Good afternoon James.
What field of design are you most active in?
I’m mostly focused on concept art for film and games and that’s what I’m working towards. But in the meantime, the work I tend to get is more along the lines of illustration with a realistic or scifi edge. The reason is because the skills used as a concept artist/designer in film and games is highly illustrative depending on how you approach it and so I can use that in freelance illustration work
What is something you wished you designed, either because you love it, or because you feel you could have done it better?
There is a Power Rangers movie coming out and everything that I hear about it makes it sound like it’s going to be total sh-t. But at the same time I would love to have been able to work on that project designing the characters. I think it’s because I’m attracted to the nostalgia the Power Rangers franchise has and since the original show and movies were all really bad, I’m sure it would have been an amazing opportunity to try a new and innovative direction with it. But as for something that I can look back on that I loved, I would have loved to work on a Halo game. It’s unlikely, but it would be amazing if I could do work on that before the new trilogy ends, mainly because that was the first time I was introduced to scifi and it had enough of an impact on me to create illustrations and design worlds that are scifi too.
Is there something you believe would be possible to deign in the future that is not possible now with current technology?
I’m really curious about how the future will unfold in terms of augmented reality and virtual reality. There is always a fear in the movie and game industry (as I’m sure it’s the case in all creative outlets) that work will dry up. That there won’t be as many job openings to fit the large saturation of graduates. But with the future in these completely new markets of VR and AR, I see there being a ton of potential for work. But to the question, the reason I’m interested these avenues is because we have the potential to design something that is completely immersive to an end user. This will be the closest we can get to being able to implant a user into a futuristic city, or go back in time to the battle of thermopylae. To be able to defy the laws of physics. I don’t believe we can necessarily make this happen in our physical world. Movies are great, but it’s still a spectator medium. Yet, so far it looks like VR and AR might be the closest thing to creating experiences.
As new technologies and manufacturing methods come of age, do you feel the face of design is changing also?
As far as I can tell in the movie and games world, technology seems to have caught up to the point where there aren’t necessarily any limitations on what you want to create creatively due to technology. There’s always that budget problem but that’s another story. So in a way, though design in these fields was to varying levels dictated by the limited technological competencies in the past few decades, I see that going away. We seem to be free to create what we want to create. However one thing I’m seeing in the field of illustration is this rise in illustrative gifs that are becoming popular on web publications. This I believe is a change dictated by the availability of such technologies, since in print, art directors were limited to using a still image, but now with a lot of online publications gaining traction, gifs are becoming more and more popular.
What design problem needs to be solved the most urgently?
Since I’m coming from an entertainment standpoint, my answer might sound strange and irrelevant, but this is something I’ve been thinking about a bit. Nowadays more than ever, there is a push for more and more diversity in movies, games, tv shows and anything else you can think of. When a TV show like Jessica Jones comes out, it gets a lot of praise for having a female protagonist that deals with issues that aren’t about buying new clothes or other men. Back when Spiderman was going to be rebooted for the third time, there were several voices online saying that it’s time for Spiderman to be portrayed by a black man. Right now I see a twofold problem. In Hollywood right now, there seems to be a lot of movies being greenlit, a lot of casting choices being made purely for diversity sake. To please the people. This is something Marielle Heller (movie director) had pointed out she feels is happening to female filmmakers amongst other professions. The problem I see with this is that art and story should come from a place of experience and life. Art that isn’t inspired by life itself tend to be boring rehashes of what we’ve seen before and so I personally would rather art be made about things people are familiar with from an experiential standpoint. The downside being that since the movie industry is predominantly filled with white men, there will be many movies that revolve around white male characters – hence lack of diversity.. However it feels true to say that our perceptions about life and the world around us is very heavily influenced by the media’s portrayal of minorities and so in a way, introducing diversity is important in helping society open their mind.
What scientific or technological advance concerns you the most?
Technological advances in software has made it possible to create realistic renderings of environments, characters and almost anything else. As a result, the design work produced today is of much higher calibre and technical competency that it was a decade ago. Technology is only going to get better and better at an exponential rate and so that means that as a designer, it’s going to be vital to continue to experiment and learn new tools and to also be pushing my skills further – purely just as a means of staying relevant. It is an admittedly selfish thing to be concerned about, but I would like to just chill out and live life at some point.
