The art and craft of screen graphics – interview with James Brocklebank

September 18th, 2018

Continuing the ongoing series of interviews on fantasy user interfaces, it’s my pleasure to welcome James Brocklebank. In this interview he talks about the ever-evolving set of tools at his disposal, the increasing demand for motion graphics world in film and other fields, working on load movies for video games, and being a part of huge sci-fi film productions in the last few years. In between and around, James dives deeper into his work on video games such as “Call of Duty: Black Ops” and “Titanfall 2”, as well as screen graphics on “Passengers”, “Ghost in the Shell” and the recently released “Pacific Rim: Uprising”.

Screen graphics for Ghost in the Shell. Courtesy of James Brocklebank.

Kirill: Please tell us about yourself and what brought you to where you are today.

James: I am a motion designer based in London, UK. I’d always loved drawing as a kid and studied art throughout school. It was when I was doing my Fine Art foundation course at Art College in Hastings, that I first discovered Photoshop and that steered me towards doing a degree in Graphic Arts and Design at Leeds Met University, where I specialized in photography, image manipulation and film making.

Once I left Uni, I became a runner, essentially a tea boy, firstly in an editing facility in London and then at a VFX house.

All the while I was working in the evenings on my own portfolio and trying to learn as much software as I could. Then I got a job as a junior designer in motion graphics, first designing DVD menus and then working in music, making commercials for albums, promos, content for award shows and the odd CD cover, which was great, as CDs and music videos were some of the things that got me into wanting to do graphics in the first place.

I went freelance about 2008 and since then I’ve worked across a wide range of projects for a variety of clients. From broadcast, live concerts, projection mapping, branding, commercials, computer games and more recently I’ve been doing some film work which you’ve seen.

Kirill: Between the powerful digital tools at your disposal and the ideas in your head as the designer, is there more importance to one than the other?

James: I primarily start with the ideas. That can be the brief from the client or a self initiated project. If you’re doing film work, there’s the director and a hierarchy of people who have their own visions. The tools are there to facilitate you executing their visions.

That said, sometimes it can be a little seed of an idea that someone has, and that’s where you then go and explore. That’s where the software comes in amazingly handy, because you don’t actually know where you’re going to go. You’re experimenting and that’s why I really enjoy the look development stage. You’re playing around, pushing the software to see what it will do, exploring different approaches.

Kirill: In my little part of the world, there’s usually a team of designers that work on the overall experience, and the particular parts of it, like visuals, animations, overall flow. And then there are developers that take those mock and implement them. Does it feel that in your field you’re wearing both hats at the same time?

James: I come at it from a drawing/art background, but you need technical skill to make a living in this field. There’s a lot of software I have learned since the beginning of my career. The technology has developed massively, and with that the responsibility of what you need to know for each job has increased exponentially. I primarily work within motion design, but a lot of the jobs I now work in are more of a visual effects pipeline, which encompasses everything from 3D animation, compositing, simulations, camera tracking, etc. Not that I need to know all of the software that comes with that, as there are a lot of people working within each facet of the project, but you need to have an understanding of it all.

Screen graphics for Passengers. Courtesy of James Brocklebank.

Kirill: On one hand it might be getting a little bit easier to get into your field because there’s so many tools at your disposal. But on the other hand I keep on hearing that the tools are getting more complicated and the expectations from what you do are getting higher.

James: That’s a good point. As a freelancer going into new jobs every few months, what I enjoy is the variety of jobs I do. If you work with a new client, you don’t always know what they expect of you. The jobs adapt or evolve as you are working on it. You need to be prepared as much as you can.

Even in the more traditional motion design jobs, there is a demand for more complex work; 3D character animations, fluid and smoke simulations, photo real rendering. That requires you to learn other plug ins/programmes outside of just After FX and Cinema 4D and also think of how everything works within the real world when it comes to movement and rendering, as opposed to something that is more graphical.

