Raoul Marks is a Melbourne based designer and animator who currently works for Elastic, often alongside the incredible talented Patrick Clair.
Raoul’s portfolio talks for itself as he has collaborated on numerous pieces of worldwide praised work and been involved in many big productions. In 2014 he, Patrick Clair and Jennifer Sofio Hall, received personal recognition for Elastic’s work on HBO’s title sequence ‘True Detective’ as they won an ‘Emmy’ Award from the Television Academy for “Outstanding Main Title Design”
Apart from helping creating the title sequences for ‘True Detective’ season 1 & 2, he’s also been involved in titles for ‘Man In The High Castle’ and ‘Halt And Catch Fire’, and most recently he created the opening titles for a design festival called Semi-Permanent.
Raoul works with international clients in Film, Television, Gaming and other mediums. On his portfolio you will also find featured work for WIRED, MTV, Adidas and Coke just to handpick a few. It is very likely that you have come across some of Raoul’s work at some point, and we are very happy to have been able to take up some of his time, for him to share some his insights and experiences with us.
So hang tight, this is going to be a great ride!
Full credits for all videos are listed in the bottom of this article.
Its not about sitting down and thinking of ideas, more about just being bored out of your brain. Other people may call that a holiday, but Its not always practicable to jet off to Barbados to find your muse.
Q: What is motion design to you? Do you tend to describe or explain what you do in other ways to help people outside the industry to better understand what you do?
I still haven’t found an effective way to describe what I do to others. I often resort to asking people if they’ve seen a Bond film and remember the graphic bit at the beginning.. “I do that kind of stuff” I’d explain. I tried it the other day and was met with “I’ve never seen a James Bond film”.. Really? The mind boggles…
If you figure out a better description please let me know.
Today there is a huge amount of quality learning material available online for everyone with a computer and internet connection to dive into. This means that there is a steady growth in number of self-taught artists today and the necessity of going to university or taking an often expensive design degree is not a requirement for starting out as a motion designer.
Q: Can you tell us a little about your design background and how you got into design and animation?
I agree completely. The quality and breadth of knowledge and education online has made learning really a self driven endeavour. The power and affordability of the tools has really democratised the profession. That said I do feel there is an important role for institutions.
After high school I went straight through into University at Curtin in Western Australia where I majored in Multimedia Design. At the time I felt the course was a bit light on the practical skills and sometimes focused on rather anachronistic software etc. But in hindsight the course offered a great framework for developing as an individual and an artist over a longer time frame.
It can be easy to think of education purely as vocational training – learn the skills needed for your intended job. But generally you end up working in ways that weren’t even envisaged at the point you’re going through study. For example in our theory tutorials we’d often get lost talking politics and philosophy, ideas getting seemingly pretty distant from how Photoshop layers work. But that contextualisation of design in the wider world has come back to me in many unforeseen ways over the years, and its been crucial for me to understand why we make things in the first place.
The first major animated piece of work I made was a short experimental animation influenced by the political movement in the middle east referred to as the Arab Spring. This wasn’t in any way an articulate or even well thought out representation of those events, but more a response to the images we’d had streaming through our TV screens ever since the first Gulf War. I was interested in the aesthetics of war and religion.
I’d prefer the role of higher education maintains a focus on creating thinking, analytical and versatile people as opposed to that push for simply creating a workforce.
I made that piece purely because I was interested by it in a visual sense. I didn’t make it as a training exercise or so that I could get a job but it had that effect. Patrick Clair came by the piece on Vimeo, and I imagine because he was also interested in visual representations of political ideas, he got in touch and we’ve been working together since.
I guess what I’m getting at is that universities help you develop a broader appreciation for the work that we end up making. University fees in Australia have ballooned dramatically in recent years. It was free for my parents generation but are now moving into many thousands of dollars for a course. That’s pushing the understanding of education’s role into one of purely training you to get a job, purely vocational. I’d prefer the role of higher education maintains a focus on creating thinking, analytical and versatile people as opposed to that push for simply creating a workforce.
That said people learn things in very different ways and there are a lot people, far brighter than me, that never went to university or found it utterly useless. I just don’t think we should completely neglect them in favour of quicker and more efficient forms of vocational training. In fact, I think the online resources and amazing courses being put together by talented professionals out there work really well in combination with degree courses. The fact that you can learn remotely now from legends of the industry is an amazing outcome of the smaller world we live in because of the internet. So yeah.. both!
Ha, sorry.. Rant over!
