Can you tell us a bit about your background and how you got into directing? You use a vast array of creative technology from C4D to DaVinci resolve – where and how did you acquire these skills and was it always your intention to turn technology into a creative tool to express yourself?
Like a lot of directors I know, I got into film through skateboarding. While in high school I realized that I actually enjoyed the technical side of filming and putting together a video far more than I actually enjoyed skateboarding. To me skateboarding was just content for my videos. I remember the first time I saw the Spike Jonze skateboard film “Yeah right” I was blown away by filmmaking side of the video, particularly the opening slow-motion shots, as well, the invisible skateboard montage. From then on, I would constantly be experimenting with effects and filming techniques to the point where I was made fun of and not taken seriously at the skatepark. These experimental videos lead to me getting a scholarship to the Vancouver Film School where I ended up majoring in digital design and motion graphics which I barely passed because I would continuously just do my own projects and not care about the assignments. A lot of my classmates at VFS also got scholarships, so there was a ton of extremely talented individuals.
I actually learned way more from my classmates than from my teachers. I ended up getting a zero on my final assignment because it was one day late, which I then uploaded to Vimeo, got a Vimeo staff pick, viewed over 200k times and posted on all these blogs. The school said they would pass me if I credited them, so I did and I think they used it on a lot of their marketing campaigns for years (my future wife actually saw that video before she decided to go to that school). That video got me my first job in the creative department at Muchmusic/MTV Canada in Toronto where I basically began my directing career. Here’s a link to that video.
I acquired all my technical skills from tutorials online, co-workers and friends. When a new technology comes out, it’s like exploring a new land that no one has been to. There’s all this potential and you can create something that no one has seen before. I don’t know what it is about that, but I get off on it. It’s a mixture of science, art, humour and curiosity. The hardest thing for me when learning new software is to understand where to stop and move on because something is more of a mastery skill vs generalist skill. There are certain times where I come across something and realize that it’ll take me years to get good with very little payoff, that I could potentially hire someone else to do, and in some cases, a new tool comes out that makes that skill obsolete.
For me, I’m looking for all the low hanging fruit in whatever software I’m using so that I don’t become the hired technician. At the same time, I want to do as much as possible, because I feel like there’s HUGE value for you to do things on your own. As much as I would like to pass off tasks to others, some things are always lost in verbal communication or limited to a reference. When you’re the writer/director AND are executing the animation/3D or whatever, you find moments while working and sculpting that you can then speak to in the re-writing and direction of the project that someone who is strictly a writer or director would never be able to think of. As the tools get better, I don’t have to outsource the tasks and compromise my vision with whoever I hire.
Your work shows a recurring interest in dissecting what you call the “trinity” of AI, social media and algorithms. Can you explain how you understand the intersection of these three to be the main forces driving culture right now?
This is a BIG question, and I don’t claim to be an expert on it, so all I can give you is my perspective (which is skewed by the lens of the algorithm ha). I’m not going to try and tackle the entirety of its effect on culture but just what’s interesting to me.
We create content in exchange for validation from our peers, the algorithm organizes that content and weeds out the interesting from the non-interesting and learns what people gravitate towards. Ai then re-mixes, combines and creates something new based off of that content. We then take what the Ai has made and create more content. It’s an insane cycle of information that I find fascinating. More so than ever we are creating a superorganism-content-creation machine that feeds off our attention. Although it’s driven by money and capitalism, you have to admit the art is getting incredible, at least I think it is. The old gatekeepers will have you believe it used to be better. I’m not one to say its right or wrong, it’s just fascinating to me, and that’s part of the reason my videos gravitate toward this crazy acid trip we call social media.
Do you sit on one side of the aisle or the other when it comes to the current debate around the role of AI and creativity (evangelist vs luddite)?
I am both for and against AI. I’ve been learning 3d art and all the software for over a decade. I’ve spent way more than 10,000 hours on it. Often I would create a piece that might take me 100 hours to make and then I would get people dm-ing me, asking what prompts or AI software I used to generate it. In this way it’s cheapened image making and what I do (I’ve used AI very sparingly). I’ve also seen people posting incredible Ai generated art and not disclaim that they didn’t create it but at the same time accepting praise as if they are some creative genius. That’s kind of what my f*ckai series touched on. So there’s that. On the other hand, its obviously an incredible tool that goes far beyond just text-based image generation and is seeping into all the traditional tools in legacy software and speeding up my workflow allowing me to do exactly what’s in my head with a smaller budget and less people involved.
When new tools come out, the bar goes WAY up and I’m not going to cry about it. Instead, I’m going to accept the challenge and run with it (and hopefully still have a job). In the end, it all comes down to the original idea and to taste, so lately that’s where I’ve been focusing my attention. Like AI, my ideas pull from the vast amount of content I’ve consumed in my life. For years, I was pulling references for treatments, scouring the internet for content ranging from music, art history, video games, fashion or whatever. At the same time, I was also coming up with ideas for these treatments and visualising different ways to execute them. I think that really built up my level of taste and allowed me to see patterns or ways to mix ideas from different genres or mediums.
Are you afraid of AI at all?