With the expansion in the number of tools available it is easier for one person to do a lot more than what they used to be able to do, and the level of the quality has risen, particularly with physically based rendering. The price of the software has come down, and people like myself working at home can afford to do that. The quality that can be achieved has raised massively from when I first started out.

Being able to do smoke, fire or water simulations can now be achieved with Real Flow, Turbulence FD or the latest version of X-Particles. That’s great and I love that it expands my capabilities. But with that, a lot of people expect you to be able to do everything within a short time, to a degree.

If you’re working on a film, you’re such a small part of such a big machine. I wouldn’t be doing the simulations there. It’s the difference between a specialist and a generalist, and I am a generalist. Within the film world it is more compartmentalized, as big facilities have incredible specialists in every department. On other jobs with smaller budgets you have to do wear many hats, which I enjoy, but it can also add pressure.

Kirill: What was your first screen graphics project?

James: It was in video games. My first exposure to UI was with a company called SPOV, doing “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3” back in 2011. That was the first time I had done anything like that. It was more about doing load movies, as opposed to the more traditional screen graphics that you see within feature film. This had to introduce the characters or the mission to the player.

That was a great introduction and a really good team. I then worked on Black Ops 2 the year after with Spov and some character cinematics for Titanfall 2 a few years ago. I have just finished another game with them recently, and that again is indicative of how much motion design has evolved. I look at what we did with them seven years ago to what I’ve just done now for a similar title, and it’s a very different piece. Once that’s released, you would hopefully see how much it’s evolved.

Screen graphics for Titanfall 2. Courtesy of James Brocklebank.

Kirill: You also worked on a couple of other video games. How would you compare screen graphics work in video games to feature film?

James: There is definitely an emphasis on functionality within game UI to inform the player of their stats, their position on a map, etc. as it’s more interactive, whereas film UI is more narrative driven. With film UI there is an effort on the part of the designers, or the creative lead or the director, who want it to support the story and convey the message that they’re trying to tell within that scene. But sometimes there are so many screens in the background, not everything needs to tell the story, it’s more to create the mood, to make it feel as this is what a spaceship control room would be like.

Kirill: What goes into designing screen graphics for video games?

James: Screen graphics that I’ve done for video games were mostly load movies. It is a linear movie that plays for the player to see what they need to do, as opposed to being interactive gameplay. We would often get a script from the game developer for that particular level and then you would discuss with the Creative Lead how best to bring the script to life. Depending when you come on board the project, the overall look may have already been established; style frames, colour palettes, fonts etc, so you are adapting the elements to fit your particular animation. Or there maybe a brand already established by the game developer, which you are then incorporating into your work. Or it’s a complete blank slate and you’re developing the look, which is always really enjoyable. But in terms of the interactive game play, I don’t have much experience of doing that myself. The work I’ve done for games is more of an introduction to the character to convey part of the mission that you’re going to take.

Screen graphics for Call of Duty: Black Ops. Courtesy of James Brocklebank.

Kirill: So in a sense, it is closer to the work you’ve been doing in feature film to move the story forward. Was “Passengers” your first feature?

James: Well, my first feature was for the group One Direction, their 3D film, “This Is Us” that I did with MPC several years ago. Morgan Spurlock was the director on it, but my work was more animated sequences, as opposed to screen graphics.

“Passengers” was indeed the first screen graphics film job that I did. It was at MPC with Ryan Jefferson Hays who you spoke with. I’ve worked with him several times over the years, and I’ve gone in there on a contract when they needed some extra help on “Passengers”. By the time I got on board, they were well along the road in terms of development. I was just helping out on shots, but the actual aesthetic of the design had already been established by that point.

Kirill: Was there anything particular surprising in this environment of working on a feature film that you didn’t expect to be?

James: You are completely peering behind the curtain. Like yourself, I’ve always loved films. They’ve always inspired me when I was growing up, so it was kind of a dream to work on one. But you definitely get to see the nuts and bolts of what it takes to make a feature film.

