Screen graphics of "Loki", courtesy of Cantina Creative and Darby Faccinto

The art and craft of screen graphics – interview with Darby Faccinto

April 22nd, 2023
Screen graphics of "Loki", courtesy of Cantina Creative and Darby Faccinto

Continuing the ongoing series of interviews on fantasy user interfaces, it’s my pleasure to welcome Darby Faccinto. In this interview he talks about designing for the story, the difference between basic and simple design, the drive to learn new things, and the impact of generative AIs on human creativity. In between these and more, Darby talks about his work on screen graphics for “Loki” and “Black Adam”.

Kirill: Please tell us about yourself and the path that took you to where you are today. I love the bit you mentioned in the article on your alma mater website about doing Iron Man graphics when you were running for the high school class president.

Darby: I’ve always loved movies and I’ve loved good storytelling. I remember when Ironman one came out back in 2008, and I was around nine. I had this dirt bike that I would ride around at my parents’ house. We had like a little farm, and I would ride it, and as I would wear my helmet, I would pretend to talk to Jarvis. I was a little kid, but I would imagine myself in the Ironman suit, hanging out and doing whatever.

That was probably how I got into this field on the subconscious level. I started paying attention to the HUD scene, and I thought they were super interesting. And then when I got to high school as a freshman, I thought to myself that maybe I could attempt to make a cheap version of this for this election I have coming up, that I would put a video on the school news and everybody will get excited. And I actually never was able to do it. I failed [laughs]. I made something, but I didn’t want to show anyone because it was so bad. It was like a shape layer with a couple of circles, but it was enough for me to feel like I could take it somewhere else. I felt that this was enough of an accomplishment to where I proved myself I can learn a new skill.

I didn’t know After Effects or any other programs. During that time I was Googling all this information about it, and that’s how I found Jayse Hansen. I reached out to him and I asked him if he could make an Iron Man HUD for my class election [laughs], and he said that he can’t, and gave me a link to a video tutorial to check out. That’s how I got hooked, wanting to make it better. I started going back and forth throughout high school and into college, taking a few months here and there, not doing it and picking it back up, and then trying it again – to eventually a point where I felt like I got really comfortable with it. And that was the beginning of Jayse encouraging me to maybe think about this career seriously.

Kirill: Would you say that a person needs to go through a formal art design training to get into this field, or is there enough information online for a determined individual to pull themselves by the bootstraps?

Darby: To be honest, the answer is both. I know a lot of people that I work with came out of Otis Design College. There’s plenty of great design colleges, but Otis is what I’m most familiar with. They have a great program, and a lot of studios snipe people out of there as they graduate and bring them in.

And I know a lot of people like me who have no formal design training at all. I was in college for something completely different, and I was doing this on the side of the hobby, and everything I knew was from YouTube or online. A lot of what helped me develop a strong taste for it was repetition and studying and comparing to what’s in film. Anybody can do that. If you have the drive and termination go out there and learn it, you don’t necessarily need to be in any formal training for it.

Screen graphics of “Loki”, courtesy of Cantina Creative and Darby Faccinto.

Kirill: There’s this rule of thumb that says that in order to get good at something, you need to put 10,000 hours into it. With everything being so accelerated now, do you feel that it’s still true in the age of the Internet?

Darby: From at least what I can attest in my field, you may not need 10,000 hours to learn the software. Maybe you can get comfortable with the toolset in a thousand hours. But then it would still take the other 9,000 hours or so to develop the taste, and I’m still developing mine.

I love blues. I love B.B. King and other old school performers. You’ll have this steady beat and there’s some quiet, and in between you’ll have tasteful guitar licks that are maybe four or five notes, but it’s a presentation. That’s how I see it for what I do. It’s important to master the tool set, but it’s more about what you are able to do with that to create that beautiful complete picture of what should be on the screen or how that moment should be told. And that comes in time. It’s not something that can be generated by AI.