What do you believe will be the next big evolution in design?
Workflow is very interesting. When you look at a game studio or a film effects studio, the pipeline often starts with the Concept artist/designer who in 2D creates visuals that present the design. Then that 2d image – with or without an orthographic -is taken to a 3d modeller or VFX artist to then produce the design. The change that is occuring is that 3d production tools are getting more and more accessible to get your hands on, and they are also getting easier to use. Therefore there are several designers who are able to not only create designs, but also produce the assets themselves, killing two birds with one stone. What does this actually look like in the future? I’m not too sure, but it seems fair to assume that because of the availability of better technology, more could be asked of designers to produce.
Consumers are expecting a more and more personalised from their products and are willing to vote with their wallet. What do you feel society expects of design in the future?
I talked earlier about the diversity issue and I’m sure that’s something society is expecting now currently. But I think it’s fascinating that the cost to produce something like a short film or even game is smaller than ever. Now anyone with a computer can theoretically create a film or game and many have. There are many that have had great successes but this success now seems to be tied to the virality of the content on the internet. Society is able to vote in “likes” or shares what they think is working, and you can see producers trying to pick up the rights to these properties to make even more money off of them.
Predictions of an automated workforce have sparked discussion on the nature of business in the future. What challenges do you feel tech start ups and businesses will have moving into the future?
All startups and businesses have challenges they have to overcome, but with the increase in technology, I believe that there is less challenges than there ever was. Not necessarily due to an “automated workforce” but with software that can now do so much for you, it is very possible for a game maker to create something new in his home with 2 other people as opposed to needing a large team. This has, and is happening. With the technicalities being taken care of with better more smarter software, I am optimistic that as designers and producers, we will be able to focus our concern into more important issues.
Do the needs of business overwhelm those of the consumer?
I feel like we see a lot of businesses focused too much on trying to make things for the consumer and as a result, they are overwhelmed with the needs of others and not what they truly want. As a result the product they ship tends to lack direction.
The advent of smartphones and wearable technology has demonstrated society’s willingness to invest much of their intimate lives into the digital space. How do you feel about society’s ever increasing reliance on technology?
I’m not necessarily comfortable with the fact that we’re becoming tethered to our devices, and that we now need our phone’s to accomplish basic tasks in our day to day life. But at the same time, I believe that we are much more efficient and productive people because of this technology. So I don’t necessarily see a problem with it.
Modern technology is becoming more and more accessible to a greater variety of people than ever before. Do you believe people will become more or less resilient to change their habits in regards to its use?
Michael Mauboussin is a consultant with a book called the success equation and one of the things he talks about is the skill gap. He compared the time disparity between the Olympic marathon runner who came 1st, and the runner who came 20th back in 1932. The time difference was almost a whole 39 minutes. Today that time difference is about 5 minutes. I think this is a great analogy as to how society is becoming more and more skilled in todays world thanks in large to the overwhelming availability of information on the internet. So I think that when it comes to peoples habits, it’s now a necessity that you be a master of your craft just to get by.
If you could go back to the time of the industrial revolution, what would you discuss with other designers?
I would be fascinated with the mindset of artisanship and how some people got over it to be able to mass produce and profit from their goods, and also to hear from the people who couldn’t get over it and stuck to the artistic craftsmanship. I say that because I do feel like we are seeing a lot of that today with technology becoming easier and easier to use, there are certain groups of people who prefer a traditional process as opposed to a process that embraces all the speed and quality technology is able to give us.
What advice would you give to the designers of tomorrow?
I don’t believe I have reached the baseline of where I wish to be as a designer, and so this is the philosophy i have been living by, influenced by my mentors and more successful people than i. And that is to do the kind of work you are personally interested in. Don’t do work because you think your friends on facebook would like it, or you think that if you post it on tumblr, all the disney lovers will reblog it. Do what you think is cool and really embrace it and perfect it. I feel like some of the most interesting products/movies/games come from that place of genuine inspiration.