This artist’s biggest passion is live-action directing, “specifically in-camera VFX and CG integration.”
Name: Elliott Chaffer
What does Trollbäck do?
We are a branding and design studio that builds strategy, multi-platform brands and moving experiences. Our founder, Jakob Trollbäck, started the company in 1999 with the goal of revolutionizing the way we communicate through motion graphics and emerging technologies. Since then, we’ve grown into a multidisciplinary design studio that offers brand design and content across industries and platforms.
What’s your job title?
Executive Creative Director
What does that entail?
As we are a small company with big ambitions, I wear many hats and really enjoy the broad range of projects we bring in.
Primarily, I am responsible for leading creative teams from pitch through production to delivery and amplification.
On any given day, I can be found ideating, in new business meetings, upselling to current clients, building decks, pitching creative, participating in strategic workshops, editing, directing animators and editors, directing live-action shoots and now with the lockdown, homeschooling my two kids at the same time.
What would surprise people about what falls under that title?
That I am not an “on the box” creative director, and you don’t have to be.
What’s your favorite part of the job?
I love it all. Mostly the team and our energy that we put into our work. My biggest passion is live-action directing, specifically in-camera VFX and CG integration; I try to apply that to projects where it best suits the client’s needs. Maybe because I’m old-school and ADD, I don’t like to sit still (hence why I am not on the box) but prefer to move fluidly between my different teams and have a more personal one-on-one connection than through Slack. Also, as I mentioned before, I love the variety of projects. It helps to keep it fresh and to learn new things from new people all the time.
What’s your least favorite?
The ones that got away. The jobs you were deeply invested in, pitched on hard and didn’t win, or that just disappear because of uncontrollable circumstances. Also, the jobs you are super-proud of but are not allowed to promote due to contractual agreements with clients. And finally, filling out time sheets and trying to account for the various minutes and hours spent on a whole range of projects.
What’s your most productive time of the day?
In the old days, it used to be after 8pm when the office went quiet, but more recently it was 8:30am after I dropped my daughter at school and had that hour of peace before the floodgates opened.
However, now that we are in COVID quarantine, I find that the whole day feels more productive because it is easier to be more focused when you are not all together in the studio. But I do miss the direct contact with the team and the energy that is created by being together. Zoom calls are just not the same.
If you didn’t have this job, what would you be doing instead?
Since childhood I always wanted to be an underwater cameraman exploring ocean caves, so maybe I would finally follow that burning passion. And then after work, I would float to the surface and go surfing, sit on the beach and watch the sun go down, sleep early, rinse repeat.
How did you choose this profession?
I feel that it chose me to a certain extent, and it came about organically. In school I was only interested in art and languages, and everything else just seemed meaningless. (I was wrong, of course.) My dad had a photographic studio, and I used to spend a lot of my holiday time taking pictures and teaching myself how to develop and print them, which I found hugely satisfying.
I studied graphic design at art college and picked that course because I knew I wanted to have a broad approach and be able to work across different mediums. I got a chance to intern at MTV in London by pretending to be my brother, who actually had the internship but could not make it. Pretty soon I discovered the creative department, and, naturally, I wanted to work in graphics but was urged to be a director/producer, so I thought, OK, I’ll give it a try.
Very quickly I realized I loved combining my design and photography knowledge in ways I never thought about while at college. I learned to animate on the job, and the combination of these three fundamentals led me into branding on a larger level. It gave me so much pleasure to make stuff and see it go out on air to the whole of Europe that day. I was hooked and have never looked back. My career has been about continually creating my own luck and rolling into the next thing, from co-authoring the first-ever coffee table art book about sneaker collectors to starting a design company to going freelance to moving to USA and working at two of the top creative shops in NYC with a great team for meaningful brands.
Can you name some recent projects you have worked on?
FX Networks’ masterbrand design system — We created a new visual identity, motion theory and custom-coded typeface that’s able to adapt to any mood, any series and any setting to maximize the brand’s attribution across platforms.
We redrew a typeface and then deconstructed each letterform to create a custom animated typeface, designed to be built and manipulated in Adobe After Effects through the use of a custom script UI panel.
Fox Entertainment rebrand — Following the Disney merger, we relaunched Fox Entertainment as a bold new challenger brand and created robust systems for messaging, tone of voice, design and animation across every touchpoint, including on-air, streaming, digital, social, print and IRL applications.
Iris headphones — We developed a substantive, industry-disrupting brand identity for Iris, a new audio brand promising to change the way see, live and experience sound in the world around us, defining Iris as an audio brand on a mission to reshape the culture of sound.
I am currently working from home, rebranding ABC networks and the BET Experience and working on a title sequence for a new series coming out on Amazon. As a studio, we are also getting involved in a large creative collective that will be responding to the current COVID-19 crisis, using our skills to help the world.
What is the project you are most proud of?
The Fox Entertainment internal brand film, because it combined all of our skills of brand strategy, writing, animation, in-camera VFX and CG integration, edit and sound design to create a really powerful piece that inspired a collective sea of change throughout the brand.
Apple live wallpapers — I got to go to Thailand to shoot hundreds of beautiful tiny Siamese fighting fish on a Phantom camera. We had to smuggle a high-powered zero-heat LED light into the country so we could film the fish without boiling them in their tanks! We were capturing abstract shots of movement that could be activated by pressing the iPhone screen. When the job was done, it was a moment of pride to see something you have done in the hands of millions all around the world and used on video walls and interactive point of sale in Apple stores.
The Super Bowl halftime show graphics for The Who — The sheer scale of the audience for the halftime show was staggering, and the high-stakes stress of connecting a giant LED stage in 12 minutes and to see everything sync up perfectly with the lighting cues was probably an all-time career high.
What social media channels do you follow?
I only do Instagram and LinkedIn and mostly follow friends, family, competitors and collaborators:
@rogiervanderzwaag — This Dutch guy makes some really inspiring optical illusions in camera that are so simple and graphic.
@fxwrx — My good friend and collaborator Christopher Webb has an amazing studio dedicated to shooting in-camera VFX.
@_xlmilk — This is a channel recently started that is posting spreads from the Sneaker book we made in the ‘90s and will be promoting the launch of the new book that is currently in production 20 years later.
I also like to watch Houdini tutorials on Entagma.com.
Do you listen to music while you work?
Yes. When I eventually get to my desk, I like to listen to abstract ambient music with no lyrics so I can hear my own thoughts. Nils Frahm, Kiasmos, Olafur Arnalds — that kind of stuff. Also, whatever Spotify Discover Weekly wants to serve me up usually hits the mark.
Name three pieces of technology you can’t live without.
My QS6 synthesizer. It keeps me sane when I want to zone out and get away from the noise and make music. My cappuccino machine. Keeping me caffeinated, safe from going out, and saving me money during the COVID-19 lockdown. My laptop.
What do you do to destress from it all?
Now that we’re working from home, I like to get up and play along to background music on my keyboard when I need to refresh my mind or just untangle my thoughts.
Also, now that I have more time in the mornings and don’t have to do the school run, I like to make a routine of going to the park at 7:30am and 7pm to meditate, stretch and exercise. On the weekends I like to skateboard and snowboard and surf in the summer, and spend time with my kids, of course.