Christian Johansson

Hello, Christian. First of all, a very basic question; how did you start your career in the design field? What inspired you?

Hello. Since my earlier days I was always fascinated with film, moving pictures, cartoons, video games and such. I was not so much into art and/or design work yet, that wasn’t until one day.
I received a phone call from a friend of mine, in ’95-’96 I believe it was and I had just recently heard about the latest invention “the internet”. I didn’t really know what it was for except I had heard that you could see pictures of Pamela Anderson naked – wow!
Anyways, to make short story really long, my friend told me he now had his own website and from that day on we became rivals. I spent days and nights figuring out ways of making my own site an even better one. I remember how fascinated I was with just an animation of a letter coming out of a mailbox; I still had no idea how that was done. Slowly maturely I started to crave answers, I really needed to know all the tricks to this trade.
A couple months later I came across a website called Anders Qvicker, Art and Design (aqa-d.se), he was an old paintbrush artist who had started making digital work on the side. His work was amazing, it was fun to interact with (javascript coded rollovers was an eyebrow raiser back then) and it animated.

I attacked this guy with questions and quickly learned that he was using Adobe Photoshop and, back then, Macromedia Flash. I found out that this one guy I went to school with had a copy of Photoshop and I more or less had to force this guy to give me a copy and finally got it. Come home from school, opened Photoshop and my first thought was “This is it? What do I do with this?” Later on various people’s online tutorials taught me some tricks and I was soon on my way into endless nights of no sleep, making art and design work for my own websites just for shits and giggles. Between that point and this, I have wrestled with the Swedish army, the American government and New York City lawyers to make all pieces fit and get to where I am today.

What got me to New York is when the co-founder of an old employer emailed me, asking me if I wanted to come do an internship as a graphic designer / animator with their company working with Hollywood clients. As a 20 year old growing up in a small town in Sweden, that really meant something. So I kissed my mama goodbye, packed my bags and left my home city and Hyper Island, who had indirectly helped providing me with this opportunity, and moved to Brooklyn / New York City. After a while in New York I met Jens and James, 2 out of 3 partners of Your Majesty today. They took me under their wings, gave me valuable lessons and introduced me to new tools and ways. So when they opened up Your Majesty later on down the road, it was a very easy decision to follow my mentors, help their business grow and give back to their employees what they had given to me.

You have worked at plenty of agencies, which one do you think is your best destination and why?

Your Majesty is by far the loveliest place I’ve been at and I am lucky to have been given the opportunity to work together with such a hard working and striving team. I can rely on the people I work with and I feel the same love and respect right back. People here like to get down to business and at the same time build a vague (exchange for very) environment of goof. And goof by the way means “good” in a knight’s vocabulary.
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At Perfect Fools I had a great stay as well, I had plenty of responsibility put on my shoulders, leading the New York design team. I was forced to constantly push my boundaries, as an example of that; I had to learn Real Flow (3D fluid simulation) in a matter of weeks to produce HD quality liquid animations for Smirnoff.

Being a Sr. Art Director, is that hard work? What are the pros and cons?

Well there is a distinct line between being a designer and being an art director. As an art director you can’t just sit yourself down and focus on getting that current piece you’re working on in place for the delivery. As the art director you need to see the overall picture, you need to make sure you’re team understands their tasks, provide them with new tools and new ways of approaching problems, set level or expectations et cetera. At the same time you’re in charge of communicating to the client side of a project, what direction you plan on taking with you team, why that is going to work, how it’s going to work et cetera and to make sure that they’re always in line with what you’re currently developing.

So I guess a con is that it’s time-consuming overlooking things, it takes away from what you’re actual hands-on times. But on the other hand a pro is to see your own skills being transferred over to other hard working talents and to see them succeed.

Working for various industries, which one do you think is the best to work in? I know you spent a lot of time doing movie-sites. Could you tell us more?

