Getting down to business at Savannah Film Festival

October
30
2014

Don’t let the 90 screenings at Savannah Film Festival fool you. Savannah College of Art and Design’s week-long celebration of film is about more than art. It’s about the transactions and preparation that make it possible for us to experience the art. It’s about business: the elephant in most festival venues this week. Or if you’re film student Yang Xiao (M.F.A., film and television student), it’s the spaceship.

Yang participated in one of the many intimate meetings between students and industry that transpire during Savannah Film Festival. He shared pictures of the spaceship set he built for his thesis movie, TROY, with the co-founder and director of the SXSW Festival Louis Black and Austin media mogul Robert Walker.

Yang’s bold gesture wasn’t uninvited. It was an opportune illustration of what Robert and Louis, who helped established SXSW as of one of the world’s most successful platforms for music and film, were there to discuss: entrepreneurship. Robert, Louis and other heavyweights in the business came to SCAD to tell these emerging filmmakers not how to get a job, but how to make their own. To them, the spaceship represents the kind of hustle, savvy and radical ambition it takes to make it big in the film business today.

SXSW co-founder Louis Black with SCAD film students Tristan Aronovich and Amanda Maya.

A huddle with a founder of SXSW

The striking thing about what Louis did by turning SXSW - a small music festival started by a few friends - into a multi-media juggernaut generating $300 million in revenue for Austin, Texas, is that there were more barriers to success back when it was getting started. There was no crowdfunding, no Facebook, no smart phones. They solved their problems of having zero money and zero patrons with innovative solutions that are instructive for film students. Even though it’s easier for this generation to make their own empires, and maybe even inevitable given how technology has revolutionized filmmaking, aspiring directors, writers and producers can still learn from the old fashioned practices that turned Austin into the little film empire that could.

Lesson: Ingenuity first, money second
Chief among the lessons from the case study of Austin’s rise in the film industry is that, as Louis and Robert tell it, money makes it easier, but having no money makes you hustle. In their experience, low cash flow ultimately stimulates a more successful outcome because you have to maximize your resources.

When you’re starting out and you don’t have money and you want to make things happen, you learn lessons that stick with you your whole life.
-Louis Black

Robert agreed, “I’m not knocking cash, it’s good. But it’s easy to cover up mistakes or to just be lazy and pay someone to do what you should be doing yourself. It kind of zaps your creative abilities sometimes if you’re not careful,” he said.

Because the pair has had plenty of experience improvising, Robert and Louis still let their ideas, not the financing, direct how they approach a project. For example, when they were in need of a larger workspace recently instead of plunking down a bunch of cash they set their sights on a 50-thousand square foot building that the Texas National Guard was preparing to abandon. By working their relationships, they snagged the gem of the property for a whopping ten dollars in monthly rent.

Louis summed up his stories about building SXSW by telling students, “My one skillset is that I know how to visualize.”

Clearly vision doesn’t obviate the need for money, but as these lessons from Austin demonstrate, money is not to be pursued at the expense of it. 

Vinca and Steven at the panel "How Films Recoup."

Show Me the Money

The title of entertainment lawyer Vinca Jarrett’s book and web series, Show Me the F$#!KING Money, would seem to fly in the face of this lesson of vision before money. But actually, according to Vinca, vision and planning are essential to making the money part possible.

Vinca and her business partner, manager-producer Steven Adams, have made it their mission to teach how movies get financed. They produce the web series because the film business has the highest attrition rate of investors, and their goal is to turn that around by creating Warren Buffetts of the film industry: educated investors who understand where they’re putting their money and how movies get made.

In addition to investors, they target rising filmmakers who are looking to break into the business, like the SCAD students who shot five episodes of their educational series at the university’s studio during Savannah Film Festival.

Vinca and Steven had seen enough of their young clients commit career-ending mistakes while making movies, like bankrupting their parents, which could have been avoided if sound business practices had been in place from the start. Here are two of their best practices.

Lesson: Document your partnership
One of the biggest mistakes when starting out, says Vinca, is to rely solely on spoken agreements. You may share a creative vision with your team, but these individuals are still business partners, and you need to formally define that relationship, roles and responsibilities in writing. An absolutely essential first step is to put a deal memo in place, no matter how simple.

“Go away and write the ten things you want to accomplish with each other,” Vinca instructs, and then write the things you’re each going to do to accomplish those things.” An attorney can put your intentions into a deal memo so the partnership has rules to abide by. Then, of course, you must actually play by these rules.

It may seem obvious, but even before this step, Steven and Vinca are quick to point out that filmmakers – just like any other smart person in business- must know or investigate who they’re entering into a business relationship with. The wrong team member can sour a potential movie deal because of a bad reputation or track record. So do your homework.

Lesson: Know your rights
In addition to formalizing your partnership, Vinca and Steven say it’s absolutely critical for filmmakers to secure the rights to the movie they’re making. A lawyer can help you understand the rights you need to secure. You can navigate some of this process on your own - like obtaining a copyright – and then hire a lawyer to do the rest.

Recently her former intern brought her a TV concept and Vinca gave her this advice: Make sure the rights are in the public domain. If they’re not, do a deal with the executive who’s interested in your concept so they can’t steal the idea. Then document the full extent of your idea so that you can copyright it. Even if you do this part by yourself, it’s wise to know when to bring in an attorney to make sure you have a sound foundation of ownership before moving forward with your project.
From left to right, producers David Paterson, Susan Cartsonis, Jane Goldenring and, far right, Alison Owen.

