New Blacklist director Matt Smithson talks about his past experiences, his dreams for the future, and his latest project with Blacklist for IBM.
Smithson has expertly combined years of experience in printmaking, animation, design and film to form a unique and signature style that’s all his own. His handiwork has graced the campaigns of Nike, Google, IBM, Volvo, Showtime and Nokia -- to name only a few -- and his videos have screened at numerous festivals worldwide. He’s been on exhibit at the Smithsonian Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, recognized by the ASIFAs, won at The One Show and was recipient of the prestigious ADC Young Guns Awards in 2009.
Read the Q&A with Smithson, below, where he talks about his past experiences, his dreams for the future, and his latest project with Blacklist for IBM.
How did you get your start?
I got into painting during High School and, after graduating, continued exploring it at the College of Charleston. I also studied printmaking while I was there and messed around a bit with animation. I really liked the blend of design and filmmaking and started combining all these efforts to create little films on the side, trying to find a way to mix my drawings and paintings with video and storytelling. After undergrad I started researching VFX as a next step and discovered motion graphics. It was the perfect platform to tell some fun stories and put my characters into action, so I continued on to SCAD.
How would you describe your design aesthetic?
My designs have always been driven by my drawings. I enjoy exploring various disciplines, taking inspiration from both illustration and graphic design sources, and tend to use a rougher, hand drawn style. But my drawings always come first, and I still aim to have fun with them, adding odd ghost characters wherever I can.
What was it like working on the IBM “5in5” campaign?
This job was a blast. I collaborated with a few other designers on this campaign and together we finessed the characters and environments until we finalized the look. Everyone, including the client, seemed to be on the same page from beginning to end — it was a great experience. I’m looking forward to other great projects like this with Blacklist.
How do geometric shapes play a role in your projects?
I like to use patterns as the foundation of my work — it’s kind of what I’ve been experimenting with lately in my Boxes in Boxes project. Objects as simple as triangles or squares have been taken to great lengths in art and the challenge to redefine their limitations is interesting to me. There’s just something fulfilling about it.
And what of your dream catalogue?
There’s a point when you’re falling asleep - like you’re falling through all these layers of subconscious - and, if you’re paying attention, you can train your brain to remember the random things that come up. Over the years I’ve gotten good at waking myself up to write them down. I think I must have about 10 books of these scribblings by now.
I often use these as a starting point for my art. Ever since I was a little kid I would draw on the pages of books, print over the words - really just create art all over. So I like to catalogue the dreams in this style. It is a fun challenge to take an odd sentence captured in a dream state and re-interpret it in drawing or animation. It’s a long term, work in progress.
What was it like creating the “Girl Effect” film?
I feel lucky that I was able to direct the first “Girl Effect” film. We wanted to find the right tone and create something uncomplicated but compelling and really grab the viewer. The process was to keep things simple and let the words and message drive the piece.
It was an amazing experience that made me realize I could work on jobs that were fun to produce while still communicating a deeper sense of intent and meaning. These types of projects always reward the do-gooder in me.