Ghost Town Interview
Lemonade Magazine: For those who aren’t aware of you or your art could you give us a brief introduction?
Ghost Town: We’re a pretty small VFX and design studio centered out of Los Angeles, CA. While we started as a primarily traditional visual effects studio, we quickly found our footing in projects that tended more towards the non-traditional pipeline and aesthetics. Referring to our VFX room as ‘the lab’ we try to integrate new or unusual approaches for post production and design in our pipelines, as we benefit greatly for the ‘happy accidents’ these routes tend to yield.
LM: Can you tell us a little about your artistic background?
Brandon Parvini: I studied originally as a Fine Art major at USC, focusing on sculpture and painting. While having always been active in design, it wasn’t until after college I gave any thought to working in moving images. I always appreciate the experience I received outside the digital world though as that baseline level of classic art making I feel informs my decision making process to this very day. Though the past years have given me a new arsenal of tools at my disposal, so when we were asked to work on the cover art for Linkin Park’s latest album (Living Things) I was able to step back into old shoes, focus on just one frame, and have all the weight and weaponry that would traditionally be used in film making, but now focus all that effort into single frames of creation.
Jeff Lichtfuss: I started taking stop-motion animation classes at Maryland Institute College of Art’s “Young People’s Studios” in the 5th grade. Stop-motion classes lead to hand drawn character animation, followed by traditional cell animation, claymation, then early versions of 2D computer animation with Macromedia Director in ‘94. I was hooked and continued my education through the Film and Animation program at Rochester Institute of Technology, concentrating in 3D character animation. After college I spent time with 3D modelling and animation at design firms before venturing into compositing and post-production. I very much like where I am now because every day allows the use of a new style or technique, and rarely am I pigeonholed into one particular role.
LM: Who or what inspired you to start creating art?
Brandon: It was always something I did. I can’t really explain it, there wasn’t a singular moment for me where I decided to start. In my earliest memories as a child, I’ve always been doodling and sketching. By the time I was applying for college, and then the work force, I feel like I had always known I was supposed to be making something. What that ‘something’ is exactly has remained fairly fluid process.
Jeff: Like Brandon, I was basically born with a pencil in hand. I would sit in front of the TV on a Saturday morning and try to recreate the cartoon characters on screen. I was always doodling and often had more drawings and doodles in my school notebooks than class notes. It wasn’t until I was encouraged to start animating that I really began to take my artwork seriously. For that, I’d have to credit supportive parents and teachers at a young age.
LM: How would you describe your art?
GT: Experiments. High/Low. Old/New. Rarely can we look at a piece we have done and not see other attempts, projects or directions inside of it. Each thing we make informs the next. The process of creating is really the guiding force for us. Due to the client based work we do, how our work looks changes based upon the client. In the end, we hope people wouldn’t be able to easily describe our work, but rather just know it when they see it.
LM: How would describe your creative process? Do you always start from the same point or do you try to work more organically?
GT: Because of the nature of our business, there isn’t the same level of self serving narcissism that is allowed. Don’t get us wrong, it’s fantastic when you can be left to your own devices and create in a vacuum only what speaks to you… But when you are part of a team, or under another’s direction for what they wish to communicate, you’re compromised. That compromise is necessary and latent to the nature of our work when you design. So you look for ways to add your flavour to anything that’s asked of you. We never can start at the same point each time, we are always influenced but what we have just done, the tools at our disposal, and most importantly, what visual riddle are we being tasked to solve this time.
LM: Tell us about your favourite piece of work that you have created to date and why it is so special to you?
GT: I think a project like our music video for Kanye West’s ‘Welcome to Heartbreak’ would be our favorite project, as all paths in our recent past can be tied back to that project as the nexus point for who we are as a company. It was the first project where we got a chance to do something really unique and special for a mainstream act and see it turn into something that people really connected with in an unexpected way. Also it represented for us a fundamental shift in who we would become in that it pushed us into non-traditional software and workflow which is a design and effects strategy we’ve adopted wholeheartedly since then. The idea of creating visual effects out of seldom used or mis-used pieces of software, or even software that has nothing to do with the effects industry, has become a basic part of what we do, and ‘Welcome to Heartbreak’ is what pushed us in that direction.
LM: Who are your favourite artists, past or present?
GT: People like Chris Cunningham, HR Giger, Beksinski all helped point us to making our current flavour of work. Yet, we couldn’t possibly answer that question and feel like it accurately portrays our influences. Every day we are digging through hundreds of new images that are flooding at us from all angles. Each day we find 10 new favourite artists. Each one bringing something unique and inspiring that speaks to the project we are working on. For us, we need to feed on new imagery and influences on a regular basis. When people come to us to suggest direction, or hire us out, we’re not allowed to really show people things they have seen, they are usually asking for something else, something they haven’t seen. Without a regular feed of new favourite artists, we couldn’t possibly create fresh work.
LM: What is your favourite piece of work created by another artist and why?
GT: This is an incredibly hard one to answer as by listing any one or two works, it inherently devalues other works that we admire as deeply. We have a huge catalog of projects that inspire us over a long period of time, but narrowing that down is tough for us.
LM: Do you have a particular material, brand or technique that you swear by?
GT: We’re digital, and we like to work on Mac systems. Above that we are totally agnostic with our tools and mediums. Right now, we primarily use the Adobe suite and Maxon’s C4D. We’re also trying out a wide swath of other software and look for new programs every day.
LM: Do you have any advice or words of wisdom for aspiring artists?
GT: 10,000 hours of practice and work. Do the due diligence and do the work, practice at your craft, everyone has great ideas. These days what makes great artists is having the technical skill to execute the ideas.
LM: What can we expect from you in the future and is there anywhere you would like your work to take?
GT: We have a hard time guessing where we will go next. We have intent, and that’s all we can really hope for. We’re doing some work for a good friend’s feature film right now. After that, it’s all up in the air as usual. We would like to continue digging into new technologies and continuing to misuse and abuse them. In terms of our bleeding edge, we would love to start tapping into the growing new media culture and find a way to have our aesthetics and work become more interactive, more experiential.