Kirill: If you compare “Loki” to “Black Adam”, it feels that “Loki” elevated the screens to a bit more prominent place in the story. In “Black Adam” they were there, but they kind of existed in those spaces, but “Loki” made them hero elements. Maybe some productions do not necessarily promote or elevate the screen graphics to be these hero elements all the time.

Darby: “Black Adam” wasn’t necessarily about screens, and they were there to help tell the story a little bit more. But on “Loki” it’s a huge hero piece. It’s helping the audience understand the story, and that comes down to what am I working on and what is being asked of me. The graphics on “Black Adam” had a few story beat moments where they told a story, but for the most part it was there to help elevate the “futureness” of where they were. If we went over the top and made something absolutely crazy, that would have completely distracted from what the director wanted to get across, which was the moment between the actors, and not the screen. So in a way, that’s just as tasteful – to be able to restrain yourself and have something elegant that blends into what’s happening and does not take away from what’s going on.

Screen graphics of “Loki”, courtesy of Cantina Creative and Darby Faccinto.

Kirill: The umbrella term for screen graphics has traditionally been FUI, with the first letter standing for fantasy, futuristic or fictional. Do you feel that the term describes well what it is, or do you prefer screen graphics or maybe something else?

Darby: It’s easier to tell my mom that I’m doing screen graphics. She wouldn’t understand what fantasy or fictional are. When I talk to people, especially if they’re not in the industry, I typically call it screen graphics. That’s really what we’re doing.

A lot of the techniques that I’m using to design a screen are the same techniques somebody would use to design iOS for iPhone, or people on the Android team, or anybody designing stuff or any kind of OS. The same principles are going to apply as to how that design will be approached. Now, I may highlight more of a story beat that may be unrealistic in terms of how big something may be, or how minimal something may be presented. But overall, if I was tasked to design an OS for software versus an OS for a fictional computer, I would approach it the exact same way.

Kirill: When you get a brief for a project, do you know how far the screens you’re going to work on are going to be from the camera? How do you know how big those elements need to be in order for the viewer to read that information well?

Darby: If you take the Chronomonitor with the sacred timeline on “Loki”, we’ll get a list of shots of what they’re in, and we can see that there’s going to be some moments where this taking over the whole screen. When you know that this is what the audience is going to be looking at, you’re well aware of the level of attention it will get – so we have to design with that fidelity of mind.

That influences design. Sometimes you’re working on a screen in Illustrator, and up close that graphic looks great. And then we put it into the shot in the background, and it’s blurred out and is a bug chunky mess. A lot of times we have to figure out what’s going to be best for the shot. It’s great when we have a brief and we know clearly how it’s going to be used, because then I can design around that.

Kirill: On the spectrum from love to hate, what’s your relationship with color blue?

Darby: When I first started, Jayse was teaching me a bunch of stuff, and I got comfortable with the holo tech blue and the hyper-tech minimalistic Tony Stark things. And then I start working, and the only projects I get are lo-fi orange, red – completely separate from what I’ve learned [laughs]. When I started to get into the hyper-tech stuff later, I found myself wanting to stay away from blue, because now I’ve gotten so comfortable with this other color palette.

And a lot of times we have to send color alts to the director, and typically they’re going to pick blue for a hologram. It seems to be what people think of when they think of future tech. But the times are turning a little bit, and things are starting to move in a new direction, possibly. We’re close to the limit of what we can tolerate in terms of what a hologram will look like in a movie. As Marvel continues to progress it’s likely they’ll make adjustments to stay current. So hopefully we can rework the color blue and get it out. We’ve seen it so many times, we got to find something different.

Kirill: Speaking of color, how was it to join “Loki” as your first production? It was interesting to see the retro look to the interface, even though with all the time travel, the story that the interfaces are supporting is pretty advanced.

Darby: A lot of it came from the production design. Marvel knew up front that they really wanted retro. They knew what their tone was with the TVA. You look at the TemPad prop that is made out of wood, with the kind of a paneling that you would see in a station wagon and cheap little metal bits – if you put anything hyper-fidelity in there, it’s not going to look right. All the monitors are literally old tube TVs. So they knew from the beginning that they really wanted a retro. Now how that was going to be presented was up in the air, but we knew retro was going to be the theme here.

