LIFE & WORK IN MOTION: MEET ART DIRECTOR & DESIGNER JOYCE HO
"Spending my formative years as an animator really helped me understand what is exactly needed to bring design to life through motion. This means when I’m art directing now, I can tailor my designs to fit a certain animation workflow or pitch something that is within the project budget because I know the ballpark on how long it might take to animate." In our interview below, WNW Member Joyce Ho discusses how her background in animation has given her a unique perspective and expansive skillset as a freelance art director and motion designer.
Joyce also shares how she honed her craft at Breeder, the excitement of working on the True Detective titles, and the initial shock of arriving in New York from her hometown of Brisbane. Being a freelancer in New York can be daunting, and it's pushed Joyce to get more proactive across the board. She encourages you to do the same: "It never hurts to ask. Whether that means to ask for help, to clarify something, or just a cold email to ask a question – the most meaningful contacts and friends I’ve made have happened just because I’ve reached out to say 'hey.'"
Tell us a bit about your creative background. Who is Joyce and how did she get here?
I was born in Hong Kong but my family moved to Australia when I was a kid. I’ve always been a creative person; as a child I would draw constantly and make things out of paper, so naturally my favourite subject at school was art. Growing up in Australia, I was lucky enough to go to schools that had really great art programs and I’m really grateful to have parents who are fully supportive of my creative pursuits. They nurtured my interests and encouraged me to pursue a creative career.
After school, I studied a fine arts degree with a major in animation and landed a job as a junior designer at digital product studio Josephmark. It was during my first year there that they formed Breeder – a sister motion studio. I was their first employee and during my seven years at the studio I worked my way from a junior to creative lead. At the end of last year, I decided to chase the dream and moved halfway across the world in New York. I’ve been freelancing here ever since!
How would you describe your creative style? Do you recognize a signature style that links all your projects, or do you try to approach each project as its own entity?
I definitely prefer a darker colour palette (I have a typical wardrobe for a designer that is 80% black) but I don’t really feel like I have one distinct style. I used to think for the longest time that this was detrimental to being a designer. However, lately, I’ve realised it actually offers me freedom to approach each project on its own and consider the best execution for it based upon the needs of the project.
What were some of the challenges in launching your creative career?
Growing up in Brisbane made it a little more challenging because as such a young city, it had a much smaller design industry compared to Sydney and Melbourne. When I graduated high school in 2005, there were limited choices as to where I could study animation and there weren’t any online courses back in those days – or most of which were very 3D gaming heavy. Luckily, the degree I chose had one motion graphics subject and through that, I absolutely fell in love with the merge of design and animation. Once I graduated, there weren't a lot of studios who did solely motion design, so I was very close to relocating to Melbourne for work. But it all worked out in the end.
What do you see as the turning point in your creative development and career?
My turning point would be my first real job out of university at Breeder and Josephmark. I consider the years I spent working there my post-graduate education, where I learned the ins and outs of working in a studio environment, what it meant to work closely and collaborate with different people with different expertises – and it was also where I discovered my strengths and weaknesses as a designer. The friends I made during this time really inspired me to be ambitious and move to NYC, and I don’t think I’d be here if it weren’t for them. Shout out to my Breeder and JM fam! <3
Which of your projects are you proudest of and why?
I am proudest of the titles for ‘Analogue/Digital Brisbane 2013’. Although now it’s a fairly old piece of work (and looking back on it four years later, there are things I would like to improve), it’s still a project I look back on really fondly as the catalyst of my love of title design and so many amazing opportunities in the years after.
It was one of those projects that just went really smoothly, where the whole team really clicked and tapped into the strengths of each person. The night we completed the final render, we knew we had created something special. It received a great reception at the conference, got Vimeo Staff Picked not long after release, won some awards and caught the eye of director Patrick Clair who contacted us to work on True Detective Season 1 titles, which needless to say, blew our collective minds. It then led to my favourite project I have worked on thus far – the titles for Syfy’s show ‘The Expanse’.
How does your latest project for Likeminds Conference bridge nature & technology?
For their second year, the theme of the conference was growth, which made me think about how the natural and digital world develops and expands. Although nature seems random and chaotic, it's actually ruled by a set order that can be explained through mathematics and time. Similarly, in technology, there's an organized progression where patterns emerge. The titles for Likeminds explore this intersection between patterns in nature and patterns in our digital world, and how they overlap visually.
