How would you describe the work that you do…to a 5th grader…or your parents?
Typically I just tell people that I’m a photographer and graphic artist who works on websites, video games and mobile apps. Those are all visual things that most people are familiar with so that I don’t need any deeper explanations. I’ve given up on trying to paint a full picture of all of my skills as a “Jack of all Trades”. Anytime I’ve tried to explain that I’m also a strategist, programmer, front-end developer or actionscripter, I’ve seen their eyes glaze over as they’re about to fall asleep.
It looks like you are doing a major update to your personal site. What can we expect to see in the new version?
Very soon. I had big expectations when I first started. I put a lot of pressure on myself to do something fresh and unique. Unfortunately I fell to all of the same issues and distractions we all have when doing something personal like a portfolio site. I would work for a few days on it, then get sidetracked by work projects. Then I’d hop back on it again a month later and be in a completely different mindset. Which is a recipe for inconsistency in any project. Ultimately I have settled on a rather simple layout that will have a lot of cool CSS3d effects and motion that hopefully adds some depth to the experience and makes the experience seem a little more than it is.
You worked for 2Advanced for over 10 years. Their early animation style could be attributed to influencing many young Flash developers. How much would you say their iconic style influenced your own work?
I was a fan of Eric Jordan before we worked together and became close friends. Like everyone else at the time I was drooling over his work and others like Gmunk and Joshua Davis. I was lucky enough to get a job with Eric at a company named Design Insites when 2Advanced was just his portfolio site. I was brought into that company to copy Eric’s style and handle the high demand of projects that were coming in as he was making a name for himself. The difference between me and everyone else was I was being paid to design, animate and think like Eric at the time. He left that job to transition 2Advanced into a real company and luckily I was one of the first employees hired as they grew. Early on I felt pressure to do similar work to Eric. But with each new project I started moving in a different direction that was still very emotional but more organic, less futuristic, inspired by nature and more me. I knew if I was going to make a name for myself as well as diversify the 2Advanced style I had to have my work & style stand on its own. People had to be able to differentiate between an Eric or Shane project stylistically. It took a while but projects slowly stopped looking all the same. Although people still lumped all of the work under the “2Advanced” style umbrella a more diverse portfolio was created which for a while led to project variety and a better reputation in the industry for an ability to do multiple styles.
Your portfolio shows that you have not only made a successful transition from Flash experiences to interactive html experiences. How was that transition for you, how much do you still work in either technology, and what potential do you see in each moving forward?
The transition was seamless. Before I ever was a designer or flash developer I was a front-end developer. I cut my teeth in the first 5 years of my career doing strictly HTML development and nothing else. I was always cutting up the designs of my friends and building them out which ultimately led to me being bored and learning to design and animate. Fortunately for me even in the high point of flash development I was still doing all of the front-end development on all of my projects so my HTML skills were kept sharp. I was even pretty vocal on message boards about the fact that a lot of the things we were doing in flash at the time were best left to being done in HTML. Which actually pissed some people off since Flash was king at the time and being used for everything.
Almost everything I do these days is done in HTML. Flash is mostly dead on the web and at least from what I can tell only exists in banner ads and other areas like video game development. I was fortunate to be an Art Director on the front line of the design & animation of the Epic Mickey 2: The Power of Two video game. I handled all of the initial Main Menu & HUD designs, storyboards and animation prototypes in the early stages of the game development. All of those animation prototypes, experiments and demos were all done in Flash using all of the same tricks and techniques honed in years of immersive interactive websites. Everything was then ported into the game engine using Autodesk Scaleform. Flash is still the best tool for animating things like that and was perfect for the project.
Based on your experience it looks like you are primarily freelancing. How do you go about finding the ‘right’ type of clients?
If you work hard to cultivate your own style and reputation it’s a lot easier to bring the right clients to you. I’ve always advised people that in order to bring in the type of work you want to be doing you have to first show everyone that you can do that type of work. You have to live in exist in the niche you want to draw clients from. I like to think that I’ve done that my entire career and with every project I’ve been involved with. It’s also important to surround yourself with good hard working people respectful people. Clients often find you because of referrals from friends, former co-workers and past clients. Many talented designers struggle to get work simply because they do not have a solid network of relationships set up. As your network grows so does your business as long as you hold yourself to a high standard producing solid work. Ultimately it’s important that a prospective client can see themselves and their products in your style from current or past projects.
Humans build tools that dramatically amplify their innate human abilities. What tools can’t you live without? What tools are you lacking?