You are such a tiny part of such a huge machine. There is a solid hierarchy involved in the process; I’m reporting to Ryan, who feeds into the VFX Supervisor, who feeds into the director. Although you’re maybe involved in calls with the supervisors, you’re never having a one to one discussion with the director as he is overseeing this huge project, which involves hundreds of people in many different studios around the globe.

It was a real learning curve for me from a technical stand point. Because some of the shots I was working on, the UI was more integrated within the environment, as opposed to your standard UI screens comped into the background. We were dealing with filmed plates, where actors might walk through your graphics, or interact with them, so that had to all be considered when designing/animating, that it wasn’t distracting from the actors. You’re using camera tracks and overscanned plates to account for lens distortion. You’re using holdouts or digi doubles for the characters. There can be translation difficulties when multiple bits of software are being used in the pipeline across several different departments.

The technical side of it was hugely challenging, but also rewarding, because when the film came out, I felt it looked good.

Screen graphics for Passengers. Courtesy of James Brocklebank.

Kirill: Every time I watch a well done story, it feels amazing to think about how many people come together to work on it and how much needs to click to make it work. As a freelancer, do you have a preference to work with small teams or big teams?

James: In my experience, that’s probably one of the main differences between computer games and feature films; the number of people involved. My experience is that feature films are absolutely massive in terms of the teams. For although the design team for Passengers was fairly small, you have to collaborate with the 3D, roto, camera tracking or comp department to make sure your work will fit into the final shot. So there are a lot of people involved in making just one shot, but it’s a very collaborative experience. You tend to be more compartmentalized in film, production, post production, then that is broken down into smaller departments; 3D, 2D, design, FX and so on.

I’d say I’ve worked with at most, ten people on a computer game. You actually get direct access to the game developers and the creative directors of the game. That access is amazing, and they’re super supportive, as you need to ingest a lot of their resources (3D characters, environments, color palettes, plot/character information) into what you’re doing, so that relationship is key. The game development side I imagine is probably a huge undertaking with masses of people, but our design teams for the cinematics/load movies tend to be very small, which I like. It’s great if you’re involved from the beginning, and you develop it through to the end. It’s nice to have that creative ownership and that input, and see how the game is evolving.

Screen graphics for Ghost in the Shell. Courtesy of James Brocklebank.

Kirill: If I bring you forward to “Ghost in the Shell” and “Pacific Rim”, it feels like they are a bit non-traditional. There’s not a lot of regular rectangular screens, but rather motion graphics floating around the characters. Does it feel liberating to not be confined by these flat rectangles?

James: I worked again with MPC on “Ghost in the Shell” straight after “Passengers.” Ryan Hays was the Design creative director on that one as well. It was a more diverse team than just motion designers, as we were mixed in with 3D specialists (Maya and Houdini) and Nuke compositors, so it meant we could develop a lot of the shots to almost near completion, just within this small group of people, which did expand over time.

The brief from the director talked about MS-DOS. He wanted minimal amount of UI, and if it was there, it had to support the story. It wasn’t lo-fi necessary, but rather the feeling of MS-DOS, so fairly minimalist and clean. A lot of the stuff that we developed got reined in and boiled down to the important parts. It felt like there was a conscious decision to go against the usual sci-fi UI aesthetic of ‘what would this look like 50 years from now,’ and instead take inspiration from the past, but make it feel current. There was a real emphasis on making work that wasn’t your typical UI work, like the hotel vision sequence where Major is scanning/analyzing the building, the director didn’t want a standard HUD overlay, but more of a device that suggested augmented reality, that interacted with its environment. It was really refreshing to have that kind of a brief, because you’re being pushed to create something unique. Plus, when you’re working with great CG artists, as the hotel was pretty much all CG, and the graphics are integrated within the environment, you can really tailor the shot to make all the elements sing together and it becomes a very collaborative process.

Then I worked on “Pacific Rim” with Territory. When I came on board, they were halfway through the project. It was a massive amount of shots (around 300) they had to do working for DNEG. They developed the initial designs for the holographic consoles, ‘connpods’, that had become these complex 3D elements that were integrated into the environments, so that the actors could interact with them. It was more of a VFX job than a traditional UI job, although it did incorporate certain screen graphic elements.

