From Costco supervisor to computational artist, Albert Omoss blazes his own path

Still from "Plug Party 2k3" by Albert Omoss

Still from “Plug Party 2k3” by Albert Omoss

In the early days of my career, I bought into something I now call “The Myth of the Rockstar.” It goes like this:

You are born with innate talent. You spend your childhood exploring this talent, following your bliss, defining your dreams. You go to the best art school, and you are the envy of all the students.

You graduate and work in a top studio. You quickly rise through the ranks, and you are the envy of all your colleagues. Eventually, you leave to start your own studio, which is wildly successful in a matter of months. You are the envy of all the studios.

Your latter years are measured in trophies, monographs and frequent flyer miles from all the keynotes you give at design conferences. Some decades later, you die a legend. Which means you never really die.

That’s how The Rockstar Myth goes. There are, I suppose, a handful people who have actually lived this myth verbatim. But in truth, it’s a composite of thousands of people’s journeys, a romanticized montage of personal potential rendered as a flawless projection.

In other words, it’s bullshit.

A real journey is a beautiful mess

It seemed that Albert Omoss was following the path of the Rockstar — in the beginning, at least. At a very young age, he knew he liked working with computers, and he followed that passion with gusto.

But then things went sideways.

Albert’s journey, like so many journeys, is inspiring precisely because it deviates from the yellow brick road to success. It’s messy and honest and shot through with hardship. Yes, it includes landing a job at beloved studio Buck, but it’s so much more than that.

Read on and see if you relate.

Albert’s story, in his own words

I’ve been computer programming since I was 8 years old. It was always my favorite thing to do. I would make simple games and needed to make graphics for the games, so I would explore all sorts of graphics software, but never really considered myself a designer or artist, even though I loved to draw. I enjoyed making graphics, but thought at the time that it was all in service of my programming projects.

My high school had an amazing computer science program. That was the first time I got formal training in the field. In all my other classes, I would just draw pictures in my notebook.

When I graduated high school, I went to a university for computer science and just hated it. I was bored and frustrated having to relearn everything I had been learning since I was a child. I also realized I didn’t just want to program; I wanted to do something more creative. I never went to class and basically wound up failing out of school. The whole experience made me question going to college or working in the field of computer science at all.

Pushing carts at Costco

My parents were very upset. They wouldn’t let me move back home. I returned to my high school job of working at a dry cleaners. Eventually, I decided to try to get a job at Costco, mostly because it seemed like more of a career.

One of Costco's 649 locations (not the one where Albert worked). Source: Wikimedia Commons

One of Costco’s 649 locations (not the one where Albert worked). Source: Wikimedia Commons

I worked there for 3 years. Moving from pushing carts in the parking-lot up to being a supervisor. I was making decent money for a 21 year old, but it just wasn’t fulfilling for me. I tried to apply for a programming job at corporate, but they wanted someone with a CS degree.

I think that was around the time I discovered Motionographer. I think it was in 2007. I had always been aware of motion graphics on TV and in Film UI, but didn’t know what it was even called at the time. It seemed like the perfect field for me to blend my technical skills with my creative passion.

I searched online and found a school called Ex’pression in Emeryville, California, which was one of the only schools I could find that had a Bachelors degree program for Motion Graphic Design.

I gave my notice at Costco and immediately moved to the bay area to attend Ex’pression. I thought I was following my passion but was still unsure of my choice to abandon the career I had built.

Tragedy strikes

Three months after starting school, my younger sister, Erin, who was an amazing artist, died in a car accident. It completely destroyed my world and devastated our family. I wanted to move back home to be with my parents, but they insisted Erin would have wanted me to continue pursuing my passion for art and design.

Feeling that incredible weight on my shoulders, I poured my entire soul into the craft. Every waking moment was dedicated to learning and creating. I just wanted to be the best, and to make up for all the work my sister would never get to create.

Beginning at Buck

I spent a lot of time outside of school working on personal projects. I was trying to craft the perfect reel so I could secure a good job right out of school.

I wound up landing an internship at Buck, and the rest is history. They hired me as a staff employee and I’ve been working there ever since. It’s been more than four years now.

"Starting in 2010 I began designing and implementing artist tools at Buck. In the years since I've developed numerous tools and software systems integral to the production process."

“Starting in 2010 I began designing and implementing artist tools at Buck. In the years since I’ve developed numerous tools and software systems integral to the production process.”

I started out doing mostly After Effects and C4D animation. Now I mostly architect the pipeline, program tools, and do FX on any spots that need it. My official title is Creative Technologist.

Design vs art

I think that designing for commercials is not really for me. Companies typically want their commercials to be light, fun, and easily digestible. For me, the most compelling work has usually been the exact opposite of that.

