Motionographer’s Jon Saunders interviewed Andre Stringer and Jose Gomez, founders of bi-coast design studio Shilo, about their company’s genesis and its future. Shilo also shared some inside info on their latest project, "The War."
For more info and goodies from Shilo’s projects, visit We Make It Good.
Behind the curtain
Jon Saunders: Both of you guys have interesting background stories before the formation of Shilo; Jose, you had already created a footwear company called Adio Footwear and had a lot of experience in branding. Andre, you had a serious start with film production before joining the Digital Kitchen crew.
When you two came together to form Shilo, how do you think these different backgrounds influenced your design philosophy of "design infused storytelling" that is the backbone of your company?
Andre: Yeah, for sure. I mean, I feel like everything you do in some way continues to influence your decisions, your tastes, your interests. I feel like we each had a little different take on things, but enough of a similar take to work together.
I mean, I remember seeing Jose at a San Diego skateboard trade show, and this was like in ’94 or ’95, and he was art directing and designing all the stuff for his skateboard company Rhythm at the time. Being a designer, but mostly a skateboarder then, I was pretty intrigued by someone really putting his design to use in a broader, more public way. Everyone in skateboarding knew his work. His audience wasn’t just designers you know, but mostly the skateboard publicâ€”kinda like Evan Hecox. Everyone could appreciate someone doing something really different.
But I felt like he was really getting out there and doing his thing. I didn’t even formally meet him for a few more years, but I have really distinct memories of that. But back then we were doing really different things.
[To Jose] The shit you were doing was so far ahead of the traditional skateboard approachâ€”it had real production value and cool design concepts. But I think by the time we met, enough of the culture was pushing us into a crash courseâ€”like later on while you were doing Adio (a skateboard shoe company), everyone was like, "You have to come work with Jose, I think you and him would really work well together." But we were 3k+ miles apart and really still doing totally different things.
Jose: You’re totally right. At that point, I was working a lot in graphic and product design and you were doing mostly TV and film stuff. That’s pretty different for sure. I was definitely a fan of Open Transport (a hip-Hop documentary Andre directed with Cassidy Gearhart) and was a fan of your work.
But that’s one of the sickest things about cultural movements, especially skateboarding, cause you’re always out and about. You get to meet really different people from really different backgrounds. It’s been a big influence in our work being part of that sub-culture and that creative mentality has really been part of our success, I think.
Also we were lucky that the Adio video came about at that time, because it really was just a fluke that we ended up doing that project. I remember Andre was taking weeks off at the network where he worked at the time to come to San Diego and make some magic happen. That was the first project we worked on together, and really the inception of Shilo. It was a pretty cool skateboard filmâ€”pretty fucking different.
A: Now… I think we feel the same way about all the crew that works with us. We’re all so different but share a little something that makes us all excited about similar enough things. All people that have come to work with us over the years are so interesting. And really so different. It’s fascinating. I’ve loved that about working in different cities and with different people in different places in the past. Cassidy Gearhart, Mike Young and Mike Cina, Darrin Wiener, Nando, The Vitamin guys, Josh Bodnar and Dade. Those guys have all really been cool to meet and work with. And now are definitely great friends of ours.
J: Definitely. For me it was my friends that I grew up with like Andy Howell, Kinsey, Chris Miller, Shepherd and all the guys at Graphic Havoc. They were a BIG influence on the way I do work now. I mean nothing’s better than working alongside your friends and learning new things from each other.
A: Back to the question though, I think the juxtaposition of our different interests made us slightly unique for sure. The fact that you were doing so much in big-picture branding and were in the skateboard industry where you really couldn’t afford to "miss the mark" and design something that would eat shit. And I was in the turn and burn network and broadcast commercial side of things… Doing really more filmmaking than designing, I think that really gave us a bigger picture point of view. When we first started doing the work as Shilo, we’d already found a voice in directing spotsâ€”we just needed the opportunities to really capitalize on.
On that, did you feel that a "motion graphics company" was the best approach as a company to convey this philosophy (if you would even put Shilo under that category)? Do you still feel the same way?
J: You know, we’ve always been pretty sensitive to the "Motion Graphics" title. We undeniably have fallen into that category but I’m not sure it fully describes what we do. I think we get pretty passionate about things that are interesting to us. And we just start running down a pathâ€”whether it’s live-action or character animation, whatever. We’ve gotten excited about a lot of different things over the past few years, and I think a lot of our design background shows through in our work, even if we’re not consciously trying to put it out there. And at the end of the day we always pick the path thatâ€™s going to best tell the story.
A: But I think we’ve always wanted to pursue more live-action work. When we first started, we tried to turn every design job into a live-action job. That was fun. Doing really ghetto shoots and lots and lots of composite-based work. But really we just wanted to tell stories, and design seemed really familiar and potent to us.
3D and character animation became fun to do the more we learned about it and we were all getting pretty good at it. We started doing more because it was a pretty cool medium to do the same things we were interested in doing in live-action work. But after doing lots of it, you really begin to miss the actors and the uniqueness that humanity brings to the mix, it’s pretty spontaneous.
