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Conversations on Design with Beat Baudenbacher

January 4, 2016

Last month, Austin Shaw, professor of Motion Media Design at SCAD, published Design for Motion: Fundamentals and Techniques of Motion Design, a book exploring the fundamentals and techniques of motion design, including work by and conversations with industry leaders, including our very own Chief Creative Officer, Beat Baudenbacher. You can read the entire interview below, as well as see some of our work that was included in the book, which is available for purchase through Amazon.com.

Austin Shaw’s conversation with Beat Baudenbacher, Chief Creative Officer:

What is your art & design background?

My mom is an artist, so I grew up drawing, painting, and making stuff with her all the time. I didn’t think there was a career in art, so I was going to study Economics for some strange reason. One day my dad, who is a surgeon, came back from a conference with a catalogue from Art Center. I looked at it and it was awesome. At the time, Art Center had a Swiss campus. I spent a summer putting together a portfolio of stuff, and I got accepted. It was sort of by chance, but I feel like everything led up to that. I finished at Art Center in Pasadena, CA. I came to New York in 1998, and I had studied Graphics and Communication Design but hadn’t done any motion at all. Design studios were gobbling up people out of school and throwing them at motion design. It was a sink or swim kind of thing, and that is how I fell into this industry. I thought it was really exciting, that you get to tell stories. You get to figure out how to get from point A to point B, as opposed to working on one static image.

How did your graphic design training prepare you for motion design?

Composition, layout, how you construct a frame, your focal point, how to use your diagonals, and the anatomy of a frame; I think that is where Swiss graphic design is really helpful. Whether it is complex or not, super graphic shapes or a complex CG environment, the main principles still apply. Even in a very complex world, you still need one focal point. I feel like a lot of pure motion designers fall a little short, because they don’t have the traditional design foundation. Things can get pretty messy if you don’t know those rules and guidelines.

How did you learn about storytelling?

I had taken filmmaking classes, and I had written screenplays. The basic structure of how to construct a story, I took from that. So if you have 5 or 10 seconds, in many ways it is still a three-act structure. You have an introduction, development, and then a conclusion. I took those from filmmaking and applied them to design and visual storytelling. The visual aspect was instinctual, but the intellectual approach to storytelling came from filmmaking. At some point, you need to learn how to put that stuff into words, as well. I think writing is very useful in this business.

How do you approach concept development?

I think a lot of people jump to the Internet a little too fast these days. It’s a great tool, but I don’t think it entirely replaces sitting down and trying to figure out what you want to say, or what your concept is. Research, inspiration, thinking about it, writing stuff down, and the act of doing it. Sitting down and making frames is where I tend to find the narrative.

Where do you find inspiration?

One of the reasons I like living in New York is you have so much visual stimulation everyday. I try to pay attention to my surroundings. I take a lot of pictures. I try to find inspiration from real life more than from digital catalogues of stuff. It’s not always that easy.

Do you have suggestions for young designers?

Don’t let technology overpower or overshadow the simplicity of a good idea. It’s easy to get caught up in software. You can think you need to learn everything and do everything. But, at the end of the day, a great idea can be more powerful than knowing all the software in the world.

I think it’s really important that people who come into this business still find time for their own creative pursuits. Find ways to do your own work. I see so many frustrated designers and animators in this industry who have been doing this for a long time. They make too much money not to do this anymore, but they are frustrated. At the end of the day, we are creative people who go into this business thinking we have something to say and something to share. I think small pockets of time to experiment, to do your own thing, be your own client, is super important. The creative services industry is an on-demand business. You are being forced to create on-demand constantly. If you don’t have the time to play, to experiment, and to fail, you never have time to recharge your batteries to be creative on-demand!

Do you have suggestions for creating a successful company?

You need a vision of what you are trying to do, and stick with that. My vision was always to be a place that does many different things, to never get pigeonholed into one thing. Looking at all the stuff we are doing now, that has come true in many ways. A lot of it is strategy, directing live-action, branding, and story-telling on a much larger scale. Have a vision and go for it, and realize that it is a marathon, not a sprint.

Do you have any design heroes?

When I was in college, David Carson was huge. Looking at RAYGUN, it was something totally new and different. Tomato was really big, too. They were a huge influence on me.

What would you be if you weren’t a designer?

I am not sure because this really brings all my skills and interests together. I was on my way to study economics. If I hadn’t found or discovered design as a profession, I probably would have gone on to that, but it would have been mostly because I felt like I had to, or out of default.

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