Being a motion graphics designer gives Rupa Rathod the opportunity to channel her vast creativity. While designing and creating LED screen content for pop tours, events, television performances, and awards shows, she has the freedom to create anything and everything while working with some of her musical idols. Each treatment differs from the last, and she is always challenged to interpret a client’s concept, something that she finds hugely fulfilling. For this English native, there’s nothing that can’t be achieved, and she enjoys all aspects of the journey; it’s a feeling of achievement that she doesn’t think will ever go away, and what keeps her constantly motivated.
“Combining the two passions I have; music and the creativity of motion graphics design was like taking two perfect past times and fusing them together. It seemed like a natural progression in my career, to channel my creativity as a motion graphics artist into music. I was determined to make this happen any way I could,” said Rathod.
Rathod started working for Blink in 2014, where she was employed as an editor initially focused on screens for music festivals. She pushed herself to prove her talent and was quickly given an opportunity to work on a high-profile tour with Robin Thicke. Since that time, her work in creating graphics for concerts has gone from strength to strength and is now well recognized and well respected at the top of the industry.
“My style of designing is always very much influenced by the music I’m working to, whether it’s a pop song, metal, drum and bass, indie, it all determines the style the content needs to be in.
I’m fascinated by light installations and lighting design which is always very sharp, bright and tightly timed to music, so everything I design always has that accuracy to beat responsiveness and the biggest moments in music always need to be visually bigger. I focus on making obvious moments in a track very obvious on screen and the ability to be able to do that is what I would define as my own style,” she said.
This past September, Rathod worked alongside Kylie Minogue for a second time on her most recent European tour, Golden. Rathod had previously worked with the pop icon on her “Kiss Me Once” Tour in 2014, and the two formed a close professional relationship when working on her Sleepwalker film.
Having turned 50 this year, Kylie’s new album channeled her country side, and “Golden” was released. The album was recorded mostly in Nashville, giving it a very authentic country feel and setting the tone for her new tour. The concept for this 2018 “Golden” Tour revolved around a journey from a desert landscape to Nashville, which would eventually all come together in a 70’s spaghetti Western style movie interpreted on stage with Kylie as the protagonist. Rathod was brought onto the team right away, creating content for the tour while Kylie promoted the album, and the motion graphics designer was extremely excited about the concept.
“I loved the conceptual idea of creating a 1970’s movie executed through the medium of a full multi-sensory concert and working with filmed content to create a cinematic visual was a beautiful piece of art,” said Rathod. “This tour was a completely new direction for Kylie and her dedicated team. It was a bold new move for everyone involved and to see it met with such positivity was gratifying.”
While working on the “Golden” tour, Rathod worked closely with Creative Director Rob Sinclair, who she has worked with on many projects throughout her career, including Kylie’s “Kiss Me Once” tour. Sinclair trusts Rathod’s ability to take his references and turn them into more graphical visual concepts. They understand each other’s styles and they work well developing them. For the “Golden” tour, there was a lot of filmed content, which is not often done; it adds a decadent touch and requires a large scale of planning. Rob and Kylie’s vision featured a lot of filmed content, which is what made the show so rich and so bespoke. It spoke for itself and helped to narrate the journey the audience were being taken on. The desert scenes at the beginning half of the show were filmed in California and Nevada deserts which was handled by Kylie’s longterm Video Producer, Tom Colbourne and the Blink team in Los Angeles. The second half of the show was shot in a London studio which was handled by Producer, Kirsten McFie and and Rupa in London. Rathod worked closely with Sinclair on the shoot, who was feeding his thoughts and notes to her on the day, which helped her get a sense of how it would sit in the show. She ended up working across all the content through the London post production and onsite rehearsals near Birmingham right up to opening night in Newcastle.
“This tour was an incredible experience to be a part of, not only because Kylie’s team remain wonderfully warm and welcoming, but also because Kylie herself has a huge amount of input into every aspect of her shows and she’s always so grateful to everyone involved. Her enthusiasm and excitement make all the hard work and devotion worthwhile. Kylie is genuinely just a very lovely artist who appreciates the hours of hard work and dedication that everyone puts into creating her shows with her,” said Rathod.
Having just wrapped up this latest tour, Rathod has a lot to look forward to. She recently won a prestigious award for her work on rock band The Killers’ most recent tour, and she has a lot more in the pipeline. She has worked hard to get where she is now, and for those looking to follow in her footsteps, she offers some wise words.