Producing: Tricks of the Trade

The next lessons come from some of the very people who consult Vinca and Steven’s series: movie producers. 

The festival’s annual coffee talk series kicked off with an installment that answered a very common question: What do producers do? The answer - provided by a panel of award-winning producers of films like What Women Want, Bridge to Terabithea, The Giver and Hocus Pocus – was that producers are really the ultimate entrepreneurs.

From inception to distribution a producer’s single focus is working all the factors behind the screen to get the movie made, which requires a ton of improvisation, ingenuity and grit, as any start-up would.

So what can we learn from them? A couple recurring themes emerged that clearly are factors in their success and trademarks of smart entrepreneurship.

Lesson: Be tough and take authority
The perception that the producer is responsible for everything behind the scenes and the director responsible for everything on the screen is generally accurate, shared The Giver’s executive producer Alison Owen. But on a movie, as in business, things don’t always remain this tidy. The panelists agreed that in the cases where the lines of authority blur, it behooves the producer to be tough and to preserve those boundaries in order to maintain their responsibility to investors and to the overall quality of the film. This principle for success is in the vein of ‘if you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything.’ And it’s certain these producers would say, so too will your film fail if you don’t create the parameters within which the film can be made and stick to them.

It’s good for film students in particular to practice toughness and authority while they’re still in film school, even if the context in which they make their films doesn’t mirror a real world set. Case in point, Headlong Entertainment producer Susan Cartsonis noted that in most film schools the director maintains the purse strings and the producer’s authority is often eclipsed by that power imbalance. So practice sticking to your guns while you're still in film school, especially if you're an aspiring producer.

Lesson: Wear many hats
Precisely because filmmakers must have a keen sense of authority over their project in order to guide its success, it serves them to borrow another tenant that good entrepreneurs and good producers follow, which is to do everything. Or, at the very least, know a little bit about all of the areas you’ll be managing on your project, even the technical ones.

Bridge to Terabithia producer David Paterson uses the example of how he learned to build sets when he was starting out as an actor, which not only gave him invaluable insights for his movies but, in the case of smaller films, he didn’t have to depend on someone else in this area in order to get the film made.

In other words, a lack of knowledge can make or break your project. So don’t allow a lack of interest on your part to isolate you from learning certain technical aspects of filmmaking. Bringing it back to finances, especially when it comes to the money, all the producers agreed that the line producer should not be the only one who knows their way around a budget.

Finally, in addition to knowing how to do multiple things on a set, a page out of a successful producer’s playbook is to have multiple projects going at one time in order to beat the odds against a project getting made.

The democratization of film, whereby first-time filmmakers are able to leverage social networks and advances in technology to fund and shoot films that can rival those by big studios, means that more films will get made. But it also means there will be more competition. Hopefully these lessons from some of the sharpest business minds at Savannah Film Festival will help your project come out on top.

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The World Cup through the eyes of U.S. Soccer's lead designer

July
10
2014

Be it baseball, football, basketball or soccer, fans may think it’s pure sport that draws them in. But the electric atmosphere surrounding the World Cup, for example, is partially the result of the players' exquisite athleticism and partially the result of long hours put in, and deliberate decisions made, by designers like Savannah College of Art and Design alumna Emily Choate (B.F.A., graphic design, 2005), lead designer for the U.S. Soccer Federation.

The club may not have advanced, but thanks to Emily and her team at Stone Ward in Chicago, who have worked with U.S. Soccer for five years, feelings of patriotism, a shared sense of pride and adrenaline, albeit mellowed, still hang over the remainder of the World Cup games for fans of U.S. Soccer. You wouldn’t have known it by passing a pub on the day of a match, but the job of rallying a country and that kind of intensity behind U.S. Soccer, which typically plays second fiddle to American football, basketball or baseball, was no easy task. 

Emily’s work touched every piece of collateral that one could imagine being associated with the World Cup, and many others you wouldn’t think to imagine, from ticket design and swag (i.e., t-shirts and scarves), to email signatures, bus wraps, stadium graphics and bar regalia (i.e., posters and coasters).

Here’s Emily on designing U.S. Soccer’s “One Nation. One Team.” promotional and awareness campaign for the Men’s and Women’s World Cup, finalized in November 2013 and rolled out to the public in January 2014.

Thread: What was the brief that you received from U.S. Soccer?
Emily: ‘We need a more coordinated campaign across all our platforms, a unifying iconic statement and look that is big enough and simple enough to engage with all Americans during the world’s largest event.’

T: How many people are on your team and what were their roles?
E: We are a close-knit team of brand managers and creatives. Our intern, a SCAD undergrad, Jackson Bernard's (B.F.A., graphic design) first day was the first day of the World Cup. During the Ghana game, he worked fast and furiously with our brand manager, myself and the client and his team in the U.S. Soccer Federation social hub. He's with us for the rest of the summer.

T: What considerations go into crafting a design for an event as visible as the World Cup?
E: Especially for a World Cup year, you need to make sure your message and approach are invigorating within your base (existing fans, casual and hardcore), as well as a nation of potential new U.S. fans. What we found was that the campaign even captured the hearts of people all over the world.

