Creative Connections: Insights for the new normal
to keep our creative community connected, inspired and supported.
Times are uncertain and with feelings of separation high, we want to know how you are staying plugged in, what is keeping you creative and what may be getting in the way?
Jason Cook from Flavor answered:
Please give a brief introduction to yourself and/or studio. Please include where you are located and how many people are on your team.
My name is Jason Cook. I am the creative director of the LA office of Flavor. While Flavor LA has relatively few full-time staff members, we are honored to be given leading and key supporting roles on many of the company’s most exciting projects happening in key markets across the U.S. The team here has an amazing depth of experience – and while we’re humble and always learning, we also feel very confident that our capabilities are virtually unlimited.
How are you?
I’m good! Busy AF!
How is work and the pace of your projects? Busier, same, slower?
It’s been really interesting actually. There were big questions about how we would manage with everyone working from home, and I am pleased to report that not only did we adapt quickly and effortlessly, we’ve been super busy with projects from the jump. I have to hand it to my team for being so up for the challenge of changing how we do EVERYTHING literally overnight. There were challenges in the beginning, but everyone has managed with professionalism and inspiration… and I think objectively we are doing some of our best work right now.
What are you working on?
We have just delivered the whole graphics package for The 2020 AICP Post Awards Show (see video above). This was 29 category and winner interstitial animations, a live-action open, and an 8 minute end credit sequence – all based on the theme of weird science experiments. This has all come together working remotely via our U.S. offices in just 6 weeks. Pretty remarkable.
Concurrently, we just wrapped a new CG campaign with our friends at Campbells for V8. Also doing a pretty big multi-spot cel animation campaign that is really awesome. Lots going on, pitches coming in, and the phone hasn’t stopped ringing, which is a great thing.
Do you typically work remotely? If so, what tips do you have for newbies?
We have traditionally been an in-studio shop. This is all a big new world for us.
How is remote work going?
Like all things, dealing with outside forces that are out of our control requires adaptation. We have to stay at home, but we also have to continue creating work that delivers on-time and exceeds clients expectations. Obviously, having to change our methods of working remotely shouldn’t affect the output. So yes, there was definitely a learning curve at the start, but we were all up for and inspired by the challenge. Our IT and engineering departments were integral in the roll-out of the WFH protocols and system.
Are you keeping traditional office hours? Is your team all in the same time zone?
Our team is quite literally all over the map in the US. With offices in LA, Chicago, Detroit and New York, we are operating on all time zones at the same time. We typically do a 10hr day – same as before.
What apps are keeping you connected to your team?
Some things we adopted quickly were using the G suite to hold meetings, brief new projects and do critiques. Google Chat for messaging, and Miro boards for a creative war room.
How many video calls do you average per day right now?
Calls > getting stuff done.
How do you stay focused when working from home?
Strong discipline and planning out your day are good habits to get through tasks in any scenario. The biggest challenge I have had is the inordinately larger number of “meetings.” These can range from a video chat to discuss work, to an “all hands” office meeting, to client calls on existing projects and new ones. I don’t know if it’s a result of working from home, but it feels like I am always on a call of some sort all day and that makes it harder to get my own work done. Just responding to chat messages alone can take hours. I finally had to implement “cave time” which was a couple 2 hour blocks of time that I was off grid and unreachable. This helped my own productivity immensely.
What is your biggest distraction when working remotely?
Our dogs. Love. To. Bark. At. All. The. Things.
When you feel stuck, or need inspiration, what are your go-to’s?
There’s a process to good creative and it’s something that I can always fall back on when I am in a rut. For me it’s all about finding the “way in” – which is the device or story that I can leverage to help communicate an idea. This all comes from doing meticulous research into the subject matter and finding clues I can exploit and use as seeds to grow into a real concept. I am not a fan of eye candy for the sake of visual flair, rather I think stronger creative should be purposeful and connected to a larger idea. This is how I approach all the work we do at Flavor. The process to get there is always rooted in conceptual thinking and a strong design sensibility. Once we land on that idea, we always do a ton of research into different visual languages that can cover everything from editorial design, 3D, to illustration, films and cinematography, etc., depending on the context. If we follow the process of research by asking the right questions and looking at the solutions through a design lens, the answer is always there under the surface just waiting to be discovered.
When viewing a project, what do you notice first? Any pet-peeves? What things do you love?
I really try to look at every project as an opportunity to level up the creative and transcend the expectations of the client. So I love that feeling of potential and that it’s metaphorically the first steps on a journey. Going in I always hope for the best, but I’ve been doing this long enough to know that not every project is going to be easy. There are so many variables that come into play that we must navigate, and it’s our job to do so professionally and be the best partner through the process. Pet peeves would be getting creative that is clearly not thought through, and being handed a live hand grenade to deal with. Interestingly, these types of projects really keep you on your toes and push your abilities to yield wonderful results, but they are rarely easy.
What Studio, Designer, Artist (dead or alive) would you want to have a Zoom meeting with?
Herb Lubalin. I’d love to have him share his screen and just watch him draw letterforms. He’s by far one of my favorite designers.
