Interview 04: Solomon Cook

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7 min read

We are recording a series of interviews with the 3800 team and our friends to share who we are, why we gather around the same table, and what our work means to us.

In the third interview in the series, we invited Solomon Cook to discuss what AI means for the future of design, why he likes to make things move and how his creative journey started with a tie-dye t-shirt.

Sophie Hill: Can you describe the journey that brought you to 3800?

Solomon Cook: I had been wanting to do something design based since I was playing with Lego as a child. From that point on there's been definite nudges leading me towards where I am now.

When I was at secondary school, we got introduced to architectural software. I think it was Google SketchUp. They just told us “make a building” just for one day. I’d never done anything like that.

Then a couple of years later I found graphic design and discovered Photoshop. I thought “Ok wait a sec what's this?!” It was actually textiles where I did my first ever Photoshop piece and it was an explosion in the background and an angry cartoon bomb in the foreground. I got it printed on a tie dyed t-shirt.

Through Photoshop I’d really discovered a love of graphic design. This led to vectors and vector illustration and I remember just thinking, “Wow! I want to do that”. I almost became an Illustrator, but I felt I wasn't patient enough. I carried on designing lots of random stuff. I basically spent two years of my life just sitting at a Mac in a college design suite experimenting. That set me up pretty well.

Through all that period I was still set on becoming a graphic designer, which led me to study it at University. It just felt right thinking “this is my life now, I'm going to get a degree and become a graphic designer”. Obviously in third year you have that, “oh, I actually have to get a job” wobble. We were given a project to make an animated poster that looped for 7 seconds.

It was for Euler Room who run algorithmic code in real time that then makes rave music. They were doing an event for the equinox of 2020 and they were going to just use our posters to advertise it. That's when I first opened After Effects. Since then I’ve been a huge fan of the programme and I’ve come back to it time and time again. I didn't see anyone else using it, so I thought I'm just going to get as good as I can. Over the next three years, I got really into motion design and 2D motion. 

While I was experimenting with motion design and all of that, I was still doing more physical/product design. I was making a card game at the end of my third year as part of a project, and I designed the packaging, the illustrations on it, how the game worked and all the steps along the way. I ended up with this really physical product which wasn’t my specialism, I just did it for fun.

I think that’s why when Sam and Dave met me, at our final year exhibition show they were thinking “oh, so you're good at this thing, but actually you're not just trying to stay in your lane, you're trying to explore different avenues”. This led to them offering me a month long internship at 3800.

I picked up Blender at that point and made myself indispensable by starting a 3D project that would take more than a month…i’m joking. In reality it went really well and they were happy with everything, so here I am a year later.

SH: What first attracted you to animation and how do you think it can benefit businesses?

SC: Interesting. I think I've always enjoyed seeing design move and interact in some way. There are a few reasons that once I started with motion, I stuck with it. The level of engagement in something that moves is far higher than something that's still.

An example would be if you're walking past a poster on a street and it was just a photo of someone winking at you, you just look at it and move on. But if you walk past and the person on the poster winked at you, you would definitely stop and it would stay with you. It’s really captivating and that’s what I wanted my designs to be.

That’s also something that obviously would help a business. If you can captivate your audience, then you can better communicate your product/service to them. Motion design takes you from “here's an output I want you to look at” to “here's something I want you to engage with”. Obviously, it doesn't have to be moving to do that, but if it was perhaps that could be classed as an experience rather than an output and experiences are way more memorable than outputs.

SH: Who or what do you take inspiration from? 

SC: Recently I watched, some Studio Ghibli animations for the first time, and that just opened my eyes as to how beautiful it can be. Their animations are really simple a lot of the time, but they are so stylised and unique. That's probably my current inspiration that I keep going back and just keeps me thinking, “I want things to look as beautiful as that in terms of motion”.

It's really difficult to pinpoint a specific person I keep coming back to. There’s so many different styles and I'm trying to dip my toe into all of them to work out which bits I can do and which bits fit best according to the project I’m working on. However, having said that, I've been following Ben Marriott a long time. He used to work for a studio called Buck. 

There's a few animation studios like Buck and Giant Ant that are really prolific. Giant Ant is probably the studio I’ve appreciated the longest. In most of the animation projects that I've been involved in, I've used them as a reference.

SH: With the development of AI/AR/VR, how do you think animators can work with/alongside these new digital technologies in future?

SC: I think that's a massive question. It’s exciting! I think it will benefit me and anyone who's willing to adjust how they work a little bit. I think the way that it'll change animation, motion design, and just design in general, is pretty unknown to me.

There's going to be a lot more opportunity to quickly create stuff at a much higher level. Sketches can almost immediately become works of art that you can push to finalisation. The same with turning kind of quick animatics almost into animations.

Another tool that isn't really even out there yet, but I imagine it's going to change my sector massively, is text to video, which is like difficult to imagine how useful and game changing that's going to be because I haven't been able to experiment with it yet.

I think the next year is going to be very turbulent with all the change that's going to come. I think bringing AI into the workflow that you already have and letting it minimise the really difficult bits while you still keep all of the really beautiful human elements, I think that is the way forward.

SH: What has been the best piece of advice you have been given for carving out a career in the creative industries?

SC: When I got an official role here at 3800 after my internship, it was written on box that a champagne bottle came in and it said “Never stop learning”. I think that is the best bit of advice I've been given because especially where I'm at, it's the best way to improve. 

We're an improvement studio so it really resonated with me to take that mindset on. It does what it says on the tin. If you never stop learning, you're always going to get better.

SH: If you could be gifted one random (non work related) skill or talent what would it be and why?

SC: That's interesting. I think I would choose a language. Just being able to speak another language is something that I've always wanted to do. I've started doing it in the past, and it's really difficult to push through from “I understand that” to “I can converse now”.

Another language gives you a new way to communicate that frames things differently. In English, we have a million ways of describing the weather and it's really interesting to see how that impacts our culture. I think languages like Japanese, from what I hear, deal with tenses differently. Understanding languages gives you insight into different cultures. It's two skills in one.

SH: If you had to pick a language, would it be Japanese?

SC: I don't know if it would be Japanese. Maybe I'd just pick something really obscure? Saying that I'd probably just choose something really practical, despite that lovely imagery of another culture. Spanish is probably the more practical choice if I can just learn it in no time.

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