T: How long did it take to arrive at the final design?
E: As for the overall design aesthetic and tagline, we worked with U.S. Soccer through various concepts, honing down to our final design for about two to two and a half months.

T: Why is the design you went with – One Nation. One Team. - the right one for U.S. Soccer? How does it fit the brand?
E: It’s clean. It’s pure. It’s American. It also connects fans and players interwoven on the same journey in the most simplistic way. There is a Women’s National Team, a Men’s National Team and Youth National Teams, all representing the U.S. One Nation. One Team. And the blue, white and red bands (also similar to the 2014 away jersey) always run through the entire width of a design piece, showing a united nation behind our colors.

T: How is designing for a professional sports team different than designing for other brands?
E: Preplanning and strategy are important. Having a good plan in place helps because you always have to be prepared to capitalize on opportunities when they come about. Sometimes you have six months to prepare for things, sometimes you have 20 minutes, and in the event of live graphic creation for social media during a game after a goal you have less than a minute or two to get something out to the fan base of followers that is celebrating that moment.

T: How does the U.S. brand compare that of their opponents?
E: We’ve seen a lot of club teams in the EPL that do design well. But on the country level, soccer is the number one sport among most other countries. They don’t have to do too much marketing/design to rally their countries around a team. In the U.S., where soccer isn’t the number one sport, you have to compete and promote a little differently. I think after this World Cup we are finally changing the perception about the world’s sport among many Americans.

T: How do you measure the success of the design?

I believe the best design is the kind you don’t have to tell people about. If it’s effective enough, people see it, are affected by it and notice it on their own.

T: What else would designers or soccer fans find interesting about this campaign?
E: To do this job well you have to separate your fandom and work. I love soccer. U.S. Soccer is my team. When it comes down to watching games or working at games, you have to put yourself into work mode so that you can focus on sharing an experience with the fan rather than getting lost in the moment as a fan. 

T: When did you become a soccer fan?
E: I played in high school. I became a World Cup lover in 1998 while traveling with family through Europe, and became a Women’s National Team fan in 1999 when they had their second World Cup win. I became a huge U.S. Men’s National Team fan during the 2010 World Cup. I can’t single out any particular player, it’s such a team sport.

T: How does it feel to turn on the World Cup and see your work?
E: Seeing your work on TV always feels good, but what’s really rewarding is knowing that the work is inspiring a nation and especially the team. It’s more about knowing that I’m part of the team that is working to show the Men’s National Team that a nation is behind them. We collected fan messages and have carefully placed them in locations on the Men’s National Team’s journey from training camp in May all the way throughout the World Cup. Whether it’s a quote at their training camp, in a stadium, in a locker room, or even inside the jersey, we truly let them know in a unique way that their nation was with them the entire way.

T: Is this the job you envisioned yourself having while you were studying at SCAD?
E: I wanted to be a graphic designer since I learned that it is a real career. When I went to SCAD, I remember one of my professors talking about a former student who was the designer behind the Super Bowl logo that year. I thought to myself, "Maybe one day I’ll be doing that." I know very little about football, but the magnitude of the Super Bowl is something I know very well. Now I’m creating graphics and helping strategize campaigns for the U.S. National Teams, which play in the world’s largest sporting event. It’s humbling.

T: What’s the best design advice you’ve received and given?
E: Received: Pick your battles. Given: Do what you love and believe in. It shows in your work and the people affected by it.

If that’s the case, then the hearty response of U.S. Soccer fans to their team’s World Cup run would seem to indicate that Emily has found work she truly loves.

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Dark Horse doodler Patric Reynolds on making comics a career

July
7
2014

If you flip through a Dark Horse comic illustrated by Patric Reynolds (M.F.A., sequential art, 2009) pay attention. You might notice a recurring face in the panels. A smiling, bearded man — sometimes a mechanic, sometimes a police officer — always seemingly in the background.

It’s a face Patric knows well. Every time he sketches that face he thinks of a man who encouraged him to quit his teaching job in Las Vegas to pursue a career in comic books. He thinks of a man named Steve, his dad.

“I was miserable teaching,” Patric, who grew up in Utah, said. “My parents could see that. The job really hardened me. I didn’t like the person I was turning into. I wanted to do comic books, but I thought, ‘No one makes a living as an artist.’”

Now Patric happily eats those words, working for Dark Horse Comics with industry legends like Mike Mignola, Patton Oswalt and Joss Whedon.

“I don’t need another job. I draw comics all day and I can pay my bills.”

That’s partly because the comic books industry is booming, bringing in over $700 million in annual revenue (up from $450 million in 2004). And with that growth, career options for people with Patric's skills have blossomed. Patric didn’t know that either until a push from his parents landed him at a college career fair.

It was there that Patric showed his portfolio to Savannah College of Art and Design professor Ray Goto (M.F.A., sequential art, 2002) and learned his talent could get him scholarships. Though his parents were sold, Patric knew that going back to school would mean giving up a steady income that covered his mortgage and car payments.

“I wasn’t on board,” he said. “My parents said, ‘You need to do this.’ My dad, in particular, said, 'I think you can make a living at this. We will be there in the morning.’ They drove to Las Vegas from Utah with a trailer to load my stuff. I trusted them. And so I moved to the South to learn to draw comics.”