“For those looking to pursue a career in motion graphics, my advice to them would be to not be afraid of having your own style. It may take you a while to develop it, but you’ll have one and to have conviction in the work that you do, because if you don’t, no one else will,” she advised.
Despite having an interest in the arts from an early age, Ana Lossada never really thought she would have a future in the field. As a child, she enjoyed drawing and painting as most children do, but she also enjoyed sports, dance, and playing with friends. Creativity was an instinct for her, she was never conscious of it. As she began to grow, her other interests slowly started fading away, but art was her constant. She started to realize that she could pursue a career in the arts and do what she loved every day. It was this realization that changed her life, and now, as an internationally sought-after motion graphics designer, she has never looked back.
“As a kid, I never really saw it as a ‘this is what I want to do when I grow up’ type of thing. Doing creative things simply came to me very easily and effortless an. Besides being the artsy kid in school, I have always loved watching cartoons and also movies filled with action, sci-fi and a whole lot of visual effects. These tendencies worked out, as my art interests led me to pursue a career in the digital media world,” said Lossada.
Throughout her esteemed career, Lossada has worked with some of the world’s most well-known production companies and television shows. She recently collaborated with Disney to create the opening theme for the new show Raven’s Home, a spin-off of their older classic That’s So Raven. Premiering earlier this summer, the opening garnered a lot of media attention, and Lossada’s work is a large part of that. A similar experience occurred with Lossada’s work on the opening of Netflix’s hit show Atypical, where Lossada perfectly captured the autistic main character’s tendencies and feelings in her work. All that work alongside the designer are impressed with what she can do.
“Throughout my career I have worked with many talented designers and no one comes across like Ana has. Not only does she have amazing technical skills when it comes to handling computer software, she has a natural ability as an artist and illustrator. She is incredibly dedicated and gives her best in every single project. Her hard work will lead her to an incredible career,” said KA Batcha, who worked with Lossada on The Walking Dead: The Journey So Far, a thrilling recap of the first six seasons of AMC’s iconic series The Walking Dead.
Despite such success, one of the highlights of Lossada’s career is her work with Disney Jr. on their “Be Inspired” spot. The concept of the project was to encourage children to live healthy active lifestyles with promotional videos showing easy exercises that kids can follow along with, designed in the setting of the Disney classic The Lion King. The project was an immense success, and at only 23, Lossada showed one of the largest and most renowned production companies in the world, Disney, that she was extraordinarily talented.
After the success of Be Inspired with the Lion Guard, Disney wanted to team up with Lossada once again, this time with the spot Be Your Best with Miles, featuring the character Miles from Miles from Tomorrowland, a popular children’s show for the network. This segment is a 2-minute spot in which cartoon Miles and “real” Miles are compared side to side, teaching us how to live a healthy lifestyle by following a healthy diet and exercising frequently.
“The way children eat from a very young age impacts their growth and health throughout their childhood, and for the rest of their lives. A healthy diet and good nutrition are critical in preventing some of the issues and illnesses that are caused by bad nutrition, such as nutrient deficiencies, poor bone health, increased risk of injuries, poor academic performance and increased risk of eating disorders. Teaching children how important a healthy nutrition is and also the importance of a vigorous fitness routine throughout their childhood years will lay a base for a healthier and fulfilling life,” said Lossada.
The music video with exercises are currently being aired on Disney Junior worldwide. Each exercise video has over 60,000 views on YouTube alone, and the music video “Teke Ruka Teleza” has over 250,000. Such success could not have been possible without Lossada’s contributions.
Working with her team at Big Machine, Lossada helped design and animate the main title for the spot. Additionally, she needed to create modern and stylized split-screen graphics for the spot and also a UI/UX interface graphic that explained what audiences were seeing on screen. She did all this using her own unique style, as she is known for her distinctive artistry. Her artwork speaks strongly to people, and with Be Your Best with Miles, it has resonated with children around the globe.
While creating the video spots, all of Lossada’s skills were put to use, from designing to illustrating and even animating. Not only was she leading the team, but she was also working on the live action set as well, ensuring her graphics would perfectly transition with the live footage.
To generate ideas and inspiration for the project, Lossada watched an episode of Miles from Tomorrowland. Upon doing so, she noticed there were many simple shape designs in the show, primarily hexagons. This is therefore the primary element seen throughout the whole Lossada’s work on Be Your Best with Miles. She used it for overlay shots, for example the scene where Miles analyzes a breakfast kitchen, for transitional designs between live-action Miles and character Miles, and lastly for the split screens where they are seen together. Such attention to detail is what makes Lossada one of the best, and while working on Be Your Best with Miles, her co-workers were able to see all of talents really shine. Not only does she have the technical skills when it comes to mastering any software, but she also possesses the innate natural ability to design and illustrate.
