GMUNK A Visionary on The Edge Of The Future

It’s probably fair to say that there are a couple of themes that run through your commercial work – tech is one thing, maybe cars, scifi. Is that where your interests are, or do clients put this stuff in front of you because you’re the tech/car guy?

You know, I did a lot of hologram design and UI design from 2010 to 2013. From then on I did stuff that was super technical but not necessarily sci fi. It was robotics and experiential work. So I think that that’s the work that I’ve been called on to do more of. I’m certainly not known for lifestyle or comedy.
On the other hand, it’s my goal to stay as diverse as possible. So I am going add a little whimsy to my style, merging the tech with some absurdism and a big dose of humanity. A touch more humour and light heartedness.

I’m always seeking to do something different. Although, I’m not super successful at that because I keep going back to light installations and experiential work that has a big tech foundation in it. I’ll continue to do tech inspired work because of my background. It’s hard to escape I guess. I’d like to something more psychedelic, more like an homage to the late 1960s and those palates.

Right, and your showing some of that intent on you website, with that psychedelic Pinterest board you’re curating.

Yeah, if you keep on doing the same shit you’re going to get bored. That’s the exact reason I wouldn’t do a feature film because I’d get sick of it after 5 or 6 months.

We’re quoting you on that…

I’ve a short attention span. The thing that keeps me inspired is diversity. I’m doing a lot of photography I’m drawing and doing a lot of illustration. I’m doing short films. I’m writing more. In a week there’s going to be a 28 print series out. I’m always trying to push myself and make myself uncomfortable. More growing, more evolving, and subsequently more inspiration.

A large part of your work as been about creating physical space out of something as intangible as light. Is that how you’d see it? I’m thinking of something like the Windows 10 image.

Yep, that’s true. I had some really powerful influencers when I moved to San Francisco. Mainly people from Bot & Dolly. Those guys were doing a lot of practical work. I was really inspired by the cinematographer and roboticists that I was working with some. Those guys pushed me to dabble in experiential work and work in practical. There was a time there where I was: “Fuck post!”

I just want to get everything in camera. Which made some shoots rather difficult. It was that way on the brief for the Windows job. It had to be real because real never dates. It can’t. You know? Because it’s real. You can’t fuck with real. It’s the same reason that Bladerunner hasn’t dated. 95% of that was shot in camera. Star wars hasn’t dated. It looks great because it’s real. CG, certainly from 10 years ago has dated. Look at the Star Wars prequels. The CG just wasn’t good back then for creating sets or digital characters. The characters in Dark Crystal don’t date – they’re puppets. And that was the theory I subscribed too. Of course, this year I’m doing one job that’s 100% post. It’s like a 7 month job, a huge campaign, and it’s all post. It’s fun to go back.

I always say that my plan is not to have a plan. Just stay diverse. Have a diverse style as well. Like the new print series I’ve got is super colourful.

That idea of realness is interesting – because in the Window’s image you’d sort of question is it real, how was it done. And then, there’s this ten minute long companion piece that goes through the project piece by piece. There’s so much of both practical work and post that went into it. Is showing how something was done important to you, or was is that just the marketing machine at work?

I love ‘making of’ videos. And sometimes, if not most of the time, the making of video is more interesting than the final product. I look at it as just as important as anything else in the project. It’s another piece of media that makes the whole project more interesting. On a Samsung gig I did, I thought the making of was way more interesting than the final product. You know doing the macro photography, the robotic arm in there, programming moves on the fly – showing the camera moving in the laser field. I love that shit! And I thought that the Windows making of was really good. It’s good to show people the reality of it. I think of the Sprint campaign [The Dream by Artisan/UVA] from a few years ago where you look at it and assume that it’s all CG, and then you watch the making of and suddenly you’re like: “Holy shit, this is all practical. This is amazing!”. Actually, that particular making of was a huge inspiration for the techniques that I’ve been exploring over the past couple of years. So yeah, the making of is equally important as the finished product because of the process involved.

Once you unveil the process, you’ve got this holistic approach where you’re not keeping secrets you’re sharing. That’s good Karma. It’s fair play. And if you do things the hard way it’s also validation of your efforts.

I don’t know if it was part of the brief, but in the Cars vs. Drones piece a substantial number of shots showed the guys controlling the drones, the set up, the monitors side by side. Is that part of the same idea of lifting up the curtain a little?

