“Balance the artist with the businessman” – Q&A with Jonny Kofoed from Assemblyby Corinne Smith on 11/10/2012
We end the week talking to Jonny Kofoed, Owner & Director of Motion & Design at Assembly. This local and relatively new agency describe themselves as a company of aesthetic thinkers who like making images that tell stories. These stories comprise of award winning high-end commercial work. Most recently Assembly received a Gold at the Best Awards for the ‘V Motion Project’.
Jonny is speaking at We Can Create on Saturday 27th October, and kindly took the time to talk to Design Assembly about his journey.
How did you start out in the creative industry?
While I was studying at design school I had a part time job in a cafe. One day it dawned on me that if I didn’t do really well with my studies and get a job in this industry, I was going to be making coffee for the rest of my life. I wasn’t very good at making coffee. I changed gears and with guidance from a couple of really amazing tutors, I set course for a lifetime of working with shapes and colours.
I was really lucky to get offered a job straight out of design school at Silverscreen (big film company in NZ at the time) which I pounced on with my galactic student loan following close behind. It was a peculiar arrangement because although I had studied design, specialising in animation & interactive, I was going into the film and commercials industry not knowing anything about it. I’m still here now, and with how much it’s changed in the last few years I can’t honestly say I know much more about it today. Which is always an exciting place to be I reckon.
What was Assembly’s ‘big break’?
We’d already been working and were well established in the market as individuals and as a team, so it was just a matter of doing it again. But this time with our houses on the line. So I guess ‘Assembly’ was the big break in some regards – the point at which we turned around and said “let’s do it our way”.
As far as a turning point for us with a project, when Damon (business partner) and I got the directing job for Singapore Airlines worldwide. We felt we had stepped onto the international stage. It was at a time where you couldn’t get on a pitch against the hot shop Pysop yet alone beat them in a pitch. We thought after completing the Singapore Airlines Worldwide work that everything was going to be so much easier, “we’ve done one of the biggest international projects of the year!”. But we were wrong. As they say “you’re only as good as your last job” and we’re fighting just as hard nearly 10 years later.
Tell us about your studio/ work environment: what are its best/worst points, why is it like it is/how important is it to your creative process?
We have a fantastic little old building on Drake St in Auckland that’s an open plan studio built around a bar. We’ve filled it up with people since moving here two and a half years ago. Right before a shoot it really hums with crew and art department etc. We all came from working at big post/animation studios where everything was in tucked away, dark suites and departmentalised. Moving into a more collaborative space was really liberating. It’s amazing what difference it makes having conversations flow across the room. Everyone has an ear on everything, hierarchies are broken down and I think clients love the fact that when they come in there are so many different perspectives that sway the creative process. On any given job you’ve got directors, designers, animators, tech directors, coders attacking the problem from all angles. If you subscribe to the idea of ‘good ideas can come from anywhere’ it’s a pretty amazing space to be in. The only criticism of our space has been it’s a little too ‘boys club’ – btw, this wasn’t from our one female employee. Our large format museum grade taxidermy collection is not helping with this perception.
Does your personal creative process differ from your studios?
As a senior member of the team, do you think you have influenced their creative process?
I think there’s levels of corralling…maybe shepherding….definitely nudging, but I wouldn’t go as far as saying that I’ve ever changed anyone’s creative process in any discernible way. Because we’re small we tend to hire quite senior people and they tend to come with their own way of approaching problems – which is great. I’d like to think that maybe some of the younger guys that I’ve worked with over the years have picked up a few habits like knowing when to leave a computer alone and pick up a pencil. Or what the difference is between ‘reference’ and ‘research’ and the little things like that.
Do you feel your physical environment/where in the world you work has shaped your creative process and outputs and continues to?
I believe it has and still does. I think a lot of my work has a real colloquial slant to it. It’s probably just as much a sense of humour in the storytelling as it is a visual thing. There’s a love for the absurd that I think us Kiwis share with the English, this finds it’s way into a lot of my work.
What’s the biggest professional lesson you’ve learnt and how has it shaped your career direction?
Don’t listen to those people who tell you can’t do something a certain way. The world is filled with people who like to tell you “it can’t be done”. By not taking certain advice, I’ve managed to invent a job for myself that didn’t exist when I started out in the industry.
What design project, personal or professional are you most proud of and why?
I think the spot I did for Women’s Refuge this year. It was creatively challenging to get a lot of emotion across using only black and white type. This kind of project would usually utilise live action and performance to get the message across, so I really put my animation skills on the line. Working with sound and pictures simultaneously was really key as well. I felt that I had complete control over the project and that the planets had aligned. With such an important message I couldn’t afford for the ad not to work. I put a lot of pressure on myself.
The big payoff for me was its effectiveness. Getting that call that it doubled the donation intake from the previous year really made me proud. There’s always that little doubter inside us that worries if what we’re doing actually works. If we don’t change the way people behave, then we’re just making screensavers.
Name a designer or design studio you admire, and why?
I’ve always admired ‘The Glue Society’ in Aussie. I’m not sure if you’d call them a ‘design studio’, just a collection of artists, writers, filmmakers and designers that just happen to slot somehow into the advertising industry when required. A lot of companies call themselves ‘multidisciplinary’, I reckon Glue are the benchmark.
What are you currently working on? Professionally and personally?
Right this minute I’m working on a commercial (that I’m not allowed to name) and in my spare time I’m developing a TV series for Nickelodeon with Jarrod Holt from ‘The Downlow Concept’ and Jae Morrison from ‘Thick as Thieves’ called “Salvador”. It’s basically an outlet for my fascination with Spanish and French nautical design and another excuse to collaborate. I also have a music video on the backburner for ‘Mr Hayday’.
Where do you find your inspiration?
Anywhere and everywhere.
What’s the best piece of advice you could give to people starting out in this industry?
Probably don’t be afraid to make mistakes. I know it’s become a very popular….even naf thing to say – there are probably T-shirts – but I used to have a real problem with the concept of professionalism. It’s doing it quickly and doing it right the first time (which was usually the result of having already done it before) which is boring and actually really lazy. Professionalism eats creativity. You have to trust yourself to get into a state of play which is when the best ideas happen. Make a big old mess knowing there’s always time later to clean up and refine. Because we work in ‘business and brand communication’, we’re sometimes lured into adopting corporate process and ideology. It’s really important to balance the artist with the businessman.
Who are you most looking forward to hearing speak at WCC?
Jonathan Barnbrook and Adbusters….. should be cool!
Want to hear more from Jonny and other inspiring creatives? We Can Create, New Zealand’s alternative art and creative industries showcase, returns to Auckland on Saturday October 27th. This time it is a more intimate event and for one day which is perfect for those of us who can’t previously struggled to get off work to attend the Friday. Get your tickets before they sell out! Also make sure you check out the WCC#2 side events page to find out more about how you can get up close and personal with these fantastic creatives.