After more than a quarter century spent representing commercial photographers, bi-coastal talent agency Sharpe + Associates is welcoming a new breed of creative talent under its wing– motion graphics artists. FIDMDigitalArts.com is thrilled to share an exclusive Q&A with founder/president John Sharpe who gave us insight into his views on the future of digital media, the qualities that set you and your motion graphics reel apart from the crowd, and his passion for infographics.
Chances are you’ve spotted the beautifully executed, captivatingly clever shots that Sharpe + Associates photographers are known for, whether in ads for Coca-Cola, Got Milk?, Microsoft, Nike, Pepsi, Quaker Oats, Sony, Target, Old Spice, or Virgin Airlines; or in glossy editorials for Esquire, Fast Company, NY Times Magazine, Time, GQ, Los Angeles Magazine, Good, Vanity Fair, or Vogue.
Serving various industries from editorial to telecommunications, finance, travel, transportation and pharmaceuticals, Sharpe credits his artists’ conceptual thinking skills as the number one facet attracting commercial clients, advertising agencies and publishers to S+A for more than 25 years.
“Conceptual work is less affected by the changing tastes of the commercial market. It all comes down to how good the idea is and how well it’s communicated. You can put polish on a bad idea, but when you see something brilliant that connects with people, you will get noticed,” he says.
Beyond representing amazingly talented artists, we have a hunch that it’s also taken a forward-thinking mentality to keep S+A alive and thriving, demonstrated by Sharpe’s move to represent motion graphics artists just four weeks ago.
“Technology is getting exponentially more powerful, accessible, and easy to use. We’re going to get to a tipping point,” says Sharpe, comparing the current state of digital media to the photography industry’s shift from analog to digital film standards in the ‘90s.
“The fact that the media landscape is changing so fast, it’s like the ‘wild West,’ nobody has all the answers. There was a time when people weren’t sure what to do with the move from analog to digital,” he says. “Then, after four or five years, bam, it happened overnight. You had to have a digital workflow. I think the same thing is going to happen with video.”
Sharpe’s insight isn’t just based on a hunch. In a recent publication The Future of Mobile News, the Pew Research Foundation purports that “the era of mobile digital technology has crossed a new threshold,” citing their findings that nearly a quarter of U.S. adults, 22 percent, now own a tablet device, which is double compared to a year before.
S+A Artist: Odd Fellows 2012 Reel
As smartphone and tablet usage continue to soar, and with it the demand for video marketing, S+A’s expansion to digital media artists seems a natural evolution for the agency.
“With technology screaming forward at the pace it has, I can see the need for not only being able to direct a video but also knowing the post side,” says Sharpe. “People are doing things on a desktop that used to cost $50,000 to do on a machine. They are not just being asked to do more, it’s going to be a requirement to compete.”
Sharpe’s prediction of streamlined production processes means that aspiring filmmakers must arm themselves with a variety of skills rather than focus on one, which could include editing, recording and sound design, compositing, developing visual effects and motion graphics, or any other facet of the post production process (good news for students earning their digital media degree at FIDM/Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising).
“I think it’s not just about knowing the technology, it’s a question of being able to add value to any given project,” says Sharpe of a job candidates who have a well-rounded set of skills. “If your artists have more skills, it enables you to keep more elements in-house and hopefully, increase your profit.”
Sharpe expects the new motion roster to provide solutions to not only the firm’s existing agency clients, but also to open up opportunities to work client-direct, to service design firms needing to outsource their motion-based projects and to collaborate with commercial production companies.
S+A Artist: Giant Ant 2012 Reel
To develop a dream team of motion artists who demonstrate the highest quality of work that S+A prides itself on, Sharpe narrowed the reels of nearly 150 motion graphics applicants down to five. Motion graphics groups Odd Fellows, Giant Ant, Philippe Vendrolini, Delicate Machines, and Sebas & Clim made the cut with dynamic, cutting edge reels. The work that stood out the most were those enhanced by organic, illustrative qualities, says Sharpe.
“A lot of motion graphics tend to be very similar in terms of the sort of computer generated, spinning titles kind of look, which became like wallpaper to me,” he says. “I’m attracted to animation… but I was also looking for work that flowed together, and I wanted to see something that felt contemporary.”