Before Patric left, his father told him to never give up on anything and to keep his dream alive. Those words — coupled with honing his craft — helped Patric get a degree from SCAD and his first commission at Dark Horse working on an Abe Sapien comic within the “Hellboy” franchise.

That’s when tragedy struck.

Patric recalled, “I was inking pages when my mom called to tell me, ‘Your dad was out flying with your uncle and they were both killed.’” The small airplane crashed somewhere in the remote backcountry between Utah and Idaho.

The first person Patric called was Dark Horse editor-in-chief Scott Allie. “I was in shock. I told Scott, ‘I’m probably not going to meet this deadline. My dad just died.’ He said, ‘Jesus. Don’t worry about it. Get yourself settled.’ I could hear that Scott was talking to his kid in the background while he was on the phone with me. I knew he understood the gravity of the situation.”

Patric left the project for two weeks to help his family with the difficult double funeral back home, but he knew he had to return to finish the Abe Sapien comic.

“I told Scott, ‘Please don’t take me off this comic,’” he remembered. “There was a sense of duty to it. So when I got back into the project it became something to get me through my dad not being there anymore. It helped me push down the grief. Those last three pages got really hard, though. I started shaking by the end of it.”

But Patric finished the project, fueled by the image of his father working in his machine shop in Utah.

“He had his own business and he had to work so hard at it,” Patric said. “My mom would stay up with him at his shop. She fell asleep against the wall a few times waiting for him to finish working. That image — my dad committed to his work and mom committing to what my dad had committed to — told me that if I committed that much to something I could accomplish things.”

Finishing the job is something he says he learned from SCAD professors, too. “Ray Goto and Paul Hudson and others taught me how to keep at something, to work and how to finish things,” he said. “That’s really the one big thing I learned at SCAD — how to commit and work. If you don’t buckle down and get work done, then it never gets done. You work until you finish.”

Patric now lives in Portland, Oregon, where Dark Horse is headquartered. He is currently illustrating an “Aliens” comic as part of a series reboot spawning off the 2012 movie “Prometheus.”

“Scott Allie told me that Dark Horse plans to keep me busy. Most people couldn’t claim that in, say, the 1970s. You had to send your stuff to New York and then they would get back to you — maybe. It’s so much easier to get into the industry.”

Now sequential artists can influence everything from videogames to storyboards to the latest summer superhero movie. The industry has never been better. Disney just bought Marvel for $4 billion. Movies based on comic books continue to place in the top 100 grossing films of all time: "The Avengers" alone brought in an estimated $1.5 billion worldwide. Investment advisors are even telling clients to sell their vintage comic books to help fund retirement.

People like Patric are the ones behind those impressive statistics. And it was the people behind Patric that got him to pursue his dream.

“I think I always really followed what my parents told me,” he said. “My dad always kept telling me to keep the dream alive. I even wrote that above my desk when I was teaching in Las Vegas. My students would ask, ‘What does that mean?’ I would just tell them they’d see for themselves one day. You have to work at it everyday. You keep it alive and you remember what you love.”

And, in a way, keeping his dream alive also helps Patric to keep his dad's memory alive. Patric says the likeness of his dad will continue popping up in the background of the comics he works on, if only to keep an eye on him from afar.

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Studio Logic: inside the studio of Marcus Kenney

June
20
2014

For the next post in our Studio Logic series, exploring the studios of professional artists and designers, we interviewed Marcus Kenney (M.F.A., photography, 1998). In a two-story Victorian in the heart of Savannah, Georgia, Marcus works across mediums - sculpture, paint, photography and collage - to mastermind reflections on wildlife and Americana. In addition to being among a collection of artists responsible for the aesthetic of Savannah College of Art and Design’s micro-house experiment, SCADpad North America, Marcus recently completed a residency at Lux Art Institute and is currently showing his paintings at Georgia College Museum.

Thread: What is your ideal work environment?
Marcus Kenney: I am pretty flexible when it comes to working space. I have worked in a variety of studio of spaces, from 5000 square feet warehouses, to a 100 square feet garage. My current studio has a bit of a domestic appeal as opposed to an industrial one. I enjoy the neighborhood and interaction with the neighbors. I have a large vinyl collection and during the workday I am constantly flipping over records and listening to random recording artist.

T: Do you work best surrounded by objects that inspire you?
MK: Studios tend to reflect their owners and I admit that my studio is a mess and full of lots of contradicting objects. There are thousands of books, hundreds of small sculptures and boxes full of interesting objects like ladies dresses, wigs, fur coats and hats from around the world and rolls of wall paper. There are some cobwebs in the corners and surprises to be found; things I have forgotten I had and things that I haven't used in years. There are lots of reasons to create art and my art is about our culture. Historically, the way to study a culture is by the objects it produces. I find it responsible to study our ephemera and detritus and edit and shape them into valid cultural conversations.

I enjoy turning the world into my art supply store and making a game of searching for the right elements to create a work of art.

T: Did your studio change when you evolved from 2D TO 3D work?
MK
: I currently have four horses living in my studio! Honestly, it has not changed much. I have always created sculpture and so there are large amounts of materials lying around. I still paint occasionally, so all of my painting materials are there, as well. I like to keep lots of things on hand because I never know how the day is going to unfold and where inspiration may strike. Some days I may start a painting and other days I may work on sculpture. Often, I won’t go to the studio at all, but spend the day photographing or searching for materials to work with. The pleasure of being a contemporary artist is that there are no set rules.