Q: How do you get inspired creatively? Are there any particular sources apart from the internet that you tend to seek inspiration from – like music, traveling, the outdoors, books, comics, art, movies, architecture, cultures, space,..?
Inspiration is a hard one for me. Sometimes I get super excited about the potential for making new things. Other times I can go for months without really vibing anything. Juliana Endberg has this theory she calls ‘Sluggidising’. Basically doing fuck all for an extended period of time and that’ll give you time to find ideas. Its not about sitting down and thinking of ideas, more about just being bored out of your brain. Other people may call that a holiday, but Its not always practicable to jet off to Barbados to find your muse.
So I guess, yes – a holiday helps give you the mental space away from the computer to start thinking again. But in addition to that its the usual cultural culprits we usually go to, to be in awe. Film has always been a huge influence for me. Particularly those films from my childhood that left an indelible mark on my psyche. A Space Odyssey, Alien, Bladerunner, they took me a long way away from sleepy suburban Australia. I guess its not uncommon to try to unpick your childhood throughout our adult years. Trying to recapture that awe struck feeling was really the driving motive behind the Semi-permanent titles I made recently. It wears its influences pretty clearly I think.
The art world also gets me thinking. My partner is a curator at a gallery here in Melbourne. She’s dragged me to a lot of shows over the years. Half the time its impenetrable and drab but I quite often leave a show feeling super inspired to go make something new. There actually seems to be a pretty common flow from the artwork into the advertising world. Its interesting how quickly a pretty abstract visual idea from the art world makes its way into advertising.
Q: Do you have any rituals or certain things that you like to do, to help set yourself up for work and get into your creative flow?
I’ll often try to visualise some ideas as I’m going to sleep or in the morning but nothing exotic. I’ll go through a lot reference material, and see if it suggests anything. I find its often that lucky accident of a few pieces of references next to each other that suggest an interesting solution.
You have managed to build an impressive portfolio and worked on some big projects already. Of late you have been particularly involved in titles which include TV shows like ‘The Man in the High Castle’, ‘Halt And Catch Fire’, and season 1+2 for ‘True Detective’. The latest title piece you did though is for the ‘Semi-Permanent’ creative event that is held in Sydney and Auckland.
Q: How was it different for you working on a title for a design conference compared to a TV show, and what was the best thing about this project?
Well they were very different projects for me. I’ve been very lucky to work with the inimitable Patrick Clair and the production company Elastic over the last few years. He’s really the driving force behind the projects we’ve worked on. The ideas come from him so its a far more collaborative approach for me than with the SP titles. I was actually pretty trepidatious about doing the SP titles on my own as I’d grown very used to having a creative director to steer the project. But that also made it very exciting and I wanted to prove to myself that I had it in me to birth the idea.
When you’re doing conference work for gratis there is a general assumption you’re free to explore your own ideas with minimal restriction. So I thought, “fuck it”, I’m going for a pure unadulterated geek indulgence. But my reasoning was that since I’m pretty much the target audience for a design conference that may just fly.
So I thought, “fuck it”, I’m going for a pure unadulterated geek indulgence.
When working on a television title you’re really trying to help the show runners help tell their story. In a sense you’re helping translate their vision, so clearly you have to be very cognisant of their intentions.
The freedom of doing a project not bound by those restrictions is a little daunting at first. You can take it wherever you like. It can be hard without boundaries. I probably wouldn’t have chosen to have an astronaut on an epic surreal journey through space if i’d had clients to answer to.
‘Semi-Permanent’ have received a lot of praise and acknowledgement – and for good reason! What is the most mind-boggling to me is that you have created the whole piece yourself – even the audio.
Q: How long did it take you to execute the whole piece? Can you maybe explain some of your process and what was some of the biggest challenges you faced along the way?
Thank you. I was really happy with how well it was received. To be honest, by delivery I’d watched it so many times I had no idea whether it was good or dreadful.
I was in Japan for a month in late 2014. That time off had allowed my head to start formulating some ideas for personal work that I wanted to explore.
I took those early ideas and developed them further into a rough concept for the SP titles. I then managed to book in a month off from my usual schedule to focus on the titles. I had the rough idea of what I wanted to attempt at that point but just needed to push through with actually making it as well as the predictable re-calibration as you get into production.
So, yeah, a little over a month for the actual production.
