Read Part I: Meet Joyce N. Ho, here.
So you've met Joyce N. Ho, right? Art director and motion designer, New York-based, one of The Art of the Title's 10 Women in Title Design for 2018? Good. So you'd also know for her latest project — the Semi Permanent opening titles — she’s assembled a global team of designers, sound engineers and creative minds for an ambitious exercise in cross-continental collaboration. Considering this project is being run entirely through Dropbox, we thought it would be fun to interview the whole team (who span countries and disciplines) over Dropbox Paper — a collaborative online document for sharing ideas.
Why do you think you were chosen to work on the Semi Permanent title project?
Nicolas: Joyce’s longtime collaborator and friend Alex (Gee) had recently moved to Toronto and introduced us to Vegemite, which I believe is the ultimate rite of passage for Australian friendship. Once we passed the Vegemite test, he recommended us to Joyce and we all have Australian accents now.
Rafael: As Nic said, we passed the Vegemite test ;)
Somei: I feel very lucky to participate in this project, especially with some artists I’ve admired for a long time. I guess Joyce choose me because some of my past work matched her concept of this project!
Mercy: Undying love and friendship? I got to see her process on the Likeminds title sequence from style frames to finished product, and it was a joy to get a small insight behind the scenes of how smart and considered she is when creating a piece. The treatment for the Semi Permanent titles was more thoughtful than pitches I’ve seen at a lot of major studios in NY and I could not wait to be a part of it.
William: I think Joyce and I have a similar visual aesthetic. We basically met on Instagram and developed a mutual interest in each other’s work. There’s something about her design style that is both technical and whimsical. I jumped at the chance to work with her.
Ambrose: Mercy told Joyce that my work was awesome and Joyce believed her.
Davy: I think a lot of my work shared similar visual references to the brief. I’m hugely inspired by the strangeness, beauty, and micro-details in the natural world which I think is something Joyce picked up on. Also, most of my motion work is live action, so it can be interesting to combine that with more digital or CGI elements, blurring the line between what’s real and what is not. I’ve been a big fan of Joyce’s work and the others on the team for a long time, so I was thrilled to be asked to be a part of the project!
Joel: Joyce and I have been around each other in the NYC motion scene. I was, and am, excited to collaborate with her on any project I get the opportunity to. We had just started considering ways to collaborate when the opportunity came around for Joyce to take on these titles.
Alex: Joyce and I worked together for 5 years in Australia before moving abroad and you could say we have a good feel for each others’ rhythm.
Joyce: There’s only a handful of times in your professional life that you get the freedom to assemble a team like this one. They were chosen because they each had a strength that could bring something truly unique and different to the titles, while still having style and a point of view as designers that would feel cohesive as a single piece of work. It was an absolute joy to have the opportunity to invite all these super talented people as my collaborators.
We’re experimenting with how type can complement or frame its context. I think it will lead to an interesting duality when everything comes together.Nicolas Girard, Worship
This year’s theme of Semi Permanent is ‘creative tension as inspiration’. How do you overcome creative blocks in your practice?
Nidia: Simply put, I get away from the computer
Somei: I just fool around for a while, try my luck and see if something unexpected happens and if I can get some inspiration from it.
Nicolas: I have the privilege of working with extremely smart and talented designers, artists, and thinkers on most projects. From them, I’ve learned to share progress early and often, don’t hold back, and be as transparent as possible—so that everyone on the team can inspire and motivate each other. Everyone thinks and solves problems differently. Sometimes a kernel of an idea or a sketch from a collaborator can be a breakthrough for someone else.
Mercy: Don’t be afraid to let your work be ugly! As someone who was crippled by a blank canvas, I’ve learned that you have to make a mess in the beginning, throw out as many ideas as possible, and watch how the sparks from the beginning grow over time. Trust and be kind to yourself, and know that it’s all part of the process.
Rafael: I suggest get your body moving, whether it’s running or just stretching. It’ll help get your blood flowing. I find it helps me get over the creative blocks when travelling isn’t an option.
Seeing the skill level of everyone on the team definitely pushed me to work harder, and Joyce was great at keeping the inspiration flowing.Davy Evans
William: I often leave design choices to chance. If I’m looking for the right colour, I’ll scroll through random photos on my phone until something jumps out. If I can’t decide on a composition, I’ll use a random function in a piece of 3D software.
