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Liam Chapple is the Executive Creative Director at Carbon - a successful creative production studio based in Chicago, Los Angeles and New York, USA. Specializing in design and direction, visual effects and motion graphics the company's ECD has a lot to say about Carbon’s current work, personal favorites and his understanding of an utopian world.
You, yourself, started as a graphic designer. So how did you get into image- and filmmaking?
So my family was always design focused in different ways. My parents both studied at art school, but they didn't become artists and went on to do other things, but always had that in the background. My dad was an editor in the animation industry in the 70s before I was born, and then by the time I was born, he'd moved on to other things. But I learned a lot from him about what that meant and particularly how to look at moving images through my dad's eyes. And then I became a photographer I shot for my older brother, who had a jewelry shop. And through that, I learned how to use Photoshop so that I could retouch pictures of the jewelry that was used on his catalogs. I then traveled for a bit and realized that I didn't want to just float around too much. So I spent about a year kind of traveling around Asia and Australia and kind of fell into graphic design because I did graffiti. And then the typography led me into graphic design. While I was doing the graphic design course at Campbell College of Art, I fell into doing a 3D animation course without ever meaning to. I got the best grades I'd ever got in my life. So I thought: “Okay, this is probably what I should do. I'm really good at this.” I managed to get into a company called Mainframe by saying I made a good cup of tea and I would sit on the front desk and answer the phone and do all the ordering. So long story short, from there, I kind of moved into being a designer and showed off my 3D skills and then moved up through the ranks quite quickly. I was there for nine years in total. But I was creative director after seven years. I was lucky enough to move into that role and start directing and doing creative direction at that point. And then Carbon reached out to me in 2016.
What do you love about the creative part of your job?
I love creating something. I'm trying to put this eloquently: I love creating something that is unreal but while making it look real. The flexibility to change the world around you, just being able to affect images in a way that you couldn't otherwise do. I'm really into watching movies and older films with older techniques. The techniques that the guys used in those days were so rudimentary, but they were like the godfathers of this stuff. For now, it's become very much more digital. But yeah, I think it's that extra layer of magic on top of an image is what I like.
And what technique is the one you like to work with the most now?
I just love shooting videos. That is my favorite thing to work on. My favorite project recently was one that I worked on for Verizon, and it was shot at a diner, but it was like a video game diner, if that makes any sense. So it had all of these video game elements that were on top of the footage. And I shot with my friend Taylor Macintosh, and we got to shoot this really beautiful footage. He's an amazing cinematographer, so he creates this beautiful look and we got the time of day right, and we have the sun and all of that. It was beautiful. You're using the world as the lighting set up to a large degree, and then adding on top of that the 3D. That allows you to create creatures or other characters that couldn't exist otherwise. I think that for me at the moment, it's that mix of visual effects and filmmaking crossover, I think, is where I find the most interesting.
You’ve been the ECD of Carbon for two and a half years now - what exactly is your aim in that role?
In my job I take on two roles. One of them is to be a director, where I do things a director does traditionally. So shoots, directing, animation and other tasks that are very much on the creative side of things. But I also built up the team as the ECD. I do a lot of recruitment. I'm involved in the branding of the company and the outward image of carbon. I'm responsible for how we present ourselves and the kind of language that we use to create a brand. I also try to get involved in the core of what the company is looking for, like our ethos. So we have meetings where we talk about where the company is going, how we can make Carbon a better place to work and how we can improve working conditions. A big part of my job is trying to figure out how we can keep people connected.
How does Carbon stand out as a company?
I think what sets us apart from other companies is that we bring in creative ideas in the beginning all the way through to the end. So we can start with an idea and we can help to develop the idea through various people in the office. Traditionally you would need a production company and then a secondary visual effects company and a tertiary edit house and so on. Carbon is part of a group that does everything within one company. So I think this is becoming more attractive to people because it allows us to be more flexible with budgets to package everything and still be profitable, but with slightly thinner margins.
So as a full service agency, where do you stand in the market in relation to your competitors in the US?