“My studio is a super buffet with all kinds of options to feed my creative hunger.”

T: What’s one thing you can’t work without?
MK
: Recently it has been a thimble on my finger. I have worked with one so much the last several years that my forefinger feels a little naked without it. For many years I carried a camera with me 24 hours a day, and before that it was an X-Acto knife with a box of new blades. It changes as my work changes. 

T: What's another unique aspect of your studio?
MK
: I only work on the first floor. Upstairs has been reserved for other artists to work in. I have had some really special and unique artists work upstairs. Monica Cook (B.F.A., painting, 1996), Scott Griffin, Lorie Corbus (B.F.A., fibers, 2002), Paige Russell, Cedric Smith, Jameid Ferrin, Tobia Makover (M.F.A., photography, 2001) and others have all created inspired work upstairs.

Here's to creating inspired work and the places where we make it.

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Teaching travel photography: the foreign and familiar

May
28
2014

The photography department at Savannah College of Art and Design has a wealth of great teachers, many of which have taught the class Travel Photography: The Foreign and Familiar in our study abroad programs. Each one has their own approach to the class, but I am sure that the common thread is to help students find their own voice while traveling abroad. It is my belief that the most difficult places to make distinctive photographs of are often the most picturesque.  Obviously the most beautiful places are also the most photographed.
 

Shakespeare & Co. by student Annagrace Shelton (B.F.A., photography).

This quarter in Lacoste, our photography students had the opportunity to show their work to Professor Liz Wells, renowned author, critic and curator from Plymouth University, U.K. Liz and I held joint critiques with all of the students with the goal of helping them develop a personal vision of places like Paris and Provence. Liz agreed that the landscape and architecture of Lacoste present the unique problem of being too easy. The clarity and dramatic quality of light, the intense colors of spring flora, and the form of the land seem to make the pictures for you. Often, the result is a postcard view. While that is not a bad thing, it is a bit of a disappointment when you see all the images you made on postcard racks in every village in the region.
 

The Louvre, photo by student Parker Stewart (B.F.A., photography).

Professors like Craig Stevens and Steve Bliss have challenged students to photograph tourist destinations by giving them creative shooting assignments such as “a picture within a picture” or “a private moment in a public place.”  I love the assignments entitled “Good Dog” and “Bad Tourist.” Forest McMullin's students say that he keeps them so busy they have to come up with new ideas every day. Elizabeth Turk is famous for bringing out the best in her students through positive feedback and encouraging personal expression. I observed Josh Jalbert challenging his travel photography students to discard everything they identify as picturesque and build their portfolios around a unique concept. Meryl Truett is a great role model for travel students with her quirky vision and prolific art practice. Scott Dietrich has always pushed his students to see with exceptional clarity and their work often surpasses that of the professionals who have photographed these places before.
 

The Rodin Museum, photo by Tom Fischer.

I often suggest my students purchase a postcard when they arrive in a new place so they don’t have to make that picture to prove they were there. It immediately puts them on the hunt for new ways to see a place.


The Pantheon, photo by Tom Fischer.

Tom Fischer is a professor of photography at Savannah College of Art and Design. He is best known for his large-format black and white landscape images, shown in more than 60 exhibitions in galleries and museums in the U.S., Europe and Asia. Tom's awards and honors include: vice chair of the national board of the Society for Photographic Education; the James Borelli Fellowship and the G.B. Cantor Fellowship from Stanford University, as well as being selected as an NEA fellow. He has been nominated three times for U.S. Professor of the Year.

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From the pages of Vogue to grad school: a fibers student's untraditional spin on fashion

May
23
2014

I first met Marv Graff (M.F.A., fibers, 2015) while studying abroad at Savannah College of Art and Design in Lacoste. His unique eye for fashion left quite an impression. (The Metropolitan Museum of Art clearly was equally impressed by Marv, having added a tunic he created to the permanent collection of The Costume Institute.) Marv creates his garments using one of a kind found objects, and the antique markets of Provence were a treasure trove for his creativity. He visited the markets often during his stay in Lacoste and was known among the market owners in Isle Sur la Sorgue as "Mr. Hollywood." Marv created three looks for the 2014 SCAD Fashion Show. It was incredible to see how his explorations in Lacoste carried over to the pieces he showed on the runway at SCAD Museum of Art in Savannah, Georgia.


Marv in his studio at Pepe Hall.

This first look, shown above, was inspired by an antique fireplace screen Marv found in a shop in Bluffton, South Carolina. Marv loved the way the screen fanned out to like peacock feathers and decided to create a petal skirt in its image, working with a SCAD graduate to laser-cut the screen's pattern into the leather.



Marv's second look started with an antique hoop skirt from Peddler Jim's Antiques in Savannah. Making the skirt was a labor intsensive process, complete with handmade knotting and macrame techniques, and the paired top was even more intricate, taking over 16 hours to make.


Marv's final look was inspired by one of the projects he started when he first came to SCAD. On one of his many antique hunts, he came across a taxidermied, polyurethane shell of a deer and began braiding and knotting over it, starting with the legs. From then on, braided deer antlers became his trademark touch.