“Working on Be Your Best with Miles was very fun. Mainly, because we had to find activities and exercises performed by the live-action Miles and compared it to the 3D character Miles,” said Lossada.
No matter what she takes on, Lossada puts everything she has into her work. This is not for the accolades or awards, but for a passion for what she does. She is a perfectionist in the best way. When people enjoy what she has produced, she knows she is doing what she was meant to do.
“I take a great deal of pride in my work and do everything I can to ensure every aspect of each project I touch is perfect, so it truly means a lot when people acknowledge the quality of my projects. Seeing the look of astonishment on their faces as they wonder how exactly I animated and designed these various projects makes all of the hard work worthwhile. I have always believed that the entertainment industry, particularly the creative side of the business, can convey powerful emotions and messages. It is my goal to use my knowledge and skillset to bring these feelings and experiences to the general public and leave an everlasting mark on the industry,” said Lossada.
She is already well on her way. Watch Lossada’s tremendous work in Be Your Best with Miles here.
Art Director/Motion Graphics Designer Ilya Tselyutin specializes in a field of media technology so advanced that it almost seems he’s straddling a unique cusp between day to day creative facts and out of this world science fiction. Already recognized as a master in his field—a fast moving discipline that combines graphic design and animation in motion picture title sequences and television commercials—Tselyutin also excels in the exotic field of spatial augmented reality.
“This is also known as projection mapping, video mapping and 3D mapping,” Tselyutin said. “One of the earliest public displays of projections onto 3D objects was Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion ride back in 1969, but it wasn’t until the early 2000’s, when more advanced tools and software became available, that artists began using projection mapping in artwork.”
“It is a special technology used to display moving objects on various surface as a video projection, so, for instance, an entire building can be turned into a multimedia installation and become a part of a compelling story.”
The California based Tselyutin’s singular palette of skills, both as a creative artist and technical innovator, made him particularly well suited to explore this territory, a long-standing interest which he first he became involved with as a university student back in his native Russia. His fascination with 3D graphics, animation and design coincided with formal training in computer science and provided an ideal confluence for opportunity when the technology first arrived in the country in 2009.
“I was working at Channel One Russia as a broadcast designer,” Tselyutin said. “I was constantly exploring other areas of 3D motion graphics and the ways it can be implemented. And when I heard the Radugadesign agency was looking for 3D professionals to work on something that was quite new and challenging I was eager to try it.”
The Moscow agency was the perfect new professional home for the talented, ambitious Tselyutin, and he quickly distinguished himself in the vital new field. “I saw great potential in this and left my job at the TV channel to focus solely on 3D mapping and augmented reality,” he said. “And 3D mapping technology was unheard of in Russia when we created the first car projection show for Audi in the country.”
Created for the 2011 Audi Car Design Awards the spot featured graphics that changed the colors and tires of a 3D car model and established Tselyutin as a fast-rising 3D sensation (see it here). “I took part in all of the 3D mapping projects while working at Radugadesign,” Tselyutin said. “We worked on commercial projection shows for such clients as Audi, Samsung, some national mobile operators and many others.”
Tselyutin’s dedication and groundbreaking achievements benefitted everyone involved. “Working with Ilya was always a very pleasant experience,” Ivan Nefedkin, Radugadesign founder-CEO, said. “He was one of very few professionals in Russia who completely understood the specifics of 3D augmented reality. There was no really a university degree for what we did, so there were only a few people who could do the job. He always went extra mile to support our team by overtaking the hardest tasks to make sure the project is delivered on time—on the Audi projection show, he would stay up working all night. Ilya played a critical role in establishing Radugadesign as one of the country’s leading media agencies.”
Tselyutin’s professional reputation as an innovator and visionary quickly spread throughout the international media world. “Right after we produced that first car projection show, many agencies in Russia and abroad started implementing the same technology,” Tselyutin said. “I was invited to produce a projection show by the National Institute of Technology Kartanaka, Mangalore, India, who were quite impressed by what we were doing in Russia. I began receiving many offers from all over the world, and decided to move abroad.”
