Impactist: Nerdmask and Open Your Face and Make Words Q&A

This Q&A was conducted by Michelle Higa and Bran Dougherty-Johnson for Motionographer.

These two new films Nerdmask and Open Your Face And Make Words are promos for your new EP of original music, also titled OYFAMW, which in turn was inspired by a collection of short stories that you wrote. What’s the impetus behind all this self-initiated creative work for you?

We wish we had a more exciting answer, but we are pretty simple and this is just what we like to do professionally and personally. As our creative interests span a few areas, they easily incorporate into our lives. Even when we’re not officially working, it’s easy to tote cameras, play instruments, lay down paint, or sketch story or technical ideas while living our lives. The difference between self-initiated projects and commissioned work is really just a technicality for us as we still put in just as much effort and focus into it all. Like any others in similar fields, it can be a bit of a compulsion. Our backgrounds and interests in the fine arts probably have a lot to do with this. The taught practice of continually creating and outputting work was instilled in our younger years by mentors and teachers and is a hard one to shake off.
We work a lot, but we’re all trying to find the balance, aren’t we? Seeing as we are married and share the same interests, it only serves to amplify and mutually encourage both of us to keep creating. Not to be completely corny, but we really are lucky to have found each other as any normal person wouldn’t want to hear about any of this stuff. Laugh!

The mixed-media and collage-based approach to OYFAMW is really energetic! It blends a bunch of the different styles that you work in together: photographs, hand-drawn shapes, rotating objects and lots and lots of paper-like texture. And Nerdmask is a consistent style of illustration and animation that is obliquely narrative. Did you pursue both directions as sort of an antidote to each other?
We enjoy combining real elements with all the wonderful digital tools we all have access to these days which both these pieces show, but they were only created in response to the particular tracks and not necessarily aware of each other. However, we like the antidote idea you mention since a lot of things can happen that we’re unaware of when we’re deep in it.
Yes, we do like paper. It’s a familiar tool and so versatile. It’s textural, sculptural, useful for mattes, or purely as color fields itself. Like every other material and piece of equipment, there is so much variety that you can’t help but feel spoiled these days. Even just with regards to cameras, we still shoot film along side digital. Our second refrigerator still remains filled with stock ranging from standard 35 and medium format, to super8 cartridges and instant photo packs. They are all just options that we are fortunate to be able to choose from.
We do love the tools we have and appreciate how they help us, but we really try to look past them and focus on what we’re trying to achieve in a given piece.

In addition to the wide range of mediums you work in (animation, music, photography, writing), there is a lot of variation in terms of technique (hand-drawn illustrations, sequential still photographs, even crafting 3-dimensional wooden book covers). What draws you to a one style or another as you’re working on these projects?
Obviously, there are certain techniques and aesthetic likes and dislikes everyone develops over the years, but because every project is different, they each deserve their own unique approach or at least an advancement of an existing one that’s appropriate. That core concept, story, or reference that a project has at the start is what drives the production and not the other way around. We don’t find ourselves ever trying to force a technique, but we do spend a fair amount of time testing and developing different approaches. This is probably where it feels most like work for us, when you’re trying to get all your ideas to come together and perform in the real world and not just on paper. We can come up with ideas all day long, but when you’re involved on the front end as much as the back, well, you better be sure what you propose will be successful. Much of our commissioned work requires this of us, to not only develop the story or further refine an idea, but perform these proof-of-concept motion tests for our clients and for ourselves.

Much of your work involves science, the supernatural and sci-fi themes, yet has a very hand-crafted look. How do those two influences come together for you?
Yeah, we noticed a bit of that as well. What’s the deal with us? Laugh! Not to be coy at all, but in reality some of the projects you’re likely referring to weren’t created with any sci-fi themes in mind at all. Parallelostory, though involving ideas of the multiverse and the characters being cosmologists, was really just created as a little melancholy relationship story that paced well with the music. Sometimes we can really relish spending time in a slower pace project. The music track Leo’s Song was actually written with a neighborhood cat in mind, which yes, we do know is probably just plain weird. But, what can we say? We enjoy cats from time to time. The story of the animated piece that followed has been extrapolated by some to be an oversimplified statement on war and cultural differences, but again we just wrote and animated a story that we liked and felt very relatable in tone to us.
We wouldn’t say we’re consumers of sci-fi films or stories in any sizable amount, but the classic themes that the genre tends to focus on are ones we can all find interest in. If we look deep enough, we can certainly admit to being influenced by media like the Twilight Zone and the Outer Limits. More of the Bradbury and Matheson side of things.
The handcrafted look in certain pieces is a product of the materials and their use. Much of it is indeed hand crafting and manual animation rather than writing scripts or employing automated plugins.