Thread: You had a very successful career in New York. When and why did you come to SCAD?

Marv Graff: I came to SCAD in September 2013. I kind of just jumped on a train from New York and came down here. I needed a change.

T: What has changed for you? Why did you decide to leave your career in fashion and jewelry design?

M: I felt like I wasn’t being so creative. I was just gearing everything towards marketing fulfillment and not creative fulfillment. Being at SCAD has brought me back to where I was when I graduated the first time. When I graduated from the University of Nebraska, I was doing really unusual things regarding to body and fashion. I just started making things and selling things in New York and that’s pretty much how my whole career started. I would just take a suitcase full of stuff I had made around for fashion editors and stores to see. But keep in mind, in those days it was pretty easy. Then I came to SCAD because it was my dream to be able to do fashion like this, and it’s amazing that it's happening.

Marv's previous work, created at SCAD Lacoste.

T: What is it about SCAD that spurred that creative drive?

M: When I was in New York, every weekend I’d go to boutiques and galleries and see everything that was new and popular. When I came to Savannah, there was none of that. So I made my own, and that became my goal: to find and create things. I’m also very inspired by the way that SCAD goes about making their classrooms. The buildings are beautiful, and that makes up for the lack of fancy galleries in Savannah, compared to New York City. These buildings become that. Like Morris Hall, the new Fashion Marketing and Managment building and Hayman's Hall, the new Illustration building.

T: What's next for you? Will you return to New York after graduating?

M: I’m keeping my options open to see what happens. I taught at Kansas State University and I was making these sweaters that were hand-loomed on cardboard, and they had feathers and tentacles. I was selling them to stores in New York and the fashion press picked me up at that time. I got a lot of really good press early on. I would say I had Andy Warhol’s 15 minutes of fame when I was there. I won this young designer award, Pré de Cache, but fashion was really hard to produce, and the cost of jewelry was easier for an individual designer without any backing. So that’s how I got into the fashion jewelry industry.


Whichever road Marv should choose, he is sure to have a successful second act, the beginnings of which his followers may just trace back to the runway in Savannah.

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Studio Logic: inside the workspaces of professional artists and designers

May
14
2014

Space. Invariably, it’s the object of focus for artists and designers, and often times the basis for their inspiration. This is definitely true for the spaces we’ll feature in our series Studio Logic, exploring the studios of professional artists and designers. For the first installment we travel to Brooklyn, where powerhouse duo Trish Andersen (B.F.A., fibers, 2005) and Maureen Walsh (B.F.A., fibers, 2004) set up the multi-disciplinary design studio Domestic Construction. Below they ‘show and tell’ how their space reflects their philosophy and fuels their work for clients like Google, Target, Bravo and Hewlett-Packard. Clearly recent projects, like the striking blue exterior and interactive fiber walls of Savannah College of Art and Design’s micro-house SCADpad Europe and the pair’s grounded mat line, bear the mark of a special muse. We couldn’t resist taking a closer look.

Thread: How did designing for SCADpad challenge your initial way of working and how has it challenged how you engage space?

Domestic Construction: We wouldn't necessarily say it challenged our way of working, but rather supported it. We are all about the belief that any space, whether living or working, should be one that inspires you. SCADpad is a prime example of how you can push the limits of space through the creative use of materials to be one that is constantly engaging and ever-changing.

T: Being fibers artists, how does space inspire you? How does your personal work environment influence your products?

DC: Space is everything. As fibers artists, we like to challenge the preconceived notions of what a typical interior should be. Why should we live/work in white boxes? Have normal walls/floors? Isn't that getting boring? Our studio is an ever-changing exploration of what is inspiring us at the moment. A giant inspiration board of sorts. It is a playground that allows us to create without fear.

T: Your studio seems to be full of color and décor. What is the significance of these things to you? Describe your ideal surroundings for work (i.e., time of day, temperature, noise level, music, company, setting). 

DC: We love color and texture, so naturally we crammed our space with it. We find that color promotes an upbeat and fun working environment. Most people who enter our space smile and that's just the best. Some of the best days at the studio are when we are working on a big project and we have a ton of crew jamming to tunes and making things happen.

T: What's one thing you must have around or close by in order to do your best work? 

DC: Our friends/crew that always jump in to help execute projects. We usually work on a large scale, so it takes an army. We feel fortunate to work with so many other creatives and we truly have a blast doing it.

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What makes a college Emmy 'Possible'?

April
23
2014

Tonight, Prasad Narse (M.F.A., animation, 2014) will learn whether he'll take home one of the most coveted prizes for film and television students: a College Television Award for his animated short "I M Possible." Watch the live webcast of the 35th annual awards tonight at 7:30 p.m. PDT. 

Since making the film at Savannah College of Art and Design, Prasad has garnered significant acclaim. In addition to the college Emmys, "I M Possible" won a Best of Festival award from the Speechless Film Festival and a Star of Festival award from the Grand Film Festival. In early May, Prasad will learn whether the short will be accepted by the Los Angeles Film Festival. The work Prasad did as a graduate student at SCAD continues to pay off, even as he works full-time as a CG animation intern at Laika in Portland, Ore.

Thread: Congrats on the success of your film. Why is it resonating with audiences?