I think my approach was to focusing my time on the key elements and cutting as many corners along the way. The primary asset was really the astronaut so I spent a considerable amount of time on the suit. In hindsight I should have spent more time on doing a proper sturdy rig but as always jumped ahead without fully testing it. As a result I wasted a lot of time going back and doing hack fixes on bones and weights etc.
I had a lot of fun exploring the displacement maps on the rocky surfaces in the sequence. The height maps come from this great NASA site called ‘map a planet’. I really like single light source scenes, there’s something stark and ancient about them. I also like how your mind reads all the details in the shadows even if you can’t really see it.
I used a render engine called Octane which was instrumental in making it feasible to render all these details. I wouldn’t have even attempted it before Octane. Global illumination, sub polygon displacements and dark contrasty lighting just would have killed render times if approached with a conventional ray tracer.
Q: What software did you use to make ‘Semi-Transparent’?
A number of pieces but primarily Cinema 4D. Within that was TurbulenceFD for the smoke elements and Octane was instrumental in the rendering/materials. Marvelous Designer was used for the base suit form and also for some of the close up cloth simulations. The After Effects for compositing.
Q: Do you see yourself continuing making titles for TV shows, films, festivals etc. and is there anything especially fulfilling and exciting for you working on titles?
If the opportunities continue to work in that area then I’d happily live out my days making title sequences, but I assume that won’t be the case somehow. I’m interested in making films and that seems pretty distant and I’m not sure in what capacity I’d contribute to making a film. But I’ve always loved the cinema experience so I’d like to head in that direction.
‘Semi-Permanent’ is not your first involvement in sound design as you have done some on your older pieces like ‘No Face’.
Q: Do you have a musical background and play any instruments? How did you get into sound design?
Oh I completely forgot that the ‘No Face’ piece is still up there. That was one of the first pieces of motion graphics I ever made. Was really just playing around and having fun trying to learn the tools. But yes, I’ve always enjoyed swapping hats and working with audio. I got quite into synthesisers and music production when I was living in Edinburgh and London. I started making music with a friend up there, Ed Cox. We had a little duo going called “In Fields” which he is continuing on in my absence.
It just feels natural to want to play with the audio on pieces. Some sage old fella whose name I forget.. once told me “the sound is 50% of the experience” – and he wasn’t wrong in my opinion. It can completely frame how we experience a piece. I love that about sound. Its has no clear rational explanation, that those notes together imply a certain feeling, but they’re instantly more effective than straight prose or imagery.
‘Under the Skin’ is a great example of sound design for me. Its utterly creepy, spacious while also touching on the sublime. It was perfect for the film. Mica Levi is the composer I believe.
Q: How important a role do you think audio and a good sound design is to a piece like ‘Semi Permanent’ – or any motion piece for that matter? Is it something you want to focus more on developing in the future or is it more like a hobby and fun-time for you?
I’d love to be able to keep working on the sound design elements, but in reality there are a million other people out there far better at it than me. So I guess I’ll experiment where I can but I think I have enough on my plate to take it seriously.
In terms of its role, as I said before, I think its crucial and all too often we forget to give it the attention it deserves. Usually we just animate to a temporary track that gets replaced towards the end of the job with something quite different. It usually works but I think we miss the opportunity to really marry the two elements with that approach. I like to refer to it as if the audio has stick with the visuals. Its when you start to feel like you are hearing what you are seeing – almost a synesthesia style experience.
Q: Do you have any preferred tools or online platforms you go to for inspiration and managing your ideas?
Changes here and there over time, but I currently have a very badly organised pinterest account – and then spend numerous hours tapping through my Vimeo likes to find that one video I liked 3 years ago. Actually makes me wish Vimeo had a better system for tagging an organising favourites.
Q: What keeps you focused and motivated?
That goes in ebbs and flows. Fear that you’ll fuck something up that is important is usually a pretty good focuser. Motivation usually comes from being intimidated by all the amazing talent out there. But in honesty I’d say trying to listen and explore my own more subconscious responses to things like film and music are usually a pretty good place to start for guidance.
But in honesty I’d say trying to listen and explore my own more subconscious responses to things like film and music are usually a pretty good place to start for guidance.
Q: Do you have any other passions and hobbies?
I’d love to get back into making some music but just can’t bring myself to spend anymore time in front of the computer. My wife is a curator here in Melbourne so I do try to head out to a lot of galleries with her, that’s always (mostly) a great experience.
Q. What would you say is the most geeky thing about you?
I’m not even sure where to start with this one. Theres just so many.
Q: I can imagine you are under some very strict NDA’s but was wondering if there is anything you could reveal on something we can look forward to see from you in the near future?