Kirill: And this is where the browns and the dirty greens came from?

Darby: That was all Andrew Hawryluk who was our design lead. The TVA already had a strong orange from the shots, the costumes and the set design, so it was natural to fall into that color palette, because it seemed to blend with everything else.

Kirill: Was there any particular directive to not put too much on the screen, to not overload it with widgets and gadgets and knobs, and to keep it simpler?

Darby: The hardest part about doing retro UI is that there’s a clear difference between basic and simple. You put a letter up there, and that’s basic. But it’s not interesting. Simple is where it’s interesting, but there’s not a lot there, and I feel like there was thought put into it. And that’s a hard thing to get to.

It’s easy to make something look complicated. I can throw a million things on the screen, and it looks like it’s processing a hundred things, and it’s doing all this stuff. But when you have to stay so locked down to a simple design to make it feel interesting, that takes time. Andrew taught me a lot of that. I didn’t necessarily have that palate before, and he was telling me that there’s a fine line between too little and just the perfect amount. We got to find that mark.

Screen graphics of “Loki”, courtesy of Cantina Creative and Darby Faccinto.

Kirill: Do you feel that anybody can be taught that in terms of artistic sensibility?

Darby: I definitely think so. Everybody will have a different path to get there, and it may not look exactly like mine. But if you have a willingness to learn it, and you’re willing to show up every single day, I think anybody can learn this.

Kirill: Is there such a thing as too many artists in the world?

Darby: I know a lot of people who are so artistically talented, but are too scared to leave the 9-to-5. Because of that, the people who are going to be successful artists are the people who have the will to push through to it. It is unfortunate that we live in a world where you have to give up safety and security to pursue a passion. But unfortunately, that’s where it’s at now.

There’s plenty of talented people who do it on the side. But if you want to make it your career, you need to make this your life every day. Those are the people who end up learning and taking in the information they need to take in, because they’re willing to show up every single day. They tell themselves that they don’t have another option.

Kirill: There’s this cliche of being a starving artist. Is there such a thing of being a financially comfortable artist?

Darby: I’m 23, so I didn’t know the life before the internet. But with social media and graphics, I see all kinds of positions on the Internet for full time graphic design or full time motion artist for hockey teams, basketball teams, churches, businesses. There’s constant need of content online, because everybody needs an online presence now. If you’re a designer and you feel confident in your skills, there’s no excuse for you not to have work, because there are so many things out there. You may not get a passion project every time, but you can definitely stay busy.

Kirill: Are you happy with your software tools and the hardware capabilities. Is there such a thing as a renderer that completes quickly enough, or is there always desire for more?

Darby: I do most of my work on Cantina computers remotely, is I don’t work off my machine. When I was starting out, I asked Jayse about specs, and build details, and whether it would be powerful enough to do X, Y and Z. And then the actual work is 2D layers in AfterEffects with some smudges, a bit of glow, some opacity drop levels, and boom – you got a nice looking screen. And that doesn’t take any power at all. I have an M1 MacBook Pro, and for anything I do personally, that is more than enough for what I need to do.

Screen graphics of “Black Adam”, courtesy of Cantina Creative and Darby Faccinto.

Kirill: How do you feel where you get to work on a show, but you also get to know the plot line and you don’t get to enjoy it, if you will, as a fresh viewer?

Darby: I was aware of certain elements relevant to my shots, but to see the story as a whole was still a surprise to me. It was so exciting. When the show came out, I didn’t know what was going to happen in this episode this week. We don’t get to see the full vision, so I had no idea how things were going to wrap up. There’s plenty of surprises by the end of how everything goes together.

Kirill: How do you compare your work on “Loki” as an episodic production and “Black Adam” as a feature film.

Darby: It’s a bit hard, and it would probably be easier to compare a Marvel movie to a Marvel show. With that in mind, when you work on these shows, they feel very much like movies. It doesn’t feel like a television production. With the budget that “Loki” had, the quality of what they’re expecting out of you and the level to detail is the exact same as if you’re working on a movie. The only thing is that you now have to do it for six hours versus an hour and a half movie.