Prasad Narse: Audiences relate to the trauma of the hero "Christopher" and his sheer grit in overcoming his weakness and making his weakness his strength. There are audiences who ‘never say die’ and this film confirms that outlook. Most of us struggle with something in life and this film must be encouraging audiences to keep going and not give up. I think the passion with which this movie was made comes across clearly to its audiences, as well.


Early character concept for Christopher, pencil and marker

T: You create such empathy for the main character. What is the secret to conveying such searing emotions through animation?

PN: Just like actors, an animator has to feel the emotions before driving his characters in a shot. Observation is the key. Certain poses or facial expressions tell us everything that is going through a character’s mind. In animation we tend to use these as story poses, which are often remembered by audiences even after the screening of the film. 


(Hopeless Night) Christopher's Court, digital paint

T: What inspired the film?

PN: My father is my inspiration. He taught me that everything is possible if you believe in yourself. He was a sportsman. Though he played cricket his entire life, he was passionate about all sports. Even after a tragic accident, which left his body paralyzed, his passion and love for sports didn’t diminish. Medically his condition was incurable, but he still had the grit to withstand it and wanted to make the impossible, possible. I sensed that it was his sportsman’s spirit that gave him the strength to withstand every adversity. This heartrending experience left me with the desire to make my thesis film “I M POSSIBLE”  while studying animation at SCAD and learning to convey emotions through fictional characters.

T: What was your father’s reaction?

PN: My father passed away twelve years ago. I know that he would have been extremely proud of me. The pride I wished to see in my father’s eyes is now reflected in my mother’s eyes. She is my strength, my friend, my guide, my mentor and my comforter and it is because of her and the vision she had of me today that ‘I am possible.’ I dedicate this film to my father, however, my I feel my future is going to be great because of my mother. I miss you, Dad, and hats off to you, Mom.

T: Tell us about your crew.

PN: We started in Summer 2012 as two students and eventually grew to 18. The entire crew is from SCAD except Brandon Clements, who is a student of Purdue University. The most interesting thing is that the crew members had never worked together and didn’t even know one another before the project. In the process of making this film, many of them graduated, however each one made a major contribution.

T: How did you prepare for your internship at Laika?

PN: The training, mentorship and dedication to quality at SCAD are par excellence. I learned all the nuances of animation there. The quality of work I did at SCAD was one of the major reasons that Laika decided to take me on as an intern. When I came to Laika, my supervisor told me that he enjoyed the performance of "Christopher" in my animation reel. In the last two and half months I have animated more than 15 shots for Laika’s commercials, like the M&M's "Bachelor" spots, and those for Shaw Cable and International Delight. Working on Laika’s short film is a big experience and it will be out soon.
 

T: What trends or technologies in animation are you watching?

PN: I am fascinated by the stop-motion animation technique, which uses a puppet animation. The hardest thing is to animate each and every frame. I think this is the most challenging way of animating, where an animator has to be prepared to redo the shot again and again. One shot of 450 frames may take up to 18 hours a day. I am also eager to jump into visual effects and animating for live action projects.

Christopher Expression Sheet, pencil and digital paint

T: What’s your advice for aspiring animators?

PN: Working on a personal project is different than working in the industry. I’ve learned from my internship that an animator must be able to change his shots according to the director’s vision. Nothing is fixed until the director approves it. While studying animation, follow your professors’ lead.  Plan your shots, collect references as much as possible, and don’t jump directly into 3D software. Try to take sufficient breaks while animating, animate in poses and then refine timing. Get enough of sleep, be alert and continue to take creative direction well.

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Lighten up: behind the redesign of Mohawk Flooring’s HQ

March
28
2014

Gadflies like Google have tipped us off that our work places needn’t be drab utilitarian environments lacking inspiration and intentional design. Mohawk Flooring is one of the latest employers to create a place that’s as imaginative as it is functional; that speaks to its history as one of the world’s most successful manufacturers of floor coverings. This fall, Mohawk enlisted interior design students from Savannah College of Art and Design to reimagine its Dalton, Ga. headquarters. The result of the 10-week sponsored project of SCAD’s Collaborative Learning Center was a plan that Mohawk accepted wholesale, with no changes.


The design board the SCAD team submitted during their final presentation to Mohawk reps.
As Mohawk begins construction on that plan, here’s a look back at the project with SCAD senior Bradley Odom, who also works full-time as West Elm’s director of design education. Mohawk selected Bradley’s “Light Lab” as the guiding design force for the renovation.

Project manager Bradley Odom and his fellow students delivered the final concept to Mohawk at SCAD Atlanta.

Thread: The first step was to visit the Mohawk site. What were the takeaways?

Bradley Odom: The field trip enabled us to immerse ourselves in the actual space. We were able to see the beauty of the building and the natural mountainous area it’s surrounded by. We also worked one-on-one with the client - users of the space - to understand their needs. This relationship was very important to our overall design.

T: What inspired Light Lab and how does it fit Mohawk’s objectives?

B: The client desired a more open work environment. They were looking for a paradigm shift in their culture and to create a place that fostered collaboration.


The site plan for the redesign of Mohawk's headquarters.

B: The existing skylight in the center of the space served as inspiration, as it allowed natural light into an area where people could converge to collaborate. The primary motivating goal was to create a place where design is first and foremost. Mohawk designs beautiful product, yet it was not the primary focus when entering, and I thought it should be. In the final design, the Light Lab is a place where visitors and employees can engage in the design process by seeing the resources, products and the people who are designing the products.