Working with Hollywood was interesting; I had a lot of fun doing it and I learned a lot, what sucked about it was that when the movie came out you had already read the script a couple times, seen the trailers and movie set photography. Also, to me, doing the same thing over and over again bores me, once I’ve learned how to do something I need to move on to something new, I need to constantly be moving, learning new things or I’ll feel like I’m wasting time and slowly maturely feel anxious. Therefore, I think Your Majesty has been a really good fit for me; we have a diverse base of interesting clients. I get to move around a lot, one day we’re shooting photography in the beautiful landscapes of Vancouver, the other day I’m working hard with the other designers on making super detailed matte paintings and animations for some other interactive project. Lately I’ve been working with 3D tracking of 2D footage in a program called BouJou, meaning I can add 3D animations seamlessly on top of a video we’ve shot for example.

Thoughts about Flash? There are loads of web 2.0 sites launching more and more. What&#39s going to happen with Flash then?

It’s beautiful. We need to simplify and make accessing information quick with little to no wait at all. Simple code based animations can now be done with HTML and jQuery and doesn’t really require Flash anymore. But I definitely think Flash will remain, as there’s always going to be sites and campaigns that are animation savvy like that, that require a bit more advanced tools than just fading, scaling, translation et cetera.

To give an example of what I am talking about. Right now in Your Majesty pipeline lays a very animation heavy project. We’re talking our design team is breaking out the finest detail pieces from Photoshop into Flash. Little pixel characters, perhaps 150 pixels high and 40 pixels wide, gets broken up into head, limbs and torso, et cetera, and then animated. A dragon was divided into a great amount of pieces to be given lots of animation control. Its neck was divided per neck skeleton joint so that we in Flash could make it bend and move its neck and spit fire.
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We sometimes have to make some pieces of our design come alive in After Effects rendered as a video loop, just to bring it back into Flash and combine it with other elements such as png sequences or vector animation.

I hear people expressing their frustration over heavy upfront loads, et cetera, and I understand them, I do. But on the other hand, I know there are people out there that put their love and passion into making a campaign really come alive in highly dramatic fashion in their animation heavy interactive productions. People just need to realize that there is a difference between brands. For example apple.com, you wouldn’t go there an expect a heavy upfront load; you just want your specification for your desired product and information on how to order it, that’s it a one minute visit tops. On the other hand, Doritos, it is more about keeping the user engaged and interacting with the brand for as long as possible to create brand awareness. So next time when that user visits a deli he or she will most likely pick the Doritos out of the bunch. And I think our friends over at B-Reel makes an excellent example out of what I am talking about when they launched http://hotel626.com, all in video and Flash.

Why do you think the iPhone and the iPad don’t support Flash?

Honestly, I don’t know what the deal is, and if Apple doesn’t want to put Flash on the iPhone that’s fine. If I owned an iPhone I could probably care less about visiting Flash sites with my phone. However, I understand the frustration about the iPad. There are no limits to what you can put on your Mac book, why should the iPad be any different. That’s a stand I took five minutes ago, as I don’t own either an iPhone or an iPad.

Working in digital business, what would you do, if not your current occupation?

I am an interactive strategist, graphic designer, an animator, illustrator, a 3D generalist all wrapped in one, and most of the times I share my knowledge with the team I work with and I guide others through the projects we work on, which also makes me an art director. This is my occupation this is what I do. It is what I’ve fought to learn and it’s what I love; I would never give that up for anything. Sorry for perhaps a disappointing answer to your question, but most likely, and happily so, I will tell my grand kids about tracking 3D over film footage in my rocking chair as they’re too polite to tell me that I am mentally challenged.

You must be spending a lot of time in front of your computer, how is offline important for you? Do you work 9-17, or do you work more and the hours are flexible?

I do spend an insane amount of time in front of my work computer, and between me and you, I sometimes fall asleep with my laptop watching tutorial DVD’s, mostly from Gnomon Workshop, only to wake up in the middle of the night to check my email.

We have set hours at Your Majesty, I officially work between 10am and 7pm, and however YM has made the hours somewhat flexible to create that relaxed environment that people find themselves comfortable in. Because we all know, comfort makes room for happiness and that’s when you produce your absolute best work.
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If you would have a chance to move to any place of the world, where would you go? Or you are happy with New York?