That was intentional too. That one I wanted the feeling of … like you’d walked into a big hanger and a bunch of technical people were doing this experiment. I wanted all this stuff in the shot to show that they’re doing this on the go. It’s not super polished. It’s supposed to be a dose of reality. And there is loads of gear everywhere because we’re pitting these two machines against each other and we’re not sure what’s going to happen.
That was a decision on my part. It also makes the shots way more interesting. I like putting objects in the camera that obscure the shot. I love shooting through windows, through people. There’s a shot in there that’s partially obscured by a lamp. I got that inspiration from a creative director called Jeff Linnell, that owns that idea. He wanted the same kind of feeling for this piece Box that we worked on together. Like it was an experiment and you’re almost just there capturing it with your iPhone.

You know, thinking about it, at first I hated that idea. I wanted it to be polished you know? Perfect and pristine. But after I listened to him for a couple of the scenes in Box I was like: “this is nice to be really honest with your approach”.

Whenever you’re on set and you see all this gear its as if there’s a specific kinda of feeling where you understand the magnitude of the things you’re doing there. And it feels cool. Even the most expensive production still has an air of – I don’t want to say cheap – but there’ll still be shit taped together. All sorts of interesting rigs to make something work and I think that celebrates the creative problem solving that goes into big shoots.

Right – in the end it’s just a bunch of people having to be really quiet in the dark for thirty seconds hoping a shot works out.

Right. And they’ll all there waiting to see if a certain camera move works or lighting rig does what it’s supposed to do. It all involves a type of problem solving. And in Cars vs Drones we were celebrating that.

Were you pitching Cars vs Drones from scratch or did the client have the idea and come to you? How do you convince client of ideas like that? Is it just you in a room waving your arms about?

Usually in advertising work there’s an agency involved and they’ll present a really basic seed idea that’s not that fleshed out. They hire a director to run with it and put a production solution to it, an editorial solution to it, a musical solution to it. With Cars Vs. Drones we were lucky enough to work with Vice Australia – they’re about a cool an ad agency as you can get. They had this idea to pit the cars and drones against each other to see which machine had the greater agility, which would win in an obstacle course of sorts. And from there I brought in this idea of long exposure to show the motion path and show the trajectory of the machines.
It’s an homage back to animation where you show the trajectory of something from it’s motion path, which is how you can judge movement and speed. Including that made it feel more like an art piece.

It reminded me a little of Otomo’s Akira.

Yeah. Including that light technique helped me to really enjoy that project. But both Vice and the client were completely onboard to let us play and do interesting things. Those are the kind of agencies that I like to work with – they trust a director and let them run free and do their thing.
I worked on an Adidas commercial one time, and at the end of the project the guys says: “I thought you were going to go even crazier with the tunnel [that appears at the end of the ad] and you actually kept it kind of tame.

And I felt really bad. I didn’t know that I could have gone that way. I thought it would have been a waste of time and resources. I learned from that conversation; you should do whatever you feel is right until you’re told “no”. No exploration is a waste of time.

Clients can get pretty brave when everything is finished. You mentioned Vice Australia, is going further afield for work about searching for clients that will give you the license to do something different?

I think so. I’m not at that point where I can pick and choose the work I do. My work is obviously influenced by my design background but also by the craft of cinematography and filmmaking and storytelling. I’m still pretty new to directing. I’ve been making short films all my life but I’ve only been doing it for real in commercial work for about three years, you know proper sets, proper crew, proper timelines, real crunch time directing shit. Hopefully I’ll reach a point where I can choose the work based on what’s interesting to me. At the moment I end up pitching on most stuff that comes my way. That’s Ok because a lot of the briefs are hand-picked for my style and for my sensibilities so it’s usually in my wheel house.

At the moment I’m pitching for a brief to make art with an appliance – it’s got GMUNK written all over it so of course I’m going to pitch. I think that they were like: “we’ve got this brief and who would be a good artist to match this to?” And they came up with me.

The big difference between client work and artist work is that in art you’re unconstrained. You pick a theme and you explore it relentlessly. Client work you’re always aware that you can’t say that because that’s in accurate. You can’t do that because the shirt can’t do that. You have to be a little more straight. There’s a lot of legal stuff involved because you can’t claim things that aren’t true when you’re selling a real product. It’s my goal to do as much art and unencumbered design work as I do commercial work.