Professionally I can’t live without Google, StackOverflow.com, Photoshop, Dreamweaver, My DSLR and my phone’s camera. They’re the tools that I use every day to bring to reality all of the creative solutions I see in my head. Google is of course the easiest way to search for and find the answer to any question or asset I need. StackOverflow answers any dev related questions I’ve ever had and has helped me become a better coder. Photoshop is the program I use to lay out all of the type, colors, shapes, style and UX that I see in my head on every new project. Dreamweaver is my tool for combining all of the pieces together into what I publish on the web. My DSLR captures all of my travels and memories while being a continuous source of free personal stock imagery on projects. Finally, my mobile phone’s camera is my creative outlet away from the computer. I love posting pictures on instagram to sedate my creative itch anytime and anywhere.
I think I’m lacking a tool like in the movie the Matrix where you could rapidly learn a skill by pushing a button. I wish I could just become a 3D master overnight. It’s the one skill I wish I had the need to use more often. Each time I sit down to do something in Cinema4D or 3DS Max it takes me a long time to re-familiarize myself with the interface again which always frustrates me.
If you could put the idea of “No regrets” aside for just a second, what is one decision in your career that you wish you could undo?
Early on in my career I unfortunately prioritized work and projects above dedicating enough true quality time to my marriage and growing family. I thought that if I was making enough money and putting food on the table that I was doing a good job as a husband, father and son. It was a vicious circle because the longer & harder I worked, the more money, awards & recognition I achieved but the more I didn’t have time for real life activities. I thought I was doing an amazing job as a provider for my family. That mentality only works for so long before the other people in your life start pointing out to you that you’re never around, always have your face in a laptop on vacations or always seem to be working. I let that mentality ride a little too long and I feel like I missed out on a lot of opportunities to just be present and away from a computer when my marriage was young and my family was growing. To be a good husband, father and son you have to not just provide financially but also emotionally. I’m glad that my wife forced me to see the light: that true happiness doesn’t come entirely from my career, but from all aspects of my life, experiences and relationships.
Have you had similar fears about the quality of your work, or the longevity of your creativity?
This type of creative insecurity has always been a huge driving force in my career. I’ve always said that you’re only as good as your last project. It’s what helped me try and put everything I can into each project I’m involved with, without looking forward to the future or resting upon what I’ve done in the past. Over the years I’ve seen too many amazing designers, developers and companies that have risen and looked so amazing but then fallen off the grid entirely. Seeing that has always driven me to work harder so it doesn’t happen to me. I know I’m not at the pinnacle of any top designer/developer lists anymore but my goal has been to stay as relevant as I can for as long as I can. The key to that has always been a fear of becoming irrelevant combined with a desire to have as much fun on each project as I can. I treat every project like it’s my last and always try to attempt something new, unique, special or memorable to keep things exciting. Never hold anything back for later because you never know if your next project will have the same opportunities. Amazingly, the result of that philosophy is an influx of even more projects!
What vices (if any) keep you going?
I’m not sure I have any of the traditional vices one might think of. I’ve never had a drink of alcohol in my life. I’ve never smoked anything or experimented with drugs. I used to drink energy drinks & diet sodas to help me stay up late but have given those up as well. I previously worked too much, and as I mentioned I’ve learned how to balance that out. If vices were a positive thing I could claim working out as one. I’ve done sports & worked out 4+ days a week without any breaks since I was 14. I played college football and did natural bodybuilding for a while after college. There hasn’t been a day in the last 26 years where I haven’t been sore somewhere from pushing myself in the weight room or in some sort of athletic situation. My latest obsession is doing CrossFit and I have set a goal of qualifying for the CrossFit games as a masters competitor. People are usually surprised that I’m a designer/developer since I don’t look the part and there’s a part me that enjoys not fitting that mold.
Where have you been finding your inspiration?
I find inspiration from everything around me and not just in a creative design sense. Project assets can inspire me. A short deadline can inspire me to move and think faster so that I don’t waste time figuring out the right creative execution to take. Wanting to go watch my kids gymnastics practice in the afternoon can inspire me to work more efficiently to be done earlier.
Being honest, I think a lot of the current design trends are amazingly boring and uninspiring. Responsive design is an awesome thing but it’s definitely made the whole web design scene pretty generic and flat. Designs have gone backwards in time to resemble stylized UX with a couple of basic colors, some fonts and some pictures rather than extensions of a designer’s personality and style. Because of that I think I’m most inspired by some of the current development trends at our disposal that have risen as Flash has died. I’ve been doing a lot of experimentation with CSS3d, HTML5 animations and am currently doing a WebGL project that should launch soon. WebGL reminds me a lot of the early days of flash where everything is undocumented and the people doing the really cool work aren’t talking about how they achieved something. It’s all very mysterious and exciting. But also very frustrating. It’s challenging to not be able to find an answer to a basic WebGL question or have to dive through minified code to see how someone executed something. But that just makes the successes of figuring it out even more exciting.
