Hello! My name is Gavin and I’m a 3D designer/animator. I’ve lived and worked in Osaka and Paris and am currently working as a Motion Design Director at R/GA in New York City. Nowadays, in my free time, I’m trying to make vibrant, surrealist 3D animation that doesn’t take itself too seriously but still retains a high level of quality.
My goal is always to make someone smile, and show them something that they’ve never seen before and just can’t help but watch over and over.
Have you always been a creative person and what has lead you on this path to where you are today?
I would say that I’ve always been creative. I definitely have my parents to thank for that. They were both artist representatives in New York City and moved out to the middle of nowhere in Connecticut when I was 2. So they always had all of these art books lying around – books about illustration, photography, logo design, fonts, etc. My toys as a kid were wooden blocks, magic markers, Legos, paints, needlepoint, and clay (among other things), and I was mostly forbidden from video games and Cartoon Network.
When I was around 10 years old they got me Bryce 3D and that was my first foray into the world of 3D. My brother-in-law, an architect, also used to show me how to use Form Z around the same age. I’ve actually found my work from around that time online, and it’s very embarrassing. Around middle school and high school I shifted more towards video and making funny videos with my friends. So I went to college for filmmaking, because I wanted to develop a career making comedy films or sketches or something. But during the last two years of college I started doing an internship with The Onion as a motion design / vfx intern. This was how I really started developing my Cinema 4D and After Effects skills. 10 years of freelancing later, here I am.
“Tree of Woe” as Senior Motion Graphics Designer at The Onion
Is music a key element in your creative process? How does it help you spark joy in others when sharing your art?
Spark joy! Nice Marie Kondo reference. Man, she makes me want to throw everything I own in the garbage. It’s very therapeutic.
Anyway, music is definitely a crucial element in my process. I have a playlist of songs that I plan on using for future videos. I feel like in my personal work, I’ve always really been into the connection between video and audio. When things link up, it’s just so satisfying to me, and it can be very powerful when used effectively.
In my current work I’m trying to really convey a feeling of happiness, almost to the point of exaggeration, so what could be better than music that makes you want to dance? Also, the absurd juxtaposition between “cuteness” and “high-intensity” has been a consistent theme in my work, even with older stuff.
CVLT studio asked me to create several looping music notes for the Apple Music campaign
When I was younger, I was absolutely obsessed with guitar. So I spent years learning how to shred like Yngwie Malmsteen and Paul Gilbert, learning music theory, rhythm, etc. So music has always been a big part of my creative side as well. Nowadays I’m frequently calling upon that skill set, and it’s very helpful that lining up beats and measures comes very naturally to me. I’ve been making all of my loops at 120 bpm, so that I can animate at 30 fps easily. It also works out nicely for the kind of music I use since it’s usually around 120-130 bpm and I don’t need to change the tempo too much to match the visuals. It also makes the loops easily usable as concert visuals, since everything is rendered at the same tempo and can be sped up or slowed down globally to match a DJset.
You’ve had experience traveling the world working within different work environments and cultures. How has being exposed to a multicultural art world effected your creativity?
Just for some context – I spent 3 months in Paris working at a French studio, primarily on the opening title sequence for Secret Story, a campy French reality show that’s basically the cultural equivalent of Jersey Shore.
After that, I moved to Osaka for two years. The first year I enrolled in a Japanese language school so I could have a student visa to stay in the country, and I was required to take 3 hours of Japanese class per day. I’d go home after class and work from home for American clients on my laptop. After a year in class, and once my Japanese was good enough, I did a ton of interviews and got hired by a Japanese company that makes Pachinko games, and they sponsored my visa for a second year.
Pachinko, by the way, is the Japanese equivalent of casino games. It’s very extra.
Being exposed to a multicultural art world has given me an interesting and diverse pool of work and experiences to draw inspiration from. Reflecting on it now, the stuff I was doing in France was very vibrant and over-the-top, like my current work. And in that work, it was very important that the elements in the scene helped tell the story. So perhaps I was influenced in that way. And when I first started playing with developing my own personal style, I was pulling a lot of influence from Japanese architecture. I think what really affected me the most, however, was living and working with people in different cultures, and getting exposed to a lot of different ways of thinking. Even learning other languages and thinking in different linguistic structures helped me see the world in different ways.
My experiences abroad helped me become a more thoughtful and empathetic person. It’s also helped me build relationships with people in my industry who’ve come from abroad, since we can relate on some level that I don’t think a lot of Americans can. At the very least, we can commiserate over the fact that learning motion-design-specific vocabulary is a confusing pain in the ass and it can be difficult to look up translations for words in our field.
A lot of your recent projects have been very upbeat, cheerful, and fast paced. How do you feel that art is a tool in creating happiness within people?
To me, art is an opportunity for communication and human connection. Whereas normally we’re used to communicating through text or voice, art gives you the chance to communicate with people through methods that they haven’t encountered yet. You might experience a work of art and then have a realization that you wouldn’t have been able to understand if it were expressed to you only with words.