Ambrose: I break down my work into manageable chunks and start with creating a small set of constraints. With music, the easiest constraint you can set is setting a tempo and key. Sometimes I’ll start by literally just singing/imagining what I want the end product to sound like and working backwards to find that tempo. Other times I’ll just try to line up a tempo to the main hits of the visual piece and go from there.
Davy: I agree with Nidia on that one! I think it can be beneficial to get away from the computer from time to time and look for inspiration elsewhere before getting back to work. I like to go back to my hometown in rural west Wales and chill out there, take photos, go for walks, and have a cider.
Workflow wise I find being as free as you can with your work without worrying about making mistakes helps a lot, the happy accidents can play a vital role in a project
Joel: I overcome creative blocks by having faith in the creative process. It doesn’t matter if the first place I start is right or if it takes weeks of pushing the idea, I know that as long as I keep pushing the work, it will get where it needs to be.
Joyce: I’ve been joking that I’ve been living through “creative tension” while directing these titles — so meta! I second what Joel said, I overcome blocks by trusting the process and taking on challenges one at a time. I was given some really great advice lately, “make small decisions well, and they will add up to the whole”.
Alex: I go to the park to watch community baseball. There’s something about seeing junior leaguers overcome minor pitfalls that really throws everything into perspective.
What are the rules to good collaboration? How have you followed them so far throughout this project?
Nidia: Freedom and Deadlines. It may sound like the opposite, but it's good to give freedom to the artist to do what they do best and deadlines to keep everything on track.
Nicolas: Everyone I have worked with in my career has had a different creative process or their own set of rules. But the only universal principle of successful collaboration is good communication. Know your collaborator’s intent, goals, and strengths and make sure they know yours. Have conversations, often. Think out loud. Joyce has made it easy for us to share and discuss through different channels and working folders. Despite working in a few time zones, it’s been very easy to get answers and feedback. Seeing everyone’s progress on a daily basis builds trust and sparks inspiration.
Mercy: Communication, communication, communication. There needs to be trust and honesty on the team, particularly with your own abilities and shortcomings. There’s nothing worse than someone who is overconfident, or over-promises and under-delivers! Fortunately, it was effortless working with Joyce. I have a lot of trust and respect for her as a director, and we had several check in’s to talk about the progress we made on the storyboards to make sure we were still on track.
William: I think the most important rule to constructive collaboration is honesty. Having honest discussions about the work usually leads to the best results.
Ambrose: Honest feedback and direction is pretty key. What helps me the most is focusing on the intent of discussions, both while sharing work and giving/receiving feedback. Rather than picking at specific creative decisions of the work, you can focus on figuring out the motivation behind and the conversation becomes more about how effective that creative decision was in communicating the original intent.
Davy: I think good communication, and allowing the collaborative process to steer the visuals in an unpredictable direction. It can be difficult to predict how things will turn out when combining different skill sets, so it's really exciting to see things develop organically.
Checking in on what everyone was up to on the Dropbox dailies kept me super inspired all the way through, and pushed me to work harder.
Somei: I think the most important thing is communication and trust, and I’m particularly grateful to Joyce for that. Because of the time difference, we were basically upside down so most of the time we communicated by leaving messages. I’m so grateful for her trust and understanding, and thanks to Nidia for helping out with some of my work too!
Joel: Surprise and fresh perspective is the best approach to collaboration. We all can’t do it all and end up getting caught up on just a few aspects of work. Other people are able to see the areas something could improve in and bring their unique approach to it as well.
So far in this project, I have been owning a lot of the shots and I think it will really be elevated when I pass on my files for others to push the work in ways I haven’t been able to.
Alex: As with any relationship, collaborations benefit from observation. If you sit back a little and get a gauge on the needs and wants of the director and team, you’ll find yourself in a good position to offer the right thing at just the right moment.
The only universal principle of successful collaboration is good communication. Know your collaborator’s intent, goals, and strengths and make sure they know yours.Nicolas Girard, Worship
Were you thinking about the other collaborators in this project in your process? If so, how did their work affect your output?
