Artist profile: Dan Wise
Dan Wise is the author of some the top selling loop packs in our footage library, as well as a very talented VJ and motion designer. He's responsible for the touring visuals for Deadmau5, Muse and Stereo MCs, and aside from live visuals, he does some amazing commercial motion graphic work as well. It's always inspiring to see someone make a living out of doing what he loves, especially when it yields such beautiful and diverse eye candy. We figured it was time to get down to the nitty gritty.
Some of the loops from your UrbanTextures pack are used as demo footage when people first download Resolume. How does it feel that every Resolume Avenue user has seen your work?
When I was originally asked about including my content with the Avenue download I was definitely flattered. I’ve been using Resolume for many years and it’s a great piece of software, so to have my work associated with it is very exciting. Because UrbanTextures is a little bit different to what people may be expecting from VJ content, I hope it will help to get people excited about the possibilities of what you can do with some interesting clips and some decent software.
You've also done some interface design for tv and film productions. What's it like working on an 'enhance' scene?
Working on content for Film & TV is great! There are obviously a lot of cliches with film graphics, and the ‘enhancing a poor quality image to reveal something crucial to the plot’ sequences are some of the funniest. Anyone who has ever used a computer knows they don’t ‘beep’ every time you press a key, you can’t look round corners in CCTV footage, and you can’t hack into the CIA database in under 60 seconds...using your watch. But due to a combination of filmic mythology and convenient script writing, I’ve spent part of my career enhancing car number plates, making viruses flash on screen as laughing skulls, and showing network security breaches in giant red flashing letters. It wasn’t all comedy though, I think I also made some stuff that looked pretty cool too!
Awesome 'enhance' scene compilation on Youtube. Although Dan didn't work on these specific scenes, we thought the whole thing was too funny not too include
How does working on commercial and corporate projects relate to working as a VJ? Do you have a similar approach for both, or does one require a very different skill set than the other?
On one level they are polar opposites. Corporate work can sometimes be restricted by both vision and brand guidelines, which means there isn’t always the potential to create something original. VJ work on the other hand is a lot more open, with no real rules, and is much more free and unrestricted. However, there are also some brands and companies that are very forward thinking. Lifestyle brands and companies that want to get the attention of younger audiences, for example, often take elements from youth culture and draw upon music scenes, events, vjing, and street art for inspiration. So the gap is often not as large as you’d think. I also believe that as we become a more visually aware, culture, people’s expectations about production values are changing, and the application of better designs, slicker interfaces, and a visually rich user experience, all bring people closer to the world that VJs and other digital artists live in all the time.
Very slick motion graphic piece for Skype
You're one of the founders of All City Collective, which is focused on street art. How does that relate to your work as a VJ?
For me, starting All City was always a combination of celebrating all the art that was out there, and fulfilling a desire to express myself more. There’s a lot of scope for experimentation on the street, both conceptually and with the different mediums you use. I have always loved the idea of free, anonymous art, accessible by everyone. It’s stripped back, raw and honest. This sense of experimentation and liberation definitely feeds into my work as a VJ. On an aesthetic level, I’ve always had a thing for dirty, run down streets and buildings, which certainly fed into the UrbanTextures pack. Work on the street is also very transient and can be gone the next day, so the value you place on it changes. It’s even more special when it’s there, but you learn not to get so attached to it. This is very similar to projected video, which only ever exists in a single moment.
Your loop packs range from textured gritty content, to a graphic vector look, to a glowy, dreamy, sometimes almost technological look. All in all very diverse. How do you manage all these different styles?
While I think it’s important as an artist to constantly develop your own technique and style, I also believe it’s even more important to keep challenging yourself to develop new ways of expressing that style. As someone with a passion for visual things, I get excited by the diversity of styles that exist in film and motion graphics. Whenever I see different pieces that look cool, I think about how I could take elements of the concept or treatment and mix it with my work to develop something new and different.
Where do you get inspiration?
These days I can find inspiration anywhere, from idents on music channels, to animations on console games, to iphone/ipad apps. I Live in East London which is very creatively vibrant place, and this also has an influence on me. Club flyers, posters, street art, independent shops, clubs nights, galleries and exhibitions all have an effect too. Websites like ffffound, lookslikegooddesign and tumblr also make it much easier to find quality work.
