T-Files 034: PJ Richardson

Benjie Escobar put me in touch with PJ of Laundry, a creative studio with an impressive output including graphics, illustration, and motion graphics. The motion graphics they produce range from music videos to commercials to graphics for websites and much, much more. Their design/illustration clients include the likes of The Cool Kids, Nike, Stüssy, and The Hundreds. To learn more about Laundry, and what makes PJ tick, read on…

Where are you today? Today I am at the studio in sunny Hollywood, California. I hear a dude honking his lowrider and Michelle Obama just drove by to get a pinks hotdog before the Lakers game. I can hear a few ghetto birds zipping around.

What are you working on? We are starting on a Levi’s commercial this week, and I’m finishing up some bottle art for Hennessey. We just finished a commercial for Pac Sun that came out a bit less cheesy than you might imagine, and just wrapped up editing and animation on an Uffie (Ed Banger records) and Pharrell (N.E.R.D.) music video.

What does Laundry! do, how many of you are there, and what is your role there? Laundry is a design, animation and live action production studio. We work mostly with advertising agencies and other production companies on music videos, commercials, TV network graphics and sometimes clothes and print. Currently there are an average of about 8 of us, sometimes more depending on the workload. I am the co-owner and co-creative director with my studio partner Tony Liu. What that means is we both talk to clients on calls a lot, deal with boring shit like bills and what to spend and not spend company money on, while also still designing, animating, and directing projects.

Are you formally educated in a creative field? I studied under J. Abbott Miller of pentagram and his wife design intellectual Ellen Lupton at the Maryland Institute College of Art. I studied graphic design for print there, but modified it my last year to do motion graphics.

How did you get into motion graphics/video/animation/web design/design and illustration? My homey Scott Grubb in school turned me onto after effects and that was it. I had also played with 3D studio max in a furniture design class and really just got going on stuff moving. I liked computers as well so it was a natural progression interest wise. I saw the se7en film titles and was like that is what I wanted to do. I didn’t know how to articulate it then but I was attracted to how sound, music and moving image pieced together to create very specific and often dramatic emotion I wanted to create.

Once I graduated, I sent my portfolio to a bunch of places. My dream was to work at Imaginary Forces doing film titles, but they weren’t feeling it, but I did land a job at Fuel, which was a popular motion graphics company in the late 90s. I worked there a few years, as well as just about every other motion graphics company in LA at some point, and settled down again at another rad company called Stardust. Eventually the entrepreneurial bug got me, and I started Laundry! with my longtime homey.

When I got to LA, my tastes changed partly cuz of the guys I worked with. I found myself much more interested in 2D graphics and more painterly approaches, as well as pseudo-Japanese-inspired character works and hand-drawn stuff. The 2nd day I got here I went to an art show of a friend of a friend, and that show happened to be Geoff McFetridge’s first art show ever. It turned my art life upside down inspirationally, straight up.

Of all those areas, do you have a particular favorite? I love designing stuff. I’m actually not the most technical person ever, though I know my way around 3D, after effects and compositing, but I simply like making designed images and illustration. I don’t fancy a single style, though I go through phases. Right now hand-drawn stuff seems to come to me pretty easily but I enjoy figuring out what’s most important for the job and working with the clients to figure that out visually. It’s trite, but I like solving the problem more than disseminating a specific style over and over.

What are some of your favorite recent projects, and why? I liked the Uffie video we did last year because we got the chance to try a bunch of different visual techniques in one video and I enjoyed the song even though it was old. Also, I really enjoyed making the Kaws/Kanye proposal animation last year, it was basically a fan piece I made for Kaws, to try and bring some of his characters, that were my absolute favorite, to life in motion. I had always pictured them moving but he just hasn’t taken it there, so I took the initiative. Though he seemed to like the piece a lot it never went any further but was a great process to deconstruct art into animation nonetheless.

Where do you find inspiration? What other artists in your field have been inspirational? I find inspiration everywhere. My roots nod to the legends of design like Paul Rand and especially Saul Bass, but with technology as advanced as it is now I find historic work a bit minimal. Progressive inspirations of late have been streetwear brands like The Hundreds, who I find extremely playful and good vibed (whattup Benjie!). My album art guilty pleasure inspiration has to be So-Me’s work for Ed Banger records. It feels comparable to liking the National Enquirer in how the work never changes but the humor and graphic quality of their albums is awesome. On the motion and film side I really like Anthony Mandler’s music videos, a lot of Spike Jonze and Chris Cunningham’s stuff still gets me going as well. I really like what Roman Gavras is doing with videos too, adding an anger against the system that feels very on point right now. Who else, Emory Douglas and a lot of the ‘70s labor art. The Seventh Letter dudes here in LA on the graf tip keep me pumped about street art stuff, I don’t like any one brand but high fashion designers I like for the extravagance and sort of the elitism esp. in this day in age where everything’s so accessible. Man, I could go on there is so much. I find inspiration on blogs, Hennessey and Ingalls bookstore in LA, and most importantly friends and well intentioned people. I cannot tell you how many times an ok project got pushed to a much farther place because everyone involved was cool and stoked.

You do quite a lot of illustration for fashion labels, have you considered launching your own clothing brand? You know, I followed that progression consciously in hopes of making my own brand one day. I did a tonnnnnn of design work for Stussy, and it ultimately became about emulating the Stussy brand, which got tiring, but the glamour of it all was extremely addicting especially for a classic brand like them. I did a shirt for The Hundreds, which was really fun, I found those dudes to be a bit more lighthearted and open-minded, but it never evolved a ton from there. I had the itch to build my own brand and started to with a site called pkin.tv designing a set of custom skateboards. What I discovered was that it is a shiiiiiiitload of work to do it right, it’s like a dog you have to keep on feeding for years before it would do anything. I found it difficult to juggle that and my Laundry responsibilities company-wise, and basically fell back to building Laundry just about 100% at this time.

So, what’s on the horizon for Laundry!? No plan, it just ends up stressing us out and putting even more pressure on our business that’s already a lot of work. We are getting our Floyd Merriweather on though, and just trying to knock out our competitors and win jobs with style and pizzazz, while cashing in and having as much creative fun as possible. We do go on kicks though, and our current one is to pursue a more photographic direction with our work. We also have been on this other kick to go completely open source with everything we do, showing every step of every project on our blog that we have time to post, and sharing everything we do with everyone. Beyond that we are keeping it simple and focusing on the projects that we will enjoy the most creatively. Everything else will fall into place after that I think.

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