SR x MDC: Gavin Shapiro

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The interview was conducted as part of the SR exhibition “Motion Design, NFTs, and Art.”

The exhibition features Gavin ShapiroaeforiabeyondbolaBlake KathrynSasha KatzAdam PriesterSteven BaltayJames OwensmecceaEsteban DiaconoAlessio De Vecchi, and Render Fruit (click links to view interviews)

Co-organized by SuperRare and Motion Designers Community.


Gavin Shapiro is a 3D designer/animator (currently working as a Motion Design Director at R/GA in New York) and his ultimate goal is to produce work that makes you smile. In addition to accumulating hundreds of millions of views across Instagram, Facebook, Reddit, and Giphy, his animations have been used at music festivals and shows all over the world, and have been shown on digital billboards as part of art exhibitions in New York and Tokyo.

Curse of the Dancing Flamingos
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3D animation by Gavin Shapiro. Style transfer by Jeremy Torman. Music by cYsmix.

I think the artists worth paying attention to will have a lot of intentionality behind what they are trying to say through their art. So, when trying to determine an artist’s authenticity or value, look through their body of work to get an idea of what they are communicating with it.

To me, art is an opportunity for communication, and every piece of art will communicate something whether or not that was the creator’s intention. I think the artists worth paying attention to will have a lot of intentionality behind what they are trying to say through their art. So, when trying to determine an artist’s authenticity or value, look through their body of work to get an idea of what they are communicating with it. What does all of their work say as a whole? Are there common themes throughout, and do their works connect with each other to tell a story? Can you see their artistic voice evolving over time? Are they saying something that hasn’t been said before? Will you remember what they said? In the long run, the artists who stand out in the field will be those who develop their storytelling over a body of work as opposed to those who are focused on shortcuts.

Rule 30
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This viewing room, built deep underground, was created to showcase the beauty of Rule 30, one of Wolfram’s elementary cellular automata, which I find fascinating for the chaotic patterns it produces from a simple set of rules. To generate the next line of the pattern, each cell changes based on its current state and the state of its two neighbors. A signboard displaying the ruleset has been installed for those who wish to follow along. Music and sound by Jason Doornick.
How do you develop your own signature styles?

To develop a style, I think your work needs to have certain themes or attributes that, when used in combination, communicate that it was created by you. In a way, it is not too different from how brands use sets of colors, fonts or shapes to communicate that a product was made by a certain company. In developing a signature style, though, it’s important to try to communicate aspects of your life and personality into your work, because there is nobody else in the world who can do that as well (and as genuinely) as you can.

For me, I spent about a decade working as a motion designer without making any kind of cohesive personal work and really struggled with what it meant to have a style. About 2 years ago, I wanted to develop my own style, so I started by using elements that were personally significant and beautiful to me. In the beginning, I chose penguins (which I have loved since childhood), and Japanese architecture (which I grew to appreciate after living in Japan for 2 years). I also tried to communicate these elements through techniques that I enjoyed and that showcased my strengths: 3D animation, and stylized photorealistic rendering. Finally, comedy is hugely important to me and will always be an underlying theme.

I don’t think you need to get everything perfect at the beginning, but it is helpful to find some kind of starting point to branch out from. Any artist’s style will alway be in constant evolution. For me, after each piece I make, I always think about what worked, what didn’t work, and what I want to do going forward to drive the next piece. Bit by bit, I hope to articulate my personality more and more accurately through my art.

What tools do you use?

I use Cinema 4D with Octane Render, and After Effects. I also use Photoshop, Illustrator, Premiere, and Quixel Megascans.

The ultimate goal in my work is to make people smile. A recurring theme for me is the absurdity that arises from taking something silly and innocuous, like a dancing flamingo, and juxtaposing it with something extremely complicated and elaborate.

What themes/subject matter/topics do you often address in your work?

The ultimate goal in my work is to make people smile. A recurring theme for me is the absurdity that arises from taking something silly and innocuous, like a dancing flamingo, and juxtaposing it with something extremely complicated and elaborate. Like, who would take the time to put thousands of dancing flamingos through an infinitely repeating 3D fractal built out of Sierpinski triangles? Or who would go through the process of building 120 life-size bronze flamingo statues in a field to make an enormous zoetrope that you can only see with a drone? It’s preposterous. I hope to not only make people laugh, but also inspire them to think about the artistic process, and hopefully develop some kind of interest in appreciating the details and figuring these things out like a puzzle.

