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What I Learned from Pixar and Marvel Artists at Industry Giants 2012

Industry Giant 2012 RecapAs many you know, the Big Design Conference is a very open experience.  You will see speakers from other design disciplines: strategy, web design, content, mobile design, software development, game design, usability, industrial design, sustainability, psychology, and more.  For the Big Design organizers, we believe that the collaboration of different design disciplines are what creates a truly memorable user experience.

This type of collaborative design between different design disciplines is something you really see with film design. Any cartoon, movie, sit-com, commercial, or animated short will include collaboration between these designers–costume design, special effects, set design, lighting, sound effects, editing, musical composition, and so on.  In this respect, film design is an example of collaborative design.

In other words, “Film Design” is Big Design.

Industry Giants 2012 Keynote

Industry Giants is an animation, gaming, and special effects conference in Dallas.  The conference is organized by A Bunch of Short Guys, which is an animation guild that provides educational resources for Visual Creators.  At this year’s conference, speakers came from Pixar, Disney, Marvel, and ILM.  These artists worked on animation and special effects for these movies: Toy Story, Spider-man, Wall-E, Transformers, Up, X-men, Ratatouille, Marvel’s Avengers, Cars, King Kong, Rango, and Sin City.

Here are some lessons learned (and how you can apply them to your UX discipline).

Lessons for UX Design: Lighting the Pixar Way by Chris Fowler

Chris Fowler

Chris Fowler (Pixar Canada) was the opening keynote speaker.  Chris talked about how Pixar uses light and shadows to improve their storytelling experience.  In some cases, Chris explained that light and shadows take on a secondary role in a scene.  Pixar uses light and shadows to help set up a background or lead the viewer’s eye to (or away from) a certain focal point.  Chris showed several examples of this technique and how it impacts a specific scene in Toy Story, Cars, and Up.

For a UX designer, it reminds me of how we build pages to lead the user down a web form.  We want our customers to go through a user journey, which is something like a scene in a bigger web site experience.  Plus, we use colorful buttons, rounded corners, color schemes, shades, shading, and so on to guide our customer’s eyes specific ways on our sites and apps.

Chris also talked about how light and shadow can set the mood.  In some cases, light and shadow become a character in the story.  Chris explained how the eyes of Wall-E were critical because they showed these small white orbs “of innocence” in a futuristic Earth filled with garbage, filth, and dirt.  The eyes of the central character became his soul, which gave Wall-E his personality and his human-ness.

For a UX designer, I was reminded of how we use light to animate certain objects.  Your cell phone lights up.  You tap a green button on your tablet or mobile, which changes color.  You flip through the “pages” on an iPad book, where the interaction is really a manipulation of light and shadow.  Video games really play (pun intended) with light, shadow, and movement to create virtual worlds.

While Chris Fowler is a film designer, I was inspired by his talk.  I saw a ‘brother of a different design mother.”  I want Chris to be a keynote speaker at Big Design Conference 2013.  I hope that he accepts.  His talk was great!

Lessons for UX Design: Portfolio Survival Guide by Ed Mendez

Ed MendezEd Mendez (Dive Visual) has worked on some great films, including King Kong,Constantine, Fantastic Four, Sin City, and The Last Airbender.  Ed really focused on the importance of your online portfolio and developing your professional network for special effects professionals.  Ed talked about how you should seek out a professional’s opinion for your portfolio rather than relying on your friends.  Ed explained that professionals will give you insights into things they want, possible leads for a future job, and trends that will be affecting the industry.  Your portfolio never goes away in the film industry, as movies and cartoons do live have a lasting legacy.

While your portfolio is an initial conversation with a potential client, your network really helps you to get jobs in the special effects and animation industries.  If you go to a school that teaches for illustrators, cartoonists, and special effects, Ed’s advice is to maintain your friendships.  Ed told a great story about how he just knew which of his fellow students would make it in the industry.  These students would study harder, work harder, and commit to their craft.

When he went to school, these students would submit their homework one week.  After a few weeks, these same students would clean up their homework and submit it into film competitions.  If they won a film competition, their initial homework (now, competition winning work) would be in their portfolio.  Ed explained that he knew of some of these hard workers, who would go on to work on Academy Award winning movies.

Industry Giants 2012 Panel

Within the special effects industry, your network becomes your life line to getting work.  As one large shops expands, people will call their friends from school, past jobs, and professional groups.  You will want to keep up with your school friend’s on Linked-in and Facebook, too.

For UX Designers, Ed’s talk about portfolios and networking is familiar because we all know we should do these things.  It was different because of some of their channels are unique.  For example, special effects professionals will have a portfolio reel, but these designers need to have their Internet Movie Database (IMDB) profile up to date to show their work history.  IMDB is beyond a typical web design portfolio.  For UX Designers, Linked-in and Facebook TImeline can be used to show your work.

As you can see, Ed Mendez has extensive experience in films and TV.  At the top of his IMDB page, you might notice that Ed has won a Primetime Emmy, which was for his work on HBO’s John Adams mini-series.

Ed Mendez's IMDB profile

According to Ed, your online presence as a film designer should include an updated IMDB profile, a personal website, and a film reel to showcase your work (especially, for visual effects designers).  Ed also talked about the importance of Twitter, Linked-in, and Facebook for social communication, especially when your current project is winding down.

Finally, Ed’s talk about networking offers some great examples for UX Designers.  Your school friends have probably won awards, need help on a project, or work at some great agency.  These school connections can be your next job opportunity.  Like Chris Fowler’s talk on lighting at Pixar, Ed Mendez’s talk on portfolios and networking was delivered by “another brother of a different design mother.”

What Did You Learn Dorothy?

I was a bit like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz this past weekend.  I went to a foreign land and met some incredible people (who actually built incredible creatures that you might find in Oz).  I went to Artist Alley, which had books, posters, creatures, and other oddities for sale.

I played with film design technology like Z-brush, which is used for digital sculpting.  I watched a demo of ToonBoom, which is an animation platform beyond Flash.  I talked with the Artist, who had actually drawn the Hulk for this summer’s Avengers movie.

What did I learn?

Film Designers use light and shadow to aid in storytelling.  They sketch, re-sketch, and mash-up in similar ways to UX designers.  Paper, pencil, and brushes are used in their creations.  They are an open group with very playful and colorful artists.

Logo Scan from Industry Giants 2012

Film Designers are deeply invested in their creations.  Their characters move well beyond a typical persona from the UX industry.  Their creations are very real to the artists, who invest so much time, energy, and passion in them.

I want to encourage you to attend Industry Giants in the future.  You will be inspired and amazed by our “brothers of a different mother.”



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