How did you get started in interactive design? Growing up, I wanted to be a 2-D animator for Disney. But when I went to college to study animation, I was introduced to Macromedia Flash. I was blown away by it. I had way more fun making my drawings interactive, and I loved the animation process in Flash versus drawing 2-D animation on paper. From there, I was introduced to coding and that opened up the possibilities for my imagination in web design. I interned at a web design agency in Savannah, Georgia, and had a blast during the Wild West, trailblazing web design days of the early 2000s.
How did you learn the skills necessary to transition from developing Flash websites to creating mobile apps and games? The day that Steve Jobs posted his open letter “Thoughts on Flash” in 2010, I knew Flash was dead and I needed to quickly move into the app market. At that point I was mostly a developer, so I was excited to jump back into user interface design. I immediately bought a MacBook Air, installed Xcode and started learning how to make apps. After a painful learning curve, I developed my first app, Countdown to Retirement.
I also made a special “miniresume” website in HTML5, which I customized and sent to a handful of app makers I wanted to work for. I was fortunate enough to get my first app user interface design job at a company called Zuuka where I had a blast making storybook apps for Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 and a handful of other beautiful projects for Sony Pictures Animation and DreamWorks. I haven’t stopped creating apps; although lately, I’ve been doing a lot more illustration.
Your work spans design, illustration, animation and development. How do you approach these different fields? Each of these fields has a different starting point and end goal, but ultimately, with visual arts, it always comes down to my gut feeling: Do I like it? Does it feel right? Something I’ve noticed about my animation process is that I have to “listen” to the animation visually. I have synesthesia, so I find myself tweaking animation until the “sound” of the movement feels right. It’s a bit odd, but it works! Coding, on the other hand, is way more precise and organized, and requires step-by-step thinking to reach the goal. I really enjoy both sides of the coin.
When and why did you decide to go freelance? I decided to take the leap of faith and work for myself in 2006. I had no debt, very cheap rent and nothing to lose. I moved to New York after a year of freelancing in Houston, Texas, and things really took off from there. At this point, I’ve been freelancing for the majority of my career and I love it. I love jumping around from project to project, client to client. Things never get boring, that’s for sure!
When and how did you get started at Disney? I was living in New York and looking to move to California, so I started applying for jobs out there. I had a few friends in Los Angeles who “knew a guy that knew a guy,” and they sent my portfolio around to people in the industry. I was able to get my foot in the door at Disney and was flown out for an interview to be the art director for a brand new children’s educational product, which turned out to be Disney Imagicademy. It was a life-long dream coming true before my eyes and I was pinching myself during the entire interview process.
What insights did you take away from launching the Disney Imagicademy brand when you worked at Disney? We were like a startup within Disney. We built the plane as we were flying it, and I learned a lot about how to manage schedules, a team and stress levels. The biggest takeaway I have from launching that brand is that when you’re working in a company as large as Disney, there are many pieces to the puzzle that are beyond your control. But if you’re doing good work, treating people with respect and making sure you’re laughing every day, then you’ll be successful. It was a wild ride, and I’m thankful for the continued relationships I have with the great people on that team.
What is the biggest challenge in designing products whose audience is primarily children? Creating something that is easy to understand and use with little or no instruction. It’s also important to avoid using too many complicated gestures when creating apps for very young children, like three-year-olds. I’ve found that tap and drag motions, as well as complicated menu systems with multiple directions of scrolling content, can be challenging for younger users.
What is your favorite app to use? Mostly Instagram, but excluding social media, my favorite app would have to be Cut the Rope: Magic. It sets the bar for artwork, animation and overall quality. I’m also a sucker for cute, casual games.
Whose work do you love and look to for inspiration? Pascal Campion, Jake Parker and Levi Prewitt are a few of the artists in my ever-growing inspiration list. Pascal Campion’s work always helps me remember how powerful story is in an image and that it doesn’t have to be complicated. Jake Parker has been an inspiration for me for more than fifteen years. I love his imagination, his drive as an artist and his overall character as a human being. Levi Prewitt’s work is clean, precise and beautifully simple. Watching the videos of his marker work is hypnotic.
What emerging technologies and innovations will have the biggest impact on how you create in the next few years? I’m sure virtual reality and augmented reality will be in my future. I’m also very curious about artificial intelligence, and I’m trying to figure out how to participate in that space.
What would be your dream assignment? I would love to do character design work for a feature film or television show or design a wine bottle label at some point. But I’m fortunate enough to say that all my dreams have been accomplished to the point where I’m satisfied.