One particular piece that caught his eye was an infographic brought to life by Jorge Cornedo Estrada for the documentary “Waiting for Superman”, which led Sharpe to creative studio, Giant Ant, where the artist now works. In two minutes the short video captures the essence of the film, which highlights public education issues in the U.S., with elegant red, white and blue vector illustrations set against a stark white backdrop.
“The thinking that went behind the information and how it was conveyed was just brilliant in my mind,” says Sharpe. “You can make type spin, but how do you morph the idea through type? Jorge’s work is conceptual; it’s smart. ”
TakePart: Participant Media “Waiting for Superman”
Above: Motion graphics by S+A Artist, Jorge Cornedo Estrada, under the art direction of Joe Mullen at design agency Buck.
Sharpe admits, he’s got a soft spot for infographics. A fan of David McCandless’ Information is Beautiful (read more in a previous article found here), he sees infographics as another area of opportunity for motion graphics artists.
“I’m thinking there’s so much data out there with geo data, social media, and other information coming in to marketers. To be able to utilize the information and serve it back in an easily digestible manner is going to become more and more relevant,” he says.
In an increasingly competitive and rapidly changing industry, we asked Sharpe a few more questions about how digital media artists can break into the industry, and how to set themselves apart (for goodness sake, double check your emails, folks!). Check out some additional tips from Sharpe below and browse more work by S+A motion graphics artists at sharpeonline.com.
S+A Artist: Philippe Vendrolini 2012 Reel
S+A Artist: Sebas & Clim 2012 Reel
(FIDMDigitalArts) How important is it to have an online presence for a creative?
(Sharpe) “It feels a little less developed for someone not to have a website. A website is not only an opportunity for branding and to show your design aesthetic, but also to stand out in the way you organize material and show project work. So I would say my first reaction is, yes, you should probably have a site, even if you’re using a template.”
What are your thoughts on photographers and motion graphics artists utilizing social media as a marketing tool?
“I’m a little bit of a cynic when it comes to social media and to the amount of energy you need to spend on it to make it worth people’s attention. Part of me struggles with the fact that there’s so much noise out there. I can see it working for a celebrity or a brand that wants to share promotions, but it seems less relevant for us in terms of our marketing. However, we are there and putting more energy in trying to make it work for us. I believe that with a good amount of energy, focus and creativity it has potential, but I don’t think we’ve figured it out yet.”
Some argue that the younger, tech savvy generation is actually losing a bit of its ability to network (like the ability to make conversation in person, common courtesy, manners, etc.). What are your thoughts on this?
“I’d say it’s more related to an ability to communicate effectively, rather than network. I battle with this question. I wonder, are we evolving, or devolving? “Text-speak” is an example. Do we really need to use five letters to communicate a word, when one/two will do?! I’m not sure. I can say that people don’t seem to pay as much attention when they write an email now, so I see more typos and grammatical errors than in the past. It shows a lack of attention to detail, which is a problem in the business world. The casual nature of tweeting/texting/facebook is definitely changing the way we communicate with each other, but I don’t believe it’s much of an improvement on the quality of our existence. Unfortunately, it’s immediacy and ease of use is two edged sword. As everything becomes more immediate, we value it less. Easiness can also make us lazy. For instance, spending time researching and digging for information the ‘old fashioned way’ vs. simply ‘googling’ for an immediate answer is valuable, in that it exercises our brains, helps develop our intuition and our ability to preserver – all great traits for anyone in business to have – especially younger people just entering the workforce.
On the positive side, the reach provided by new technology is a great advantage to people needing to network. Personally, I’ve been working hard recently to build and ‘mine’ my connections on LinkedIn, and am really pleased with the results.”
What are you most looking forward to in this new venture and the future of digital media?
“First, I’m truly excited by the work itself. I’ve always been a huge fan of animation so it’s a real pleasure being able to share our roster’s work with potential clients. I’m also excited to be part of the digital media world at such an important point in its young history. Playing a role in developing creative content solutions for our clients in such a dynamic environment is thrilling, and I can’t wait to see how things evolve!”
John Sharpe’s reading recommendations:
- Communication Arts,
- Information is Beautiful (David McCandless)
- Photodistrict News,
- Makers (Chris Anderson)
- Motion Arts Pro Daily
- Pro Photo Daily
S+A Artist: Delicate Machines 2012 Reel
Questions/comments? Email the editor, Mani O’Brien at mo’firstname.lastname@example.org