pj richardson

Interview with PJ Richardson

In 2006 PJ Richardson co-founded the production company Laundry! with his longtime friend and colleague Anthony Liu. Their goal was to establish a design-driven studio specializing in storytelling through animation, live action and motion graphics. With their unique perspective they set out to create stylistic and narrative solutions for projects of all parameters. Laundry!’s successful platforms today consist of commercials, TV network branding, experiential videos, and digital media both online and mobile. We ask a few question to PJ Richardson about his work and creative process.


IT’S ART : Tell us the story of how you founded Laundry!. What was your original vision for the company?

PJ Richardson : Laundry! was founded by my business partner Anthony Liu and I in 2006. At the time many of our competitors and former employers were super studios, large animation companies that assumed a bit of a factory feel both in terms of personality, size and output. There was a bit of a traditionalist vibe that went with that, the ‘we just make commercials’ or ‘we just make music videos’ attitude. We both agreed that while it might have felt more stable paycheck-wise, it was a good time to try a more boutique approach. So we decided to create a business where we could explore unusual hybrids between technology and platforms. We wanted to pick the projects we loved to work on and simply just be in the driver’s seat of our own creative destinies.  We were young and naïve, but hungry, and wanted to work on cool shit in smart ways. We didn’t feel like we were getting it elsewhere.

Our original vision for the company was to create a diverse, creative offering as a studio. The name Laundry! derived from the notion of taking both our own ideas and those of our clients, cleaning them up, and making them more presentable.  Metaphorically much like a dry cleaner.

One of our other initial visions for the company was a platform to tell stories and not simply offer a service. Whether it was a commercial, short film or logo animation, we wanted to use storytelling devices rooted in both our fine art and film backgrounds. We wanted to create a means to evoke the most delightful and/or helpful feeling from viewers and consumers as it applied to the media we were making.

pj richardson

IA :   What are some of your favorite projects to have worked on with Laundry!?

PJR : There are so many but the common thread would have to be the projects rooted in funny ideas, especially when the piece serves a pivotal point. One that stands out in my mind is a recent animated sequence we did for an Intel web film called The Power Within. The film was actually a six-part series about an army of killer mustaches and unibrows that invade earth every 30 years and reign evil on humans by attaching to their upper lips. Honing in on one designated human each invasion, their goal was to have the queen mate with him and take over earth.  They failed each time and had to return to Earth decades later. This time though, with the help of a band of blade wielding barbers and a few off-the-wall friends, the chosen one fought off the queen mustache and killed her and her army once and for all.

Our project task was to create a two minute historical animation that explained where the mustache and unibrows came from, how they influenced evil over the length of humanity (think Hitler, Stalin and the ‘70s), and how the barbers aided in deterring them each time. We did this all graphically. It was a wild blend of 2D animation, matte painting, illustration and cel animation. It is something we are very proud of.

pj richardson

IA : What was a project that was technically complex? Could you walk us through how you created it?

PJR : Often the simplest creatively are beasts, and in particular car projects. We recently took a crack at a photoreal billboard animation project in New York City for the Chevy Sonic campaign. They provided us a CG 3D model of the car. Our assignment was to create a 30 second animation of the car driving in a white hanger that stylistically matched their print branding at the time. We had to use a variety of camera moves and angles to highlight different parts of the car that viewers would like to see and learn about. It was simple enough narratively but there were a variety of technical complexities we needed to overcome.

The challenge was the car movement. In previs having the car drive around was one thing, but having it look like it was attached to the ground in an all white room and moving at some realistic speed was a whole other issue. Our solution was a car simulation plugin called Drive within Cinema4D. It emulates a car chase and many of the properties that go with it. This allowed us to create spline paths to drive along but still gave some flexibility to attain the realism we needed like the car leaning when banking, the subtleties of rear wheel vs. front wheel driving and so on. Later on, as it related to the impression of speed and distance, two challenges came up. No matter how fast we spun the wheels the car in an all white room looked slow. To solve this we added tile lines to the floor in our composite, which allowed us to control the perception of speed without re-rendering in 3D over and over. The other issue was the wheels themselves.

Although they were mathematically accurate, at super high speeds the rims looked like they were moving backwards. Using a rotation offset in drive, motion vectors, and a bit of motion blur, we were able to solve the look of the tires correctly.

The next big challenge for us after we were happy with our driving simulations was the look paired with rendering time. Our primary 3D platform is Cinema4D, but how we would output it and finding a workflow doable within our 3-week timeframe was a hurdle. We did a series of still render tests utilizing the C4D physical renderer, standard with global illumination, and a 3rd with v-ray. We ended up netting out on v-ray with some lighting and model optimizations to get the fastest and best image quality ratio.

In composting, again more challenges. The white hanger room we established stylistically matched the brand guidelines but what we ran into was the lighting that went with it was frankly kind of boring. In after effects, utilizing a few specific mattes of car parts, we added fake neon tubes that reflected and passed over top of the hood. This created as much energy and visual variance as possible, which ultimately sold the movement and physicality more.

Like every project there is always something to be learned for the next time. This project was no exception. We discovered and developed a series of efficiencies for similar projects down the line, which is always our hope.

pj richardson

IA : What are the essential skills needed to be a great Creative Director?

PJR : This is a hard one. Everyone does it differently. I’ve worked for many different kinds of Creative Directors. Truthfully, I go through phases. My approach changes depending on my team I have at the time, client’s needs, the tone we have set and built with them, and the landscape of our industry and agencies at any given moment.

I think what has worked consistently though is being nice to artists and clients, having a clear vision, and being flexible and open to new ideas that artists bring to the table. Learning and practicing design and animation as an artist, and inspiring the team around the CD at all times is very important. A subtlety that is sometimes hard to follow with client changes, but an eye for efficient execution seems to win over teams as well.

IA :  How did your experience as a part-time professor at The Art Center College of Design influence your career as a creative and business owner? What lessons have you taken from the classroom to the studio?

PJR : I went into the Art Center thinking that I was going to blow all these kids’ minds and wow them with my career and portfolio. I thought that was going to be enough to somehow magically make them great designers and artists. I learned quite quickly that I was mistaken. It really became as much of a learning experience for me as it was for the students. I was able to teach them some efficiencies on how to work faster and enhance their creative criticism to create more evolved work. I also got back a newfound enthusiasm for concept, new stylistic approaches, and a general fan boy like enthusiasm for design and animation that I unknowingly had lost.

It also taught me to be more ambitious. Somehow with time, the responsibility of a business, the competitiveness of our industry and a few other factors, I had accidentally found a mannerism of doing everything really simple and to the exact specs of the client’s needs.  Watching these kids take assignments, evolve them rather ambitiously, and often very creatively, then realize them into super unique assignments was reinvigorating. Besides thinking about my specific studio projects more critically, it also taught me to stay inspired by good references and good people. It reminded me to focus on the passion of design and art as the driving force behind business decisions as much as possible. I still work with many of my students professionally today, which gives me a lasting impression of that experience.




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