Notes from an Oakland designer

The IMAX Ridefilm At The Luxor by Cayusa on Flickr

My Early Career: Marketing Design for the Film Industry

When I graduated from The School of Visual Arts (SVA), armed with a bachelor’s of fine arts in Media/Graphic Design, I assumed I’d end up working as a designer at an agency or publishing company. My career, however, immediately took a rather unusual and awesome left turn.

Logo design for MASS.ILLUSION Visual Effects, using metallic Pantone inks

That summer, a dear friend and fellow art-fan from college, Michelle Quigley (who is quite an amazing artist and designer herself), invited me to join the Art Department of the Trumbull Company, a simulator ride film company in Western Massachusetts founded in the early 90s by the renowned visual effects director, Douglas Trumbull. Highly respected in the film industry for his ground-breaking work on such films as 2001: A Space Odyssey, Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Blade Runner, Trumbull had moved on to develop immersive film-based rides such as Back to the Future: the Ride for the Universal Studios theme park.

As an Art Department Production Assistant, my days were occupied with making piles upon piles of copies of storyboards day after day, though I was occasionally rewarded by being asked to do something novel, like painting enormous, panoramic cycloramic canvas backgrounds sky blue for the miniatures film set, or designing a book jacket prop. The daily work was often repetitive and a bit dull, but the environment was exciting and very creative, and I was very grateful to be there. I made a point of working hard and asking questions, and when the opportunity presented itself, I showed my design portfolio to the Production Designer, careful to point out my technical skills.

Soon, Trumbull had me creating elaborately Photoshopped illustrations of proposed scenes for future movies, and designing logos for undeveloped projects. I was one of the first people he hired when he started his next company, IMAX/Ridefilm — my first job in a marketing department. Reporting to the Vice President of Marketing and PR, I continued developing art and design for bid presentations and dog and pony shows.

Decal numbers on a model in Starship Troopers

When IMAX moved shop to its Toronto headquarters, I stayed in Western Massachusetts to work for MASS.ILLUSION (later known as MVFX), a new visual effects company that is best known for its work on Starship Troopers, the Schwarzenegger vehicle The Eraser, and two films that went on to win Academy Awards for their superior visual effects, What Dreams May Come and The Matrix. There were many opportunities to expand my skill set and to work on diverse, exciting projects. One week I was designing a bid presentation for the multi-million dollar project, What Dreams May Come, and the next I was designing futuristic numbering for the model makers to transfer onto model spaceships for Starship Troopers.

Photoshopped composite illustration of the waterfall to hell, for the What Dreams May Come visual effects bid presentation

It was truly a dream job for a young designer to be working in such a creative, fast-moving, intelligent atmosphere, with such richness in projects. It was during this time that I learned a diligent work ethic: problem solving, working hard and learning new skills was a daily job requirement.

As the sole in-house graphic designer, I worked closely with the Director of Marketing and Public Relations in developing ad campaigns for Variety and The Hollywood Reporter, an identity system including a new logo and letterhead, and marketing collateral such as postcards and promotional brochures. Building and maintaining that brand across print and web and time was a fantastic experience that has served me well over the years.

Featured photo credit: The IMAX Ridefilm At The Luxor by Cayusa on Flickr, shared with an Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0) Creative Commons license.

  • Great post, Deirdre. It’s great that you were able to make an impression on Trumbull with your work ethic. Many people forget that most opportunities are made, not given. 

    • Absolutely. If I hadn’t gone out of my way to let the Production Designer know I had typesetting and Photoshop chops, I might have been stuck at that copier for a long time. It was also fortunate to have landed at a place that mentored younger employees who showed promise and rewarded their hard work.