When I joined Carbon, we weren't known for doing what we do now, so we had to kind of break into the world of visual effects and animation. At the beginning, it was really difficult, because nobody knew us for that. So we really had to go and shout at everybody that this is what we do. In the last couple of years, we've definitely seen an increase in demand for our work. We’re very busy today. We're now competing with the people that at the beginning seemed like they were way up higher than us and now we're competing with them and winning some of those jobs. And I think that's due to the team that we've managed to put together. As you win better work, you become more attractive to better artists and better producers and better talent in general. So it's kind of a snowball effect. So we've found ourselves in a great place now where we're actually able to hire these incredible artists and the team that we put together in the offices now. I'm really happy with where we're going. We're still definitely looking for more people, but the level of talent has gotten to the point, where most of the people are better than I am at most of the things that they do, which is exactly how it should be.
How many people are in the team today?
We're still fairly small in terms of staff. I think we're about 60 or 70 across the three offices in Chicago, New York and Santa Monica. But we always have another 30 to 50 freelancers working with us. So again, we're still a fairly small studio when it comes to big visual effects houses, but we like that because it stays personal. I think in the future we'll see that maybe that will change. But for now, I think it's a manageable size and we can still manage to do a lot of jobs with those teams.
...was born and raised in London. He studied Graphic Design at LCC and Camberwell, where he graduated with a focus on moving image and animation. Today he is a multi-disciplinary director, designer and creative director. He has been Executive Creative Director at Carbon for over 2 years now.
The scenario you just described could very much be out of an utopian story. Does utopia and dystopia also play a role at Carbon or in your work?
I think I find it hard to imagine a utopia at the moment with everything that's happening in the world. I think that utopia for me isn't the end goal. It's the process of getting towards that. I may be a bit cynical here, but I don't see us ever finding utopia, but I do see us as a species finding a common cause. And I think really utopia for me is everybody trying to work towards the most equality that we can have for everybody. And that's maybe seen as socialist. So for me, I think dystopia is everybody doing what they want for themselves and utopia is everybody coming together to try and work towards something that makes it a little bit better for everybody. I think it's really my take on it. And then in terms of Carbon, I think we're trying to make everybody's lives better in that way. We're trying to pay people fairly. We're trying to give them good working hours. We're trying to get them work that they find interesting. And for me, as the ECD of the company, the most important thing is to see the staff of Carbon working on projects that excite them. The current utopia is that as the project comes in, we can find the right people for it, and we can build that team around the project as opposed to only having the people in house. And that means we can free up the people in house to do things that they want to do as well otherwise.
Do you find yourself in times of artistic despair ?
Yeah, for sure. Part of being a designer and not being an artist is that I mostly have a brief, and that's where I set myself aside from being an artist. I'm more of a designer than a fine artist. There's always something that is a spark for me, that there's a product or there's a concept or there's a promotional element to what we do a lot of the time. So I find that for work, I don't really have a struggle for finding inspiration. Sometimes trying to find the answer to that question is difficult. I think the more that you do things, the more reflexive you become. And again, it's at the point now where as a brief comes in, as I'm reading it, I'm seeing it. I think that's what as a designer, I've always tried to work on improving my visualization of concepts and how I see it. I think visualizing stuff is super important for me and then research, obviously, and kind of diving into how those things look, whether it's design or if it's reference or if it's kind of finding examples of that that exist already and working with other people who have vision.
Looking back, what projects are you most proud of?
I think it's hard to pick one because I have a lot of good memories about a lot of the work. One that stands out for me recently is, aside from the one that we already discussed, is the project for Birzo. We created a spot showcasing the collaboration of US faucet brand Brizo and artist/fashion designer Jason Wu from Indianapolis agency Young & Larrimore. They came to us with the photograph of the face of the company. And they had some photographs of Jason Wood, a fashion designer. He was surrounded by flowers. That was the starting point. I was playing around with the idea of flowers and what makes flowers, what gives them their life. So I came up with the idea of having water as the kind of catalyst for this. I wanted to keep it very stripped back and minimal because the brief was to keep it simple. So we came up with the idea of water in its different states and how that would interact with flowers.
But also looking back to the work for the OFFF festival I have good memories. That was a dream job for us. I think the only word that we were given was “misfits” as our catalyst. So one of our in house directors and creative directors, Ian Bradley, took that job on and we had some sessions at the start of the job and met with the guys over there from OFFF and Forbes. They didn't want to know our idea, they just wanted us to make something amazing. So for us, it was incredible to get that open brief and to have misfits as an open term, but it definitely resonates with what's happening in the world, or at least at that point, what was happening in the world. It stands for the fight back against dystopia through language and the misinterpretation of language. And how people talking to each other with different languages and ideas sometimes create problems that we need to solve in the world. And I think being able to explore that as a concept for Ian was really exciting.