Nothing is here to stay. But Flash set expectations of what sites can do, and those expectations are here to stay.
Please give us a brief bio of yourself.
My name is Garrett Nantz, and I’m the Creative Director and co-founder of Luxurious Animals. I originally went to RISD for film and video dreaming of becoming a director of photography. I worked as a camera and production assistant on several commercials, but spent my spare time in front of the computer where I gravitated towards interactive storytelling.
In 2001, I had the opportunity to work as a Flash animator on the Band of Brothers online campaign. That same year, Big Spaceship gave me a call to freelance on the official movie website for Martin Scorsese's Gangs of New York. What was cool was that I was still involved in film, just telling the stories from a different angle. Enjoying my work with Big Spaceship and their incredible growth, I joined full time in 2003 and continued as an Associate Creative Director until 2007. After all the Da Vinci Code, I,Robot, Underworld official movie websites, it was time to move on.
I wanted to try a bigger place, so I joined Razorfish NY. I realized quickly that I missed the independence and challenges of a smaller shop. So four years ago, I started Luxurious Animals with my longtime friend and collaborator Robert Bengraff. Luxurious Animals gives us the best both worlds — a creative agency producing live action and interactive projects.
What do you do for inspiration?
Whenever I approach a new project, I always try to find the shortest number of words to describe what makes it cool or different. If I need more than seven words, then I know the idea must be too complicated. For Lux Ahoy, the words were "Pirate mayhem game." For the gesture-based installation we did for Esquire and Lufthansa, it was "Bachelor's dream of flight." For our recent Puma broadcast spot, it was "Explosive Oranges."
What do you regard as being your biggest achievement?
Overcoming the odds. We started Luxurious Animals during a recession and we’ve thrived, creating great work in the process.
How many hours do you work each week?
I used to be averaging about 100 hours a week. We more recently have gotten some new people and more hands off clients that have gotten me down to about 65 hours a week.
How do you relax or unwind?
Two things. Karaoke and guitar.
The funny thing about karaoke was I had no idea that so many of my friends were such great singers. For years, every one went their own merry way, secretly training week after week in various bars and private rooms. Now, we all have finally admitted to our addiction and make an evening together. Singing really makes me put away the ups and downs of a long day away for a few hours.
I started taking electric guitar lessons a year ago. After getting a few lessons under my belt, I bought a 2011 Fender Strat HSS. Now some people claim that getting a Humbucker in a Strat is blasphemy. But, I like being able to switch from clean blues tones to melt-your-face-off metal in less than a second. I am still working on the face melting part.
If you weren't working on the internet what would you be doing?
I'd probably be making either live action or animated movies.
What's your favourite part of your job? What's the hardest part of your job? What do you do when you get stuck?
I’ve always loved a good challenge. For example, when we were making Lux Ahoy, our real-world physics engine Box2D kept knocking boats off screen when they were hit with a cannonball. First, we put up invisible walls so the ship wouldn't float away, but it always looked unnatural when the cannonball hit and the ship strangely bounced off the side of the screen. I thought, if we’re using a real-world physics, let's just treat the ship like a real ship. What would hold a ship in place in the real ocean? So we used an invisible anchor and it worked like a charm. We have a great Box2D with HTML5 tutorial on our blog.
The part of my job that is really tough is when the digital component of a larger campaign has been sold through with an unrealistic — yet immoveable — deadline.
When I get stuck on a project, I remember the quote, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results” or the great line in the movie Better Off Dead. When John Cusack’s character is trying to get up the courage to ski down an impossible mountain, his friend played by Curtis Armstrong convincingly states, “Go that way, really fast. If something gets in your way…turn.” These mantras reminds me to change direction or nothing new will be accomplished.
What's the longest you've ever stayed up working on a project?
I’ve read some of the other interviewees answers to this question and mine isn't that long. A mere 36 hours. The back of my neck started sweating in hour 30 and everything started going in slow motion. I really need my sleep to be effective. I dream a lot. Usually my dreams help me solve problems that would have taken me days to solve. So I want to thank the person who invented sleep. It works.
If there are any pivotal experiences/decisions you could point to that helped shape your career, what would they be?
When I was making the gradual shift from the filmmaking world to the web, I worked on a Flash animation for a company’s new service offerings. I approached the project from a filmmaking perspective. I storyboarded the important frames, I found a great piece of music, and polished the transitions to keep the piece flowing. For the client presentation, rather than show on small monitor, I decided that we should show the animation on our projector. At the end of the piece, the client enthusiastically clapped. I had never had a client clap over web work before. In that instant, I realized I wanted more “applause-worthy” moments.
What software could you not live without?
I still have a grand love affair with Photoshop. It helps me collect my ideas and present them in the best light.
How many projects does your company juggle at any one time?