A model installation that the team proposed to reference the importance of weaving and threads to Mohawk's legacy.
T: Describe some of the unique features that the SCAD team included in the plan?

B: One of the most unique features is the water bottle wall. This was inspired by the client’s reputation in the industry as one of the world’s largest recyclers of plastic water bottles. Mohawk uses the recycled bottles to create carpet tiles. I believe visitors should learn this upon entering the building. Another great feature is the lighting. In the Light Lab plan we included a lighting element that would project natural and artificial light through cut out metal onto the floor in the form of keywords that described the overall concept and Mohawk as a company--INSPIRE, EXPLORE, DESIGN.

A sketch of how a lighting element filters natural light from the skylight and a prototype of a light fixture that also plays on the theme of weaving.
B: The dining area was a new feature for this space. We included stadium type seating for a more casual area, counter height dining and typical table and booth seating. The multiple seating heights provides flexibility for the employees and the space. We also included a communal dining table.

Stadium seating was proposed for the dining area.

T: The client had no changes to the concept you presented. What was the key to your success?

B: Seeing the space, listening to the client and one of the elements that was key to articulating the concept: imagery. Finding the right inspiration images to articulate what I was trying to convey was very important.

Paint chips and swatches for floor coverings.

B: In conveying the concept, I wanted to make a statement that was brief, but powerful. I believe the concept statement and imagery together met all of the clients needs. But the number one reason for the overall success was the collaboration of my peers and the expertise of Professor Liset Robinson. The concept was my idea, but my peers and my professor helped to bring all of my ideas to fruition, and expanded on them. The project couldn't have happened in the given time span without the contribution of everyone on the team.
 

 

 

 

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Unearthing history with "The Green Book Chronicles" series

February
24
2014

Growing up white in northern Ohio in the 1960’s, I was told that a tavern owned by my family many generations ago may have been part of the Underground Railroad. As a result, I thought a lot about the Underground Railroad as a child and felt proud that maybe, just maybe, my relatives had taken risks to do the right thing. Little did I know, as an adult I would have the chance to bring stories about a different kind of Underground Railroad to life with the help of fellow faculty and students from animation, television producing and motion media at Savannah College of Art and Design.

This project began when I met award-winning author and playwright Calvin Alexander Ramsey. Calvin’s children’s book, “Ruth and the Green Book,” and a play based on the same, is the story of postal worker Victor H. Green, who helped African Americans travel safely throughout the Jim Crow south by publishing “The Negro Motorist Green Book.” Between 1936 and 1964, Victor used his resources at the post office to compile the “Green Book,” an ever-growing network of white and black-owned businesses, including restaurants, hotels and beauty parlors that would welcome African American travelers during segregation.


The cover of the 1940 edition of “The Negro Motorist Green Book.” Esso Gas Stations were one of the primary nationwide sales outlets for the "Green Book."


The cover of the 1949 edition of “The Negro Motorist Green Book.”

The scope of Victor’s guide expanded over time to include international destinations. But when publication of the "Green Book" ceased in 1964 with the passing of the Civil Rights Act, awareness of the guides faded. Calvin wanted to change that by preserving the oral histories of people who had actually used the "Green Book.” I said yes, but let’s insert some visual appeal. And so our film “The Green Book Chronicles" - a mix of live action and animation that tells the story of the "Green Book" in the context of the Civil Rights Movement (sort of a Ken-Burns-meets-NPR’s-Story-Corps with mixed-media animation) - was born.


World War II veteran Wilbert Verrett and his wife, Dr. Joyce Verrett, used the "Green Book" on their honeymoon to Pensacola, Fla. in 1964. Interviews were shot on the green screen in SCAD Atlanta’s TV studio to allow the addition of photographs and other background elements in the final edit.


In 1955, Freddye and Jake Henderson opened the first African American travel agency in the U.S. Their daughter, Shirley Henderson Coleman, was interviewed for "The Green Book Chronicles."

A year and half later, our short film has grown into a one-hour film with enough material to create a short series. Twenty-nine SCAD students have shot seven interviews, completed six animated segments and produced the ten-minute trailer for the project. And the stories keep coming.
Rotoscoping drawing begins over live video footage shot as reference for the“Niagara Falls Romance” animation segment created by students Danielle Paulet and Jeff MacDonald. The final Niagara Falls scene was created by compositing 2D animation characters over the vintage postcard background.

Calvin and I are gearing up to raise funds for completion of the one-hour film by this fall. Along the way, I’m witnessing SCAD students from all over the world learn about American Civil Rights history, hopefully reinforcing that helping others through tough times is universally inspiring. One story can be the key that opens doors to previously untraceable history, as our journeys introduce us to others who change our lives…like when I met Calvin Ramsey. I cannot tell you how thrilled I am that the story of “The Green Book Chronicles” is taking me along with it. I bet my northern Ohio ancestors would think that was pretty cool.

Becky Wible Searles has been a professor of animation at SCAD for 12 years. Previously, she owned One Eighty One Productions in New York City, where she designed, directed and produced short form clay and mixed-media animation for TV, including projects for Nickelodeon, Kool-Aid, AT&T, National Geographic and Showtime.

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