Q&A with Kelly Kurtz

Hello Kelly! First and foremost, congratulations on winning the Vega Digital Awards for your Grad Project “World Ski & Snowboard Festival Promo” and your title sequence project “188 Days”! Also, it is worth mentioning that your World Ski & Snowboard Festival Promo was recently published live and is actively promoting the event!

Tell us, what was your first reaction after hearing you have won?
I was pretty shocked – I received an email informing me the winners had been announced and to check out the winners’ gallery, so naturally I assumed I hadn’t won anything. I was excited to see the amazing work that had been submitted and then found my graduate project on the winners page! And right beside it was another piece I had created, a motion title sequence, which put me into double shock!

What do you think set your projects apart from the rest of the nominees?
I am not really sure!

Can you briefly summarize what your grad project is about?
It is an animated promo for the World Ski and Snowboard Festival held annually in Whistler, BC.

Why did you chose that as a topic?
I used to work in the ski industry full time for 12 years, so when it came to my graduate project I wanted to work on something that I am passionate about, something fun.

How did you come up and define your story line?
I chose the approach of “what do I want my audience to feel” when they view the piece approach. The answer was that I wanted them to feel excited about all the festival has to offer – skiing, snowboarding, nightlife, concerts and events.

When it came to choosing your art direction, what were the steps you took to define it?
Ski culture has always revered fluorescent colours, so when I mixed that idea with the après part of the festival a glow in the dark feel emerged. I defined the art direction in the previsualization stage of my project and refined it throughout production as each frame was drawn.

What is the most important step that you think cannot be skipped when you are in the pre-production stage?
For me music was locked in early, I find it a back and forth process when trying to previsualize a project. The sound doesn’t get enough credit yet it is half the impact to the viewer. When I hear different music I see different animations, the music has a huge impact on what visual elements will work or not work. I had a very clear picture of what the piece was going to look like from the beginning, and when I am working on a piece that I can’t see that I need to spend more time seeing it, otherwise it is wasted time later.

What were the challenges that you needed to overcome when creating your grad project?
My first logo animation that transitioned the rotating skier into the logo was very drippy looking, and didn’t fit the overall art direction. 3D rotating characters doing ski & snowboard tricks required a 3D rotating logo animation. I took the logo into Cinema 4D, twisted it up with deformers and created a small animation that was rendered out to use as a reference to then frame by frame over in Photoshop. The result was not only fitting the overall art direction of the piece but it ended up being a favourite scene for most viewers.

Did you, at any point during your grad project, felt lost and unsure on how to proceed? If so, what helped you get back on track?
Oh many points – this was the first cel animation project I had ever attempted so my learning curve was steep. Having an industry mentor that I met with bi-weekly, our amazing instructors and my talented classmates surrounding me I had plenty of resources to pull on whenever I couldn’t figure out how to work through something. It challenged me technically every day, and that is part of why I chose to proceed with the project – I wanted to grow as a designer and if I knew exactly how to do something every step of the way then I chose the wrong project!

Do you have any tips and tricks that help you manage your scope and goals?
I am a big proponent of the Calendar – I plotted out all stages of the project by starting at the end and working backwards. I could then set specific deadlines for myself, and I needed those partly to keep on track and manage scope, but also to keep the pressure on so I produced. I have discovered that I work better under pressure than having a long time to do something, so having those small deadlines all the time created the pressure I needed

Where did you find inspiration for your creative design process in regards to your grad project?
For me it was the real world – I couldn’t find anything that remotely resembled what I was trying to create, which was exciting and a bit terrifying at the same time. But I think that is the design addiction that we all can identify with, the manic process of design.

What are some of the tools you used? Are there any tools you would recommend?
I used Photoshop for all the drawing, Premiere Pro to cut the animatic and music, After Effects for compositing and secondary animations, and Cinema 4D for the logo animation. I found this brush pack after my project, but if you looking for some awesome brushes for Photoshop I would highly recommend Kyle’s ultimate brushes

How is your project 188 Days different from your graduation project?
188 Days is a motion title sequence about a man who quits his office job to travel the world. It differs from my graduate project in many ways – first there is a strong story associated with the piece and second the art direction and aesthetic are completely different.

Did the making of 188 Days help you in any way in creating your grad project?
Every project that I create helps me with the next one. It is continually building an arsenal of tools, skills, and ideas that gives you the experience to trust the process and create something new. 188 Days was the first project I had worked on solely myself, which was a great tester project before heading into my grad project.

Looking back, what would be one part of your grad project you would have done differently?
I wonder how the piece would have looked had I animated it in Animate CC (Flash). I am currently doing School of Motion’s Animation Bootcamp and have been dabbling in that software, and it might have been a little faster to work in Animate. I spent a lot of time on my grad project playing around with line quality, and in the end chose a more solid look. It was a lot of work to get that solid look with Photoshop and I think Animate might have been a quicker way to achieve the look I was going for.

