Alex Weil is the award-winning founder and owner of New York-based studio Charlex. As a designer, storyteller and technical pioneer, Weil has delivered breakthrough moments in digital image-making for over thirty years. He was a motion graphics frontiersman before the industry even had a name. Nowhere is this more evident than in his innovative 1984 music video "You Might Think," for The Cars (in which Ric Ocasek stars as a fly), which won the first ever Best Music Video Award on MTV. In 2006 Weil produced his first film, a ten-minute short titled One Rat Short which achieved worldwide acclaim including a slot on the Academy Awards shortlist. Weil recently completed his latest film, ShapeShifter, a winding journey through a whimsical world where the fabric of dreams is challenged and visualized.
A Multiplex Called Home
If you have a degree in what field is it? I have an SYDO from Johns Hopkins University. That can only be earned by dropping out in one’s senior year. Eventually, however, they put me on the cover of their alumni magazine for the work that Charlex did in helping to pioneer electronic graphics and effects. That made my parents feel a whole lot better.... and also fueled my young ego.
Which designer (or studio), other than yours, do you most admire? I admire any work by any studio that can “pull you into the screen,” have you “experience the story” and blow you away with technique—work that leaves you thinking, “I don’t quite know what I just saw but I like it and I want to see it again.” That said, my one word answer is Psyop.
What’s the strangest request you've received from a client? Once a client said to me “Take this unlimited budget and pretty much all the time you want to just make something great.” I’m just kidding, that didn’t really happen. (Actually it did... one time back in the ’80s.)
If you weren’t working as a designer what would you be doing? I’m more of an orchestra leader than a designer so I guess I would hope to be conducting symphonies, or heading up a fashion label, or being a head chef in restaurant, or a policeman or fireman.
What well-known identity is most desperately in need of a redesign? Microsoft. It seems like it was never designed to begin with so it represents a tremendous opportunity. It has no visual past and such a confusing actual identity that it would be a very interesting challenge. It would be interesting to see if design could influence the public’s perception of this mammoth concern.
From where do your best ideas originate? Dostoyevsky wrote Crime and Punishment because he was behind on his rent and didn’t want to get evicted. So rent is always a reason. But the ideas seem to come when I’m under pressure and I wake up in the middle of the night to pee. In the absence of rent or urination I rely on theft.
How do you overcome a creative block? In the past I would begin by destroying my personal life and then turning to work as my salvation. More recently I’ve started to worry less about it. I’ll try starting at the end of an idea... or at the beginning... or even in the middle. Just start anywhere and work from there to connect the pieces. Then I return to my personal life, which has great meaning to me.
What’s your dream project (not client, but project)? A simple film: Unknown actors. A hand-held camera. A great story that’s well scripted, acted, edited and scored. No graphics. No effects.
Do you have creative outlets other than design/animation? Yes, when I’m not designing animation I like animating design. Seriously though I watch movies 24/7. I live in a multiplex that I call “home.”
What’s your approach to balancing work and life? I’ll have to get back to you on that one; I’m too busy working right now.
What product/gadget can you not live without? Snood. Endless, ceaseless, rude Snood.
What's your favorite quote? “That which does not kill us will make us stronger.” —Friedrich Nietzsche
Do you have any advice for people just entering the profession? 1. Try to remember how lucky you are to be in such a rewarding and creative field. 2. Know what you’re trying to communicate—then communicate it. 3. Laugh a lot and go to the gym.
What’s one thing you wish you knew when you started your career? How little I knew when I started my career.