Tag Archives: live-action production

Behind the Title: Trollbäck ECD Elliot Chaffer

This artist’s biggest passion is live-action directing, “specifically in-camera VFX and CG integration.”

Name: Elliott Chaffer

Company: Trollbäck+Company

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.

Elliot Chaffer on set

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.

FX

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.

IRIS

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.

Fox

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.

Behind the Title: Executive Creative Director Erin Sarofsky

NAME: Erin Sarofsky

COMPANY: Chicago’s Sarofsky Corp. (@sarofsky)

CAN YOU DESCRIBE YOUR COMPANY?
I always say we are a design-driven production company… but that’s my way of trying to consolidate a bunch of information into four words. The long and the short of it is that we produce work using live action, visual effects, 3D development, design, animation and editorial. We have clients in both the commercial and entertainment arenas. Ultimately, though, we are a collection of artists and producers that are problem solvers. Every day, clients call us with a task: to come up with the fastest, cheapest*, most innovative and beautiful way of producing their project.

* I’m not saying we are cheap. Actually, we are quite pricey, but budgets are what they are and we need to maximize the money clients have. We like to make sure the money winds up on screen and is not wasted.

WHAT’S YOUR JOB TITLE?
I am the owner and executive creative director. I am also live-action director, which is technically a small part of my job if you look at it by time spent, but it is a big focus as we become more and more entrusted with that aspect as a part of the studio’s capabilities.

WHAT DOES THAT ENTAIL?
My role is essentially to oversee the creative development of our jobs.

That probably seems like a lot of work, especially because we have multiple jobs of varying sizes happening simultaneously. Luckily, our projects are always in various stages of development. The beginning of a job tends to take up the majority of my time. It’s important that the client and I are on the same page, so that translates to a lot of communication and previsualization. We then kick it off in the studio with the right producer and artists attached. My executive producer Steven Anderson and I spend a lot of time discussing our teams and who is appropriate for what project.

The studio

After that, it’s really just keeping an eye on things and making sure the team has the resources and guidance they need. Luckily, I have a very talented group here. Our communication is better here than at any other company I’ve worked, which is essential to being flexible for our clients, and also supportive of each other.

WHAT WOULD SURPRISE PEOPLE THE MOST ABOUT WHAT FALLS UNDER THAT TITLE?
I think that the most surprising thing is that I can never really focus on anything. The most intensive work I do happens after hours at home or on a plane (which, now that we have Internet, is sort of a wash). There are always people needing to talk through things… clients, producers, artists, lawyers, accountants, contractors, business development, etc.

As the ECD and owner, I have the big responsibility of managing not only the day-to-day projects but also the company’s bigger strategy, which includes making sure my employees’ careers are on track and that we are making informed business decisions.

WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PART OF THE JOB?
I love my team. We collaborate all day… and there’s always a lot of laughter.

Really, it’s just amazing that we all make a living in the arts. I imagine that as we all went to art and film school we wondered if we would ever be able to balance the need to make a living with the desire to produce work that fuels our souls. Luckily, everyday we get to do that.

I also love that I can snack all day. I’m a bit of a grazer.

WHAT’S YOUR LEAST FAVORITE?
When one of my artists is struggling and I know how to fix it, I have to give them the information, support and direction for them to figure it out themselves. I think as a CD, it’s important to embrace your role as a mentor, but sometimes all I want to do is grab the mouse and a pair of headphones with some cheesy ‘80s channel playing and do their work for them. Though, at the end of the day, that would make me a terrible CD, so I don’t.

WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE TIME OF THE DAY?
I love the moment before I fall asleep. When I am cozy in bed, feeling like the day was rewarding in some unexpected way (usually prompting a silly giggle) and thinking about tomorrow… and how it’s going to be crazy, wondering how are we going to get it all done.

IF YOU DIDN’T HAVE THIS JOB, WHAT WOULD YOU BE DOING INSTEAD?
I love, love, love American crafts. I am a knitter… not professional, but I can hold my own. All of my baby-making friends get little sweaters for their munchkins. So I think I would be doing something in the crafts, like pottery or woodworking or pattern making or even basket weaving. I love using raw materials and making stuff.

I’d like to think that my work would be shown in museums, but I’d probably be rocking a corset (begrudgingly) at a Renaissance festival selling my wares.

HOW EARLY ON DID YOU KNOW THIS WOULD BE YOUR PATH?
I began as a graphic design major but started folding in more technical courses early on. By the time I was a senior, I knew I wanted to stay to get my Masters in computer graphics, which at the time (1999-2001) at Rochester Institute of Technology was a combo of early After Effects, directing (LOL) and 3D. The second I could animate my designs, I knew that’s what I wanted to do for a living. I honestly had no idea what that even meant in terms of a career. I just knew that I loved that there could be a narrative aspect to my designs.

Captain America 2

Captain America 2: The Winter Soldier

CAN YOU NAME SOME RECENT PROJECTS YOU HAVE WORKED ON?
The last couple of years we have been producing main title sequences for Marvel. That work has really invigorated the studio and increased our visibility.

Our first project with them was Captain America 2: The Winter Soldier. When Anthony and Joe Russo went to Marvel to direct Captain America 2 they introduced us to the executive team there and asked us to pitch on the main-on-end. I had been working with the Russos since we produced the Community main title for them in 2009. Even though we had a great relationship, we knew we were the dark horse, having never worked with Marvel or been through their intensive security process. Ultimately, they loved the creative we presented and we got the gig.

Shortly after that project, we were asked to pitch again on Guardians of the Galaxy. We did the typography for the main title sequence as well as some fun locator cards. It was so wonderful to work with James Gunn. That movie was really, really special.

      am01pp

The last project we finished for Marvel was the main-on-end for Ant-Man. That was for sure the most challenging, because the development process ate a lot of our production time away. As a studio, we are so proud of the work we produced. The look is so unique and our process was so well developed that we really hold it in high regard. Also, for me personally, I know director Peyton Reed was really happy with the final piece. It’s really rewarding when the director is just super excited about the work you create for their film.

WHAT IS THE PROJECT THAT YOU ARE MOST PROUD OF?
Whatever I am working on at the moment.

This may be terrible, but as soon as I deliver a job, I am over it. I am already excited about whatever is cueing up. I am very “in the moment” when it comes to my work, and it doesn’t matter if it is a big feature main title or a commercial for a new herpes cream. I love the challenge of making something as amazing as it can be… so if someone is excited to work with me, and willing to pay me, I am all in.

NAME THREE PIECES OF TECHNOLOGY YOU CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT.
My car (I love driving).
My remote control (I am lazy).
My laptop (I got work to do).

WHAT SOCIAL MEDIA CHANNELS DO YOU FOLLOW?
Honestly, just Facebook. It’s basically a collection of photos of my dogs and some PR about whatever my latest work is. I have to be very careful about not being political or religious. I don’t limit my friends and I assume everything is public. When you own a company you have to understand that your opinions and behavior reflect on the company.

DO YOU LISTEN TO MUSIC WHILE YOU WORK?
When I focus and do design work, I like to choose a song and listen to it on repeat. It is crazy, I know. When I write or do admin, I usually have a Harry Potter movie on in the background. I’d like to believe my patronus would be a honey badger.

WHAT DO YOU DO TO DE-STRESS FROM IT ALL?
If it get’s overwhelming, then a weekend where I just run errands with the cell phone left at home does the trick. But I find that the day-to-day stress can be easily managed when you have a lot of fun people around you who naturally laugh a lot. We all take our jobs seriously… but we certainly know how to make a joke about anything.