Do you have any advice for current students when it comes to choosing a topic for their grad project?
Look around you, get off your computers and go out into the world. Find your muse and go with something you are passionate about. As designers we are all passionate about design, but there is more to life than just design. Often once I had the courage to walk away from a part I was stuck on and wasn’t thinking about it, a new solution would come to me. Most often on a run in the woods on the North Shore or somehow in the shower. I have no idea why the shower but it did.

Where do you get your inspiration?
It kind of comes from random places, and often when you aren’t expecting it. I recently bought a new notebook and when I saw the design on the cover I instantly thought it would make an amazing title sequence. It’s always good to have those side projects in your back pocket

What sort of things do you fill your head with?
Tough question – most of what fills my head are motion design related and continuing to improve my craft, but aside from that probably recipes and ski porn.

What do you read?
Medium digest has so many good articles out there, controversial and non. I also like Global News and CBC. I just finished a gripping book (The Nest) by a very talented first time author Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney. Couldn’t put it down, waiting for her next one to come out.

Do you subscribe to anything?
School of Motion does newsletters every Monday and sometimes more, lots of great resources in there. Meet Up Vancouver and a few chatrooms in Slack through Skillshare

What sites do you visit on the internet?
I really enjoy Dribbble, I was lucky enough to get an invite so am now contributing to the artist community there. Instagram is a great source for animation as well. Motionographer has really stepped up after they started on Patreon, School of Motion, Vimeo, and there is a new one that just launched that is similar to Dribbble but for motion peeps (MOGR) that I am checking out.

What music do you listen to?
A real variety of genres – I am on Soundcloud a lot and have been enjoying remixes, Kygo, Odesza, Tycho as well as blends of 1920’s jazz & hip hop. I also appreciate classical music and love Ludovico Einaudi for his piano talents, and I also appreciate string instruments. Google Play Music is great for discovering new music as the variety seems never ending

What movies do you watch?
The latest ones were Rogue One (WOW) and Arrival (WHICH BLEW MY MIND!)

Do you look at art?
In a go to the art gallery sense no, but there is so much more art around us every day that is outside of the gallery.

What do you collect?
Skis. One can never have enough skis in their quiver.

What’s inside your scrapbook?
I don’t really have a scrap book, more of a sketch book and it is full of watercolour washes and black ink doodles on top

What do you pin to the cork board above your desk?
Names of designers who I admire, as well as inspirational quotes that keep me going. And a countdown calendar to my wedding date 

Whose done work that you admire?
So many to name – Linn Fritz, Bee Grandinetti, Maite Franchi, JR Canest, Henrique Barone, Conor Whelan, Sara Beth Hulver

Who do you steal ideas from?
Depends on the project, I don’t have a go to person as each person’s work who I admire has a particular skill set and style so it depends really. It needs to be appropriate for the message I am trying to convey. I recently viewed a fantastic video called “Art is Theft” (http://motionographer.com/quickie/art-is-theft/) and it is about the creative process. A few words stuck out for me:
“It’s not where you take ideas from, it’s where you take them to” and “Those who do not copy produce nothing”

Do you have any heroes?
My fiancé, Jonathan Price, is incredible for the support he has given me in my design journey. The kind of space that an artist needs to create work in astronomical, and often not a social thing with people who are not involved in the project. He is amazing with people, a great listener, is an incredible instructor, a very loving human, and constantly strives to be a better person. I look up to him so much and he encourages and pushes me every step of the way. I feel so fortunate to get to travel through life’s adventures with him 

Who do you follow online?
Aside from the obvious Giant Ant & Buck I also really like Gentlemen Scholar, Motion Corpse, Animography, Odd Fellows, Gunner, Wine after Coffee, Black Math, & Moth

Who are the practitioners you look up to in your field?
Giant Ant and Linetest in Vancouver – they produce the type of work that is meaningful and a variety of styles that I would love to work with

What is next for you?
Lots – as always haha! I am currently looking for a full time motion design position in a small studio where I can contribute to a team and learn from those around me. I also am on the snow quite a bit this winter (how can you not be with snow like this?!?!) as I am training for my level 3 instructor certification, teaching private lessons and Women’s camps up at Whistler Blackcomb. Currently I am half way through School of Motion’s Animation Bootcamp, so that will finish up in a few weeks and I feel my appreciation for animation has gone up 10 fold, as well as my tech skills. And I got up at 5am to get ahold of one of those coveted Blend tickets, CAN’T WAIT!

Thanks, Kelly!

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