Zoetrope 120
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Bronze and cement. 120 statues, 120 feet in diameter.

I think it’s really exciting that there is a whole community of people who are interested in taking this highly refined and efficient communication framework [motion design] and using it as a tool to create fine art.

Motion design, in my experience, is about succinctly communicating a concept or idea through animation, in a way that will emotionally resonate with an audience. Usually, in client work, what ends up being communicated is some kind of message from a company about a new product or offering. Another example might be communicating the mood or backstory of a film in the 1-minute opening title sequence. So I think it’s really exciting that there is a whole community of people who are interested in taking this highly refined and efficient communication framework and using it as a tool to create fine art.

The role of social media in your art career?

I use social media as a tool to connect with art and design communities online, and as a way to communicate my personality and my artwork to people who are interested in it, as well as to help find new people who may become interested in it.

Should motion design be considered as art or design? What’s the difference between art and design in your opinion?

I would say that design is a communication tool that allows humans to convey and understand concepts. Art is a form of expression in which the ultimate purpose is to emotionally connect with others by articulating one’s imagination. I think motion design will always be considered “design”, but can also be considered “art” depending on how it’s used.

Cleithrophobia
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What if every time you tried to escape, you ended up back at the beginning?
What is motion design’s past, current and future place in the art world/market and art history?

I feel like motion design was initially developed as a way to tell a story visually and in a short amount of time. Things that come to mind are opening title sequences to films like Psycho or Se7en, where visually interesting introductions helped set the mood and give a sneak peak into the story you are about to be told.

Now, in the present, we are still using motion design to tell stories visually, but decades of commercialization has evolved the field into a competition for attention. So, there is a constant drive to stand out from other work by being more flashy, detailed, or technically impressive. This has led to a huge rise in the quality and production value of work from dedicated motion design studios like Buck, among countless others. Even artists on Instagram are doing their best to stand out by developing new techniques and aesthetics that will catch your eye amongst thousands of other animations that appear in the feed.

Going into the future, I can see how crypto art has the potential to give some motion designers the freedom to invest more of their time in telling their own stories as opposed to telling clients’ stories. I can imagine that more intimate, creative, and unexpected work will come about if artists can put time into their craft and be paid for it.

‘Social Distancing’ in the Tanirokujima Art Museum
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Currently closed to the public due to the pandemic, the Tanirokujima Art Museum (谷六島美術館) has recently opened its doors to some feathered friends from the nearby zoo. The flamingos have reportedly missed regularly interacting with zoo visitors, so a field trip was arranged to provide them with some much-needed mental stimulation. 9.6m x 5.4m. Tanirokujima Art Museum, Kagawa Prefecture, Japan
Why do you think motion designs are on average highly valued in the crypto art market?

In Malcom Gladwell’s book “Outliers”, he talks about how some of the major factors of success are 1) The privilege of having the time/opportunity/resources to develop a skill to mastery, and 2) Actually putting in the time to develop a skill to mastery. So, in the case of motion designers, you have this community of artists who have had the privilege of being paid to develop their visual communication skills for years (or decades) while they produce client work and adapt to the latest design trends.  

I am not at all trying to imply that professional motion designers are better artists than those who don’t work professionally. But I do think this amount of practice could give career artists an advantage (in terms of technique) over someone who only has the opportunity to develop their artistic skills in time that they make for themselves outside of their working hours.

Social Distancing
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Some birds enjoy the unforgettable summer of 2020.

Usually, in motion design, you are being hired to communicate someone else’s ideas. Crypto art has made motion designers realize that there is potential to make a career out of communicating their own ideas. 

Usually, in motion design, you are being hired to communicate someone else’s ideas. Crypto art has made motion designers realize that there is potential to make a career out of communicating their own ideas. Even if that doesn’t end up happening, at the very least it is confronting motion designers and forcing them to ask themselves what kind stories they would tell if they had the freedom to tell them.

 What do you hate about cryptoart? What aspect of it should be improved/corrected?

I wouldn’t say that there is anything about it that I hate yet, but I hope to see less artists joining with the intention of cashing in on their existing work, placing more focus on money than creativity. I think the space will only grow and evolve if people create work with the context of the platform in mind. Dumping in all of your existing work will just dilute the whole field.

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