There’s way more work that goes into a show than a normal film, because you’re building up this entire world that has however many episodes. And then on “Black Adam” you have the graphics show up maybe 20 times throughout the film. In terms of attention and level to detail it’s the same, but there’s a lot more of it in a show. And they’re expecting the same level of quality throughout the entire thing versus just in an hour and a half film.

Kirill: Any preference between doing on-set graphics versus doing in post?

Darby: I haven’t done playback yet. I love doing post work. I enjoy the process of being able to do a billion iterations to get a look dialed in. That’s hard to do on-set, at least from what I can see from the outside in on playback. What was shot on set is on set, and that’s it. But when you’re able to go through these iterations and find things that work right, you can end up with really interesting outcomes based off of that.

There’s definitely a place for playback, and sometimes it’s a better option than post. But if I could pick one world to operate in the most, it’d be post production for sure.

Kirill: Do you have any favorite element or screen from “Loki”?

Darby: Nobody saw this. It’s in there, but it’s so tiny. In the episode with Alioth the giant cloud monster, the kid Loki has this little radar, and it’s scanning and picking up, but you only see a little sliver on the screen. I thought I made these awesome Doppler radars that are picking up clouds and objects moving through them. I did four or five of those, and they made it to Cantina’s video reel, but you can’t see it in the show at all except for a little glimmer of blue in the corner.

Screen graphics of “Black Adam”, courtesy of Cantina Creative and Darby Faccinto.

Kirill: What about “Black Adam”?

Darby: Nicolas Lopardo did the design for most of the cruiser, so I can’t claim any of that. I would probably go with the flybike, as that was my baby on that film. A few weeks before that project started, I was talking with Jayse about topographic maps, and he showed me a way to generate them in Cinema 4D. And then the project happened, and they needed a map for the bike, and I knew exactly what I should do. I used the same technique with a lo-fi look, and I was happy with the red color of it.

Kirill: Is that something that you would want to see in your vehicle, or is that something that works only for a story told on the big screen?

Darby: It’s too lo-fi to go in my car [laughs]. I need a little bit more detail when I’m getting around, otherwise I’d get lost. The way that bike was set up was military, and that’s the vibe they wanted from it. They didn’t need anything over the top. That red topographic screen fit with what they had in their pre-vis.

Screen graphics of “Black Adam”, courtesy of Cantina Creative and Darby Faccinto.

Kirill: When you watch one of your productions at home, do you pause it and point at the screen to tell your family or friends that you did it?

Darby: I was at a friend’s house and we had a movie night. We were watching “Jurassic Park” or something on HBO Max, and “Black Adam” was on there. Everybody knew I worked on it because we went to the theater and saw it. We pulled it up and I paused and I was telling them that it was my stuff, and everybody was “OK Darby, we’ve heard this a million times”.

Some people care about it. My girlfriend is so sweet, but she has no idea who Black Adam is. She’s proud of the work I do, but she’s not going into every little detail of it. And then you get to talk about it a little bit more in interviews like this one, and that’s definitely rewarding when people notice it.

Kirill: Do you ever look back at your productions and wish you could go back and do things differently?

Darby: The biggest annoyance I have found working in this industry is that the second I finish a project, I look back and I see that I just learned something way better that I could have used right there.

I feel grateful that I get to constantly learn new things at Cantina. It’s incredible. I’m always looking back and thinking that I could have approached that in a more unique or special way. But I also had to learn to be content with what the product was for the time it was in and where I was at. I can look back at milestones in my career, to remember when I designed like this and then I got better at this portion, and I can watch myself grow.

Kirill: Would you want any piece from these productions in your life?

Darby: It’d be so cool to have a TemPad to replace my phone with [laughs].

Kirill: Do you feel there’s a symbiotic relationship between technology in these movies and technology in our real life, that they feed off of each other? Also, as there’s so many screens in our lives, does it make it a little bit difficult to create something that is interesting for me as a viewer?