Screen graphics for Pacific Rim: Uprising. Courtesy of James Brocklebank.

Kirill: Do you find yourself competing against screen graphics on our devices? I go to a movie theater to, perhaps, escape from reality, and if I see exactly the same thing I have on my own devices, it might be a bit boring.

James: In terms of competing with reality, I suppose it’s the fine line between making something believable to make the narrative more convincing, but also something imaginative, stylistic, to maintain the viewers interest. As a freelancer, I haven’t designed any mobile interfaces for phones, but I’ve certainly had to utilize a few phone and social media interfaces into some of my work, and it can be a challenge to make something that is purely functional and instantly recognizable, dynamic and interesting. If you’re designing a phone interface for the real world you make the functionality simple for the user. And then on a feature film, it has to serve a purpose in terms of the story, but it’s also going to have a stylistic quality to it.

Kirill: What do you think about color palettes that are usually seen in film screen graphics?

James: It depends on the project, whether it has to be based on reality, or it is a bit more fictional/fantastical. There are staples used in many films; greens and blues, reds for ‘Emergency’ ‘Hazard’ particularly, because they immediately convey a message to the viewer in what may only be a few frames. But I think there is also a real effort by the CD or design team to try different palettes, purely so it doesn’t look like everything else.

I keep on going back to computer games, but they have developed their franchise over several years. They have the brand color, or a certain character has a color scheme that fits their identity that we have to utilize within what we’re doing. “Ghost in the Shell” had heavy references to orange. But there were no limitations put on what we could use. We tested and experimented, and then through stages of development we came to the final color palette. That’s just one example.

A lot of it can come from the film as well. “Pacific Rim” had a very distinct set of color palettes, because we needed to distinguish the identity of each specific Jaeger. We get locked filmed plates from the set where you have the actors, their costumes or the environment all with their bespoke color schemes to match their relevant Jaeger, so the UI needs to reflect this too.

Screen graphics for Pacific Rim: Uprising. Courtesy of James Brocklebank.

Kirill: Is there such a thing as being able to say “No, I can’t do it”, or do you need to be a little bit more diplomatic and find a way to make it work?

James: [laughs] Never say “No, I can’t do it”. You can always to try and experiment. That’s what you’re there to do – solve problems, and that’s the enjoyable part of it. Someone comes in and tells you they saw something on TV, and they think that could work really well with this. Initially you might not be sure how you can apply that to what you’re doing. But then you find the time to look development and experiment, and then you can you know. Always give it a go. I don’t know if it’s going to be the right solution to what that person is thinking, but never say “No”.

Kirill: When people ask you what do you do for a living, do you find it difficult to convey how much goes into this tiny sliver of the overall production? Do people expect things to already exist out there?

James: Completely, particularly with films. If you’re talking with people outside of the industry, perhaps your family and friends, and you say you’re working on a film, they think you’ve made the entire film. Now they’re thinking that you’ve done “Ghost in the Shell”, which you clearly haven’t. You’ve done such a minute part of it that they’ll be ultimately disappointed when you point out what you have done [laughs]. That’s the way it is.

It takes so many people to make a film. When you’re a freelancer, you don’t know how long you’re going to be on the project. That’s why when you’re working on smaller productions like commercials or computer games, you get to have a lot more ownership and input. It can be more stressful in a way, but you’re doing everything within that process, which I enjoy.

You may be doing some storyboarding or animatics, fleshing out the cameras, blocking out the animation which you then give to the character animator who you’re then giving direction to what you want it to do. They give that back to you, and you’re lighting and texturing it, adding effects, compositing it. There’s a lot more involved, but it’s also very rewarding. Ultimately, when someone asks what you’ve done on that particular project, you can say that you’ve done a lot more than what I did on a film.