How do you quiet your inner critic?
I actually think having an inner critic is essential to checking myself and ensuring I do my best work. As artists we always need to be objective about what we create. Is this the best representation of the idea? How can I make this better? We are often at the mercy of the clock, schedule and budget. These things can be death to a creative process. I am mostly never satisfied by the time the bell rings and we need to put pencils down. I always want to push things until they break and then push harder if it serves a better solution. I am never afraid to start again. Personally, I celebrate my inner critic because it pushes me to better solutions.
Can you share a failure and what you learned from it?
First time I directed a live action shoot I was all nerves. I questioned every decision, and the actors could smell my fear. Let’s just say it went poorly. With every failure there is always a teaching moment, something we can grab hold of to pick us up and get back on our feet. What I came away with was I wasn’t prepared at all. I was too green and naive to think I had it all under control. “Preparation is confidence.”
What inspired you to get into this business? Was there a particular movie, commercial, animation, artist, music video, book, etc.?
Title sequence for the film SE7EN. It blew my mind. I was in high school and went to see it with my dad, and I knew right then I wanted to do “that thing” even though I didn’t exactly know what that thing was yet. I just was so viscerally pulled into the world of the film with that opening that it truly inspired me to learn everything I could about main title design.
What can we learn and take from this current situation?
A lot. Firstly that as artists we are truly resilient and can still find inspiration in the most dire of circumstances. A global pandemic for example! There’s this paradigm shift happening where the way we thought we had to work has been proven false; the long-held idea that we all needed to be together in an office to be productive has evolved into something quite new and interesting. We have shown it’s not the brick and mortar holding us together but rather our passion and dedication to the craft. This common goal transcends the old way I came up in, and opens the doors into exciting new ways that are full of potential. We were put into this situation by forces beyond our control, but we can adapt and evolve and come out the other end (whatever that looks like) even stronger.
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Where do you see our industry’s future?
Our industry feels like it’s at a crossroads. Live action production has fallen off dramatically. We are seeing more opportunities to produce animated versions of live action scripts, which is cool and all, but a completely different beast. One does not necessarily equate to the other. We have been seeing budgets rising but of course we are delivering more now too for social media aspect ratios and the like. There’s a lot of uncertainty out there because of COVID-19, and we as an industry will need to continue to change with the tide and navigate whatever the future holds. Big questions for me are what does an office look like when we finally get to return? Does each artist get their own office? Masks seem like a given until we get a reliable vaccine. The days of the big room with lots of people seem over now. Larger teams will likely have to work remotely. It’s all a big question mark, with many challenges to overcome.
What are you streaming / watching / reading / podcasting?
Lots of Netflix-ing these days. Nothing to write home about. Currently reading On Writing by Stephen King and Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson.
What is your “go-to” song? And give us some backstory if inclined.
My music tastes are all over the place but I do have a go-to composer I listen to when I am doing writing either personally or for work, like design or director’s treatments etc. Film scores by Cliff Martinez really get me in the zone to write and it always just flows.
What is something you are incorporating into your daily routine that brings some joy or comfort?
What are you grateful for?
In this context, I am really truly grateful to do what I do and get paid for it. I’ve carved out a career (close to 20 years now) where I have had a ton of ups and downs. Through it all, I thankfully continue to grow, and learn and evolve. I am a much better creative today than I was yesterday because I am like a sponge ingesting all kinds of stimuli and experiences and then applying it all to how I will do things tomorrow. To me that embodies inspiration, and I am grateful to have so many opportunities to grow as an artist, designer, director, and storyteller. It feels like there is still a ton of potential ahead.
If you had a mantra right now, what would it be?
Would you rather give up bathing for a month or give up the internet for a month?
Seeing as I need internet for WFH needs, gonna have to give up the bathing.
Favorite movie that takes place in outer space?
2001: A Space Odyssey
Favorite Tom Cruise movie?
Risky Business, Collateral, Tropic Thunder
What phrase do you use “on the regular”?
Best live experience (Concert, play, festival, etc.)?
Radiohead at the Hollywood Bowl in 2008. My Gawdddd… Daft Punk live in Tokyo in ‘06. I was one of the tallest people in the crowd! Pretty surreal. :)
What game have you spent the most hours playing?
Assassin’s Creed Odyssey. It never ends.
I am playing Control right now which feels way more balanced in terms of game play and story. There’s so much to love about the design of that game.
Can you take a picture of your current workspace, as is (don’t tidy it up!)?
Any practices that help ground you generally, or during times like these?
I’m not doing it as often as I should these days, but meditation is always really helpful to stay grounded.
Favorite quarantine meal, or snack?
Gummy bears. Always gummy bears.
After this global experience comes to a close, any changes you want to see made? Any lasting personal or professional changes you anticipate?
I’m looking forward to collectively figuring whatever the new normal is, embracing it and moving forward, together.
Anything else? Want to share your latest project, event, or news?
Flavor will be dropping our new website in the next couple of months. It’s a huge update with a ton of great new work. Please keep an eye out!
This was really fun and a nice little break from the work. I hope everyone is staying safe and inspired out there. Keep pushing!