We usually have 1 large project, 2 medium projects and a few tiny projects going at once.
In terms of software, is there anything new you have been playing with lately or that has impressed you?
Grant Skinner’s CreateJS Suite is great. We used an early version of it to get the expressiveness of Flash animation within an HTML5 framework. I am glad to know that Adobe CS6 includes many of his best ideas.
What area of web design lacks the most?
Sound. It’s too frequently overlooked even though almost every computer has speakers, and every mobile device has a headphone jack.
Has winning FWA awards helped you in any way?
Traffic to Lux Ahoy increased by over 500%. We have gotten a heap more admirers. The people who have reached out I also admire.
What did your very first site look like? Is it still online?
I really hope it isn't still online. Alright, I just checked and your audience is safe. It was a wedding announcement site with several cheesy themes. I was especially proud of the “adventure” theme. A spear-shaped nav bar? Design gold.
Of all the websites you/your company have produced, which one are you most proud of?
Lux Ahoy is my favorite. Not because it’s the most recent, but because it brought together several of my passions: I love fun character animation, cutting-edge technologies, and great team work.
Do you think Flash is here to stay?
Nothing is here to stay. But Flash set expectations of what sites can do, and those expectations are here to stay. It’s part of what drove Lux Ahoy’s development. What’s funny is that a site built in HTML5 with fewer capabilities and cross-browser support than Flash somehow has tons more impact these days. Partly because we have to use tin foil and duct tape to make it behave more like Flash.
There is perhaps a shift in web use these days. We are seeing a decline in the purely experiential sites in flash with huge production efforts, to a relationship with clients based on tools and services, that many times have simples interfaces. How do you see that trend developing? Will Flash suffer?
Flash use initially exploded because it allowed clients to create online cinematic and broadcast experiences — and because the clients all grew up on movies and television. But that type of engagement assumes lengthy visits — and more and more of the audience is coming via mobile devices, or in quick breaks during work hours or while watching TV. Flash is definitely suffering because it became associated with too many bloated campaigns, skip intros, and bulky video sequences. People want a more nimble web, fast-loading and user-focused.
What are your views on design/graphic school. Do you think someone can get into the field without educational experience in a school environment?
The short answer is yes, someone can get into the web field without a school environment.
The long answer is, given the right mix of in-class and real-world learning environments, some of the best design schools are turning out some incredibly talented and exceptionally well prepared designers.
But that’s too often the exception. Many design schools are still behind in their educational approach to the web. They need more required internships per school year, and more focus on the fundamentals: typography, grids, animation, drawing, visual compositing, and coding concepts. I’ve seen many students who don't understand frame by frame animation, but they’ve been using After Effects for years. Understanding what each frame is saying is important. Don't show me a tween that anyone else can do. As for typography, student’s aren’t learning how type has developed since the printing press, how it’s different in digital applications, and why. Don’t show me a text block set in Copperplate all caps. And gimmicks. Many students have a huge photo section in their portfolio, with HDR, vignetting and color casts applied to each one, yet photography isn't even the field in which they are most interested.
If you were a student entering this industry or an aspiring FWA award submitter, what advice would you give them?
Create a site, a game, or an app that makes you happy. You need to be your first audience.
How difficult do you find employing the right people in a world where everyone calls themselves a web designer?
Great question. It is extremely difficult to find the people with the right experience. The field is huge and “designer” means so many different things to different people. Some web designers code, some animate, some have 3d chops, while others only do interface design. I’ve found the title “art director” alone has wide variation. Some art directors only concept and barely touch design. I prefer art directors who love pushing pixels and leading a team. I wish there was standard nomenclature.
How do you keep up with the latest capabilities of Flash or do you rely on other members of you team to do this?
I definitely rely on my team. Each of them have a particular area of interest which keeps them current. But keeping abreast of great work through sites like The FWA is a good start.
What would be your ultimate vehicle to travel in?
I have always wanted to travel into outer space. Since the Space Shuttle just got decommissioned, I would have to say anything that would get me into space. I want to see this big blue marble instead for real, and not just the 3D models I’ve built for various projects.
When your company was just getting started, what did you find was most effective for getting new clients?
Your first clients will more than likely come to you with emergency projects first. That means someone else failed or bailed on this project. Show your client why you can fix what is broken. Second, don't say, "No" to any opportunity until you really have to.
How have you learned so many Flash/design skills and techniques and can you offer any advice for newbies?
Learn the fundamentals of animation and interactivity. It will go along way no matter what program or format there is in the future.
What is the most expensive thing you have bought in the last week?
Not really that expensive. I bought an MXR 101 Phase 90 Guitar Pedal just like Eddie Van Halen used on his first few albums. Now, if I could just play half as well.
It has been a privilege, thanks very much
A luxurious thank you for the opportunity.