- Text Eden Spivak and Dana Meir
- Images Alan Tzatzkin
- Date June 26, 2018
- Est Read time 11 min
“Beeple is a stuffed animal from the ‘80s – a furry Ewok-looking thing,” explains graphic designer Mike Winkelmann, when we inquire into his artist name. He goes on to explain that “if you cover its eyes, it giggles and makes noises, creating an interplay between light and sound,” reminiscent of his VJ loops that pair together audio and visual. This combination of seriousness, accompanied by humor, sets the tone for the rest of the interview. The man behind a whopping 11 years of “everydays”, beautiful motion graphics of often sinister dystopian themes, and other intriguing digital artworks, seems to have a fascinating and comic perspective on life. We met up with him to delve further into his design processes, his thoughts on the future of technology and his brand new design portfolio, created with Wix.
High on Design: How did you get into design and specifically motion graphics?
Beeple: I studied computer science and pretty quickly I realized that I was spending all my time making little short films, scanning in stupid s*** and playing around with design stuff. But I didn’t really want to change majors, because it’s super expensive and it would have meant starting over from scratch. I figured I could teach myself design related things, but there was no way I could teach myself programming. I tried to get a job doing both, which ended up being web design. I did that for ten years. While doing that, I realized almost immediately that it wasn’t exactly what I wanted to do either, so I started getting into video. Gradually, I built up my portfolio.
Subprime, 2009, one of Beeple’s early short films
HoD: After 11 years of creating a piece of work each day, without fail, for the “everydays” project, you must have learned so much. Can you point out anything you’ve learned, other than technical skills?
B: I’ve weirdly learned shockingly little from the project. It’s almost astounding how little I’ve learned, if anything. To be honest, I kind of feel like I got a bit lucky, in that I’ve managed to build up some kind of momentum with this. After 11 years, I’m not gonna just say “I don’t feel like doing it” – you’re carried forward a lot by the momentum of having a streak built up. But this doesn’t apply to anything else in my life. I wouldn’t consider myself a super motivated or disciplined person. If I challenged myself to work out every day, for example, I’d never stick to it. I’d do it for three days, then I’d just stop. With the things I do that aren’t everydays, like the VJ clips, I find it really hard to make myself do it, because I don’t have a time limit.
HoD: What were you up to, in life, when you started doing the everydays?
B: When I started, I had been working as a web designer for three years and had been doing little artist projects since college. I thought that doing the everydays would be a good way to make sure I’d stick at something and develop my skills. I actually only really quit that full-time job four years ago. By that time, I was making more money doing freelance work than from my full-time job. The reason I stayed is because I was friends with my co-workers, and I could do all of my freelance work at work. I brought in my own computer, it was super f***ing huge and nobody even questioned it. I had all my own software on it and no one questioned that either. I’d be doing graphics for Eminem or something and people would walk over and be like “what are you doing?” and I’d say “oh, this is nothing, I’m just screwing around, I don’t know what this is.” I’d be really careful to hide the logos so that they couldn’t see it was an Eminem logo. I’d move the windows so that the logos would be off-screen. The job was so easy it really only took me about two hours a day and then I was spending six hours doing personal or freelance work at work. Then at one point my job changed a little and I had to put in about six hours a day and I said f*** this – if I can’t do freelance work at work anymore, I’ll quit immediately.
HoD: Now that you’re completely freelance, and only create your own works, to what extent is your work a personal outlet for you?
B: I guess my work is a personal outlet, but I don’t really think too much about what I’m trying to say with my everydays. Often, I just think about what will look cool and I have a quasi-vague idea of what I’d like to explore. There definitely are repeating themes, but they’re not usually premeditated. They’re more about bringing up questions, than offering answers.
HoD: One of these themes seems to be technology and maybe even apocalyptic ideas. Looking into the future, where do you think technology will take us?
B: Some of the things I do are a literal exaggerated. I don’t necessarily think that the world is ending and that technology is going to destroy everything. I’m actually cautiously optimistic for the future, I would say. Clearly, there are bad things that come out of technology, but a lot of good things also come out of it – people living longer and a million other things that we take for granted. The dystopian stuff is a fun idea to explore. It’s a lot more interesting to be like “things are going to be terrible”, than “actually, everything’s gonna be pretty good.”
Zero-Day, 2015, Direction by Beeple, Audio by Standing Wave
HoD: What excites you artistically in technology? What do you think will be the next big thing?
