When Scholar was approached by Apple to see if they would like to be involved in illustrating and animating the live action masks for Olivia Rodrigo’s ‘brutal’ video, they couldn’t wait to take on the job. They just needed to figure out how to do it first. We sat down with Art Director Danni Fisher-Shin and Designer Madison Ellis to chat about how they pulled off this unique creative challenge using Procreate’s FacePaint.
Scholar is a Los Angeles and New York based creative production company driven by curiosity and an eagerness to engage people on an emotional level. They enjoy pushing boundaries and work that stretches their creative brains. Never standing still, Scholar takes on new challenges using cutting-edge mixed media, and this brave approach to creativity has seen them in demand with high profile clients such as Nike, Audi, Amazon and, most recently, Apple and Olivia Rodrigo.
Scholar’s ability to turn their hand creatively to any task put them in pole position to work on the recent Apple / Olivia Rodrigo ‘Made on iPad’ collaboration using Procreate’s FacePaint feature. We took time out to ask the art director on the project, Danni Fisher-Shin, and designer, Madison Ellis, how they first found out about the project, and what it was like working on such a high-profile project.
“I remember it was really funny, because it was heavily NDA'd at first,” Danni laughed. “I was talking to Will Johnson, who is one of our partners. He couldn't tell me what it was, he just knew that I had a background in Procreate. He was able to tell me that it involved face masks, and that it was for an artist that's very popular. And I gradually pieced it together.” Madison added, “A lot like Danni I was piecing it together slowly. She got to tell each and every person that joined the project what it was about because everybody else in the studio was like, ‘It’s NDA and we don't really know anything about it.’”
Jobs like this don’t come along every day, so we asked Madison what her reaction was when she finally discovered the full scope of the project. “I’ve continuously said my Gen Z came out, and I was like, ‘Oh my God. I can’t believe it!’ I came onto the project just after Danni started directing it, and was able to jump right in from the ground up creating masks.”
While Procreate has been used by professionals for a long time, FacePaint hadn’t been road tested as a professional production tool before. When asked what it was like to use FacePaint on a large-scale project, Danni said, “It was really fun actually. It's funny, I had been meaning to try it out for so long after seeing all the demos and thought, ‘That's so cool,’ but I'd never actually touched it, and it was similar for a lot of the artists. We had some freelancers that we hired that were like, ‘I've never seen this. I didn't even know that you could do this. This is amazing!’”
Echoing this, Madison hadn’t tried out FacePaint before jumping in on the ‘brutal’ video, “I was like, ‘This is that button I hadn't thought to press yet.’ And when I did I realized, ‘Oh wow, this is so cool.” But it wasn’t just Danni and Madison who were learning how to use FacePaint on the job, “We sent the other artists a simple doc that showed them how to use it. Then they'd try FacePaint out, and the delight that came back every time. Their reaction was just like me, ‘Oh my God I can draw on my face. This is so exciting.’ It was really lovely.”
Learning a new software feature on the job could be intimidating to some, but this was offset with the elation of working with one of the world’s biggest pop stars. “It was brilliant being able to create something for someone so big,” Madison enthused. “Also, to know that it's going to be for her face specifically is an especially interesting experience. You're like, ‘I'm showing you my face, but it's going to be on your face and it's going to look awesome.’ It was definitely cool to say, ‘Oh, that's my art on your face right now.’”
“It was really exciting,” Danni agreed. “I already knew her entire album, which is why I slowly pieced together what this project actually was. And luckily the people at Scholar love a good challenge, so it worked out pretty well for all of us. The Scholar team were all super, super psyched to be part of it. Then on set, Olivia was so talented. The whole team, Director Petra Collins, Olivia and everyone involved were wonderful to work with and really professional. It just flowed so weirdly smooth.”
Madison felt the project even helped explain her position to those outside of the industry, raising the profile of professional artists. “I feel like a lot of times people don't quite know, or don't quite understand what I do if they're not in our field. I say, ‘I just kind of draw.’ And they're like, ‘Yeah, okay.’ This was something I could point at and saying, ‘I did that!’ This kudos even extended to their family life. “Mom finally understands,” enthused Danni, and Madison whole heartedly agreed, “Yes! My mom understands, finally!”
Scholar is known for developing out-of-the-box solutions when it comes to production techniques, although for the Apple project they were lucky enough to have already developed a pipeline that helped them map FacePaint masks onto live video footage. “Our CG lead, Matt Lavoy had created an entire setup within Nuke…for super accurate facial tracking for a different project that we produced. So, we already had some of the research and development out of the way in case the direct approach didn’t workout. And that is the pipeline we ended up using.”
“Basically our Procreate design team would pass (work) to our animation team, who would then animate it and export the sequences out as animated PNGs. Those would go through a conversion that our 3D lead set up to import everything into Nuke. The animations would then just track directly on (to a face), and they'd take the image sequences and it was good to go.”
Art Directing a big production can be stressful, but it also comes with a huge sense of creative satisfaction once it has finished. We asked Danni what she thought was the best thing about using FacePaint on ‘brutal’ from an art directional point of view.
“What I found while hiring freelancers is that a lot of people do most of their personal work in Procreate just because it's so portable. They, like me, just take it anywhere. And I think that people really, really love that. So it was great to find people who already knew the program, even though it's not a standard thing that we would list in our requirements for freelancing.”
“Another thing was that we were actually able to send higher grade iPads to a couple of freelancers who needed it. Which is something that we normally we wouldn't be able do remotely. Sending new tech is a whole process, but since it's on an iPad it was so easy to get people the equipment that they needed in order to work on it. So that was really lovely from an Art Director’s point of view.”
For Madison, learning a new tool and skill was one of the most satisfying parts of using Procreate on a commercial creative project, and helped her creativity thrive. “I had never used the FacePaint tool before, and much like Danni, a lot of artists or illustrators, myself included, use iPad for personal work, as well as professional work when we can.”
“I was even more excited to be able to use Procreate because I was visiting my parents’ house during the project’s production. It was nice to be able to walk about and paint my face. It was really cool to just use an iPad throughout the entire project and to be able to learn how to use the FacePaint feature in different ways. To discover a new piece of the program that I hadn’t used before, and might have not have figured out existed if I had not worked on this project.”
When asked if more Procreate work was on the horizon, Danni confessed that Procreate had starting to integrate itself permanently into her day-to-day professional workflow. “I personally use Procreate for work all the time. Usually when we're in the office it would be working on our big work computers, and we'll usually work in Photoshop. But honestly since starting work from home, I've almost exclusively used Procreate for designing just because I'm used to it. It's portable. It's quick. I don't have to start up my whole box (computer) and go to all that trouble, plus I can export as a PSD. So, it is pretty much the same for workflow. It's been great.”
“Absolutely. Literally the same,” Maddison followed up, “I have this Cintiq monitor sitting right here and I rarely use it. That Procreate icon is right there, and I use it all the time. It's just so convenient, and the fact that you can make it a PSD file when you're sharing things with other people, it really doesn't affect the workflow at all. So if I can use something a little bit quicker and in a more nimble or portable way, then I definitely enjoy doing that.”
Having two such creatively inspiring and driven artists enthuse about Procreate after using it on a world-wide campaign is very humbling. The team at Procreate always love hearing about people’s experience with the tools we pour our love and energy into. We made sure to thank both Danni and Madison for using Procreate and let them know it meant the world to us. “No seriously,” replied Danni, “We appreciate you guys for creating it.”