Artist Spotlight: Kirk Shintani
We sat down with award winning a52 and Elastic creative Kirk Shintani to learn more about what it takes to work in this industry for 20 years, how he resets after difficult projects, and his passion for cooking.
Q: Can you tell us about your history at a52 and Elastic and how you got started?
It's funny you should ask, I had to look this up recently because it's been so long. According to my LinkedIn, I started in 2006. So I've been working at a52 and Elastic for almost 16 years. I started as a general freelancer, and then after a few years I moved up to CG lead, then I took over the CG department, and now I'm doing CG in addition to art and creative directing. It's been this slow evolution for me. When I started, there were five people in the CG department, there was no design department, and we were in this tiny little room in Hollywood. I’ve watched the company grow and it's been a fun journey.
Q: In all your 15 (almost 16) years, what has been your favorite project to work on?
I had the chance to work on the Game of Thrones main titles for almost 10 years, so that's been a huge chunk of my time at a52 and Elastic. I was lucky enough to be at the company at the right time and to get a chance to work on a project like that - one that’s iconic, exciting, and different. It also gave me the opportunity to work closely with Angus Wall, Hameed Shaukat, Rob Feng, and all these great producers and artists. That would be my highlight so far, for sure.
Q: What is it like to work on a long-term project like that?
Every season we had to come up with new things to include in the title sequence. So while the project spanned 10 years, every season was a little different which kept it fresh. Then for the last season, we got to blow it all out and reimagine everything. It was very satisfying for us after having stared at the same content for nine years that we got a chance to approach the project in a new way without limits.
Q: What are the essential steps of your creative process?
First and foremost, you have to understand what the agency or the client wants. A lot of times, if you jump in too fast, you end up burning time circling back and trying to understand the primary goal of the project. Spending time upfront talking with the client to ensure that you comprehend what their needs are, not just visually, but what the purpose and expectations of the project are, is really important. After that, it's all about communication - both internally and with the clients to make sure that everybody's aware of what the next steps are and what's around the corner. And then finally, it's just taking care of your crew - I want to make sure that they're comfortable with the work and that they get some time to reset when working on a demanding project.
Q: How do you reset and ground yourself when working on an intense project?
I have two kids who are six and eight. When I'm not sitting in front of the computer, most of my time is spent dealing with two very energetic young children. I'm lucky in that my wife is really supportive, so when we do get crunched in things and I have to work late, she steps up and allows me to focus on the work. It's funny, when I step away from the computer and all this stress and I think, "Oh, there's so much to do," then I stare at my kids for five minutes or I play card games with them and I remember, "It's not that bad. It'll be fine." It resets your brain to what's important and what's not.
Q: We know you are something of a foodie. Can you tell us about your cooking adventures?
I have always dabbled in the kitchen since I was young, but I didn't actually start cooking for real until I met my wife. Once we started dating, she took me to my first meal with a preset menu and all these other new places. She exposed me to many different kinds of food that I had never eaten before. So the first thing I ever baked was a cheesecake for my wife’s birthday. It blew up all over my kitchen and ever since then, I've just kept plugging away, adding new ingredients, and trying new recipes. It's been fun for me, another way to reset and clear my head.
Q: What has been your favorite culinary creation so far?
I have perfected my short rib recipe over the years. I need to give myself at least three tries at anything I make to see if I can get it better each time. I've messed with these short ribs a few times and I think I have them down to a science now.
Q: What advice do you give to people new or starting in this industry/profession?
I think the one thing that people have a tendency to overlook, especially nowadays with COVID and working from home, is this work is about interpersonal relationships and communication. It's a hard job, we put in tons of hours because we're passionate about it and we want to make something visually unique, something that's creative, and something that impacts the pop culture in which we live. But it's difficult. The only way to actually make it through and still have your sanity is to make sure that you have strong relationships with the people you work with. The job is hard enough, you don’t need to go at it alone.