The art direction and colour palette were already set through the site design this year by Human NYC's designer Sasha Kluchnik. So in keeping with their identity, I decided to use the unique logotype of Likeminds as windows for the animated textures. The titles start off with more simple compositions with rounded textures to represent nature and as it progresses, the shapes build in complexity with sharper shapes to represent the technology and digital side of the conference. All of the animated textures were built from fractals, which is similar to some patterns in nature (e.g. a snowflake, nautilus shell) and has its roots in mathematics, and also plays a major role in CGI and technology like file compression.
What would be your dream project or job, or is it already on your resume?
Oh, I have so many dream projects! I’d love to work on a title sequence for a feature film, under a director like Wes Anderson. As a hopeless romantic, I’d love to do an animated piece for the NY Times’ Modern Love. Or a piece for Alain de Botton’s School of Life.
How does your animation background inform your art direction & vice versa?
Spending my formative years as an animator really helped me understand what is exactly needed to bring design to life through motion. This means when I’m art directing now, I can tailor my designs to fit a certain animation workflow or pitch something that is within the project budget because I know the ballpark on how long it might take to animate.
How do the creative scenes of Brisbane and New York compare?
Brisbane is a city with a quarter of the population size of New York, so the size and diversity of its creative scene are definitely smaller than here. Graphic designers far outweigh animators, which means its motion industry is dwarfed by a richer graphic design community. But working in a smaller pool of designers does come with its advantages because it meant we could establish a more personal connection with each other than in a populated city like New York. Brisbane has an active design scene that gets bigger and better by the year, so I’m really excited to see how my hometown will evolve in the coming years.
If not in Brisbane or New York, where would you most like to live?
I’ve only just moved to New York (one year anniversary coming up in November) so I actually haven’t thought about where I’d like to go next! I have heard from a few people that once you move here, you can’t really live anywhere else – so maybe I’m stuck here for good.
Who are your biggest creative influences?
My influences range from any number of the talented people that I get to collaborate with to the old masters of art like Jan Davidsz. de Heem (those dark still lifes tho), to contemporary artists like Jeremy Geddes and influences from other fields like NASA (no Apollo-gies for how much I love space. It’s Sirius-ly out of this world).
What scares you most about making creativity your career?
As a freelancer, I’m always thinking about when the next job will come in, which I know is a very common fear to have. I get worried (and a bit guilty) when I have downtime, but recently I’ve just been trying to enjoy the break because work will always come back around. Sort of like that JT song.
One book, one album, one movie, one show. Go.
Khalil Gibran’s The Prophet, Frank Ocean’s Blonde, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and Rick and Morty.
What’s your most treasured possession?
I have these “journals” I kept when I was in first grade. Every day, when we got to school, my teacher would get us to write one sentence of what we did the previous day and draw a picture to accompany it. I think it was then when I really started to enjoy making things. I remember that was always my favourite part of the day. I flip through them every now and then, and a wave of happiness still flows through me. My broken English sentences don’t hurt for a laugh either!
What did you want to be when you were growing up?
As a kid, I grew up on a healthy dose of Hanna Barbera cartoons and ‘90s animated shows (Captain Planet, anyone?), and I’ve always been into drawing. My dad likes to tell the story that when he asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would proudly say, “I want to make things with my hands.” I think this desire to make things eventually evolved into my love of design.
The very first professional I aspired to be was a children’s book illustrator when I realised that people could get paid to draw the pictures in the books I was reading. Then that evolved into being a cartoonist, an artist, Disney/Pixar animator, and finally a motion designer after university when I discovered that would merge my love of design and animation.
What do you do when Not Working?
Eating too many Snickers ice cream bars. I am not sponsored for this answer, though I’d be happy to accept commissions in said bars.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever heard or received that all creatives should hear?
It never hurts to ask. Whether that means to ask for help, to clarify something, or just a cold email to ask a question – the most meaningful contacts and friends I’ve made have happened just because I’ve reached out to say "hey."
What’s next for you? What are you working on now?
I’m super excited to be heading to Europe for the next few weeks for a vacation. Professionally, I’m in talks to lead a very exciting title sequence for an event next year – fingers crossed it comes through!