Many Motionographer readers will no doubt recognise Josh Raskin as director of the Oscar nominated short ‘I met the Walrus’. Personally I’d been wondering what Josh had been up to of late, so I was delighted to take delivery of his new spot for Google. The film starts with the familiar sketchy ‘Walrus’ style from the pen of Raskin’s illustration collaborator James Braithwaite, but then gives way to a looser style that to my eye is new for Raskin. So I thought I’d fire him over a few questions and find out a bit more.
The Google film starts in a familiar ‘Raskin’ place, similar to the illustration and animation style in ‘I met the Walrus’ that many readers will know. But then it moves off into a much more mixed-media space that oscillates between stop-mo and live-action. Is this latter style something you’ve been developing for a while?
Yeah. I’ve been drifting away from computers for a while now. Or trying to, anyway. I found I was spending a lot of time trying to get computers to make things look hand-made, when it’s often a lot easier to just do things by hand to begin with.
For the past few years we’ve been pitching ideas that are less and less computery, and they keep getting rejected in favour of animation styles that we’ve done to death. It’s pretty hard to find people in the commercial world that are willing to take a chance on something they’ve never seen. Google, on the other hand, practically demanded something they’d never seen. So the piece ended up being a sort of retrospective of things we’ve been waiting to try.
The film feels very loose, especially towards the end through the live-action multi-plane sections. The considered illustrative sections give way to something that is quite anti-design. Was it a struggle getting Studio G / Google to buy into this, or did they come to you specifically for this approach?
Google was the kind of client that almost never happens. They came to us with the idea of animating to these interviews, and beyond that, they were completely open. It was one of those rare working relationships where the client is genuinely excited about everything you’re doing, and feels more like a supportive friend and collaborator than a boss.
And the style fit the concept. This spot is really about computers getting better at letting people communicate. I think the end goal for this kind of technology is for the computer to become invisible, and for people to communicate freely without knowing the technology’s even there. So the idea for the spot was to move through three sections of animation, each one becoming more tactile and human than the last, until the whole thing is just stuff being wiggled around by hand over a tv screen.
Tell us a bit about your workflow. Do you wait for happy accidents and then try to factor these into your work or do you board everything out meticulously?
I generally write and board things pretty meticulously. But when it comes to making stuff, the accidents and the things you don’t plan on are always the best parts. So we tend to set things up in ways that maximize potential for screw-ups.
What have you been up to since ‘I met the walrus’. And tell us about your musical venture ‘Kids & Explosions’. Personally I think ‘Swear Words’ should be played for the first dance at every wedding from now on.
Haha. I would love to see that at a wedding. We’re actually making a music video for that song right now, but that’s a much better idea than ours…
I’ve done a few commercials and video projects since I Met the Walrus. But I haven’t really poured myself into anything visual until this Google project.
I’ve mostly been focussing on music. Kids & Explosions is a project that basically consists of me stealing my favorite bits of other people’s songs and making new songs out of them. Mostly because I can’t sing.
Don’t take this the wrong way, but you’ve been around for a while now. What are your views on the industry, how it’s changed and what you have planned for the future.
The biggest change I’ve noticed is that TV is dying. It’s still a giant, but I don’t know anyone who watches it anymore. So broadcasters and advertisers are looking for new ways to do things. I’ve also noticed that now when people want you to make something for no money, it’s called ‘viral’.
Making commercial work is strange. I used to run into trouble because I treated every job like a personal project. The danger with that is you end up taking things way too personally and fighting for every little detail, and you either ruin your relationships trying to make it perfect or end up heartbroken that it isn’t. I guess I’m not as aware of changes in the industry as I am of changes in myself. I’ve learned to treat commercial gigs as someone else’s project that I’m helping out with, rather than my own baby. Not that you shouldn’t do as amazing a job as you possibly can… It’s just not worth losing your mind over.
…That’s what personal projects are for. Or Google ads.
Directed by: Josh Raskin
Design by: Alex Kurina
Illustration by: James Braithwaite
Animated by: Josh Raskin
Sound by: Finlay Braithwaite
Camera by: Jamie McMahon & Zach Cox
Voices: Zhu Zhu, Jasvir Nagra & John Ioannidis
Hands: Rose Broadbent, Joseph Murray, Gurjeet Bassi, Alex Kurina, Josh Raskin, Mahmood Popal, Lodewijk Vos & Lauren Pirie
Client: Google Inc
Product: Google Input Tools
Client Executives: Alice Lin & Andrew Warren
Produced by: Studio G @ Google
Creative director, writer: David Bryant
Studio G Producer: Christine Allen
With help from: Lisa Young, Ryan V. Hays, Mono Ahn, Kate Kwon, Jenalle Los, Graham Beasley, Regina Gupta & Rodrigo Marti
Special thanks: Tom Kuo, Angelina Liang, Vivian Suk Ying Ng, Andrew Chiu, Sameer Farooq, Andres Landau, Kevin Konarzewski, Dan Turcotte, Arv Slabosevicius, Steve Wilson, Danielle Hession, Justin Broadbent, This American Life & the internet