Greg Kupiec

The Ether is a boutique design agency that creates motion graphics for title sequences, TV packages and show openers, and other branding materials. The idea is to bring a sterling graphic-design sensibility to moving images. To that end, the company recently did some striking design work for 127 Hours (watch Ether’s TV spot from that film’s Academy Awards campaign below), branding for Schweet Entertainment (scroll all the way down to see that clip), and an elaborate opening title for the feature film The Hustle. We asked owner/creative director Greg Kupiec five questions about his carefully designed corner of the moving-picture business.

1) What are some common mistakes and misconceptions people make when it comes to designing for moving images?

I think there are several sides to that answer. The first is on our side as “vendors.” I find too often that motion-graphics artists rely on technology and making things move as their primary purpose. What we need to remember as an industry is that we are typographers, graphic designers, and storytellers first. An appropriate visual solution to the client’s needs will always come from those skills principle to our craft.

On the client side, the biggest misconception I run into is the thought that everything can be done in post and done very quickly for that matter. I believe that part of my job is to walk clients through our process — good design is the process of elimination, and that always takes time. This builds a relationship that is integral to doing good work and hopefully keeps our skills from becoming a commodity. A lot of times I also find that graphics are an afterthought and come at the tail end of a project/budget. The fact is that graphics are the brand and thread of any piece and are integral to the whole. We’re lucky enough to work with savvy and successful clients who understand the value that we bring to the table, creating a partnership that leads to a great piece that everyone involved can be proud of. In the corporate world the logo is the face of the company to the world. In entertainment, it’s the main title.

Lastly, I struggle trying to describe what we do as a company and industry sometimes. It’s so broad and covers so many mediums that some clients don’t realize what motion graphics entail. For example, if the solution calls for live action we’ll shoot whatever is required, and that includes back plates, tabletop or talent on green screen. We’ll play the role of director, but with the eye of a graphic designer, if that’s what the solution calls for. I believe that good design solves a problem and that a good designer should be able to solve any problem.

Actually, speaking of misconceptions, I’d love to see some recognition from the motion picture Academy on opening title sequences someday. I know people have been fighting for that for years.

2) What’s the most interesting new technology you’ve found in the last year that you’re using in your business?

We try and keep up on all the latest versions of software, upgrading to CS5 and Cinema 4D 12 this year. It’s a double-edged sword. The most pleasant and useful surprise for me personally this year is the After Effects Roto Brush. It works surprisingly well. Too well, in fact, to do a quick and soft garbage mask as you’re tempted to make it perfect. I finished one shot this year with the tool and it made the process much more enjoyable. I will say that the most useful resource to myself and our designers on a daily basis (and this is nothing new) remains the worldwide network of individuals sharing inspiration, ideas and solutions on any number of the user group sites online these days. With technology and trends moving as fast as they do, these websites are an invaluable resource to all of us.

3) What’s the biggest business challenge facing boutique firms like The Ether as they look to growth in 2011?

I think any small business owner will tell you that business development is always the biggest challenge. In our industry it’s even tougher because you can’t just put an ad in the paper or send out coupons. Getting in the door with new clients that don’t come from an existing relationship or referral is really difficult, especially with how busy people are these days. Staffing would be right behind that. Like the saying goes: good help is hard to find. Keeping people around and busy during the feast or famine that is our industry is also a constant hurdle.

4) What’s the hardest part of your job?

The hardest part of my job is definitely juggling everything that needs to be done for the business, while at the same time doing the best work possible. That being said, keeping up on new technologies and tricks is also difficult. You get so used to your own process (which works well and quickly) that you don’t take the time to find new ways of doing things because you’re always against the wall on a tight deadline.

5) Where do you get your inspiration?

Everywhere, from the masters of the Renaissance and mid-century designers to modern designer/VFX hybrids. The web for sure, as I mentioned earlier. It’s the first place you look and always right in front of you. I have so many great design and art books in the office that are covered in dust because you can find most of that stuff on the web now. It’s a shame and takes a huge enjoyment out of the process. I really like drawing inspiration from fine art. It’s highly conceptual and rich. Fashion is also a great reference point because they are always a year ahead of everything for the upcoming seasons.

The piece itself is also a great source of inspiration. As designers we need to come up with a solution that is right for the client’s needs and keeping on brand even if a brand is not yet established. I hope to tap into the soul of the piece/product and capture what its voice wants to be. Everything should be integrated and appropriate.