Art Director, LOGAN
LOGAN Art Director Kenji Yamashita talks beauty, the limitlessness of design, and what’s really rewarding.
Many of my favorite projects are yet to come out. One I can speak about is a design mini-doc that I did for Lincoln Motor Company. It goes through their 100-year history, using typography and design from each decade. It was exciting to summarize entire decades into one design language.
Perhaps the most special project I worked on was the main title sequence for a documentary called Everything Will Be Okay. It is actually one of Ben Conrad’s (co-owner of Logan) passion projects that he has been involved with for several years. It’s an inspiring story that follows the filmmaker Patrick O’Brien’s life before and after he was diagnosed with ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. Even though the documentary deals with serious subject manner, the spirit of the film is hopeful. And despite the difficulty of living with ALS, Patrick is a fun-loving, talented filmmaker who has an amazing sense of humor. So, when I was coming up with the concept and design for the opening sequence, I wanted it to be a celebration of that spirit.
I feel the most rewarded, creatively, when I can meet and work with interesting people who have inspiring messages.
I do many beauty jobs, but one of my favorite beauty spots that I worked on was a spot for Marc Jacobs.
Marc Jacobs was a challenge with such an accelerated schedule. But I had an incredible team who really immersed themselves in the project and we were able to create a really beautiful spot in a short amount of time.
What are some challenges and anecdotes of art directing product-focused animated commercials?
Product-focused commercials can be challenging because there is so much freedom in design. My job is to decide the rules and the laws that govern the world in which the products are housed. This includes things like the final camera or product move, the lens, colors, effects, details, etc.
For example, when you see products moving in front of a white background, does this white world obey gravity? Or do you create a new world that feels surprising and different than what the viewer is used to? How much of the product do I reveal with lighting? How many details do I add to the product? The audience is used to seeing idealized versions of products in print ads; but in motion, seeing the actual imperfections—i.e. scratches or blemishes–makes the product look more authentic.
Oftentimes, the product-focused projects that Logan does are high-profile and therefore under very strong NDA. So, until it’s released you have to shut your mouth—above all, that is the most challenging aspect for me!
What do you like about working on commercials as opposed to films, and vice versa? Which direction do you see yourself going in ultimately and what are some of your goals?
What I love the most about working on commercials is the short life cycle. Whether I deem a project as “good” or “bad,” I always know the project will not drag on endlessly. This creates a constant change and evolution in my creative life that I enjoy. Having said that, who does not want to work on cool movies?!
I’m lucky that Logan is one of the rare places that presents both commercial and film creative opportunities, so I don’t have to choose. And honestly, in the end what motivates me the most is creating beautiful images. Both film and commercials allow me to do that.
Who are other talented art directors in the industry who you admire?
Do I need to give free publicity to my competitors? Haha. But seriously, I do not have one particular individual that I absolutely admire. But when I look around my desk, I realize that I am sitting next to some of the most talented people in the industry. From our CD Alan Bibby, VFX supervisor John Corbett, 3D lead Warren Heimall, Matt Anderson and Art Director Jeff Welk. Not only are they great artists, but they also encourage each other to take risks, which I think is essential to successful work of any kind.
What are some of your creative inspirations?
Design is limitless, so I find myself being inspired by things that also have no limit. For example, the human eye can only perceive so much of the physical world, but with special lenses or other technologies, we are able to see the formerly unseen. Whether it’s in the micro sense of atoms or particles, or the macro sense of seeing the outer reaches of the universe, I’m continually inspired by them. There’s something about seeing images of worlds that humans were previously unable to see that motivates me to create designs that humans have not yet seen.
What are the most essential skills for a great art director to possess?