Interview: LAMBO brings the RAD

Working out the logo
A sketch for the Coke “Oh Yeah” spot
Style frame for Fox College Sports
Characters for the Coke “Bubbles” spot

Motionographer recently had the pleasure of doing an e-mail interview with Justin Harder, who along with PJ Wilson, is the co-founder of Venice-based LAMBO. (Mr. Harder likes his caps.) From the moment of its birth, people have been talking about LAMBO’s potential and feverishly downloading their work.

Why? Largely because of Justin Harder, whose work has inspired many people to enter the field of motion and take their game to the next level—just as Justin did about seven years ago, when motion graphics as we know it today was just beginning to bloom.

Can you give us a little background about yourself? How did you get into motion design? How long have you been doing it?

I began my path in print/packaging at Art Center College of RAD, before there was any such path leading into what we now call Motion. There, I was fortunate to have learned all the crucial knowledge about traditional graphic design and who my predecessors were and what not.

Art Center juiced me up with all the confidence I needed to be a commercial designer while keeping me savvy to what my expectations should be and more or less a lot of talking about talking, which in some cases does work in the real world, i.e. this interview…

But what got me into moving stuff was quite simple. I had a love for still traditions, and highly valued the secret rules of design that were imperative in creating a self-sustaining composition. A composition that didn’t require lights or sounds or movement. I think once I truly appreciated this divine concept and the many layers it disciplined, I realized that I wanted more. I wanted to the take the ideals of a still composition and make it move.

It sounds so contrived and overly intellectual to explain this, but really it boils down to being able to truly understand the values of a still. Once you’ve got that down, then you’re ready to move. It’s like a mechanic turned race car driver. You gotta know all the aspects you’re dealing with before you can move ahead—or in this case have multiple frames continuously moving under your control. A series of compositions that all need to be as interesting as the one previously shown to the split frame we’re seeing now to the next one we’re about see.

This range of control and flexibility that you get with all these frames is infinite. Which is why we love it and hate it. Sometimes it’s just nice to look at a still image and wonder, but it’s also nice to have a plethora of ever-changing frames working like gears moving you along a fixed thought that is less open for interpretation than what you may have analyzed from a simple still. Something of a next level Gutenberg galaxy on crack. I guess you could say that’s what attracts me to this A.D.D. world of MOTION POTION.

And to answer your last question, I have been doing it long enough to go on rambling tangents like this one that maybe five people can really can understand—so like since ‘99.

What made you decide to start Lambo with PJ? Were you headed in a direction that you didn’t like?

It was an easy move to make. PJ had a solid business plan with the necessary resources required to have a successful startup. The timing was perfect, considering I was in search of a change. PJ also had the best intentions of seeing eye to eye with me creatively and was willing to duel it out and take a ride on a very ambitious adventure of creating something different and unique without compromising the big picture of making this place real. It’s not easy going into business in the first place.

It’s rare that you have two individuals that can meet in the middle and work together, utilizing each other’s skills to build something amazing. It’s been a very enlightening experience and we are extremely grateful, and could only dream of this ever happening two years ago. Since day one, we both have been very happy with the direction that LAMBO is heading, and it’s only going to get better.

How much stress was involved in setting up Lambo with PJ?

There have been some stressful moments for us, but that just comes with starting a company. When you spend every single day with the same person, there are going to be times that you want to go crazy, for sure. At the same time though, the stress and the hard moments totally make success that much better.

Where’d the name Lambo come from, by the way?

To be totally honest, PJ and I had been thinking about company names for months, trying to find that one name that sounded big, yet familiar in a family kind of way. Almost like an Italian last name. We actually bought French and Italian dictionaries trying to miraculously come across a name. Until one day, we were walking through the parking lot of some posh, over-priced restaurant that we were gonna burn down with our project mayhem buds, when we noticed there were more Lamborghinis than any other car in the lot. Kinda like when you’re at a city college campus and see like 4000 hondas and a mini van. I instantly screamed out "LAMBO," and it stuck ever since.

So with that said, we aren’t partial in being represented by Lamborghini; I would prefer a Ferrari or a Bugatti any day. It was just the foundation for discovering our name. The true meaning of what Lambo means is a reference to a fictional animal of our creation possessing the finesse of a lamb, fused with the f*%$ up mentality of Rambo. A wolf in lambs clothing if you will. Obviously, we’re making our own line of plush toys. So watch out for the reversible LAMBOLF™ animal hitting the streets soon.

Lambo recently joined The Ashy Agency‘s roster. Why did PJ and you decide to do that?