Nidia: I think that having an idea of what everyone else is doing, is a great incentive. Seeing how cool everything was looking made me push myself! (Nidia)
Nicolas: Because each scene is compositionally different, we’ve had to consider everyone’s contribution and how it works with our typography. The name cards have to be interesting enough to last for 30+ speaker names without feeling repetitive. Some of the compositions and scenes are still being worked on, so our tasks and designs will be changing and evolving all the way to the very end. It’s been a challenge to try to do something unique while also letting the beautiful visuals shine. As the piece is coming together, we’re experimenting with how the type can complement or frame its context. I think it will lead to an interesting duality when everything comes together.
William: I designed textures for shapes that were being animated by other designers, so collaboration was always in the back of my mind. I wanted to make work that felt like me, but I was also very aware of the bigger picture.
Davy: Seeing the skill level of everyone on the team definitely pushed me to work harder and Joyce was great at keeping the inspiration flowing and giving me ideas of new things to try when things weren’t working out.
Somei: Yes! I started my work every day by checking the daily folder, which gave me a lot of inspiration to do better.
Joel: With all of us working remotely, there is a sense of… “I hope this is going to feel right with what everyone else is doing”. Having a platform like Dropbox to keep eyes on others work is essential that everyone is constantly influenced by each other.
Alex: As the editor, it’s on me to make sure everybody’s work is showcased in the best light, so I necessarily have to be aware of where everyone is at. At the same time, I think it’s critical to keep enough distance so as to retain an unclouded vision and cut what needs to be cut with conviction.
There’s only a handful of times in your professional life that you get the freedom to assemble a team like this one.Joyce N. Ho
What's the biggest misconception people might have about collaboration? And how do you overcome it?
Nidia: I guess that sometimes it may not be evenly distributed between collaborators, so having an initial conversation to see what each person is interested in doing should help on the project flow as everyone will be happy with their parts.
William: I think the biggest misconception about collaboration is that everyone will have to compromise, in one way or another. One way to avoid this is by giving individual collaborators defined tasks that fit their strengths. This allows each person to 'own' something specific in the project.
Joel: I would say the biggest misconception is the idea that if 'I don’t do it, then it will not get done'. Sometimes that is true, but I really believe that if you give people the chance to influence the work it will be better.
Alex: The biggest misconception about collaboration is the belief that — except for you — everybody else knows what they’re doing.
When you're one part of a much bigger collaborative process, does it change how you approach it?
Nidia: Not much to be honest, as long as everyone is on the same page and doing their best all should go pretty smoothly.
William: As long as I feel like I have creative ownership over my contributions, it doesn’t change my workflow.
Joel: For me, it has been hard to not only consider how I would want this shot to look. Which is where someone like Joyce is so important. She has the holistic view that is consistently pushing the shot from a bigger picture perspective that I don’t have.
Joyce: For this project, absolutely! Because I knew this was going to be a grand collaboration from the start, my prime challenge as the director was coming up with a concept that spoke to the theme of 'creative tension', while also encouraging collaboration between everyone on this diverse team. This meant the concept had to work within a set of restraints from the get-go. For example, I had to embrace the idea of cuts because it would be a logistical nightmare to create a title sequence with seamless transitions between scenes made by different designers.
Alex: Yes. In my private work, I usually strive for 'perfect' and instead end up with 'not done'. On this project, I’m the last runner in a relay and have needed to focus on bringing the team home rather than beating my personal best.
How did you consider the other collaborators in your design process? Or perhaps you didn't at all!
Nidia: We were given from the beginning the overall story and which part each one of us should tackle (in case we found it fit), so I definitely tried to kept my look cohesive with the rest, but still have my take on it =)
Rafael: When approaching the typography, we definitely took into consideration what the other collaborators were working on. We tried to create a typeface that would complement the work while having strong and unique characteristics on its own.
William: I was inspired by all the 'dailies' that I saw the other collaborators posting. I think some of the decisions I saw other people making subtly influenced my approach. Again, I wanted things to be my own, but I also wanted my work to fit into the overall project.
Ambrose: Joyce shared her initial treatment and it was honestly so well communicated that it was enough inspiration for me to picture the piece and the world/space she was trying to create. So I composed a piece that I imagined would be fun to animate to.
Alex: See answer to question #4.