Darby: What has influenced technology so far has been the Tony Stark stuff. We saw that also in movies like “Oblivion” that were UI-heavy with futuristic glass, touchscreens, dense interfaces. That started to influence the way people thought about the future and what tech was going to look like. We’re still not at complete holograms. There’s some cool stuff out there, but it’s not a consumer product. People still think about that, and that’s trending in terms of what a product will become, because that’s what people have assumed the future will be like.

I also think that general interest is moving to a retro side, because we are getting overwhelmed with that stuff. It was cool for a while, and people are starting to come to see it all as a little too much. That’s why productions like “Stranger Things” and “Loki” that are going back to a simpler way of approaching something are becoming a lot more popular in today’s culture. People are so sick of all this information up on screen, and it’s almost fun to see things in a terminal window or retro presentation.

The hyper-tech is influencing products, and the retro tech is influencing pop culture.

Look at what is happening with clothes. Half the designs that are coming from Nike are ’80s throwback stuff. Men’s shorter athletic shorts are coming back [laughs]. We’re starting to circle back, and I’m curious how technology will start to circle to that trend. We’ve come into this modern design language with it, and I’m curious if a phone will have a keyboard again. I can see people getting excited about something like that.

I’m a big car fan. I love cars. And I looked at the new Mustang, and they replaced everything on the inside with one giant wraparound touchscreen. Everybody’s complaining. People are saying that they want physical buttons for the air conditioner. I don’t want to have to open up a submenu to change where my vents are coming from. I want my tachometer and buttons, and I want to move on with it.

There’s something to be said for not moving to the holographic interfaces and keeping it grounded in practicality. Buttons work really well. There’s physical feedback, and they’re easy to press, and I don’t have to think too much about it. We’ll see where it goes. The iPhone is just one big screen. There’s haptic feedback of course, but I’m curious to see if at some point we’re going to get a slide-out keyboard on it, and if we do, how crazy are people going to go.

Screen graphics of “Loki”, courtesy of Cantina Creative and Darby Faccinto.

Kirill: How about the foldables where you can take a phone-sized screen and unfold it into a larger one?

Darby: I think that’s gimmicky, honestly. Why do I need that? Maybe there’s people out there who need it, but if I want that much real estate, it sounds like I need to get on an iPad or a tablet or something.

We started moving in this cool direction when the iPhone introduced touch as the only way to interact with your phone, aside from the home button when it first came out. And now we’re hitting this barrier of where do we go from here. We’re going to look back at the trends that people loved, like having a physical button, having a keyboard. I can see the trend, maybe, circling back around in a way.

Right now having everything on one giant touchscreen feels bloated. When I get in my car and I have to open up five menus to change the AC – I don’t like that. I don’t want that. I’d rather just hit a button that says AC on, AC off. If we can find a way to simplify it, and then make it feel natural and usable and interesting, then people will start to use it. Just because we can have a touchscreen doesn’t mean that we need to have one right now. I don’t think it’s at a point where it’s able to replace a lot of physical things.

Kirill: Do you feel sometimes there’s too many screens in your life?

Darby: Yes, I think so. I’ve noticed it more and more now that I’m so involved in the process. I live in a big college town, and a lot of my friends are in school or just out of school. I go to a coffee shop or something, and no one’s just looking around, drinking their coffee, or talking. Everyone’s engaged in some kind of a screen, and that has become the culture of it. You feel like you have to have a screen to feel like you’re doing something.

Kirill: It’s so bad at live music performances. Everybody has their phone up in the air trying to record everything. Are you capturing the moment or are you being in the moment?

Darby: Why do I need a video of the fireworks on the 4th of July? Who’s going to watch that and who cares to watch it? I have videos every year of the fireworks, and I ask myself why I do that. I’m not going to watch this ever again. I never go back and watch fireworks videos.

Kirill: On the other hand, I don’t miss having to print out maps or buy thick road atlases anytime you needed to drive somewhere. GPS-based navigation is absolutely amazing, even after all these years for me.