Big money bribes never seem to hurt and can make any difficult decision seem very easy and carefree. JK

Aside from all the luxurious offers and celebrity gift bags we have received from the world, nothing compares to the undivided attention that the Ashy Agency will provide LAMBO. Brett and Meredith’s combination of social brilliance, fused with their energy and knowledge of this business makes us feel very comfortable with their representation.

How much are you still involved in the execution of work, i.e. do you work on boards/concept/design and then get freelancers to execute the rest?

My creative involvement is as strong as ever. I will never lose focus of that. I would like to relieve myself of the animating process a little more, due to its time consumption, but other than that, I am the same guy. Just because I am an owner of a company doesn’t mean I’m not gonna work any more.

Yes, we could hire a grip of freelancers that work for all the other companies and kick back, reaping the benefits of labor. But then you have a grip of freelancers that share styles from other studios and everything starts looking the same. Not to knock the freelancer game—it goes back to freemasons and I’m cool with that—I did it for a little bit. But for the better good of LAMBO my sole intentions are to eventually have a solid internal staff that works here as a daily team.

What part of the proccess do you like the most: concepting, storyboards, R&D or execution of a job? What part do you dislike the most?

I think I speak for the majority out there, that when you have that first idea/concept you can’t wait or think about anything else until it comes to life. You spend the duration of the building period hanging over every little detail, torturing yourself to finish with success.

So for me, the most enjoyable part of the process would be the initial brain fuck all the way to the shoot, if there is one. And then I let masochism take over from there on out. Good ideas are rewarding. Good execution is satisfaction. Art is a drug and self-gratifying and seems only to count when shared. But the one who matters the most, is yourself, therefore allowing such art to be seen.

What are some of your favorite projects that you’ve worked on?

The recent Coke stuff we did was fun. Definitely the cell animation for the “Oh Yeah Version 2.” Any of the VH1s. I especially favor the recent Vidal Sassoon spot for its simplicity and style.

But more importantly in terms of projects would be the mass construction we have built here at our studio. It’s been an intense process. We went from being designer/animators to interior decorating architects. One of our ambitious adventures was building a photo stage that takes up a substantial space of our studio, which we call the Psycove™. As well we built a spaceship-sound studio for our sound division, Sounds Red™. All this goodness under one modestly sized roof in Venice, California. It’s been a fun and very rewarding ride thus far, and we hope to continue the RAD as far as we can take it.

You indicated in your 2004 Ventilate interview that you wanted to get into live action. Has that ambition been realized? Is live action something you’re still interested in?

Oh it’s on! The Pyscove™ is starring me down right now actually. Got our space lights and in-house distro package ready to rock. We broke its cherry a couple months ago. It’s currently green right now, which BTW is not so cool to look at every day—gotta paint it back to white soon.

Do you ever feel like stepping away from mograph work and focusing more on purely illustration, print or something else creative?

I actually designed a light during our construction process called the LAMPO™, which I would love to make more of and sell for like a hundred grand to princes with castles.

You really can’t say you would only illustrate or do strictly print after having such media move in the past. But we do love a good STILL. Here we call them STILLIONS™.

Do you have much time to work on personal projects? If so, what do you have cooking now?

We have a Lambomercial actually marinating right now, as well a Soviet music video in the works. And last but not least, we are internally developing a surf film called RASH™, spawning from the TV show MASH, based on a 70’s war theme that crosses over with our modern day current events in the middle east. And like a million other things…

Whose motion work inspires you or makes you think, "I wish I had done that?"

There is this new guy you gotta look out for, his name is LEXEL MEXEL™. Also our new friend Leah Chun is super talented, watch out for her. 72 & Sunny is RAD. I respect what LOGAN is doing. There is definitely some good stuff going on over at Umeric. Vibin’ the dimensional type over at DSTRUKT. And that guy PES is super-inspirational—I love the un-conventionalism in his decision-making. Very clever indeed. Also our Jedi-ninja master neighbor friend KUDO is pretty dope too.

Do you have any advice for students or designers just getting started?

Learn your STILLS and you will be a STILLIONaire. Always work in an expensive designer chair. Don’t rhyme unless you have to. Never stop until you get your way.

If you’re in school, refrain from doing too many end tags. Try some original stuff, don’t hold back, do something fun and different, something incredibly wild and fucked up that you can only do in school. Because inevitably you will end up having to do some end tags anyway, so hold out as long as you can.

And just a final note, I would like to give special thanks to all who have made LAMBO what it is. Kurt Miller, Pierre Nobile, Keith Ruggiero, Chad Towersey, Jerome, Dean, Brady, Clay, Pete, and Linz.