Can you describe your working process a bit? Do you sit behind AE and fiddle around, or do you have a specific something in mind and sketch everything out in detail before hand?
My creative process usually happens in two parts. Firstly, I think you need a strong concept as a starting point, to create a framework within which to work and a direction in which to go. This then gives context, which is the beginning of all my work. After that it’s all about the execution. I always start with a lot of ideas which I feel I have to try, and get out of my head. Even if they don’t all work it’s good to just get them out. Then I can look at what is working best and develop those ideas further. This is where experimentation and ‘happy accidents’ can shape the final outcome. Once I’ve gone through a few rounds of this, and have a whole load of ideas fleshed out, I can tweak, play, and remove bits until I’m happy.
What's your tool set for creating content, application wise?
I live with After Effects, Photoshop and Illustrator open most of the time, with some C4D thrown in for good measure. Though I constantly remind myself that they are only tools. If I’m trying to achieve something, and I need to draw it and scan it in, or use a piece of custom software, then I will. I don’t let the limitations of the software limit my work. Lately I've been working with some great programmers and developers on a few creative projects, where the only solution is to create bespoke programs and functionality to realise the concept. This highlights how creative problems can be solved both technically as well as visually.
Does making a loop pack come fluently, or do you ever start on something and eventually set it aside because it doesn't work out?
For me, the creative process is always one of tension, and I think that if you aren’t constantly questioning what you are doing and why, you aren’t going to produce your best work. Sometimes ideas don’t always work out, and having the confidence to delete something that isn’t working (even if you spent a long time on it), ultimately makes you a much better creative, and the work you produce stronger.
When is a loop pack finished? Do you smack it together on a rainy Tuesday afternoon, or is it the result of months of meticulous tweaking?
It can definitely be really hard to stop fiddling with your work and say ‘that’s it!’, it’s finished. When you yourself are the client, there aren’t the same deadline and budget restrictions that mean you HAVE to finish a project by a certain time and in a certain way. It takes discipline to say enough is enough. For me, when I can render the clips out, have a play in Resolume, and like what I'm seeing, that’s usually when I think it’s ok to release them into the wild. I think it’s very important to finish things and move on, you get more done and you learn a lot more.
Dan banging out a session with his CosmosFabric loop pack
What about approaching a stage design project like the Deadmau5 stage? Do your perceive the different conditions as limiting or challenging?
Personally I like working with limits. I think it helps force you to be more creative, and to go further down paths you may otherwise not have gone down. Limitations shouldn’t be seen as a hindrance to a project, as often, overcoming the challenges imposed by them will give strength to what you produce and help make something more unique and engaging.
What are some the highlights of your visual career thus far?
Working with high profile artists such as Muse, Deadmau5 and the Stereo MCs is definitely something I am proud to have done. I still feel that I am only just starting out producing visuals professionally, so to have some heavyweight names in my portfolio is great. Touring as a VJ is also a highlight, I love travelling and I love the buzz of live shows, so to get paid to do both doesn’t get much better!
Tour visuals for Muse
Do you have any exciting projects coming up?
I have a few things in the pipeline that are definitely quite exciting. I’m working on developing an interactive installation concept at the moment which will look to create a form of ‘volumetric video’ that will react to interaction as a visually abstract, intelligent entity. I’m also moving into some new studio space in the next few weeks, so I'm massively excited about having more space to experiment and try new ideas. I also have a few new VJ packs in development which I really want to get finished!
Who are the people working in your field that we should be on the look out for? Who are the up and coming motion designers?
So many people are out there making really cool stuff it’s always hard to narrow it down. Universal Everything constantly innovate and create amazing work, as do UVA. I also love the work of Joshua Nimoy who programmed a lot of the clever, generative effects in the recent Tron movie. I’m also massively influenced by people who work outside of motion graphics. Artists like Olafur Eliasson, James Turrell, Làslò Moholy Nagy, who all experiment with light and space are well worth checking out if you don’t know their stuff. D&AD also showcase some of the best emerging creative talent, bringing the spotlight onto graduates as well as more established creatives.
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