So, I think art has the opportunity to be a really powerful medium to get ideas across. I also feel, especially as a motion designer, that art is about how succinctly you can communicate your ideas. I really liked the book The Design of Everyday Things, which is about communicating ideas and function through design and form instead of words. On a related note, I remember a quote from a great documentary about the Voyager missions called The Farthest (It’s on Netflix). There’s a part where they’re making the golden record and they’re trying to figure out how to represent the entirety of Earth in only a hundred photos. And Jon Lomberg says,
“What art is about is taking something that’s small but can represent the whole.”
And I think that’s really beautiful. What elements do you focus on to represent the idea you’re trying to share? That’s up to the artist, and everyone will have a different way to show the same idea, based on what they highlight as important and representative.
So, with all of this in mind, I’m trying to bring different elements together that can effectively communicate happiness through my art. In a sense, I’m also totally projecting my values of happiness onto my expectations of others. I think birds are hilarious. Making them dance makes me happy. And combining this absurdity with abstract surrealism goes back to that juxtaposition of cuteness and intensity that I was mentioning earlier.
My work started out with heavy Japanese influence and then shifted a bit when I made some concert visuals for Yung Bae, who’s aesthetic is very summer-themed. So that helped me bring some happiness into it as well. Who doesn’t like summer? After every piece, I keep track of what I think worked and what didn’t, and use that as a set of rules to guide further work. So I’m trying to distill my process down and refine how I create, and at this rate, it’s heading towards improving my artistic sensibilities and, of course, increasing happiness 🙂
What, in your opinion, makes for the perfect creative environment?
In terms of a physical work environment, I suppose I’d recommend working in a space where you feel comfortable. So, create a space that draws you in – whatever that means to you. In terms of a creative environment in the psychological sense of the word, I like to surround myself with art and new ideas as much as possible. I like going out into the world and getting inspiration from museums, nature, concerts, dj events, escape rooms, architecture, storefront displays, anything and everything, really.
Your space should make you feel motivated to create as opposed to having to work around obstacles to get there.
My Instagram feed is only artists (other than family and friends), so even when I’m spacing out and flipping through Instagram I’m still getting inspiration. I also love reading, even though I only make time to read during my commute. Even just 30 minutes each way adds up over time. I read 26 books last year on the subway, and this year I’m already up to 18. There’s so much to learn from and draw inspiration from. I’ve just started reading Setting the Table by Danny Meyer, which is about how he created a hugely successful restaurant empire by placing enormous emphasis on hospitality, and even in that I can see parallels to motion design and building experiences that people will enjoy.
Reading has really helped me gain a lot of perspective and insight about the world, and taught me a lot about psychology and human dynamics. I’ve realized that being an artist isn’t only about building your artistic skill set – it also has a lot to do with how you understand and interact with the world and build relationships with people. How else will you find stories to tell?
Wyatt Cenac approached us while at Phoenix Media Group in need of original branding for his new show. These visual elements were then translated to the set design and broadcast.
Having worked with large media companies such as The Onion for a few years and even small projects like the ADULT SWIM ad for a parody the “Apple iPlug”.
How has your lighthearted spirit carried over into the many freelance projects you’ve worked on over the years?
I think the best thing that working in comedy has taught me is to never take yourself too seriously. If you take yourself too seriously, you can end up looking like a parody of yourself without even realizing it.
If you do or make something embarrassing, I’ve found it’s best just to realize you are worth laughing at and laugh with everyone and move on. You can always do better next time. Working in comedy has helped me learn to love laughing at myself and my work. It’s also really helped me get along well with people in the industry.
What is a new skill you’ve added into your process recently?
Recently I’ve been trying to develop my design sensibilities and visual storytelling. I’ve been trying to be more aware of how I use color, contrast, and lighting to draw attention to important parts of the scene that I want to highlight. I’ve also tried to become more aware of what I want to communicate stylistically by using objects, colors, and textures that communicate a theme and build an emotional connection, as opposed to playing around with primitives and hoping I can find something visually interesting.
To many, I’m sure this seems obvious, but I never learned how to be a designer; I went to film school, and then got into design through comedy. So I’ve always been missing a lot of the foundation that I feel is pretty basic to many artists and designers. I definitely have impostor syndrome and am constantly in awe of “actual artists”: people who can model, sculpt, paint, or draw. It just seems so impossibly superhuman to me!
My girlfriend can paint photorealistically, and when I look at her work I’m just, like… completely blown away. I just don’t understand how to do it. What if you want to change the lighting, or the color of an object? I think I would die. At some point, I would really like to learn how to draw, and eventually sculpt. I think designing my own characters would be the next big step for my work.
What’s one piece of advice or encouragement to other creators out there?
If you’d like your work to be noticed, you’ll have to figure out how to stand out. This will be different for everyone, but the only way to stand out from everyone else is to incorporate yourself into your work, because nobody else has the ability to show that.
What makes you unique?
What are your passions?
What do you think about the world?
That’s what you need to make art about. Show that to people and build a connection with them. Develop your craft and then tell the story that nobody else can.
Anything you would like to plug: (links, social accounts, or products)
My new website: www.shapiro500.com
Where you can use all of my animations as full-screen party visuals, right in your browser. You can change the tempo on the site to match your DJ set, download all of the loops for free, and also check out a big Spotify playlist with the music from the animations.
Also the iPhone (iTunes Store) game I made myself and released last year:
Thank you for the great questions!