Film/TV Designers' Soup-to-Nuts Creativity

By Tk Published on .

Stefan Nadelman, a recent addition to the directing roster at New York animation studio Curious Pictures, started his career as a graphic designer before moving to web design, then web animation and on to film. "I first saw Stefan's work at Resfest about five years ago," says Curious co-founder Richard Winkler. "He had a clever short piece [Latin Alive] that was uncharacterizable-sort of a music video, graphic, song-driven, American history lesson. I've been a fan ever since, and the timing was perfect for us to team up together."

That timing involves animators, designers and designer/directors getting more and more involved in writing and creating content, as Nadelman proved again at last month's Resfest, with three retro-cool Film Festival trailers, a sort of homage to old-school videogames, featuring a robotic Cyclops playing simple games, via a joystick and a single button, in front of a bank of monitors. "I was addicted to the videogame classics when they came out," says Nadelman, "and they left a lasting impression on me. Games like Ms. Pac Man and Centipede have these levels with color schemes that make your eyeballs vibrate. This kind of exhilaration, induced by color combinations, is something I try to apply in my work."

And he had the freedom to do just that; "There was no brief at all," says Nadelman. "The only thing Resfest requested was the multiple trailer idea. With that, it was up to me to concept. I came back to them with the idea of a control room, a 'master controller,' and the potential for multiple scenarios to play out on the bank of screens. They accepted, and then I submitted very loose scripts. After that, I was on my own; they didn't see the trailers until they were completely finished. You can see that Resfest puts a lot of trust in their commissioned artists."

"Designers are innovative opportunity-solvers who sometimes approach these opportunities in surprisingly oblique ways," adds Winkler of the Resfest project. "Film festival attendees sit through the same opening title sequence for every screening; seen once or twice, it's not an issue. But over multiple screenings, this is known as fest fatigue. Stefan solved this problem for Resfest by doing three title sequences for the price of one-using the same character and intro, he told three very different stories."

Another recent project, this one for PBS' Art 21: Art in the Twenty-First Century series, from New York design boutique Interspectacular (which is repped by Curious), presents much the same situation. "Interspectacular was given an almost absurdly open brief: make four different openings for four specials about art, each with a different theme," recounts Winkler. "They selected a completely different approach for each show." The compelling celeb-driven opens, featuring David Alan Grier, Isabella Rossellini, Sam Waterston and Grant Hill, range from comedy to outright artsiness, and, again, don't involve an ad agency. "Some of this is budget driven; the lower the budget the higher the creative latitude," notes Winkler.

"There are certainly more opportunities available, depending on what your core strengths are as a creative/design shop," says Interspectacular co-founder/CD Michael Uman. "We've been lucky to have some projects where our partners have given us a lot of freedom in these areas. When PBS came to us for the Art 21 project, they put everything into our hands: production, creative concepting, writing and directing. We looked at this as a great opportunity to use our other skills as creatives-not to rely solely on animation and design but directing and storytelling as well. Even most of our agency clients have come to us with a very general notion of what they're looking for and have relied heavily on us for the creative solutions.

"We're currently creating eight short films for Volkswagen through Curious and Arnold Worldwide," Uman continues. "It's a very similar situation to the PBS project, where the writing and concepts are coming from us and Arnold is giving us free reign to create these shorts how we see fit. Our solutions will continue to incorporate a broad range of storytelling, from design and animation to live action."

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