Currently residing in Hollywood, where he serves as Art Director/Motion Graphics Designer at the prestigious Trioka agency, Tselyutin is still breaking new ground, always expanding and elevating his technique. “Working on those challenging projects helped me master a great variety of new skills,” he said. “The most important knowledge I gained was learning how to successfully generate dynamic visual effects on static footage for a completely immersive effect. This proved to be very useful later on in my career,
Taken with an already impressive roster of achievements, the influential Tselyutin’s future potential is limitless.
“Ilya has a unique set of skills,” Nefedkin said. “From the advanced technical knowledge he acquired studying computer programming to his outstanding graphic design skills—he always came up with new creative ideas, challenged himself and the whole team, and pushed the boundaries of what was possible. Our clients loved it. He never ceased to amaze us with his both creative mindset and perfect technical execution.”
Diego “Couts” Coutinho did not always know he would eventually be considered a top art director and motion graphics designer in his country. He started working at the age of eleven, fixing cars. A year later, he began working in a chair factory. During his time there, he learned what hard work really was, and what it meant to succeed. At the age of 20, he went to school to study graphic design. He was the first in his family to go university.
Despite his humble beginnings, Coutinho quickly became one to watch. He has been recognized worldwide for his talents, winning awards and festival selections. Yet, even with all he has achieved, for him it is still about doing what he loves.
“The art director is one of the people in charge of the project, so if it goes wrong, it’s your responsibility, but if that’s okay you’ll get your laurels too. In this position, beyond the possibility of having more space to act, I feel very stimulated with the possibilities to explore my own ideas and solutions for the project,” said Coutinho.
Coutinho’s success continued when he worked on the film Wish You Were Here? to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the famous D&AD Awards for design and advertising. Design and Art Direction (D&AD, formerly known as British Design & Art Direction) is a British educational charity which exists to promote excellence in design and advertising. Widely considered one of the most prestigious and difficult-to-win awards in design and advertising, D&AD celebrates the finest creativity each year across a diverse range of disciplines.
“It’s a dream to be part of the 50th anniversary of such an important festival and to play with such groundbreaking pieces of art direction and advertising. So, for a festival of such importance like D&AD to give us the opportunity to promote next year’s awards is fantastic,” said Coutinho.
The spot summarizes the five decades of the awards in a creative and unusual way, recalling memorable pieces of design and advertising that won the coveted pencil-shaped trophies. The over 20 references Coutinho’s team picked from the immense D&AD archives were reinterpreted, using various techniques like 2D and 3D animation, stop-motion, live-action and puppetry, all the while swapping characters and narratives between the ads. The resulting fragments were sequenced in a free-associative way, with elements from a scene “trespassing” onto the next creating a flowing, surrealistic narrative that reflects the ambiguous, unpredictable nature of memory.
“It was great to work with such creative freedom. Of all the work I usually do, this one was like the ‘cherry on top’ because of the creative freedom we had and all the extra fun we had along the way,” said Coutinho.
Wish You Were Here? went on to win multiple awards, including one from D&AD itself, the Wood Pencil for Branded Film Content & Entertainment online. It also won the Silver for Visual Language and Graphics at the Cannes Lions, the Gold for Title Sequence at Ciclope 2015, the Bronze in Motion Graphics at LIA, and the 2015 Merit Award for Broadcast & Moving Image/Animation at One Show.
“I like the touch of mood that is important for the pacing of the film. I believe that it is fun for people in the field, who know the history of design and advertising, to try to identify all the references,” described Coutinho. “And receiving awards in many festivals for this project was an honor and a privilege.”
In this movie, Coutinho worked on the creative team, responsible for creating what would happen in the film. The storyline connects one commercial into another, and he had to think about how to merge two or three commercials in just one shot. After this, he created motion graphics and designed the posters of the movie.
“We began exploring ideas and concepts of what could turn out to be the film. After many suggestions, we got the proposal that summarizes, in a creative and unusual way, five decades of the Awards, all the while recalling memorable pieces of design and advertising that won the coveted pencil shaped trophies, mixing the commercials in a not your typical look-back piece, however,” he described. “The biggest challenge was to implement the concept of ‘let’s put mixed commercials in one spot’. The answer was gradually emerging based on associations, sometimes associations between elements in each commercial, sometimes in action or even free associations.”
The result is not a movie to be viewed from the perspective of the common market, in which technical elements as a clear identity, typesetting, and color work clearly permeate throughout the video, according to Coutinho.
“The final product asks for a moment of questioning about what is happening in the video, a fact that is obvious when we pay attention to the way how the track was built,” he said.