Kirill: What goes through your mind when you do watch the final cut of one your film productions, and see those long weeks or maybe months of work condensed into what amounts to not a lot of frames on the screen?

James: You can’t be too precious. You can’t take it personally if a shot you worked on is cut or the work you did is blurred out in the background. As much as you may think that this is a good piece of work, it might not fit the story, or the aesthetic of the rest of the film. The edit is evolving as you’re working on the shots, and the shot that everyone loves or has spent ages working on, doesn’t fit the story, then it gets killed.

You do feel gutted about that, particularly when you see the film and you wait for that moment, not realizing it’s been cut. But that’s not my decision. It’s the director’s story to tell. That does happen a lot in films where you think that something is going to look really nice, and then it just doesn’t make it. That’s the nature of the beast.

Screen graphics for Ghost in the Shell. Courtesy of James Brocklebank.

Kirill: Do you think that the expectations from the quality and maybe intricacy of screen graphics for film are going to continue increasing as the audiences also expect to see bigger and better things every year?

James: I imagine it will continue for a while. It’s a big business. VFX heavy films do well at the cinema and people want to see more. The VFX in film and television is incredible. I look back even seven years ago, and it’s a different game. You wouldn’t expect to see the quality of work, FX-wise, that you see on TV consistently with say “Stranger Things” or “Game Of Thrones”, back then.

The level of expectation from a home viewer who’s sitting on their sofa watching TV show also puts more emphasis on film. It has always been the medium that is pushing the envelope, in terms of VFX, imagination, the technical skill. Look at the breakdowns of VFX shots that ILM, DNEG or Framestore are doing. They’re taking the character from a greenscreen or in situ, they’re cutting him out, rebuilding the set entirely in CG, creating a digi double, trace the actors performance, relighting him because it makes the character more interactive in terms of the effects bouncing off him, more freedom with the camera move. Or do mocap with an entirely CG character. Primarily, because there seems to be a need to do something that has never been seen before, bigger explosions, bigger FX, insane camera moves, something that defies the physics of the real world and that’s where the freedom to do anything can become dangerous, because it really can pull you out of the film if something is too cartoony, or physically implausible. Plus, the audience can become fatigued with another planet blowing up, another city collapsing, in the same way that screen graphics can get very same-y. I suppose that’s why on Ghost In The Shell, Rupert Sanders wanted to go against the standard, future UI aesthetic and briefed ‘MS-DOS’ to get something different to the norm.

Kirill: As the level of expectations from work rises, and the work itself evolves to be more complex, do you worry how what you do today will be seen in 20-30 years?

James: I’ve never worried about it. As an artist, every year you want to learn, develop, improve and evolve. It can be on the technical level, as well as on the creative level. It can also be about moving into different areas. When you do it at the time, you’re trying to do the best you can with your knowledge, skillset and the tools available to you at that point in time.

When I’m working on something, I’m never thinking what happens 20 years from now, as much as you’d like it to be a timeless piece, stuff usually gets superseded or dates over time. In terms of sci fi, there’s very few things that hold up 20 or 30 years later, because technology has evolved so much. The original “Star Wars” films are absolutely incredible when you consider when they were made. Forty years later we reflect on them still. But even then, certain bits look a bit dated, particularly with the FX work, because technology has moved on so much, and that is one of the greatest sci-fi films ever made. It’s interesting that the screen graphics in the original films look fairly basic now, but they’ve kept that aesthetic in the recent releases, which makes sense in terms of the narrative, but also cool that they resisted the urge to modernize it somewhat, when you consider all the technology we have now compared to back in the late 70’s.

Kirill: How would you rate software that you use in your life, professionally and for personal endeavors?

James: I’m happy with it, although I can’t keep up, actually. I feel like an old man as it’s passing me by in my personal life. Who knows where we’ll be in 10 years. You think back on where we were 10 years ago, and then you look at where we are now – it’s massively different. We’re talking right now on Skype, the feed is super clean, I can see and hear you perfectly from the other side of the world. It is amazing.

