exciting because usually those great ideas are kind of overlooked once the project is handed over due to time or resource restraints. The idea is that any of those little icons could be replaced, maybe even the entire open could be updated for a special event like the presidential election. We’ll see if they get that ambitious in 2016.
What’s the most challenging part of your career?
Pitching. Pitching. And pitching. I think it’s a horrible way to do creative work. It’s like a creative gladiator ring that really just exhausts the participants and the victor is not necessarily the best fighter. It exhausts creative teams, wastes resources and it fosters a distrustful relationship with the client. It’s certainly nothing new, agencies do this for work all the time, but that work is usually for a very large retainer client and not a 20 second tv commercial. I really respect the clients we have and like collaborating with them. As a studio I hope we can avoid the pitching game and just create meaningful relationships with our clients instead of fighting over them. Unfortunately, I think this is a bit idealistic, but we’re going to try.
“I think it’s a horrible way to do creative work. It’s like a creative gladiator ring that really just exhausts the participants and the victor is not necessarily the best fighter.”
How would you describe what you do to someone who has nothing to do with creativity?
This is always a tough one. Usually it goes something like this, “I’m a designer. I mostly work with entertainment and cultural clients doing motion design. Like branding for tv networks. Like the stuff you see that moves that is about the brand, not the actual shows. Sometimes I do make the show packaging for the shows. Yes, it’s animation but not like a cartoon. Sometimes it’s live action too, like directing. Do you watch Last Week Tonight?”
Where do you go to find inspiration and motivation?
Living in New York you don’t have to go very far, and with the internet you don’t have to go anywhere! I look at a lot of art, I try to get to the museums in NYC as much as possible or head over to the galleries in Chelsea or the LES. I’m very into aggregation blogs like designspiration for straight design reference. My favorite treat is looking at It’s Nice That; they always have great postings. Instagram, Tumblr, Pinterest, all of these kind of DIY self-promo social media streams are good to look at if you curate it right. I love making things so I tend to just do it all the time.
Which professionals in your field do you most admire? What is it about their work that moves you?
I worked at Trollbäck + Co. for three years and that was hugely influential. Trollbäck’s design forward work has always been very inspiring, there aren’t a lot of motion studios that operate with a design-driven process. Gretel is consistently putting out amazing, smart, motion design. Work Order is another new-ish studio that is super exciting. Lately we’ve been looking at the work of [ADC Hall of Fame laureate] Tibor Kalman and M&Co. a lot as inspiration for our studio. It’s no surprise that almost all of the designers I admire came out of there at some point like Mike Mills, Marlene McCarty and Kiera Alexandra (of Work Order). Karlssonwilker has an incredible sense of humor and playfulness that is really inspiring.
At the end of the day, what do you love most about motion and animation?
I love that motion design is a way for me to combine all of the things that inspire me: graphic design, film, music and culture. It’s a very powerful medium, it’s emotional. Adding the element of time to design gives it life and energy. It kind of goes back to my love of cartoons as a kid – it’s a way to see something I love doing come to life.