To create the posters, Coutinho used the same logic that was used to create the movie. He picked over some references from the D&AD archives and reinterpreted them in a fresh new way. The result of the posters come from mixing references of the Wish You Were Here? campaign, and other posters that were awarded in D&AD in the past. He used some materials that had been used in the creation of the short, and kept the references consistent with the identity of the campaign.
“Highly motivated, Diego has an amazing professional attitude that always brings a huge production value to any project he is involved,” said Diogo Kalil, a motion designer and 3D animator on the project.
You can view Coutinho’s work on the posters here, or check out the full video here.
Ilya Tselyutin has had an outstanding career as a senior motion graphics designer. He has learned from many talented professionals from all over the world including Konstantin Ernst, CEO of the Channel One Russia and the director of the 2014 Winter Olympics opening. He has worked with famous personalities from different industries, such as Formula One Champion and Tibor Pleiss, an NBA player. He has represented brands such as Lufthansa, BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Porsche, Audi and many more.
The 20th Anniversary of Internet in Russia was celebrated during 6 months with the major concert on April 7th, 2014 at Arena Moscow featuring an array of famous musical groups and musicians. The show started with a video streaming of the Russian Prime Minister giving a speech on the anniversary, followed by the concert alternated with the short reels with the TV pack identity we designed. The event was attended by a total of 2,500 people including major Internet business entrepreneurs and state officials.
Part of this included a promotional TV show spot dedicated to the 20th Anniversary of Internet in Russia. As a Leader Designer on this project, Tselyutin developed the concept, the opening title sequence, bumpers, lower third and a 30 second promotion using design elements typical to the past decades.
“It was really interesting to work on the project for your home country in collaboration with designers from Germany and Argentina,” said Tselyutin, being from Russia himself. “This kind of mixture helped us to create something completely unique for the Russian TV market. It’s a minimalistic, bold and yet clean brand identity.”
Stephanie Helou, currently the Design Manager at Unilever Germany Productions, and former Brand Consultant & Managing Designer at Vision Unltd, worked alongside Tselyutin for the project with the company Creative Worx GmbH. She describes him as Creative Worx GmbH’s most experienced designer and was trusted with directing projects that required both creative and advanced technical skills.
“As a Brand Consultant I worked closely with Ilya on many projects including the TV show pack for the 20th Anniversary of Internet in Russia. Having made an extensive research Ilya took an unusual approach to design and created a minimalistic and clean concept that was rather different from other TV packs we produced,” said Helou. “A remarkable combination of bold vibrant colors and animated geometrical figures made this spot stand out among all other TV commercials on Russian television. Ilya showed his strong leadership skills by guiding this project from its inception to completion as a conceptor, designer and animator. This was a truly enjoyable project and Ilya once again proved to be a highly skilled professional with a non-standard thinking.”
Together, Helou and Tselyutin were invited to give a speech about their work for the TV show pack for the 20th Anniversary of Internet in Russia at a Behance Dribble NRW Community event in Dusseldorf, Germany, where they presented design, concept and a making-of.
“Stephanie is an incredible source of ideas. From the very beginning she suggested doing something creative and new for the Russian TV market and set us up on the right course of actions. Also, as a brand consultant she supervised the process of following the brand guidelines to make sure all of the products including printed and digital were consistent,” said Tselyutin.
The project did present some challenges. Working in a refined schedule is always a challenge in the industry, but Tselyutin had to also work with another country remotely. This presented languages barriers, time differences, and communication difficulties, and gave him the additional role of translator. Despite this, he says the design industry is constantly evolving and it is important to maintain certain level of workmanship and live up to clients’ expectations. To continue improving despite his successes, Tselyutin frequently agrees to work on projects that he knows require some set of techniques he does not have a complete mastery of.
“I learned how to handle an international team on a project where I acted in both administrative and creative roles. I needed to take care of communication in one country and control the design process in another,” Tselyutin described. “I guess I mastered my multitasking skills.”
In the future, Tselyutin aims to keep evolving as a creative director and take on a managerial role in the creative process, especially on projects similar to this.
“I liked the idea itself – present the history of the Internet in Russia. Loved working with bright bold colors and mix them with clean and minimalistic geometric objects,” he concluded. “Overall, this was a very pleasant design project.”
With a dazzling visual style, an acute eye for design and a keen ability to overcome unexpected challenges, animator-art director Angela Yu’s boundless technical capacity and artistic creativity are remarkable. Moreover, she has an innate knack for approaching projects with a transformative originality that frequently redefines and improves upon the initially proposed concept.