I like to experiment with a wider spectrum of emotional complexity in my personal creative work. It seems to me that everyone, no matter what they do, has the desire to express themselves through some act of creation. In this industry, it’s very easy to get confused into thinking you’re fulfilling that need to create when you design for a client.

It took me several years working in commercials to realize that to truly satisfy my need to create I would need to do personal work outside of my regular day-job. When there is no client involved, you have a lot more freedom to create something emotionally authentic. I guess, for me, that’s what separates design from art.

Design is for a client, art is for your soul.

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About the author

Justin Cone

/ justincone.com
Together with Carlos El Asmar, Justin co-founded Motionographer and F5. He currently lives in Austin, Texas with is wife, son and fluffball of a dog. Before taking on Motionographer full-time, Justin worked in various capacities at Psyop, NBC-Universal, Apple, Adobe and SCAD.

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  • Very inspiring. Thanks for sharing!

    • maybe so but its depressing to know that he think you cant combine art and design on the job, because unless you absolutely love computers, you don’t wanna spend your entire life in front of one

  • Awesome story, man. Your ideals and drive are very inspiring!

  • Great interview!

  • not sure my last comment posted. Great article! Thank you for sharing.

  • Great piece!

  • Love the unconventional journey.

  • So that’s who’s keeping the computer wheels greased. Love it Albert!

  • who else read this article because the word costco was in the title? *raises hand* i’m glad i did tho!

    • There’s something weirdly alluring about Costco. I think it’s the 3-gallon jars of peanut butter.

  • “Design is for a client, art is for your soul.”

    This, unfortunately, is also a myth much like the “Rockstar”.

    • Could you elaborate a little, Casimir?

    • That quote really hit the nail on the head for me and seems like a basic truth revealed! What’s your problem with it, Casimir?

      • Well as soon as we remember that some of the most important pieces of art ever made were commissioned by clients Alberts claim that ‘Design is for a client Art is for the soul’ begins to need some explaining.

        I think Mendell & Oberer’s thought that “Design ist Kunst, die sich nützlich macht” (design is art that makes itself useful) is probably the most helpful definition to use when trying to have a conversation about what differentiates art and design.

        Great feature though guys. Love reading this stuff.

        • He clearly stated “for me”, which implies he’s talking about his own experience, working in present day. He’s not talking about artists working centuries ago. Plus, how can you know whether those artists were fulfilled creating those pieces? The historical ‘importance’ of the art is never mentioned in this piece, only the artist’s fulfillment in creating it. You’re taking one line completely out of context.

          • Yeah good point, I think you’re right. The quote is out of context when you ignore the paragraph before it.

            Also you’re right in that I have no idea wether artists are satisfied taking commissions just like I can’t comment on the fulfilment of designers creating client work (other than myself). You’re also right about that the historical importance of art was never mentioned.

            Do you think the line needs some explaining as it started this thread of comments? To me “Design is for a client” seems like a shallow definition of design butI could be wrong and i’m probably reading too much into this. Art ≠ Design is an interesting topic.

          • c_lopez

            You will never get to the end of this dialectic between art and design. There is always an exception to any finite argument that attempts to isolate the meaning of one or the other. Design is actually a sub category of art. Great design requires an awareness of aesthetics and this awareness has a profound relationship with art-making. The main difference between design and fine art is arguably CONTEXT – The why, what, where and how this awareness of aesthetics is applied; In a gallery, on a wall, on a business card, on a website, on groovy 3d mograph animation, on a print, on a audio recording, in a film, or on sculpture etc etc etc…

  • He clearly stated “for me”, which implies he’s talking about his own experience, working in present day. He’s not talking about artists working centuries ago. Plus, how can you know whether those artists were fulfilled creating those pieces? The historical ‘importance’ of the art is never mentioned in this piece, only the artist’s fulfillment in creating it. You’re taking one line completely out of context.

  • I loved this story, thank you for making me realize I am still on the path I want to be on :)
    I will keep working hard.

  • Such a wonderfully inspiring story! Please, more content like this on Motionographer!

    • Thanks for the feedback! We’ll try to bring you more stories like this in the future.

  • awesome

  • This is incredible. After high school I was aggressively steered away from the arts, and went to a state school. Then at 26 with no background in the arts I moved to New York and began to teach myself design and animation, two years later I’m finishing up my first motion graphics internship. But it’s been isolating to a degree, and I have felt lonely in the fact that I lack this shared experience of my peers — working through art school, learning craft.

    It gives me hope if I keep working I can make beautiful work — it’s neat to be unconventional.

    Thank you.