Interview: Mieka Jewett, VICE Animator & Motion GraphicsShawn Forno 04.19.2017
We love featuring up and coming designers and animators creating interesting work, and it doesn’t get much more interesting than the incredible, original, and arguably insane productions coming out of the newly revamped VICE Media group. We’re thrilled to feature the VICE animator and motion graphics designer Mieka Jewett as she chats about animation trends, what it’s like to make the leap from commercial to editorial work, and what it’s like animating and designing for VICE.
Mieka’s work is playful, visually stunning, and packed with smooth transitions and interesting moments. Get excited, because she rocks.
Shawn Forno: We’re huge fans of the great motion graphics and animation coming out of VICE these days. Tell our readers a little about yourself and your role at VICE Media.
Mieka Jewett: Hi! My name’s Mieka and I am a motion designer who enjoys animating, making music, being seven feet tall and doing a little shadow magic on the side. Well…one of those is untrue. I currently animate on a small team of four artists who do in-show graphics for the TV network we have called VICELAND. I personally make all the graphics for Weediquette and Woman, and share the other shows with the other artists.
Shawn Forno: How long have you been at VICE?
Mieka Jewett: Coming up on two years in June!
Shawn Forno: What’s your favorite part about being a VICE animator and motion graphics designer?
Mieka Jewett: The collaboration, unorthodox methods, and of course sweet parties. VICE is an awesome place to be and is only going to get better. We also we get Peter Pan donuts on fridays. Yeah, you heard me.
Shawn Forno: Are there any aspects of the job that were a surprise?
Mieka Jewett: Working for a company like VICELAND—which is still finding its way—can be freeing but also confusing. There’s not a classic pipeline and structure, so it took me awhile to ‘deprogram’ myself from the more rigid client-artist relationship I’d been used to.
The awesome part in designing for a director like Spike Jonze, who doesn’t want a predictable or overdone ‘premium’ look, really cultivates a free-thinking and creative environment. I never feel like I have to create inside of a box. If we want to pitch something different like cel-animation, collage, or even something dirty and unrefined, there’s never anyone saying no. This doesn’t mean it always gets used, but it definitely breaks up the monotony of trends and plug-ins that commercial design tends to fall into.
Shawn Forno: Tell us a little about your previous animation experience.
Mieka Jewett: I started out at Favorite Color where I had the pleasure of learning from some great artists and pretty much learning most of what I know about animation. (Shout-out to Brian Finney, Cento Lodigiani, and Steven Weinzierl).
I worked on a lot of stuff for HBO including a super fun spot for True Blood:
After that, I moved over to Method for a minute, where I did mostly big brand spots for Microsoft, Keurig, Toaster Strudel, Chevy, stuff like that. Those kind of clients look good on paper but can stifle creativity pretty quickly. Lucky for me, I met awesome designer, Gabriel Tick at Method who brought me over to VICE, where I’ve been ever since.
Shawn Forno: Is there a difference between editorial animation and features or commercial work?
Mieka Jewett: Absolutely. With the graphics I make now, they aren’t about trying to sell you a product or idea. We are confident about the content we make and we aren’t trying to shove anything in your face. It’s more about showing you something we think is cool, new or important to give you a different way to look at the world we all share.
The graphics help with some of the more abstract concepts or simply add an entertaining spin on something potentially bland like a scientist explaining what THC does in your bloodstream.
Making the switch from commercial work to editorial was not easy but has made its returns tenfold. I am very lucky to be making meaningful content and being part of a force that is inarguably changing the world. Sometimes I feel like I’m missing out on big breakthrough animation pieces produced out of studios like Buck, Man vs Machine and Hornet. But I just can’t undervalue the fulfillment I get from working on shows like Weediquette and Woman: with Gloria Steinem and Terror.
Shawn Forno: How do you characterize the role of animation in the news and editorial pieces? Do people need to “see” the news to help them understand it in this complicated, fast-paced, confusing news cycle?
Mieka Jewett: I’m going to say it’s important because without it I wouldn’t have a job and also who doesn’t like to look at cartoons!? But seriously, we encounter so much information nowadays that using a fun device to do it can not only be entertaining, but breaking up information with unexpected moments helps us process the information, stomach some unsavory information, and most importantly, not take ourselves too seriously.
There’s always a careful balance between translating information graphically and being reverent. For example,I find CNN’s use of “Sunday Night Football” style graphics to make celebrities out of politicians, murderers and disasters really off-putting and insulting (not to mention being eerily reminiscent of Idiocracy). Conversely, taking hard concepts like doctors successfully using THC to treat children with Leukemia, and demonstrating it with an animated video is a way to paint something otherwise very serious and dark, with hope and life that people can understand.
As kids, we all learned with cartoons. We relate to characters and care about their experiences—why should we assume that stops once you’re an adult?
Shawn Forno: Any great VICE animation stories?
Mieka Jewett: One time, Dr. Oz complimented my Weediquette graphics! *pops collar*
Shawn Forno: Favorite animation that you’ve worked on?
Mieka Jewett: Hamilton’s Pharmacopeia.
Shawn Forno: Favorite animation that you haven’t worked on?
Mieka Jewett: On the Hamilton’s Pharmacopeia project I was lucky enough to work with one of the animators from the favorite animation that I haven’t worked on…Bucks spot for Good Books: Metamorphosis:
Shawn Forno: All-time best animation and why.
Mieka Jewett: That’s like asking a musician their favorite note. I’ll probably change my mind, but I adore Fantasia.
Those artists had little or no references for their art, everything was new and these guys were really pouring their heart and soul into those frames. I still find myself mesmerized by the motion and life exuded by those dancing flowers or crashing waves. I also love The Triplets of Bellville, because those characters were able to conjure up so much emotion in the viewer without a single word. The movement, timing and pacing was so expressive and important, they really did a fantastic job.
Shawn Forno: Any new trends in animation that young animators should focus on?
Mieka Jewett: There’s been a growing movement toward cell animation especially integrating 3D and shading or rotoscoping it to feel like cell. You can achieve all sorts of crazy stuff by combining the two, even to the extent that you can’t tell how the piece was made. This is something I’m working on learning myself.
Shawn Forno: Are you working on anything exciting we should keep our eyes open for in the next few months?
Mieka Jewett: I’m finishing up a music video in the next month that I am so stoked about! I can’t reveal too much, but it integrates a lot of my passions into one fantastic video for a song that I wrote with my band, Centaurus (shameless plug achieved!) Look for that around mid June to herald in the the release of our new album.
Mieka is constantly creating awesome new animations and graphics for herself, her band, and of course for VICE. Do yourself a favor and check out Mieka’s animation and motion graphics reel on Vimeo. It’s epic. And if you are interested in animation for business, come explore our website!