B: I think that VR and AR are super interesting. They offer so many possibilities. I’d really like to learn either Unity or Unreal, as they’re progressing really fast and a lot can be done there with VR and AR. I think there’ll be a lot of movement into real-time stuff. Also, I believe pretty strongly that soon everyone will be wearing VR glasses all the time. It might take 20 years from now, but as soon as they won’t look ridiculous and will just look like normal glasses, everyone will be wearing them. They’ll be super useful. We’ll be able to see people’s names above their heads and walking directions on the ground. At some point, it will just be projected into our eyes. I’m excited about exploring where that could take us. It’s hard to imagine, but if you look at what computers were like 20 years ago, now they’re just tiny slabs that are even more powerful. Also, no one expected us to be like this with mobiles. Everyone’s f***ing face-glued to their mobile all the goddamn time and we can’t just sit and talk to each other. There might be some bad things from what I’ve just described, but I think there will be a lot of good things too. It’s coming, no matter what.
HoD: These thoughts come across in your works. Some of the videos you make have dystopian machine-like visuals, whereas others are more colorful. How would you define your style?
B: I think there’s a techno vibe in general. Some works are also quite dark and bleak, but others are super-turbo-happy. I think it’s hard to pin down my style in some respect, because I have to come up with something new every single day. I guess a lot of it is based on my mood that day.
HoD: Do you make your own music for your VJ loops?
B: Some of the older short films feature music that I made, but most of the music isn’t mine. Eventually, I realized that I preferred focusing on the visual aspect. I had fun making music, but the results were terrible, so I decided to leave it to the pros. I’d rather use good music, than my music. Also, there are too many visual things that I want to focus on. Making the music and videos as synced as possible is something I’m definitely into.
IV.10, 2013, Direction by Beeple, Audio by Standing Wave
HoD: As a freelancer, you must work alone a lot. One of the benefits of working in a team is that you can get feedback and advice from people. Do you get feedback from anyone?
B: For personal work, I actually never speak to people for feedback and I hardly ever show anyone anything before it’s finished. Even when I was working on the short films for two years, I didn’t show anyone, including my wife. With the kind of things I create, nothing is necessarily good or bad, there’s only what every person is creating. It feels totally subjective. I feel like I should probably ask people’s opinions after things are out. That could be super useful. When I do VJing, it’s a totally different story. If I need feedback or it makes sense to give feedback, I do.
HoD: What are the differences between doing your own projects and work for clients?
B: I draw a hard line between personal work and commercial work in some respects. When working with clients, I’ll do whatever it takes to make them happy. It’s just important to me to be working with people who are chill and there’s no drama and it’s not going to turn into a big mess in terms of scheduling. As soon as I’m taking money for a job, then the client really calls the shots.
HoD: You share your work on the Internet as Creative Commons. Is that something you do because you believe in it?
B: For me, those project files are totally useless. A lot of people think it’s some kind of selfless act, but if I don’t need the files, why wouldn’t I release them? Also, you get some sort of promotion from it and people go to your site to get the files. The idea wasn’t me being a genius. I just kinda got lucky there too. If more designers shared their files as well, I would use their stuff. There aren’t that many people that I know of that release work like that. Some people have 3D models that they release for example, so I use those to speed up my work process.
HoD: Having recently created your new website (with Wix!), what do you think is the importance of an online design portfolio?
B: I really believe websites are a super useful tool to showcase an entire portfolio. Social media is good for showcasing what you just did or you just ate, but having a website is a great way of showing things you did a year ago. On social, no one will scroll through to see it. On a website, you can also give a full picture of yourself, as an artist or a designer. You can control the message a little, whereas social media can get away from you a little bit, seeing as you’re on someone else’s turf in a way and people can say whatever they want. You can get perceived in ways you didn’t expect on social, versus your website, where there’s no comment button if you don’t want there to be. You can stay on brand a little easier.
HoD: Speaking of which, how do you feel your website is “on brand”?
B: I like my website because it shows all my work very simply. It’s easy to find the piece of work that you’re looking for. I like having a super clean UI that gets out the way and lets you easily see the different things, especially because people follow my work for different reasons. A bunch of people don’t give a s*** about the everydays, and are more into the VJ clips. I think it’s pretty good to let the person just get to whatever part of the website they want, without messing around.
HoD: Before we part ways, we must know: in the archive section of your website, you write “this old s*** is reallllllly f***ing bad”. Do you actually feel this way?
B: It’s not really my concern too much if other people like the works there, but I personally find it to be terrible, because it’s super old (not that I like a lot of the stuff I do now). I still keep it on there, because I think it’s important to show the whole thing, the whole journey. For one, there are people just starting out, that do like some of my current work. They might feel daunted or think they’ll never be able to do something like that, so I want to show them where I started out. The other thing is – people might actually like these works. If I only put out the works that I like, I would put out very little. If people like it – awesome, if not, that’s fine, I don’t like it either. Whether I personally like it or not is not really my concern.