If he could he would only design main titles! Till then, award-winning art director and designer Harshit Desai is making a clear mark in the world of motion design.
What does it take to become a successful art director?
I don’t think there is a set path for becoming a successful art director. I believe the basic qualities of hard work, perseverance and impeccable work ethic take you a long way. It also helps to have interest and knowledge in a number of non-design subjects. Whatever it is, you should delve into it fully – philosophy, music, cooking, murder-mysteries, nature, politics, travel. You never know when that knowledge would come into use. But in a more tangible sense I would say it is being exposed to good work. If you reference and follow great designers, films, studios, etc. it will subconsciously raise your own benchmarks and permeate into your own work. I see it as being in good company.
For me personally, a successful art director would be someone who has the liberty to choose the projects he or she wishes to work on. Every creative once in a while encounters tasks which are not of their interest or style. As a professional you try to make the most of it, look at the positives and accomplish them. But to truly have a choice – the capability, leverage and even affordability to say no to a project that doesn’t pique your curiosity is somewhat of a success in itself.
What it is about motion design that draws you?
For me, motion design blends graphic design and alternative storytelling, two subjects I am very passionate about. But more so it is the joy of creation and being able to evoke a feeling in your audience. Giving vision to an idea and having someone watch and appreciate it is a great feeling. You are literally able to show your thoughts to someone. It turns something that is very abstract into a tangible act. I truly believe that is something worth pursuing.
How did it all begin?
I think my romance with computers was a gateway to my love for design. My dad bought our first PC in the summer of ’98. I was hooked and by winter I had prescription glasses. It started with computer games until one day I discovered Word Art and then Corel Draw. That was probably my first introduction to the creative industry.
I received a Bachelor’s degree in Visual Communication Design from Symbiosis Institute of Design, Pune. SID is where I was truly introduced to the world of design, film-making and animation. It was through fellow peers and colleagues that we explored foreign films, tutorials and various design blogs, etc. I went to the Savannah College of Art & Design for a MFA in Animation but ended up taking most of my electives in Motion Media design, which I loved!
How did formal design education pave the way for your career?
The diversity in those courses helped set me up for a well-rounded career in art direction and motion design. I think a formal design education provides you the building blocks for a career in the creative industry. It doesn’t matter if it is live action film-making, motion design or visual effects; the basic principles of design stay the same. It is a visual language that is universally communicable. I would say with experience you break these rules and use them in a particular way which defines your personal style.
Share your experience of working in Los Angeles. How does it compare with working in India?
Currently I am an Associate Creative Director InSync PLUS in LA. Working in LA has been an amazing experience. I am surrounded by some of the world’s best film and motion design studios – it is very motivating.
Around five years ago there was a notable difference in the quality of work, environment, ethics and benchmarks between India and the West. But it has changed so much, and for the better. I am seeing so many great start-ups, design studios and companies back home that are changing their outlook to the business and the way they work. I firmly believe Indian ads and advertising campaigns are among the top contenders in the world.
I do see a difference in the style of design and film making. Indian film-making and art reflects our culture. It’s vibrant, colorful, loud, extravagant and everything is heightened for the senses. On the other hand, the taste and visual style out here is a little subtler. We do have the concept of jugaadin India which is unbeatable. I think it is a great secret weapon to have.
Which projects have you really enjoyed so far?
One of the most memorable projects I have had the opportunity to work on is the main title for Narcos, the popular Netflix series. It was an amazingly talented team and an incredible learning experience. I had a chance to be involved on every aspect of the project, from extensive research and designing the pitch frames to production on set and post. The title was very well recognized and nominated for a Primetime Emmy which was equally special. Working on it made me fall in love with title design and paved the way for so many other projects.
Which has been the most challenging brief you’ve ever worked on?
I recently had the opportunity to work on the digital campaign for Nat Geo’s mini-series Valley of the Boom. It’s a show about Silicon Valley’s dotcom bubble set in the ’90s. Establishing art direction reminiscent of that decade was an exciting task.
Another big challenge was on the Narcos main title itself. It is a period piece and had to be delivered in 4K. Most of the overlays, graphics and photographs from the time exist in very low resolution so we ended up recreating most of it. This meant lot of the archival shots were re-scanned for higher resolution and non-existent footage was shot and made to look from the particular era. Apart from the creative, I actually ended up making all the cocaine bricks myself – it’s all baking soda!
What inspires you?
A lot of my short-films and projects have sparked through a simple photograph, piece of dialogue or illustration that I have seen, heard or drawn myself. Lately, I’ve found a lot of inspiration in process videos, particularly of intricate objects like watch-making or traditional artistry like wood-working, jewelry making and metal forging. The amount of effort, commitment and total devotion that is given to the craft is so motivating. And of course, movies. I really admire the work of directors like Christopher Nolan, Sam Mendes, Darren Aronofsky and Anurag Kashyap.
What are the challenges you have faced so far?
Creative blocks can be frustrating. Most of the time taking a break and re-approaching the problem works well for me. Being in a foreign country, immigration and visa issues are definitely challenging. Certain rules and regulations can sometimes pose problems if you want to work as a freelancer or change jobs. This is an important factor often overlooked by students wanting to pursue education abroad.
In the foreseeable future, I am hoping to start work on a new short film. I’ve also been playing around with the idea of re-making my MFA thesis film! I would love to find a way to work between India and the US. I was recently introduced to some amazing artists back home and would love to collaborate with them. In a utopian future, I would only design main titles!
This article was originally published in POOL 104.
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