Is that where projects like the collaboration with Tycho come in? You get more freedom, get to hone skills in a collaborative – let’s say – artistic space?

Yeah absolutely. That’s job that I did for free, rounded up a crew in San Francisco, went on an adventure and shot in the woods for four days. Just a really low budget, warm, pure project. I’m always trying to get that feeling, where everybody is working for free and you’re getting so much out of so little. That is such an inspiring feeling. You do these huge productions where each day you shoot costs 150 grand and you shoot for two and half, three days or whatever and you get a lot of good stuff but it still doesn’t seem that much for half a million. And then you shoot a Tyco video in the woods for four days for 20 grand but you shoot way more.
You find out that it’s possible to do this stuff. I’m still confused by how that works sometimes where it seems that can’t really do anything for less that 300 grand. And then you can get a bunch of friends together, pull a bunch of favours and you can make stuff happen for very little.

Before I moved to London I did a shoot for $3,000 with a bunch of friends and the only reason I did the shoot was to play. I just wanted to play with my homies. I had to pay money out of my own pocket to make it happen. I’m always searching for those kinds of experiences because it keeps you honest. It reminds me why we do this, for the sake of making and the sake of collaborating. I’ve got a lot of close friends that I collaborate with, that I love as family. It’s so much fun for us to go out for a day and talk shit, turn on music, get stoned and make stuff. It reminds me of why I was so inspired in school and what I need to do to stay inspired as a professional.

I guess I see you as having a particular, distinctive style, I’m not sure I would have seen you as a natural collaborator. I’m not saying I thought you were an asshole or anything…

I love collaboration more than anything. It’s the way you learn. If you’re just by yourself all the time doing things by yourself you have no opportunity to cross-pollinate. You gotta work with others to really grow. I’m very chill person – people like to collaborate with me, me with them. You can’t really dominate a collaboration. It’s a 50/50 voice thing. Otherwise it’s not collaboration.

How does collaboration work for the Kosinski movies you’ve worked on? You were feeding into a bigger vision.

Well it was Joe’s vision. So he gives you the seed idea – this is what it needs to do, this is what needs to happen, this is the story we’re trying to tell. And then he gives me great freedom to explore all sorts of directions. We collaborate with him to find solutions but we also collaborate internally with my team, the guys I brought in to work on it. We work on it together. Everyone has a voice. The best idea wins.

Tron and Oblivion felt really natural experiences. One, because we were making art, and there weren’t a lot of rules involved. And two, because both Joe and my guys were great to work with. We just had a lot of fun. It never really felt like work.

I remember on Tron Legacy, every Sunday I went in at night to put in 4-5 hours of work to get ready for the week to bring some ideas, and I never billed for it. It was just passion for the project. Oblivion was the same thing. It’s a lot of passionate people working together to make really beautiful art and tell a really beautiful story. I’m waiting for Kosinski to do another feature film so that I can get involved. I would move back to Venice Beach in a heartbeat to work with him again. It was such a rewarding experience. You’re getting paid to make art, and that’s where I want to be.

Looking back, what was the first project that you felt you were really finding a style that you could call GMUNK?

I would say Tron Legacy – once that project was over everybody on the team took a lot of time to make sure that the collection of the project was really nice and we showed a ton of work that we did. The response to that was really positive and afterwards I really felt I had momentum.

But maybe the the light triangle I did for FITC Amsterdam in 2013 was the first foray into saying: “hey, lets use light as an element in graphic design,” and the collaboration with Micheal Fullman in that project was the beginning of a many more collaborations with him.

But each project builds on the last. Right now, I’m working on a short film called the Monkey King and my goal is to get that shot this year, and finish post next year. That’s a really important project to me because it’s a culmination of the last six years worth of work put in one short film. I’m super keen on that. I’ve a treatment done and there’s going to be a Kickstarter later this year. I’ve never been more excited about a project in my career. I think that’ll be a signature piece.

And then it’s on to the next one. I’m not that guy who’ll spend six months going to all the festivals selling it. I’ll finish it, release it to the internet, put my head down and move on.

I just want to look back on a long career where I did everything, I tried everything I could. This is the career I’ve chosen and I just want to look back and feel like I’ve done everything.