Best known for manipulating light into stunning immersive experiences, design director GMUNK is now moving into architectural spaces
Holograms, lasers, psychedelia and light: lots of volumetric light. It’s a long way from analyzing shellfish reproductive cycles in the freezing cold – the San Francisco-based graphic designer originally embarked on an oceanography major – but in a diverse career marked by “a series of breaks”, it’s fitting that Bradley G Munkowitz ventured into design on the advice of his science teacher.
His most visible work is a series of holographic sequences and UI for feature films Tron: Legacy and Oblivion. But Munkowitz, aka GMUNK, has over a decade of experience as a design director for clients around the world, most recently creating a new hero image for Microsoft Windows 10 out of light.
He also collaborated with design studio Bot & Dolly on 2013’s revolutionary projection-mapping project, Box. We caught up with GMUNK at OFFF Barcelona to find out what he’s been up to since then. How have you been spending your time since working on Box with Bot & Dolly? Bot & Dolly were bought by Google so I left them last year. I’m doing commercial work now, balancing it with personal work and following the formula: do client work that pays, take time off and do personal work you love, then that finds you more client work.
Most recently I’ve been doing a lot of psychedelic art. I want to build virtual reality spaces and architectural spaces – immersive experiential designs – in that style, bringing the lighting studies I’ve been doing for my short films into real spaces.
It’s the personal work that really matters to me. I try to be as passionate as I can about client work, but I know it’s not mine. I certainly don’t get hurt when a client wants to make changes. To what extent do your personal projects feed into your client commissions? A lot of client work has been because of the Adobe logo remix project, which has fed into big projects for Microsoft and Samsung. I recently did a free music video for Eric Prydz, one of my favourite electronic music artists – I’ve partied to his music for over a decade – which I hope gets me more big client work because there were some exciting new techniques in that. Clients gravitate towards rich personal work because they can feel the energy in it.
What advice would you give to designers who aspire to work with their favourite DJ? First, find the kind of work that really burns a hole in your heart. What is that style, aesthetic, language that inspires you the most? And then do that. Add your own flavour and produce, produce, produce. Put things on the internet, because nothing happens if nobody sees it. And just keep at it.
How do you keep up with cutting-edge new tech? You can’t really keep up with it. It’s like this endless growing vine with all these tomatoes on it. You just pick those little tomatoes off it whenever you can, or you collaborate with a helicopter pilot who can take you a little bit higher. I’d rather focus on a small part of it and do amazing work, and then move onto the next thing, because it’s endless – it’s boundless.
The beautiful thing about working in technology and design is the tools are always getting better. For instance, this morning I was looking at 360 degree virtual reality rendered out of a rendering engine. I can take my psychedelic worlds and put them into a spherical space. In five years from now, that’s going to be off the headset and into a space in front of you. That’s really inspiring. Can you give any advice for collaborating with experts across different discplines? Whenever there’s confusion I just draw a picture and show reference. I’ve worked with roboticists, engineers, architects, projectionists. The common language is the language of the image. Moving image, still image, reference, clear ideas, clear communication. And then just willingness to listen and learn from them. Collaboration is 50/50. I want to plant a creative seed and then see where they take it. If I don’t agree with it 100 per cent, that’s okay. What advice would you give to a graphic designer who wants to do more interactive work? First, study all the great interactive designers. Ask questions; see how the design is taken into the new space. And then just experiment. Collaborate with people who program and do that kind of work, and apply your own design to it. There needs to be a certain fearlessness.
Failure is okay. If you make something horribly lame and people hate it and it hurts their eyes, then you learn why and the second time you do it better. You speak at conferences around the world. How important is it to give back as a designer? The industry’s hard. I try to help people and connect people as much as I can. When you do talks, it’s an opportunity to share the wisdom that you’ve learned, and talk about what worked and what doesn’t work – the why of the work is really important.
I’ve done work where I’ll pitch to a really busy celebrity and they’ll say: ‘Hey, I don’t have time to read a 25-page document.” Sure you do – and I can make time to answer emails, help people and do Skype calls with students. It can be demanding, but it’s worth it.
What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learnt so far? You’ve got to believe in karma and luck, and to really make it you can’t go half in. It’s challenging, but I believe I was put on this earth to do this.