GS Q/A . Macauley Johnson . Art Director
We finally sat down with Macauley Johnson, resident nice guy, art director and one of the most down to earth individuals you will ever meet. We grilled him about life, arts and video games and in the end learned quite a few things about what makes him tick. We hope you enjoy.
You are one of our few staffers who’s also an original Los Angelino. What was it like to grow up in LA?
It exposed me to to so many different things growing up that I don’t think I would have even been able to find on my own. It was a lot of running around town to cheap movie theaters and museums (I grew up a few blocks from LACMA), picking up hobbies and exploring the city itself. Los Angeles has art built into its culture and plastered on its walls, so it just pushed me further to be inspired and to go out and create.
What’s your favorite thing about Los Angeles?
The variety. LA is sprawling and disconnected, but it gives rise to so many unique pockets across the city. Of course you need a car if you want to get to any of them, but there’s something fun about getting people together and making it a mission across town to some new restaurant or pop-up event. There’s always something happening and you’re bound to meet people with something interesting to say whether it’s at a taco truck on the corner or a movie in a cemetery.
What was your biggest influence in helping you to pursue a career in art?
My parents. Being raised by two artistically-minded people really got me thinking creatively early on and spurred my interest in the arts. My mom is a now-retired copywriter, potter, musician, and burgeoning gallery-artist and my dad a commercial storyboard illustrator, watercolorist, fly-fisherman, and guitar-strumming one-man band. They always prized the artwork I made and I know that opened the door for me pursuing my interests in drawing, photography, animation, and on.
Do you have a specific style that you try and achieve with your work?
I think about this a lot and it’s something I’m putting more and more of a focus on. I don’t have a specific style when it comes to the projects I take on and part of that comes from the individuality of each spot. Another part comes from my mixed background in creating. Where I have a more clear style or method is in the planning and pre-production of a project. I try to put a real focus on concept and narrative, especially if I’m given the reigns to a more open-ended project. I like to think about how a medium has been used or how a type of story has been told before and then flip that to achieve something engaging and new. And that can work with any visual style or program and I like having the freedom to change directions and dabble in different mediums. Still, I started out drawing on paper and creating my own characters, so I have the desire to mature a visual style that is more distinctly me. That, combined with what I’m already doing, and taking on projects that are even more personal to me is the end goal (but the goals never end, right?).
What’s your favorite project you’ve worked on or lead?
That’s a tough one… I get pretty attached in the process of making any project—especially if I’m leading and have been boarding or brainstorming ideas from the start. A favorite I’ve worked on as an artist would have to be the Sports Alphabet spot for Bleacher Report. It was a real rush of creativity and energy from the whole studio: bouncing ideas off of each other and everyone putting their own unique flair into their shots. Another project that stands out is Controlling Electrons that I led for Reliant/NRG. It calls back to the flat, minimal style of animation that I started out doing in After Effects, but has a fresh look combined with some great movement. A simple, yet clean project that ended up feeling really sharp.
Are there any artists who you admire or that helped guide the style you strive for?
The artists that have stuck with me for the longest are the ones that are driven to explore their ideas over different styles and genres. Jaime Hewlett and Damon Albarn are two that have been a longtime influence of mine by teaming up to create The Gorillaz. For me it’s as much about the process as it is about the final product, and it’s artists who really embrace both that have inspired me in the way that I create as well as in the way that I think about tackling projects.
I also admire those that just bleed style and carry it with them wherever they go: Neil Kellerhouse, Mike Mignola, Saul Bass; directors Steve McQueen, Gaspar Noé, Miyazaki; the guys from Massive Attack; and there are always greats from within motion graphics—The Line Animation, GMUNK, and Ariel Costa come to mind. I’m also very entertained by the conspiracy theory that Robert Del Naja (of Massive Attack) is Banksy. Look that up.
You also play competitive video games, tell us a bit about that.
Ha! Ha. Well I can burn a good couple hours playing video games (all kinds) and when I get into them I get into them, but I’m not going pro in anything anytime soon. I’m sure [Will] Johnson wrote this one and wanted to point out that I did compete the other year in a tournament playing Tekken, with my record now standing at 1 win, 2 losses. On the national level I didn’t get skunked and I’m cool with that. Gaming in general is one of those things that’s been with me since since the bowl-cut (that’s wayyy back) and is now just a part of the way I think. Interacting with someone’s game or even with my own work is the way I want to engage art—so it’s also exciting to see mograph push toward VR or into creating simple, beautifully designed apps. Those things crossing over is turning out really great work. So I’m looking forward to where this takes us (GS has done some messing around with VR and 360 experiences). In the meantime, I’ll keep my arcade-stick handy and we’ll see where the tournament record stands at the end of next year.
What’s your favorite type of game?
I want to say one that fully immerses you in its world with atmosphere and energy—something meticulously detailed and thought out, but what really gets me is a clear set of constraints or controls that allow for a dynamic, unscripted experience. From games like Dark Souls (where character moves are limited, but depend on precise timing) and Shadow of the Colossus (which pits a boy and his horse against mountain-sized titans) to the new Titanfall 2 (that added the small feature of a grappling hook to a shooter with already insane free-running physics).
I might have slipped off the deep end there, but what I’m getting at isn’t limited to console or pc. My favorite type of game is one that defines a set of tools and physics that players then use and push to achieve a goal, resulting in wildly unique game moments or player experiences.
If you were a dinosaur, what would it be?
Is that a trick question? Pachycephalosaurus. It has the most dinosaur-sounding name and it’s one of those favorites carried over from elementary school that’ll probably never change. That’s the raptor-sized biped with a bowling ball for a forehead and some punk spikes for good measure.
What’s a secret about you that we don’t know?
I sing like a mother😷er in the car when I’m by myself. And if you’ve known me long enough, I’m liable to headbang and bounce to the point that it might interfere with my driving.
Who watched Westworld last night?
Everyone and their mom better have. Now let’s talk about it.