On a personal level, my friend Brad Jackson (http://www.0xargb.com) is huge development inspiration for me. He’s a creative coder I’ve worked with since we met in the old Flash days. We’ve been having a lot of fun using our years of Flash animation & dev experience to brainstorm and re-create a lot of those old tricks in html. We’re constantly competing against each other to push the boundaries of our projects and he inspires me to write better, reusable code.
What are you thoughts on the contrasting methodologies?
I think both strategies are smart. There’s no one perfect way to do anything and each strategy will attract different types of people, all of whom are at different stages in their lives and careers. Early in my career I never fathomed a flexible working environment. It wasn’t how anyone did business. You worked 8-5 with two 15 minute breaks and a 1 hour lunch along with a lot of other rigid corporate rules you had to play by. You sat in a cube farm and learned to collaborate/communicate face to face to make decisions. At the time I thought that approach was important for companies with strong leadership and a need for everyone to be on specific goals and directions, but now that I’m older and have my freedom as a freelance designer/developer I see it differently. I can’t imagine rigid working requirements or driving into an office everyday to pound the keyboard. I love the flexibility I have and would only work in environments organized in a way that lets me maximize my potential. Not everyone can survive or thrive in an environment like that, of course. For it to work you have to be a focused individual with skills in time management, collaboration, and communication (digitally and in person) in order to both establish and meet the expectations of the rest of the team.
What do you find most troubling about your discipline or industry?
The expectation that people can or should drop whatever they’re doing on weekends or after hours to respond to or work on late client requests. Because we can do our work anywhere and anytime it’s become the expectation for people to tackle things the minute they receive the email. I’ve learned to avoid these situations but I was recently reminded of it when a friend of mine had to almost cancel a meet up we’d planned so that he could spend his Saturday afternoon doing “revisions” that could have been done first thing Monday morning. There’s always more time on every project even if we’re told there isn’t. Confining work to normal business hours should be the expectation of everyone. Obviously early in my career doing work at all hours was not a problem. I loved the rush of cranking out work over the weekend and sending out that magical 2am email so that the client knew you’d just spent the weekend and late night cranking on their project. But just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should be expected to do it.
The term “Flow” is a psychological term about getting into your groove…How do you achieve your flow?
The most important part is turning off distractions like Twitter, Facebook, Email and IM. Once that has been achieved I put on my headphones and crank up whatever music I think will match the task I’m currently tackling. I’m all over the place and have an eclectic musical palette ranging from nose bleed music like Hatebreed and Marilyn Manson to rock, pop, 80s and even country depending upon the mood or project.
Are agencies structured in a way to let those types thrive, or are they doomed to be outcast as freelancers because of unorthodox methods?
I don’t think a crazy process determines if a person can thrive in an agency. It’s how well they can work collaboratively and articulate and sell a design that does that. You can be the best designer in the room who has some crazy ideas, but if you can’t sell your work to the team or the client no one will pick it and you won’t last long. Not all agencies are built the same either. Some agencies are looking for those savants to push ideas and are willing to work with the madness. Others are just happy delivering whatever the client requests without questions and wouldn’t have a use for someone who thought outside of the box.
What new projects are you working on? Anything you would like to plug?
I’m currently working on teaser site for Transformers 4, a Canvas Meme Creator, a WebGL experience for an upcoming Batman video game and packaging for a new line of supplements. In my free time I’m trying to wrap up my new site to showcase all of my work from the past year and everything I’ve done since I started in this industry.
What skills, or side-projects, do you have that many people might not know?
I always struggle with the picture of what people perceive my skills as and what I do on projects. When you work at a small boutique agency for 10 years with the title of “Creative Director” it’s easy for people to get the wrong idea of what I truly can do. Sometimes I feel that people think I’m just a designer or maybe just overseeing projects. I’m one of those people who likes to play on all aspects of a project. And by play I mean do. I’ve been referred to by friends as a “black unicorn” because of everything I do on projects. For most of my work I’m a one stop shop. I’ll wireframe, design, render, photograph, build, code and animate everything from start to finish if I can. Don’t get me wrong, I also love doing collaborative team projects where I have just one task to focus on. But at the end of the day I love the thrill of being able to control as many creative aspects of a project as I can.
Who else would you like to see us interview?
Oh man. I feel so disconnected these days on who is who and all that. Id throw it out to my buddies Dan Mall (http://www.danielmall.com), Dann Petty (www.dannpetty.com) and Marc Hemeon (www.hemeon.com). All are amazing people in our industry.