Yu’s spent her entire life preparing for this, going all the way back to her childhood in Bejing, China. Yu became fascinated by comics, anime and manga books at an early age, covertly defying her parents’ strict bedtime rule to read them by flashlight under her blanket. “I always loved to draw and became obsessed with beautiful things and I wanted to know how to create things like that,” Yu said. “Manga books were my earliest inspiration for drawing—I’d doodle the characters all over my text books. I also loved watching animation, especially Japanese anime—“Dragon Ball” and “Sailor Moon.” I still watch anime these days, such as “One Piece.”
“I grew up in a very traditional family in China, and though I dreamed of being a Manga artist or animator as a kid, I never thought I’d have a chance to do it in reality—because for all my life I had made decisions based on whether or not they would impress my parents,” Yu said. “But when I was 22, I came to America and was studying at Michigan State University, just as my parents planned. This gave me a chance to view my culture from a distance, with a different perspective, and it gave me the space to think independently and the courage to pursue what I really wanted for my own life.”
Once that decision was made, Yu, with an MA in advertising from MSU, did not hesitate. “I studied Motion Graphic Design at the Ex’pression College for Digital Arts. Since I graduated, I’ve worked at studios and agencies such as Goodby Silverstein and Partners, Oddfellows, First person. And I worked on projects for clients like Google, Yahoo, Cisco, Comcase, NBA, Motorola, GE, Adobe.”
“I love telling stories carrying a message that matters to people. It needs to be meaningful. It can be either an artistic short film or a commercial project. As long as I feel what I am creating has a purpose, I find it fulfilling,” Yu said. “It’s all about how strongly I believe in the message I work on, even on a branding video for a digital product. If I believe the message in the video will make a difference to the brand, to people who work for the brand, then I enjoy what I am doing.”
Once Yu brings her talent to bear, the results are impressive. The ability to enhance and elevate has been a hallmark of her career; if Yu is brought in to consult, she’ll envision something that takes the entire project to a higher level; when Yu finishes a task, it often assumes a life of its own, garnering more notice and appreciation than anyone expected, whether a promotional film or a rock music video.
As Dorry Levine, Digital Media Strategist at ReThink Media, describes her: “Angela was easy to work with, very accessible, met every deadline, was flexible with our ever-changing requests, and turned out a phenomenal project that people are still talking about. The video she animated for us was even covered by the New York Times. I’d work with her again in a heartbeat!”
Yu’s artistic vision is a marvel in its own right. Her gorgeous animated short, “This is California,” is a perfect example of the animator’s rich aesthetic. With stunning visual design and flawless animation, it depicts some of the Golden State’s most iconic spots in an arresting, irresistible form that earned Yu the Best Animation award for 2015 at the IndieFEST Film Festival.
Yu’s already impressive roster of successful jobs with some of the world’s biggest companies underscores both her illimitable potential and singular gift for expanding the parameters of any design or animation undertaking. “Angela is the type of person that makes the seasoned artist step up their game, while also reminding everyone what that fire looked like when they first started,” said Mike Landry, Creative Director at Goodby, Silverstein & Partners.
Most importantly, Yu loves what she does: “I see animation as music written in pixels. I don’t play music very well, but I am fortunate to find animation as the medium to express my creativity,” Yu said. “To this day today, I still enjoy spending the whole afternoon nerding out a motion curve in the graphic editor. It is a very ‘zen’ feeling. I enjoy my craft, and I never stop creating original content. I want to keep developing myself as a better animator and designer.”
We recently had the opportunity to sit down and visit with Zi Li, a revered game designer and producer who has helped deliver award-winning titles including “Dissonance,” “Paralect,” “MiraLab,” “Dungeon Crash” and “Epic Knights.” Shining in both PC and mobile platforms, Li has also engaged her talents for the award-winning “Leviathan” virtual reality project and for the short films, “The Birthday Girl” and “Fly.”
Li, a Guangdong, China native, has a well-founded background for the field. She received a Bachelor of Engineering degree in Digital Media from Beijing University of Posts and Telecommunications, and a Master of Fine Arts degree in Interactive Media & Games from the University of Southern California.
Dispatching her design brilliance, Li has been instrumental in the development, design and execution of cognitive puzzle games, fantasy RPGs and adventure games. She works with Firefly Games Inc., that operates offices in both Shanghai and Los Angeles, and had prior stints with Digital Domain 3.0 Inc., Floor 84 Game Studio and Ericsson Communications.