But I remember when we were writing on the Cingular Blackjack spot, the brief was pretty open and there was a pinprick in time where we had to make the decision to do animated hands or live-action. We did animated. Thus… you reap what you sow. Anyways, I think we really feel that labels are limiting in general. We just like to make great work no matter what “categoryâ€? it falls in.
The term "motion graphics" seems to be getting more and more blurred these days with the incoming flux of companies and the older companies shifting and evolving. Being a company that is pretty well planted in this industry but never quite "in" it, what is your opinion on the motion graphics badge that seems to blanket a wide range of companies?
A: It’s definitely somewhat of a generalization and some of the companies that are on the periphery are definitely out-growing the label if it’s at all possible. At the same time, it’s sometimes really hard for me to differentiate one company from another out there. It’s pretty commonplace for multiple "Companies" to have the same work on their reel. That’s confusing to me.
J: When we started our studio, we really made a VERY conscious effort to work from a blank slate. To create Shilo from scratch with none of the work form our past lives on the reel. It is a bitch, but better in the long run in my opinion.
There has been an explosive growth that you have experienced, going from just a couple of guys working on the side to an award winning bi-coastal firm in a small amount of time. How have you handled this expansion? If it keeps on snowballing it could become a very large-scale operation. Are there any future plans for Shilo, any goals that you would want to achieve? Anything you would want to avoid?
J: I don’t think we’ve ever pictured Shilo being ridiculously big. We’ve just wanted to do better work and sometimes that means working with more and better people in order to get there. We’ve really taken baby steps compared to most of the other operations out there really. We started this ourselves, completely independent, and that has made all the little successes even more meaningful.
The success of the company has been amazing. I’m really thankful for that but we just want to make sure it’s always a place our clients will want to come back to andâ€”even more importantly for meâ€”always having it be a place where our crew can have fun doing their best work. For us, it’s more about quality than quantity.
A: We donâ€™t have any business objectives to get to a certain “tier of growth.â€? I think we really are just interested in elevating our craft. Making cooler shit and trying to get it out there to world. I feel like we really have only scratched the surface of what we want to do creatively.
AVA "The War"
Do you mind giving us a little background to this project? Where did it come from? What was your conceptual thinking at the start.
J: A friend of mine, Tom Delonge, was starting a new band and he wanted us to help put some visuals to his concepts in his music. It was pretty cool, he was sitting around writing loads of new songs, and he would talk to us about what he was thinking. We were making the piece at the same time he was making the music. Before he finished the record, we pretty much finished this little film. It’s really rooted in our discussions with him. We were getting into ideas of conformity and the human imagination. It was pretty deep, but really pretty positive.
A: The concepts in the song were broad enough for us to kinda free-associate. Work from one point and develop something completely different from it. We really looked at the work as more of an attempt at visual poetry. We explored a lot of social themes of politics, war, and the corporate world. Each scene was a glimpse into a small pocket of human experience: courage, fear, and hope. We are going to have a bunch of behind the scenes stuff and other imagery and info on the piece up on our gallery site, wemakeitgood.com.
This project is a perfect example of Shilo’s kind of polished yet wonderfully surreal work. I know that you may not want to be branded in any way, but do you find that companies come to you for this type of work?
A: Not as often as you would like, for sure!
J: We’ve really tried to push our projects. Give our clients opportunities to make work that is even more interesting than they originally picture. Maybe make them see what’s really possible.
A: I’ve always felt like that is definitely our responsibility.
This piece looks to have taken some serious production and planning. What were some of the biggest obstacles you faced with a project like this?
A: You know, this piece took us a pretty long while to make, not because it was extremely hard to produce, but because we invested a lot of our time in really finding the right things to make. We also weren’t really rushing. We were having fun making it and letting ourselves have the freedom to do something different. That’s one reason I think we’ve always gravitated to making non-client, non-traditional type of work from time to timeâ€” you can really let yourself get into the work. It’s really fun.
J: That also can be your biggest problem too. There isn’t a predefined script or marketing objective just you and your thoughts. That can be daunting.
You guys run a bi-coastal company that seems to function as a single unit. This must be a cumbersome feat, especially with a high production job like this. Do you have any methods for creating cohesion between the two offices on a single production?
A: You know, we started doing the work together and truly enjoyed the input of the other. And as time progressed we really came to embrace the process of making work. We have cool ways of working across the country. AIM, video chatting, a grip of emails. We do lots of traveling back and forth too. But honestly we don’t really get to do as much work as one unit as much as we would like. But when we do it’s always really cool. It’s just hard for all of us to be on one job. That would be a big fucking team!
J: Ahahahah…. Yeah… Anyway… To your point about cohesion, I think a great development process is always a good starting point. Really thinking about the work before you start making it is super helpful. Then by the time you get down to making things move or shooting it or whatever, it’s already almost done. And you know when it comes to developing ideas and concepts, thatâ€™s when we shine as a bi-coastal team we’ve really fine tuned it over the years and it’s been so important for us as a company.
I wish you guys all the best, and can’t wait to see what is down the road for you.
A: Can we shamelessly plug our book and gallery website at the end of this interview? Wemakeitgood.com will have a bunch of behind the scenes and extra imagery up on lots of projects.
J: Hells yeah!
We Make It Good (gallery site)
Link to book sale on YouWork ForThem