VR is creeping more into motion design. I keep seeing people asking for real-time based rendering. At the moment I have to learn a lot of third-party renderers, but that might be a thing of the past soon. It will all be real-time rendering, and who knows where VR will take off. I haven’t got a clue, but it’s going to be interesting.

Screen graphics for Passengers. Courtesy of James Brocklebank.

Kirill: When I was growing up, you had to go to the library to do a research for some school project. If you had a car and wanted to drive somewhere, you better have the atlas close by because otherwise you take a wrong turn and you get lost. What are your thoughts about technology in our daily lives today?

James: That’s a big question. I keep reading about AI and how bad that’s going to be [laughs]. In terms of day-to-day though? I have young kids and they have never known a world without GPS, the internet, mobile phones. When I was growing up, you’d have a few VHS tapes, a few channels on TV, and you’d be watching “Back on the Future” on VHS constantly. Now if they want to watch something, they’ve got Netflix or Google Play with access to a vast library of whatever they want, instantly.

I’m the same. Buying CDs was a big passion of mine, I have hundreds of those up in the loft gathering dust because I don’t have a CD player anymore, I just stream music through Spotify. I have access to vast music libraries now, but then stuff passes you by so quickly. The ‘event’ of a new album being released and buying that CD, doesn’t really carry as much weight as it used to, as there is so much choice, your attention shifts. Which is a shame in many ways. But, then again, that same software allows you to expand your horizon, to listen to other things you may never have heard otherwise.

The GPS thing I still find crazy. I’ve just been on holiday to France and Spain, and it was weird. We had a map, but it was useless [laughs]. You can just look on your phone. It tells you where the traffic is, if you’ve taken the wrong turn, translates words, it saves you a lot of time. It still blows my mind. We are exposed to so much, and we take it all for granted.

Kirill: Is it an exciting time to be a designer in such a world?

James: For me, yes. I was saying earlier that I did commercials for music. When piracy came to the fore, budgets diminished and record companies couldn’t afford to spend so much on advertising. That affected a huge part of the industry I worked in. Companies were closing, and I was sitting and thinking about where do I go from there. That was one of the negative effects of advancements in technology. But then something else pops up.

I’m a freelance motion designer, and there are screens everywhere. You go down on the underground and there are adverts. It’s good and bad, because there’s probably too much noise. When I was about to do my first computer game with SPOV, I told them that I don’t play many computer games. They told me that it doesn’t matter. You apply your animation and design skills to that. The same goes for feature films, projection mapping, VR and so on.

There are so many different facets within design where I can apply my skills and know-how. Hopefully people still want me to do that. It seems like it’s ever-growing. A few years ago I did projection mapping onto buildings, and I’d never done that before. The mediums for a motion designer to be working in seem to be growing more and more, breaking out of just being work shown on a screen.

Screen graphics for Pacific Rim: Uprising. Courtesy of James Brocklebank.

Kirill: What would be your advice for somebody who’s starting out today?

James: I think it’s very important to always try and be improving your skills. Work out what you want to do, particularly if it’s not in your day job. Be making work that you want to do, in your spare time. Get a website of your work together, see what companies do the kind of work you want to work on and write to them about working there. Keep making work. There are more outlets upon which to show your work than ever before, Instagram, Vimeo, social media and so on, so use them to your advantage.

If I can, I often try and take a week off after a big job just to do my own work. I’m not earning any money, but it is really valuable. It refreshes and galvanizes me. I can experiment and learn new techniques. There’s always stuff to learn, so I’m better prepared for the next job.

If I go to a new company, I feel like I’ve got another string to my bow. I find it interesting to see what that piece of technology allows me to do. Sometimes I might just go back into illustration and go completely against what I’ve been doing. I might step away from heavy lifting with 3D rendering and all that crazy stuff. I just want to do something completely immediate and organic, like a pencil drawing.