Darby: Definitely there’s quality-of-life stuff like that. But GPS isn’t something that’s going to take me away from having a conversation. You don’t need to interact with it. It is a function-based software. But when you’re on your phone 24/7, texting and watching videos and checking social media, that constant need for interaction is demanding my attention all the time.

Screen graphics of “Black Adam”, courtesy of Cantina Creative and Darby Faccinto.

Kirill: What about the Internet at large? Is it a good, a bad, or a neutral thing?

Darby: Definitely a good thing. Look at the advances since we’ve had the Internet. There’s an interesting parallel that I’ve been thinking about a lot recently.

I’m a follower of Jesus Christ, and I’ve been studying this commentary on the Hebrew Bible by Robert Alter. He recently rewrote it, not word for word, but rather meaning for meaning. Genesis talks about how in the time before the flood of Noah people were living so long and had one language, and that enabled faster sharing and spread of information all the way to metal working. And after the flood the humanity wants to build the Tower of Babel, their languages split, and all that progress in technology and life expectancy is washed away.

I don’t think the Internet is equivalent to people living for 800 years and having one language. When you look at the advancement of how information being spread has helped humanity grow faster, I think of that story because it’s a testament to what happens in exchanging information between humans at far distances, and how it can be spread quickly without the need of having to translate anything. If a computer can translate language for me, then I can have a conversation with someone who speaks Japanese almost fluently, even though I don’t know Japanese.

It’s a good thing that we can do it. However, that also means that the negative impact is that everyone is connected all the time and able to say anything to anybody. That’s the danger of it. It’s a benefit that I can have a conversation with somebody in Japan who doesn’t speak English and we can share information and learn from each other, but I can also influence people in Japan who don’t know me and who don’t speak my language who would have never been influenced prior?

Kirill: How do you feel about the recent rise in generative AI tools, and their potential impact of your field? Do you worry about the implications of such tools on human creativity and ingenuity, where almost anybody can pump out hundreds of pieces of derivative “art” in an hour?

Darby: The surface level question is, will we lose the need for artistic talent? With the way I understand AI to work from what I’ve seen, I don’t think it will ever replace artists, because the only way it can get new things is by pulling it from what it can see. It’s not making anything new. It’s mashing things together, which I guess you could argue is a new thing. However, it’s never going to have new source material unless we feed it source material.

Let’s say that Picasso was still alive, and he painted a new painting. And we asked AI, can you paint a new Picasso painting in the style of Picasso. And they both came up with something, and maybe it’s two different scenes. Picasso can implement maybe something new into this painting to give it a unique flair, whereas the AI is going to make it feel as Picasso as possible, based on what it can see. There’s no evolution to it. It’s going to try to replicate what it’s seen in the past, whereas this piece Picasso could put out could have something new to it to add to his style and the way he would do things.

That’s why I don’t think it will replace us, because everything will start looking the same. And then when an artist brings up something new, that’s going to be the new fad. AI may grab on to it, but then that artist is going to lead the way into some new design territory.

And the deeper question is what’s the identity of humanity inside of that? How hard do I need to think about something if I can just ask ChatGPT? My girlfriend is looking at grad schools right now, and she’s trying to decide between two of them. So we asked ChatGPT about the two schools, and the pros and cons to compare and contrast. And it said that this school has tight classroom space because they have smaller classes, and this one has a better field for research and clinicals. It was organized in a helpful way, but it wasn’t anything she didn’t know already. It was pulling from information online that it could find. There’s nothing new on top of it.

It’s all coming from the source and that’s why I don’t think the human element will ever be removed from it. Some people want to compare it to a factory where robots have replaced human hands, but when it comes to interpretation, a computer will never be able to replace a human soul that’s trying to express and create and invite people to experience something. I don’t see a computer being able to do that, because it’s only going to be able to replicate what’s been expressed in the past.

Screen graphics of “Loki”, courtesy of Cantina Creative and Darby Faccinto.