Can you talk a little about your process? Both in creating these new films and also in general, how do you work together?
Our process is generally pretty free flowing. Individually, we have our own strengths, but we are both equally capable and comfortable with all aspects of production. It’s kind of nebulous in that we seem to naturally take over certain parts of a project and then the other person fills in or refines what else needs to be tended to. Like water finding its own level. We don’t have job titles between ourselves. When we find the groove of a project, our brains seem to find a way to lump together and a sort of design intuition forms which keeps us pretty darn efficient.
With these specific projects, the album was crafted first. Each track has its own initial inspiration, but as they are worked out, we expand further and further until we feel we’ve found what we’re after.
These two particular projects have visuals that differ in their execution, but both began the same way with lots of scribbles in paper notebooks. Rough drawings and written notes serve more or less as quick reminders that are easy to glance at and keep us on track. We have stacks of notebooks filled with similar project notes. Tabletop workspaces and the immediate area around our computers witness an ebb and flow of paper tides when we are in the middle of a project. From those ideas, we begin finding materials or shooting footage, ready them for import, and then begin laying down a rough timeline so we know time-wise what we have to work within. From there it’s just getting through the piece, moment by moment, and watching for those unexpected surprises and mistakes that turn into treasures we couldn’t have possibly anticipated, but are fully ready to exploit.
The freedom of noncommissioned work permits us to take these leaps and explore these ideas. In turn, it’s these projects with their varied styles and alternative concepts that has attracted clients to ourselves for project opportunities.

A few years back you were repped by Hornet, Inc. but are now working independently. Can you talk a little about the difference between working for a production company and working for yourself? Are you still doing commercial work?
Yes, we were signed with Hornet a few years ago. We met some really great people during our time with them, some who may still be there and others who have since gone on to other endeavors. There really hasn’t been too much difference being unsigned, because even when signed we were still freelance directors funding and initiating all our own noncommissioned work while pitching on commercial projects when we were listed under a directorial roster. We know some production companies have different arrangements with their directors where there is more ownership and collaboration, but we haven’t yet had the pleasure of that type of relationship. That being said, we’d love to find and are always on the lookout for collaborators that can enthusiastically fill that production side of the business and be an engaged co-conspirator with us while possessing the skills to help push our work forward. We do a lot, but as just two people, we can’t do it all.
As two stereotypically coffee addicted Oregonians, the worst thing Hornet ever did was introduce us to the Porto Rico coffee shop around the corner from their New York location. We have a permanent scent-memory of the air inside forged into our brains. So delicious, yet so far from Portland! Such a tease. Yes, we still do commercial work. Lately, we’ve been doing more art direction and music licensing which we don’t exhibit on our site. And, as everyone knows, there are those projects you work for months on with agencies and clients only to have them go away for one reason or another. We find that pitches and materials created for projects that were not awarded can be rather depressing, so we opt not to publish them on our website for the sake of the mental health of those who browse our site. Laugh!

Any future projects you’d like to talk about? When can we buy a Parallelostory double-sided art book? (kidding)
A Parallelostory book! We’d love to get one of those, too! But, of course you know it already exists in an alternate dimension, authored by Delly and Kaniel. Sorry, but we know someone would’ve interjected a multiverse related comment if we didn’t.
We are still in Portland after intending to have moved outwards and upwards for the last few months, but have had projects come up that have delayed that progress. A problem we’re sure many can relate to. In the coming year, we’re focused on relocating to New York City and finding a home for our future creative endeavors that’s filled with like-minded individuals.
In the immediate future, there will be the release of an additional EP of music entitled Hello Neighbor that will be available after Christmas. It will be a free download for a limited time on our site and announced on our blog. We think of it as a small little holiday gift from us in response to all the incredibly kind and talented people who have taken the time to email us with encouraging words regarding our work. We really do appreciate that genuinely nice side of the internet and would like to release some positivity into the ether as well.
We appreciate the interest and opportunity to share a bit about ourselves and our work. We wish Motionographer and its readers very happy holidays and nothing but the best in 2010.