By Randi Altman
In celebrating its 10th anniversary, animation and design company Gentleman Scholar has relaunched as Scholar and has put a new emphasis on its live-action work. Started by directors/partners William Campbell and Will Johnson in Los Angeles, the company has grown over the years and now boasts a New York City location as well.
Recent Scholar projects include the animated Timberland Legends Club spot, the live-action and animated Porsche Pop Star and the live-action Acura TLX.
Considering their new name change and website rebrand, we decided to reach out to “The Wills” to find out more about Scholar’s work philosophy and what this change means to the company.
Why did you decide to rename and relaunch as Scholar?
Will Johnson: After 10 years it felt like a good time to redefine how the world views us. Not as only as a one-stop shop that can handle all of your design and animation needs, but also a live-action and storytelling powerhouse.
Will Campbell: The new name evokes cleanliness and sophistication and better represents how we have evolved. Gentleman Scholar was fun, quirky and playful. We’re still all of those things, but we feel like we’ve also become more cinematic, more polished and better collaborators that understand production more clearly… which allows us to navigate the industry better as a whole.
Even when it comes to live action and carrying our film into post, we can assess solutions on-set quicker and more fluidly, understanding the restrictions or additions we can take with us into the software. Scholar has changed immensely over the past 10 years. We have grown up and become smarter, faster and better. The rebrand is a window to who we have already become and who we plan to be.
How is the business different, and what’s stayed the same?
Johnson: It’s more refined. We’ve learned a lot about how to conduct ourselves in a competitive art world — the positive ways that we approach each project and allowing the stress of the job to kick us in the ass but not let it guide the decisions we make. It’s also about being patient with our team as well as our own decision-making.
Creativity is a process, and “turning it on” every day isn’t always easy. Understanding that not every idea you have is a great idea and how to be comfortable with your creative self is important. To trust in the “why” you are making something versus the “what” that you make. And that’s reflected in the new company name and our new website design. It’s the same us. The same wild bunch of creative explorers intent on pushing the boundaries of design and live action. We are just more certain of who we are and the stories we tell, and therefore more inclusive in our path to get there.
Campbell: We now have a decade’s worth of work to back up our thoughts and collaborations. This is enormous when you need to show how capable you are, not just in the standard we hold ourselves to visually, but in the quality and sophistication of our evolving storytelling. We have fine-tuned our production processes, enabling the pipelines of our edit, animation, CG and composite teams to more easily embrace the techniques and tools we use to craft the stories we want to tell… so we can be more decisive with the concepts we put on the table. From the software to the hardware, we are more refined.
Can you talk about how the industry has changed over the past 10 years?
Johnson: It’s more spread out than it’s ever been. There is more content that reaches more eyes in more places. From social to OOH to broadcast, the need to pull everyone together and create something that speaks to everyone all at once feels like it’s stronger and more apparent than before. And we’ve seen it all at this point, from vertical campaigns to entirely experiential ones. The era of “do more with less” is here.
Campbell: For us, we were very young when we opened Scholar. We were in our 20s, and everything was a fire drill and we thrived off the chaos. We have learned to harness the inspiration that comes with chaos and channel it into focused, productive creation.
Have you embraced working in the cloud — storage, rendering, review and approval, etc. — and if so, in what way?
Johnson: Yes. We know it’s a fast-paced world and in the climate of things, generally the globe is embracing a cloud-based way of thinking. Luckily, we have an amazing team of technologists so we can tap into our home-base server from anywhere at any time. From rendering to storage to reviews and approvals — it keeps us all united, focused and organized when we’re moving a million miles a minute in any different direction.
Campbell: Scholar has been testing the technology as it is getting better and cheaper, but we are always balancing convenience versus security, and those swing on a job-by-job basis. We’ve written tools to take advantage of storage and rendering resources on both coasts and use Aspera to facilitate file syncing between each office.
Can you talk about the tools you use for your work?
Johnson: The tangible ones are the usual suspects. Adobe’s Creative Suite and 3D tools like Autodesk Maya, Maxon Cinema 4D, Foundry Nuke and all of the animation and time-based ones, like Adobe Premiere and Avid Media Composer. But my favorite tools tend to be the brains and skills of our team… the words on paper and the channeling of art and thought into something tactile. As creators, we lust to make things, and seeing that circuit board of craft and making is something amazing to watch.
Campbell: Scholar has always been a mixed-media studio. We love getting our hands dirty with new software or cameras. We fundamentally want to do what’s right for the job and not rest inside our comfort zone. Thinking about what style is right for a client, not “how do I make my style fit,” is just how we are wired. The tool is always a means to an end. My favorite jobs are the ones where the technique is invisible, and it’s all about the experience.
We are operating in an entirely new world these days with the coronavirus and working remotely. How are you guys embracing the change?
Campbell: With an office on each coast, we have already had to learn to work as a team remotely. The years of unifying groups from a distance and finding ways for technology to bring artists closer together has set the stage for us right now. We have transitioned our workforce to 100% remote. It’s early days yet, but everyone is in good spirits, and we feel as connected as ever, although I do miss our lunch table.
Johnson: We’re definitely thankful for the staff and talent that we surround ourselves with and how they’ve handled their work-from-home routines. The check-ins, the mind melds and the daily (hourly) hangouts have helped. We’re using the change in the world as an opportunity to showcase our adaptability — how we can scale up and down even in the remote world — as a way to continue to grow our relationships and push the creative boundaries.
As people who find it hard to simply sit still, we’ve changed how we approach and talk about a project as each script comes in. The conversations about techniques are important — how we look at animation with a live-action lens, how 2D can become 3D, or vice versa. We’re more easily adaptable and change purely out of the need to discover what’s new.
Main Image: (L-R) Will Johnson and Will Campbell