How many sides on a rombicube? Faces of a icosahedron? Angles in a dodecahedron? For many creatives, that’s probably a maths fail. But not for Matt Willis… though he will admit that these too-many-syllable-words are probably the most challenging shapes to papercraft.
Today we’re chronicling the course of yelldesign, in conversation with the content studio’s Creative Director Matt, and Director Sahr Willis.
What did you study and what path led you to what you are doing today?
Matt Willis: I grew up in Warrnambool on the South West coast of Victoria. Moving to Melbourne at 19, I did a bunch of different jobs to support a career in music. Later on, I went back to school to study a Masters in Communication Design at RMIT. I started working as a graphic designer in a marketing team, and eventually moved into digital design: web design and interfaces.
In my final job as design consultant, I spent a lot of time educating senior executives on the importance of using good design when making business designs. This commercial focus was on one hand tedious and laborious, but on the other a critical learning period for what was to come in the next few years.
One weekend, cycling in Kinglake with some mates, I rounded a corner and collided with an oncoming truck. The impact was estimated at 85 kilometres per hour, and I suffered a range of serious injuries, including four spinal fractures, a fractured eye socket, broken nose, shoulder blade and collarbone. These required three months off work, and during this time a friend recommended I try out a new app called Vine.
Using Vine to pass the time, I began making short, stop motion videos. I quickly gained a large following, and shortly after, brands were emailing me to have videos made for them. Eight months later, I quit my consulting role and started yelldesign full-time. That was five years ago, and now we have eight employees working for the company.
Sahr Willis: I came to yelldesign in a roundabout way. I studied a Bachelor of Arts at Melbourne Uni, and then a Grad Dip in Visual and Performing Arts at RMIT, but for most of my working life I have been a HR professional. I went freelance after our son Manning was born, and when we started to have HR needs at yelldesign, I took on the pays, admin and other bits and pieces. At the start of this year we decided that it was time for me to make the jump over to yelldesign full time.
Yell Design is ‘Australia’s first fully dedicated, short-form content studio’. How would you elaborate on your studio’s output, and what influences your style?
MW: We are known for creating clean, colourful and quirky work. Most of our content features coloured paper, food or technology – these are the things we all love in the studio. We also have a strong musical background, both in live performance and theatre, so there’s always an element of putting on a show. We’ve recently started a live series on Facebook, a weekly show that has interactive elements and lots of behind-the-scenes, featuring our studio and its processes.
I think a couple of key things have influenced our style along the way. A few years ago, I managed to convince Magda Ksiezak, a local papercraft and illustrator extraordinaire to join us as senior designer! At the same time we installed a commercial laser cutter in the studio. This new supercharged capability, coupled with a strong design sense and well-rehearsed animation team, has really carved out a distinctive niche for us to work in.
SW: We’re all pretty keen to have a good time at work, but without compromising on quality. One of the things that we pride ourselves on is working FAST. We can turn around videos in a couple of days, which is pretty amazing for stop-motion. We also like to incorporate humour in to our work – short-form content works best when it’s sharable and ‘relatable’, which generally means fun! We spend a lot of our time trawling the internet for references (and cat videos).
Tell us a little bit about your studio’s creative process; how do you generate your ideas and then go about creating a project to a final cut?
MW: We are generally flowing as a group, everyone busy with their own tasks. So the creative process can fluctuate quite a lot. We always try and get input from the whole group for each new project, but sometimes this not possible due to time constraints.
Our own internal projects, like ‘Papermeal’, go through a slightly different process. We often discuss these over lunch, where we can really flesh out concepts in a relaxed way, but we all know that at the finish of the meal we need to have everything agreed! Another technique we use is six-word pitching – this is great! Our work is usually used in social media for five to 15 sec ads, so if you can’t pitch the concept in six words, then it’s likely too complicated! An example of this would be the pitch for ‘Papermeal’: 1)Cooking 2)Show 3)Made 4)Entirely 5)From 6)Paper!
SW: The way the team works has evolved over the years, but we generally start with a loose brief (like, we want to make a series of videos about food made from paper) and then expand ideas by chatting about our ideas in the group. We might take a bit from one concept, and marry it with another. We have a bit of a motto of: “You can do anything you want, as long as it’s not shit”. Which might sound a bit harsh, but actually works really well. We’re not limiting anything; we just have to really think it’s great.
In what way has the ENDLESS development of the online content world impacted what you do?
MW: We wouldn’t exist if Vine didn’t show up! After the initial period of everyone scrambling to figure out how to make engaging six sec clips, the market exploded. Instagram offered 15 secs, then up to 60 secs, Facebook put video everywhere, Twitter rolled out its own video platform, Youtube reconfigured its mobile app to make it quicker and more social, Snapchat arrived, and even GIFs made a comeback! So the landscape has really moved a lot in the last five years.
Today when a client asks for a piece of content like a ‘GIF’ they often just mean a video that they can put on Instagram. We used to make everything square for Vine and Instagram, but now it’s a mix of landscape, portrait, square, looping, non-looping… So the output stack can vary significantly. As a studio, we now need to work closer with agencies and producers to figure out how the content is being used up-front, to avoid issues when the it goes live!
SW: We’re often surprised when we speak with other agencies, or traditional advertisers, to find they don’t have experience of online content. It’s so new, though, that we’re constantly learning and trying new things, and it’s sometimes difficult to predict what will be popular and what won’t.
We loved the ‘Papermeal’ series, can you tell us some more about this?
SW: ‘Papermeal’ was Matt’s idea and really showcases his particular style. I admit to being a bit sceptical when he originally pitched the idea – mainly because we were so busy with commercial work, and he ended up filming most of the first series after hours. We love the idea of using something unexpected in our work, so making penne out of manila folders, and Ramen noodles with a woodworking plane made some kind of sense to us! We also love a pun – mashing the ‘p’ key of a computer to get ‘mushy peas’, and inserting a computer ‘chip’ for Fish and Chips made us laugh out loud.
I think with ‘Papermeal’, we really extended our creativity, and Matt was very clear that he wanted the papercraft to be absolutely spot on. Everyone worked really hard to make it look amazing, and we’ve had lots of great feedback, so I think my initial scepticism was a bit misled!