Li has constructed a standout career with a formula comprised of artistic creativity, engineering ingenuity and a command of computer programming and design principals. We are excited to share her story below in our exclusive interview!
What was it like to grow up and live in Guangdong?
ZL: To be honest it was kind of boring. I grew up in a middle city. Its economy is okay to maintain people’s basic needs. But we don’t have much to do. People are very chilled and always have morning tea, afternoon tea and night tea. Being chilled and relaxed is not in my nature. I always want to go to other places and see what is exciting and creative. I guess that’s why I am here making games.
What games did you grow up playing?
ZL: I did not grow up playing games. My parents were very strict when I was young. They don’t allow me to access to anything that could make me feel addictive. I was learning painting and into manga when I was a child. I always wanted to do art.
Unlike a lot of game developers, I didn’t fall in love with games first. I have particular types of games I like. I love visual art and engineer first and then found games that express meanings and allow me to feel smart when I am playing are very attractive. That’s why I get into game industry.
What drove you to pursue a career in game design?
ZL: I would say I’m driven by the idea of communicating thoughts through art pieces. For me game is art. Game designers are the same as other artists.
I was good at science related fields when I was a kid. I thought my ability is enough support me to become an engineer in the future. On the other hand, I spent more than 6 years studying paintings until high school. I always thought I could become a part time artist. I did an animation later. I found that doesn’t satisfy my needs of expressing my engineering mindset.
Later, I got clearer that in the field that science intersects with art is what I’m really passionate about.
For me, games is a media that allows both science and art collapse together.
What is your favorite game genre?
ZL: Puzzle. I like games that can make me think and use my logic.
What are your top three favorite games all-time?
ZL: Braid, Machinarium, Windosill.
How would you describe your job as a game designer and producer?
ZL: My job includes a wide range of tasks. As a producer, I work with different teams and communicate with each team about their perspective of the game. Also, because I’m a game designer, I also work on game design decisions and help with correcting the game development direction.
What does it take to be a successful game designer?
ZL: I think a good game designer should be innovative, open-minded, and passionate. Other skills will come along as long as the game designer knows what he or she wants.
How did your academic career help shape your professional career?
ZL: I got an engineering degree in Digital Media. We learned lots of basic knowledge about films, animation and games. I learned how to program and work on cinematic pieces during my study in the Digital Media Department. I found my passion in films and games by trying out various media.
Then I went to graduate school for Interactive Media and Games. I was majoring in game design. I knew that this program is not only limited in traditional games. It matches what I want out of games. So I started as a game design student in the industry and gradually figured out my strength. I was involved in various games projects and learned different skills, like design methodology, cinematic expression and so on. They definitely help me to become a game designer and producer.
“Dissonance,” for PC, won the Indie Prize and the Experimental Game Showcase at the Out of Index Festival. Tell us a little bit about it.
ZL: Dissonance is a puzzle-adventure game developed by Team Dissonance. I created Dissonance as a bridge between puzzle games and a psychology concept cognitive dissonance. It started as my personal project. With six months development, the team has expanded to over 10 people. The developers transmitted the psychological concept cognitive dissonance into the core mechanics of game to make it more than just a puzzle game.
What place do puzzle and psychology games have in today’s gaming market?
ZL: Puzzle games are always popular. But I don’t see many games combining puzzle and psychology together. I think as one of the art media, comparing to other media, video games are still new and have lots of potential. Hopefully it will be growing and explored the usage in different areas.
The fantasy RPG – “Dungeon Crash” – has over one million downloads for Android and Apple. How would you describe the game and what’s made it such a success?
ZL: Dungeon Crash is a fun and adorable game which has playful battles accompanied by strategic role-playing elements.
The gameplay is deep and fun. Players always have the next goal in the game. The main goal of the game is to collect the best team of warriors, mages and healers. When a player is trying to work towards the main goal, he or she can balances other elements like gear, upgrade system, guild and so on. There are numerous things a player can do. Each person has their unique way to get close to the goal. Also they can show off their progress through fight against other players to get to the top position on the leaderboard.
Share with us a little on your background in art and how that’s helped shape you as a game designer.
ZL: At the place I grew up, my life contains 3 major activities: taking regular classes, painting and notebook shopping in bookstores (I collected notebooks when I was younger). Like I mentioned earlier, I spent 6 years studying painting. Also, my dad loves poets and calligraphy. He loves sharing them with me. I think this type of environment helps to build my aesthetic standards, creativity and cultivates my passion in arts.