There’s a few things on the boil but nothing I can talk about yet unfortunately. I’ve started work with Pat on a personal project of his which is very exciting but that’s alI can say for now.
I know you have a busy schedule and a lot going on, so I would like to thank you for letting us take up some of your time, to answer some questions and sharing your insights and experiences with us.
Q: Before I let you go though I would like to finish off by asking; what would be your best advice to someone just starting out in the industry, or just curious about exploring motion design?
Well I found when I went off script and made things for myself – things that I wanted to see, that experimentation was the stuff that ended up getting me work. So its been said many times before, but I think looking inwards can be a very fertile area for creativity.
That’s it! I would like to take the opportunity to thank Raoul again for taking time out to answer a few questions and let us get a little peek into his career and mindset as an artist. Do not forget to pop over and check out much more of Raoul’s impressive work on his website, as well as some of the stunning work coming out of Elastic. Keep an eye out for more goodness in the near future from these guys!
I hope you enjoyed this second motion feature and found something useful to take away and hopefully feeling inspired to go out there and own! And remember that it is OK to try and fail, but it’s not OK to fail to try. Get on the field!
CREDITS AS FEATURED
‘Semi-Permanent 2015 Opening Titles’ & ‘Semi-Permanent 2015 Behind the Scenes.’
Designed and Produced by Raoul Marks
Titles kindly supported by Maxon – www.maxon.net
Iceland photography kindly provided by Jake Sargeant – www.mn8studio.com
Music and SFX arranged by Raoul Marks
Additional artwork by Stanley Donwood & Noah Taylor
‘Halt And Catch Fire’
Produced by Elastic
Creative Direction: Antibody
Executive Producer: Jennifer Sofio Hall
Director” Patrick Clair
Art Direction: Eddy Herringson
Animation and Design: Raoul Marks
Logo Design: Paul Sangwoo Kim
Production Manager: Bridget Walsh
Typography Consultant: Jennifer Walsh
Visual Researcher: Pat Da Cunha
‘True Detective’ Opening Title Sequence
Air Date: January 12, 2014
Opening Title Sequence: Elastic
Director: Patrick Clair
Executive Producer: Jennifer Sofio Hall
Senior Designer: Raoul Marks
Animation + Compositing: Raoul Marks
Animation + Compositing: Patrick Da Cunha
Production: Bridget Walsh
Research: Anna Watanabe
Additional Compositing: Breeder
Compositing: Chris Morris
Compositing: Joyce Ho
Production: Candace Browne
Production: Adam West
‘The Man in the High Castle’
DIRECTOR: PATRICK CLAIR
PRODUCER: JAMIE MCBRIETY
EXECUTIVE PRODUCER: JENNIFER SOFIO HALL
LEAD ANIMATOR & COMPOSITOR:RAOUL MARKS
DESIGN: PAUL KIM, KEVIN HEO, SAM CIVIDANIS
CG MODELER: JOSE LIMON
‘Tom Clancy’s The Division’
CREATIVE DIRECTOR: PATRICK CLAIR
DESIGN DIRECTOR: PHIL ROBSON
3D MODELLING & ANIMATION: TIM CLAPHAM VIA LUXX
MOTION DESIGN & ART DIRECTION: EDDY HERRINGSON
MOTION DESIGN & GRADING: RAOUL MARKS
ADDITIONAL 3D MODELLING: MATTHEW GRAINGER
COMPOSITING: DANIEL SYMONS
‘Adidas “Two Teams, One Trophy”‘
Agency: TBWA Chiat Day
Production Company: Elastic
Director: Patrick Clair
Executive Producer: Jennifer Sofio Hall
Lead Animator/Compositor: Raoul Marks
Composting : Maciek Sokalski, David Badounts, Rob Nederhorst
CG Lead : Andrew Romantz
CG Artists: Erin Clarke, Paulo De Alamda
Designer: Paul Kim, Ram Bhat
Producer: Carol Collins
Additional Producer: Jamie McBriety
Design Development: Raoul Marks,Eddy Herringson
Animation and Picture Editing: Raoul Marks
Antibody Creative Director: Patrick Clair
Music Composition: Eric Steuer
Wired Video Editor: Sowjanya Kudva
Wired Creative Director: Billy Sorrentino
Wired Editor-in-Chief: Scott Dadich
Made by Raoul Marks
Music & SFX by Jacob Thomas Czech www.vimeo.com/prozacstudio