No sleep till Sydney: Part I

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In the first of a four-part series in collaboration with our friends at Dropbox, we’re introducing Semi Permanent Sydney 2018 title designer Joyce N. Ho on her journey of creation — from the first brief to final cut. Watch this space!

An astronaut floats into a fractal abyss representing the creative process. Robotic arms leverage the mythic art of alchemy to turn common matter into gold. A Charles Bukowski poem narrates a black-and-white ode to modern romance. And somewhere in a three-dimensional void, enormous block letters continue to explode into violent balls of chalk
The Semi Permanent titles sequence is the visual passageway from your world into ours; an annual tradition where we pick the world’s brightest stars to set the tone for three days of intense discovery and learning, and a chance to flex some creative muscle in front of their peers and industry. To date that’s included Emmy-winners Raoul Marks (Westworld, True Detective) and Danny Yount (Six Feet Under), filmmaker Filipe Carvalho, global special effects house Framestore and more. 

Our opening titles are our moment to take pause and briefly smile at what has brought us to that moment, and what is about to become. A chance to cleanse the palette and set the tone for the following three days of the event.

Murray Bell

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Meet Joyce N. Ho

This year the torch has been passed to Joyce N. Ho, a Hong-Kong born, Brisbane-raised and New York City-living designer representing Australia on a global stage. Having earned what she called a ‘Postgraduate Education’ over seven years at Brisbane-based motion studio Breeder (working with clients like HBO, Syfy and TEDx), she’s since earned her freelance stripes with work for Nike, American Express and The New York Times — not to mention being named in The Art of the Title's 10 Women in Title Design for 2018.

I just love the process of problem solving how to get people interested in a show or event in under two minutes. There’s a little bit of design, a little bit of type and creatively it’s quite free-range so long as it represents the subject.

Joyce N. Ho

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Choosing Joyce was something of a triple-anomaly, or a serendipitous moment too precise to ignore. It goes like this: A few months ago, Joyce reached out to Semi Permanent curator Murray Bell to throw her hat in the ring for the 2018 titles. Little did she know, Patrick Clair and Raoul Marks (of title titans Elastic) had recommended her for the same gig a few months prior. And at this time, Murray had stumbled across her work online while searching for the right designer. “Like most curation decisions, the decision to work with Joyce came very organically” says Bell. “I reached out to some of our previous titles designers for an insight on who was on the cusp of the big time. It so happened she was an Australian living in NYC with a huge amount of talent and ambition, which was all very exciting.” 

The Brief 

Winning the work is one thing, but what does one do when faced with a blank slate? “It changes depending on the needs of the project, but it’s usually about answering the question of what the client wants people to feel. What are the narratives they want me to represent?” In this instance, Bell briefed Ho over Dropbox Paper — an online document built for collaborative idea-sharing and embedding of assets like mood boards and video links. “He wanted this year’s titles to be playful, fun and less serious. For the audience to be really excited to be at Semi Permanent. And he wanted the theme of Creative Tension to be present.” 

When you're apprehensive about something it means its challenging to you, either personally or professionally. So being anxious or scared about it is a good sign.

Joyce N. Ho, on this year’s Semi Permanent theme of creative tension as inspiration. 

From here, the design process could begin. “I usually start with a huge brain dump of ideas, even if they’re silly” Ho details. “I try and find a common thread between them before jumping into research, references, past works, other title designs — really dissecting what I like and don’t like. Typically for me there's one inspiring reference that just speaks to me or encompasses everything I've been vibing off.” And at the main New York Public Library in Manhattan (“researching the old school way”), this reference presented itself in the works of Ernst Haeckel, an 1850s-era biologist largely known for visually contextualising the work of Charles Darwin: “His illustrations were at the intersection of art and science…everything he drew was beautiful.”
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A comment on the present

As a response to the growing importance of community in our industry worldview, this year’s titles will be an exercise (or at least an experiment) in truly global, truly collaborative design. Ho will lead a selection of creative contributors from around the world including those from 3D, music, illustrating and design backgrounds: “The best work that you do brings in strengths from other people. You're never going to be the best at everything.” For this part, Dropbox and Dropbox Paper are helping unleash a shared sense of creative energy by facilitating real-time access to each other work, no matter the discipline or platform. “Dropbox just fits in with the collaboration idea naturally,” she says, referring to it as her own personal server. “I already use it every day… If I need to work on a clients computer I can still access my files — particularly if there are specific brushes or graphics resources I need. I also use it to send files to clients really easily.” 

In NYC you work longer hours and at a more hectic pace. Everyone is the best designer or studio or project in the world, so I've become a harder worker to suit.

Joyce N. Ho

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Work in Progress

This is a project told in real-time (we weren’t kidding when we said you would go on this journey with us). So here’s where we’re at so far: 
- Collaborators: “I’ve got these on lock. I reached out to them, and they’ve confirmed they want to contribute. The main consideration here were people who had really interesting portfolios that went with the direction of the piece. And just people I want to work with!”
- Storyboarding and animatic: “Kicking off next week.”
- Music: “My music composer, Ambrose Yu, will send me a demo for the track this week. His style is perfect for it — very happy and playful!”

I'm just excited to be the first woman to do the titles, that's an incredible honour. I want to keep bettering my skills in title design and this is a huge opportunity to do that. It's a dream project.

Joyce N. Ho

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Stay tuned for part II of this series, continuing Joyce Ho’s journey to Semi Permanent. 
Film / Ways & Means
Images / Shawn Hanna Photography