On Collaborative Directing, Eclectic Animation and Keeping It Fresh

You'd be hard-pressed to pick out a typical Laundry! project in a crowd. From their recent retro Max Headroom treatment for Eminem's Rap God video to a color-soaked spot for Beats by Dre, Laundry! prides itself on the range of its design-driven work that defies neat categorization. Equal parts animation company and live-action production company, LA-based Laundry! was founded in 2006 by co-creative directors Anthony Liu and PJ Richardson. We asked Liu about his inspirations, the impact of changing viewer habits on design, and how he and Richardson help Laundry! navigate changing tastes by embracing a wide palette of styles.

StudioDaily: You co-direct all of your projects with Laundry! co-creative director PJ Richardson. What is that dynamic like during production and how has it evolved over the years?

Anthony Liu: PJ and I have been friends for almost as long as we’ve been in L.A. Our relationship has definitely evolved over the years, as we’ve been through the ups and downs of owning a company together, but the dynamic has always been great. I have a huge amount of respect for his work and design sensibilities, and collaborating with him is always productive and rewarding. When Laundry! was starting out we both had a lot more time on our hands to work together on projects and bounce ideas back and forth. These days we still try to do that as much as possible, but as we’ve gotten busier we have had to divide and conquer a bit more in order to keep everything on track. The great thing is that both PJ and I are equally committed to making sure everything we do is the best it can be before it leaves our doors, so even if I don’t have a chance to check something out I know he’s already pushing to make it as awesome as possible.

You work is so many different animation styles, including 2D, 3D and stop-motion. Do you have a favorite?

Mixing up the design and animation styles for the projects we take on is something I really love to do. I probably have a bit of ADD when it comes to technique. One of my favorite parts of any project is breaking the designs down and figuring out how we are going to accomplish the specific look set out in the boards. Whether we are doing stop-motion, cel, or full-on photoreal CG animation, I always love a new challenge and believe it’s what keeps us fresh and allows us to grow creatively. 

How has the web and the profusion of second screens affected the way you approach your work?

I think overall it has been a boon for the industry as it has created more work in general. More screens means more advertising and more graphics and animations that need to be created for those. From an artistic perspective, these might not be the most interesting or cinematic formats to work in. There is a real challenge in creating compelling content or advertising when you don’t have the opportunity to engage the viewer (as completely) with both audio and picture, or when your ad might just be one little window on a page. Keeping the eventual viewing environment in mind has definitely become an important component in how we approach a project and the ideas we come up with.

What is your most valued and indispensable software tool—or old-school analog tool?

It sounds kind of weird, but these days I think Evernote is probably the piece of software that has become the most indispensable in my day to day. I have really started to put everything in there, from creative brainstorming ideas to notes on projects and new ideas for our business. I also use it to keep track of my personal life and to-do lists, so it has really become a great database for everything I am doing. Without being able to keep things organized and within easy reach, I would probably spend a lot more time not doing the best part of this job: creating awesome stuff.

Where do you look for inspiration? 

I find inspiration all over the place, both in the work that other companies and directors are producing for advertising, and in my life outside of Laundry! (if such a thing really exists). There are a few lifestyle fashion and photography blogs I try to follow somewhat regularly, and I am an avid consumer of music videos, games and movies. I think that some of the best ideas come when you have a chance to unwind a bit and let your mind relax and let go of the everyday things.