Will Johnson (left) and William Campbell (right), also known as “The Wills,” are the co-creative directors and co-founders of Los Angeles-based creative studio Gentleman Scholar. The duo attended the Savannah College of Art and Design, graduating together and going on to collaborate on a number of award-winning projects at different studios around Los Angeles. In 2010 they founded Gentleman Scholar, assembling a group of solution-driven artists with experience in strategy, live-action production, animation, digital and print. Their clients include Toyota, The Cosmopolitan Hotel of Las Vegas, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Target.
How did you discover you wanted to be in this field? WJ: Short-form storytelling has always been a part of me. I fell in love with comics and adventure movies from the ’80s and ’90s. I was obsessed with the way these stories came to life, the processes behind them.
WC: Remember the Budweiser frogs? I was fifteen years old when I saw that spot. That was the moment I saw an artistry in commercials; the short-form story with a quick sentiment and a look that you’re unable to take your eyes off. Commercials are a very tight box. Creating something amazing while playing just to the edges of the box is really satisfying.
How did you get your first job? WJ: I worked tirelessly to sell myself as an artist, and I learned which places and people I wanted to work with. The concept of selling yourself has such a negative connotation, but it was something I loved and embraced. It forced me to trim the fat of my identity and get down to what made me distinct and valuable. I couldn’t hide my faults, so I had to make them benefit both myself and my employer.
WC: In college I worked for a local commercial production studio, and I mean local. It was a pretty easy job to get, but it was terrifying—it was basically a one-man show. I was making spots start-to-finish in one day, including laying them off to tape and labeling them. It was a great way to get familiar with the crazy speed of commercial production.
What excites you about motion/animation right now? WJ: The cross-pollination of 2-D and 3-D techniques. Our industry is evolving to the point where we are using specific animation language to build stories for brands and products, rather than throwing the kitchen sink at them. People are becoming more educated on good style and design, and the same goes for animation and motion.
WC: Making people emote. It is an honorable cause, even if it’s just a tiny feeling. You can create an emotion with a single frame or even with the absence of frames. That is the challenge and the fun.
What emerging technologies and innovations will have the biggest impact on how you create in the next few years? WJ: Mobile, mobile, mobile. The formats, the content, everything we’re used to will have to be readjusted to fit within the confines of our pockets.
WC: I am excited to see how 3-D printing bridges the gap between our digital skills and the real world. As computer-based artists, we have a bevy of skills that are suddenly becoming tangible. Translating how we think about spatial design and movement into the real world is going to create some really exciting results.
What has been the biggest challenge of working together over so many years? WJ: The competitive spirit. This has been one of our biggest advantages as well. We are both supremely competitive in nearly everything we do, with each other and with the outside world. It has driven us since the beginning, even in our pre-Gentleman Scholar days, going head-to-head on pitches and finding out, through trial by fire, the best ways to collaborate. Being stubborn and competitive has pushed us to be better at everything we do, and to learn from each other in every facet of our industry.
How does working with someone you know so well influence the work you produce? WJ: We’ve spent years learning where each of us excels and struggles. The ability to say anything and let yourself be vulnerable takes time, but it’s something we’ve practiced and are always eager to do.
WC: When you have a creative partner, you have a creative confidence that is rare. We can take risks in a way we couldn’t otherwise. It allows us to create free of fear.
What personal/pro-bono creative projects are you working on, if any? WJ: We’re working with the creatives at Motionpoems to help bring a poet’s words to life. It’s a great project that has given us a lot of stylistic and storytelling liberty.
WC: We also just wrapped up a spot for the WDC (Whale and Dolphin Conservation) called “Safe & Free.” It was incredibly rewarding to work for a good cause, and the spot was based on a personal experience I had with a whale. Its pure size was so impressive, and it was amazing to express that experience through design and storytelling.