I am afraid that people will lose hope in human creativity because the bar is so high that more people will become just passive consumers of entertainment. Why even try if the AI is so much better? Humans are creators, it’s one of the joys of life. In my opinion, it makes for a more interesting human. If being a creative becomes so rare and unobtainable because its mostly done by AI then less people will pursue it as a career. Although I’m sure that there will be a ton of new job titles/roles we’ve never had before. I also think that some people will think they are gaining the benefits of creating by writing some prompts, but really, they are robbing themselves of some greater satisfaction that creating gives you. There are times where I don’t want the project to end because I’m enjoying the process of making it so much.
However, I think current tech has probably robbed me of other joys. I used to draw and now I don’t because it’s easier for me to do it in 3d and drawing seems so tedious and slow compared to what I’m now used to.
What do you do to switch off from the unending barrage of social media and technology? Do you WANT to switch off from it? CAN you even switch off from it?
To be honest, once I have an idea and a project planned (that I care about), it consumes me, and I forget about social media and pretty much everything else in my life (to my own detriment). Everything that doesn’t add to the project becomes a chore. My wife says my head goes into the clouds and my eyes glaze over. I’m playing the video in my head over and over again, adding pieces here and there, rewriting, figuring out ways to execute. When I’m in this state I love to go for long walks with my dogs while listening to a particular Spotify playlist that I’ve been adding to over the years (usually instrumental). I find the gym is a great place to think, as well as skateboarding.
In the evenings I’ll often make a fire or sit on my porch or light a couple candles in my “meditation room” ha, and just sit there with nothing but the idea. Once the script or idea is laid out, each day I try to have a line from the script or lyric from the song sitting in an accessible shelf in my head so that I’m open for ideas to enter my brain that refer to that part of the project. In this state I forget about the rest of the world/news/politics and social media. I guess that’s my way of switching off.
Do you have a neurodivergent condition? Your ability to absorb, synthesise and create original works from what is clearly an encyclopaedic knowledge of art is incredible.
I have no idea, I’ve never been tested. I feel like a lot of people can’t relate to my obsessiveness with my projects. I’ll do whatever it takes to get from A to B, even if it means learning really hard software like Houdini in order to complete a shot, staying up all night on a project, redoing a shot like 10 times. Often when someone is talking to me, I get distracted by something they said, and it takes real effort to not let my mind go down that thought. I’m aware of that being rude so I put a lot of active effort into listening. I feel like my brain is more of a long-distance runner than a sprinter. It’s hard to move on from an idea that I feel like we just scratched the surface/potential of it so It takes me longer to get through ideas but I’ll keep going and going and adding and layering. When it comes to executing, I’m extremely fast though, my brain seems to work really well with 3d tools and software where I can really get into a flow state. I can often think in graphs and nodes when I’m off my computer when trying to think about how I’ll execute an Idea. I don’t think my short-term memory is that good so I’ve externalized it as best as I can with organizational tools.
I’ve also had a tougher time verbally communicating my ideas. I think I’m an extremely visual person. When I first started trying to direct live action, I was terrible at it. I just couldn’t describe what was in my head. I would also get a lot of stage fright and be quite nervous around crowds. I’ve definitely delt with a lot of that now and I’m actually a very extroverted. Lately though I’ve been doing a lot more 3d work but I would love to do more live action or a combination. Nothing in 3d can beat the performance of a good actor and I’d like to build that part of my reel up.
Is there anything else you’d like to share? The mic is yours…
For my future personal projects, I’m trying to discover the essence of exactly what I enjoy doing or content I want to consume. When writing, pre-vising, storyboarding, animating or whatever, if anything is not enjoyable or I don’t like doing it, I move away from that and reassess the project. In my mind, a successful project requires a shitload of work, whether you’re using AI or not. It’s a battle of your mind, and grinding can only take you so far. What’s really going to push you that extra mile is loving the work that you’re doing so that you crave it and don’t want it to end. Hopefully those kinds of projects bring in more of that kind of work. It’s a nice thought at least ha.
Another Idea that really pushed me forward was being okay with making a lot of shitty work. I heard on some podcast a story about two separate film school classes that covered the same material. The first class had to complete a project every week while the second class only had one assignment for the entire semester. By the end of the course class 1’s weekly assignments were better than the second class’s entire course project. I’ve really started taking this to heart in that I try to always create even if I think it’s a bad idea. Often times the best ideas come out in the editing process of a bad idea. Sometimes I’ll even use concepts or tests from failed projects into new projects. If you’re doing it every day, I find writers block is never a problem, I’ll often have a backlog of ideas (not all good).
On a positive note, I love how social media has allowed me to connect with other creatives. Sure, I’m slightly addicted to the likes and views and attention. But what I really appreciate is the connections to other artists around the world. I’ve had some truly special interactions, specifically with Thom Kolb who created des hume. We had met before through a friend but really we connected online, which lead to us creating multiple music videos and projects all done through social media. He is an insanely creative guy and I adore his music, all the projects we have done together have had zero budget and have just been for the love of creating. He has his day job and I have mine, but in the evening it’s all about that magical collab. Fuck I sound like a meta commercial.
Interview by Stephen Whelan
Jordan Clarke Vimeo