Gabe Imlay, co-founder and director at The Wilderness a design firm in New York, believes that good design enhances life, and seeks to expand the boundaries of motion graphics, animation and live-action production. Here, Gabe explores his approach to the creative process. We are pleased to offer this first column in a series.
At The Wilderness we use fine arts as a model to shape our work for television, the web, and new media, much of which is purely image-based and typically driven by music. This allows us to sacrifice logical narrative structures and embrace a visual approach. Taking a fine arts approach can impart a purity and sincerity that advertising so often lacks.
Many of the artists we admire make process an integral part of their work. I remember seeing paintings by Jim Dine, whose pencil sketches were deliberately left under the paint. Gerhard Richter’s blurred paintings also come to mind. He projected photos onto the canvas, painted them, and added blurring effects with a palette knife.
In non-objective and experimental art process often becomes part of the intent or meaning. Imagine a black and white photograph with the sprocket holes and frame numbers burned into the border. Imagine the same photo without. They have very different meanings.
For me, ‘purity’ of the work results when it’s meaning cannot necessarily be described in words. In its purest form the ‘key’ to understanding one’s work is to be found in the work itself. To elaborate, a work of art that can only be understood by experiencing the work itself is more ‘pure’ or ‘whole’ because the meaning is the image itself. To describe it in words may quantify, but it does not advance one’s understanding. The way we convey meaning lies in composition, color, texture and space. Like a piece of music the work lives in its own space, and explains itself in its own context.
The way these artists create becomes essential to their ‘look’ or “style.” Robert Rauschenberg had a specific ‘look.’ Gerhard Richter’s work changed significantly over time and, to my mind, has no consistent ‘look,’ per se. Thankfully, in advertising, things simply have to ‘look’ cool.
For a recent music video for The Antlers, Every Night My Teeth Are Falling Out, we decided to incorporate process as a design element. The concept was to re-photograph the imagery from the shoot repeatedly (upwards of 20 times) off CRT TV monitors, which added a feeling of otherworldliness. The live-action shoot consisted of the band members standing on patches of sod, while rotating on a turntable, along with various props: a glass of milk, false teeth, buckets, hammers, twine, and bits of hair. Soft overhead lighting was used to create a dreamy atmosphere and eerie effect.
When we sat down to edit we faced a dilemma. We had all this beautiful imagery: softly lit portraits, beautiful still lives, visceral actions, and in contrast, all of this distorted, processed footage. I tried to rationalize intercutting the two types of footage. After spending a few long painful nights editing, we realized it wasn’t going to work. I was trying to show-off our imagery, saying, ‘look how pretty we can make a picture.’ We realized that we needed to remain true to our concept and re-photograph everything as originally discussed with our client, French Kiss Records/The Antlers.
To sum it up, for us it is about the flexibility to try new processes which this video provided. And as a result we succeeded in creating a strong piece of experimental artwork.
Attending a performing arts high school, then Oberlin University for music composition, formed Gabe’s vision and aesthetic. Before founding The Wilderness, with longtime friend and collaborator Juliet Rios, Gabe tried commercial editing and visual effects, before realizing his passion was design and conceptual thinking. The Wilderness gave Gabe a platform to explore new techniques and to reinterpret traditional approaches. Gabe’s editorial and visual effects skills can be seen in many of The Wilderness’s commercial and personal projects. Gabe’s interests include modulators, his dog Poly, food, his iPad, photography and video art.