I do think game design is a pretty flexible area. A lot of times, game designers need to make decisions with their aesthetic and design sense. Those things are very abstract and hard to grow in a short term. I’m glad that I grew up with practicing my aesthetic consciousness.
You contributed to the art that’s featured in the PC game, “Paralect.” What is the premise of “Paralect” and how did you enjoy working as an artist for the game?
ZL: Paralect is a 2D platformer that uses gameplay, visuals and narrative to tell a personal story of cultural un-rooting. It explores the paradigm shifts caused by culture shock and adaptation and investigates how those transformations affect one’s vision of people, their environment, the place you initially came from and, most importantly, the place you wish to call home. It is a story and a world inspired by the creative director Loan Verneau.
I had great time working Paralect. I like the concept a lot. I think the protagonist reminds me a lot of myself. I feel attached to the character. The game is programmed with C++, so all the art asset needs to be designed carefully. Loan and I spent time together figuring out how to interpret the design through programmed visual elements. It is great that I got to apply what I know into the game and learning new ways to express ideas in games at the same time. It also helps me to grow and build up experience to make my independent games.
“MiraLab” went on to win the Gold Award in the Education Category at the Serious Play Conference. Was the educational aspect a motivator for the Miralab team in creating the “MiraLab” concept?
ZL: The world in Miralab is a media arts world and accompanying design methodology that emerged out of a multi-faceted exploration of a naturally occurring biological process: the lifecycle of Turritopsis dohrnii, the immortal jellyfish. The biological structure acts as a contextual framing, research prompt, and unifying theme that generates multiple interdisciplinary arts and science media explorations. It foregrounds knowledge and outcomes associated with arts and design practice experimentation within the realm of interdisciplinary arts science research. It asserts how the unique potential arts practice engagement contributes to interdisciplinary learning. This abstract briefly describes each mode of exploration and contextualizes it within a larger poetic science methodology. It considers this methodology’s contribution to a new understanding of interdisciplinary arts science research centered in transmedia design principles.
That said, the “Leviathan” project you worked on implements some VR along with other components. What’s “Leviathan” all about?
ZL: The Leviathan project, based on Scott Westerfeld’s Leviathan trilogy, takes place in 1895, 20 years prior to the source material. In Westerfeld’s story, World War I is reimagined with bioengineered fabricated animals replacing technology and facing off against large mechanical robots. While the books focus on the tension of war, the Leviathan Project emphasizes the experimental exploration in the concept of fabrication. By taking place earlier than the series, the project builds a world of wonder and amazement for the unknown and the unexpected possibilities that can suddenly arise.
“Leviathan” received the New Frontier Project award at the Sundance Film Festival and was featured at CES in Las Vegas. What were the responses and feedback you guys got on the project?
ZL: Players are amazed by what Leviathan offers. In the Leviathan project, we adapt the techniques that can track the player position in a room. So what players need to do is put on the headset and walk around in the room. It is simple and intuitive.
They love that they can walk around in the Leviathan world and observe the world and the stories as an officer. They can get immersive experience while creating their own version of story.
What opportunities does your role as producer allow for at Firefly Games?
ZL: As a producer, I get the chance of communicating with each team and overseeing the project I’m responsible for. Also, I have been communicating with other producers from other projects to share our experiences and tools. I have lots of practice in project management, negotiation and various problem-solving skills.
What can gamers expect to get from Firefly releases?
ZL: Firefly Games focuses on the games that are intuitive and fun for mobile gamers. We have three games out there and are developing more games. Hopefully players can find that our games are fun and relaxing.
What are some of your hobbies outside of the gaming realm?
ZL: I like reading books and watching animated films. These two media can always offer me endless inspiration. Currently, I’m reading a book called The Hero with a Thousand Faces.
What types of games are you looking forward to designing and producing in the future?
ZL: As an artist, I hope one day I can make a game that offers players a unique experience in a way that they reach part of the mind they have never explored before. I always have fun knowing myself and learning about myself. I find it fascinating that a lot of us don’t know ourselves very well. And a lot of art pieces help us. For example, the pilot in The Little Prince does help me to see that I’m just like him. He wants to be a painter, not a pilot. And I’m a person who always wants to be an artist instead of an engineer. I hope people can try the game and then say ‘This game is affecting me. I never knew that I’m a person like that.’
International Entertainment, and the Talents that Leave us Buzzing….