I thought that those habits might go away from when I was starting out and trying to get a foot in the world. I was trying to improve and increase my portfolio to get a job in what I wanted to do. But now that I’m in what I want to do, I still have that hunger to learn, to experiment and to try different new things. It keeps you fresh. There’s always too much to learn. I think I’m nearly there, and then something else comes out.

Kirill: Perhaps, stopping to learn new things and push your own boundaries in a creative field would mean that you’re not enjoying that field any more.

James: People come to you for your creative input. If you get dried and tired and staid, and just rehashing the same ideas, people won’t come to you. Also there’s no fun in that. I’m very privileged to do something that I really enjoy. I enjoy working on great projects, and I want to do as much as I can. I want to be doing the best that I can possibly do.

Screen graphics for Ghost in the Shell. Courtesy of James Brocklebank.

Kirill: It’s hard to know what will stand the test of time, as you mentioned earlier.

James: I think we have the benefit of reflecting on the interpretation of technology through the ’80s and ’90s, and how that was shown through film. That can date massively. The equivalent of us could be sitting here in 20 years’ time, going through the work of the 2000/2010’s and probably thinking what we consider cutting edge now, looking so old hat.

Kirill: What I love about these stories is the different ways that portray futuristic technology, and even if some of those are not realistic or ergonomic, they plants these ideas in your head about where things might go.

James: “Minority Report” made me think that. He walks through the hallway, and you’ve got the ad talking directly to him. You see that in Instagram or Gmail today, where ads are triggered by something specific to yourself. You search for some shoes online, and then you you see online adverts everywhere for shoes directed right at you. I’m not talking about walking down the street yet, but it feels like it’s something that might come.

Kirill: There was a bit of glimpse of that in “Ghost in the Shell” where somebody is walking down the street and they have this glowing light curtain of a sort that projects something right in front of them. I don’t know if that’s going to happen any time soon, but probably something like Skynet is not just around the corner. And in the meanwhile we have these amazing devices in our pockets that can enable us to do so much, and can also waste so much of our time. Maybe the parents of today need to instill the right approach so that our kids can find the balance in their life around technology.

James: Do you think you’re winning that one?

Kirill: I can tell you that the threat of taking away electronics is a very powerful weapon at my disposal, and that did not exist when I was a kid.

James: That’s so true. The phone is the main thing they crave. My kid saw me type my password once, and then she knows what it is and can hack in whenever I’m not looking. So I’m constantly having to change my password.

Kirill: My daughter came home a couple of weeks ago, and her home assignment was to write down the names of all her grandparents. And my first thought was that somebody’s trying to phish for security questions where some of the providers check for your mom’s maiden name. You start thinking that this is a teaching moment for the next generation. Do you want to advertise their birthday on Facebook, or put a photo that shows the name of the street they’re growing up on Instagram?

James: I don’t share much on Facebook. But then I see some of my friends that are literally telling everyone everything. You can build a profile on everybody from these pieces, and you can do harmful things. That’s what I want to instill in my kids, that hopefully they don’t feel the need to have their whole life story online.

Kirill: But then I start thinking whether they’d be able to afford, in a way, to not be online. Maybe people who don’t have online presence in 20 years will be viewed in the same way we talk about people that decide to disconnect from everything and live in a proverbial shack in the woods.

James: I was talking with a friend about the internet, and protecting the children. They said that if you take the phone away to protect them that way, then what you end up doing is isolating a child. All their friends are communicating through Whatsapp, so the kid is not getting invited to all the parties, meet ups etc. because they don’t have a phone.

It’s exactly that man in the woods. You’re ostracized by your friends – not intentionally, but that’s just the way they communicate. So therefore you then have to reintroduce the phone, but with protections and trust. It brings in a lot of moral and difficult questions around parenting and technology.

Screen graphics for Ghost in the Shell. Courtesy of James Brocklebank.

And here I’d like to thank James Brocklebank for taking the time out of his busy schedule to talk with me about the art and craft of screen graphics. You can find more of his work on his Instagram profile. And if you’re interested to read additional interviews about the wonderful world of screen graphics and user interfaces for film and TV, click here for more.