Kirill: There’s so much existing art that these engines can draw upon, billions of pieces of text, images, videos, music. You can say “Make me a song in the style of Chris Stapleton, make me a wallpaper in the style of Firewatch game, make me a log-in screen in retro style”. I worry how many people will choose these shortcuts to quickly jump to that final “thing” without understanding what decisions were “made” for them, so to speak. You skip all those steps, and how do you develop that palate that you referenced a few times?

Darby: People know. “Loki” was well received, which was awesome. And obviously I’m not the only person on there. There was a team of super talented people hand-holding me. With all that in mind, it was received really well because it was so different than the stuff we’re typically used to seeing.

The challenge will become greater to create more unique things, and that is going to make better artists. At this point, if I want AI to generate me a Tony Stark UI, probably it’ll take five seconds and I’d have something crazy that I could copy and put into a shot. But it will not feel inspired. It will feel like it’s a replication of something that’s already there, and it will not stand out to anybody as something new. But if I can create something different, and conceptualize it myself, and then put it out there, those are the things that are going to be popular.

That’s the stuff that movie studios want. They want something unique, and something different, and something that will help their production stand out from everything else. AI is not going to give anybody anything that is going to make them get excited about design. It may feel good. It may look cool. But it’s not going to feel inspired, and humans can recognize that.

That’s where I’m at right now. But maybe in a year, it’ll become self aware and it’ll start meeting all of these points.

Kirill: I look at how rapidly engines like ChatGPT and Midjourney have advanced in just a few months, and I wonder if at some point we will not be able to tell the difference between the human work and this human-based or derivative work. To play the devil’s advocate, I can also argue a little bit that human work is also derivative from what your experience has been with the work that you’ve been inspired by. Is there such a thing as truly unique design, something that hasn’t been built on top of things that have existed before.

Darby: I completely agree. When I’m making things, I’m referencing stuff that already exists. I don’t know how the algorithm works on this inside, but there are plenty of times where I get inspired to make an interface off things that are not an interface. I could feed Midjourney anything and say “Make a UI based on this image”. But sometimes I look at trees, I look at the grass or a road or a building or a structure of a car or a cup, and that inspires me to make something. Can that inspiration hit Midjourney without me feeding it first? And if I wanted to happen, I’d have to feed it a picture of what I was inspired of and ask it to. But then I’m the one influencing the inspiration of that.

There has to be a human element in order for something new to be made there. Even if it’s me giving it an image, I’m still directing it in the path that I was inspired by. It didn’t decide to get inspired by this cup. I told it to use that as one of the inputs.

I will say the one thing I’m confident is that artists cannot get away with making just crap anymore. Now if you want to be an artist, you’re going to have to be disciplined in the craft. If you’re a logo designer making logos for local companies, what’s stopping a local company from going on Midjourney and typing in “Logo for power washing company”? It makes it and they take it. They didn’t have to pay anything for it.

Hopefully, we’re going to see an artistic revolution and artists pushing themselves in ways that we were not pushed prior.

Kirill: How has Covid treated you in your professional life?

Darby: I started this in 2021, which was like the height of Covid. I don’t know what it was like prior to Covid, except from what is told to me. But I know Covid was a blessing for me, because if it wasn’t for it, I would have had to move to Los Angeles, been at Cantina in person – which is not to say they aren’t great people, but I don’t want to be in Los Angeles.

Because of Covid, this whole new pipeline got opened up for me to work remotely in Tennessee, stay around my family and my friends, and be able to work full time on these awesome productions without ever visiting Los Angeles. I’ve never been to Cantina. I’ve never met these people in real life, but I have a relationship with them, and I’m still able to stay in the world I want to be in. While Covid brought a lot of like pain and hardship, in certain instances it forced new workflows to open up to allow people to have lives outside of work.

Screen graphics of “Black Adam”, courtesy of Cantina Creative and Darby Faccinto.

And here I’d like to thank Darby Faccinto for taking the time out of his busy schedule to talk with me about the art and craft of screen graphics, and for sharing the supporting materials for the interview. 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.