I am, and will forever be happy living in New York. New York is such a unique place; New York is a place that will teach you about life in so many ways. The multicultural atmosphere and social love in NYC is something I haven’t witnessed in any other place. I will always consider New York to be my home regardless of where I lay my head. Having said that I cannot promise what tomorrow will bring or where it will take me. I could definitely see myself move back home to Sweden and incorporate another just as equally important component to work into my life. You know, take a chance. Maybe have a summerhouse in Barcelona, who knows?

By working at Your Majesty, working in an office environment, what makes you think full-time and office work is better than freelance?

Well, first and foremost, it’s amazing to collaborate with other people and to figure out things and share with others, get their instant feedback and input. There’s nothing I love more than to brainstorm with a whole group of motivated co-workers, come up with insane idea after insane idea and then being able to execute the idea with the same group of people.

Another benefit you have as an in-house designer is the producer protected environment that allows creative space. To just keep track of delivery versions, change orders, revision rounds, schedules, et cetera, on top of your creative work will make your life stressful as a freelancer.

How do you see Your Majesty in the next 10 years? It&#39s growing fast, but what are the plans for the future?

Your Majesty is determined to never be more than 25-30 people in any of the offices, just to keep a family tight group together and to be able to quality control our production in the best possible way.
YM is currently established in New York City with a brand new office on 19th Street and Broadway, but is on the look out to expand the movement to Sao Paulo/Brazil, Amsterdam/Netherlands and to Stockholm/Sweden.

What would you suggest to young designers/artists? How to start a career and from what to learn?

Number 1. I used to think while having already invested a lot of time and energy into learning design: “What if everyone cannot be a designer? What if you need to be born with a certain talent? What if I don’t make it?” Those are limiting believes and you need to KILL them, Jack the Ripper style. Those thoughts are bad ones! You need to get straight with your own mind in this business, as well as any business, be confident in yourself. There is close to nothing that can’t be learned, nothing you can’t do. People in this industry will even try to tell you you’re worthless to keep you on smaller paycheck. Don’t believe them. If an employer ever tells you that nonsense, milk that company on knowledge and then get out, better yet, quit immediately and find that knowledge elsewhere!

Number 2. Look to your elders. Find a mentor, someone that know what they’re talking about, that just doesn’t talk but can actually back it up with action. Learn from them. It will be the fastest way you can gain knowledge, period. Ask! Be hungry! If you find yourself just sitting on your ass doing nothing, you better get up and ask someone something! If you don’t know what to ask, ask your mentor or whomever it is, what else knowledge you should be seeking. The idea is to keep the knowledge coming and to keep progressing. In the beginning, work around the clock, don’t just leave the office because you’ve finished your daily tasks, have an experimental project on the side lined up.

Number 3. Find a balance between your salary and fun projects. Getting paid too much could mean you’ll be working in a stiff office in a cubicle or similar, working on less attractive work. Getting paid too little and youmight be unhappy because you might not be able to do anything but buy food and paying rent. I believe that your work environment should be playful, socially dynamic and efficient for it to be truly successful.


Are there any moments, when you want to stop doing what you do if you are totally uninspired?

If I ever feel uninspired I take a step back and do work that I can do in my sleep and I do it as well and detailed as I can and then look at the end result to boost my self esteem a little. That might give you that spark back and rub off on to your other performances.

Another thing I like to do is to ask someone else for a reference to relating and inspiring work, to get someone else’s completely different take on the matter instead of my own. That usually takes down brain barriers that I might run into.

Sometimes it’s as easy as “Calm the fxxx down, these here are pixels!”

Final Comments?

Dream, follow them, set up goals, have fun on the way, respect all people, speak your mind as frequent as possible, spend your energy wisely, spend your energy unwisely. Don’t let anyone tell you what is possible and what is not, simply do not accept impossible. Do what others believe is corny or wrong if it makes sense to you. Stay true to yourself and everything you wish for will come to you!

Thank you!
Chris

http://christianjohansson.net