Video artist shares creative process

Though designing the opening credits for a TV show may not seem like an artistic endeavor, for Rama Allen, projects like these are the grounds for his creativity.

At a Tuesday talk at the School of Art, Allen spoke to about 20 students about his career and creative process as a director, writer, photographer, musician and DJ working in New York City. As creative director of content at The Mill NYC, a visual effects company, Allen has directed advertising campaigns and music videos for brands such as Grey Goose and American Express, as well as the opening credits for television shows including HBO’s “True Blood.”

Allen’s lecture focused on the difference between commercial and private art careers. He said the ability to defend one’s artistic vision is especially important when the artist has to meet a client’s goals.

“You are always being attacked, so you have to be able to stand up and tell the client why you think what you think,” Allen said. “If not, your idea may be emotionally or conceptually bankrupt, and the client will be able to see that.”

In order to ensure that his art has honest motivation, Allen said he has taken up writing, because it forces him to evaluate the relationship between his work and the client’s goal. Before he embarks on a project, he added, he has to be able to summarize his creative aim in two or three succinct sentences.

Allen said that listening to music is also an important initial step of his creative process, and that he creates a playlist for each project before he starts to design the technical aspects of video production.

“I think about the first emotions I feel and what my gut reactions are when I think about the video’s message,” Allen said. “I can always find music that makes people feel the same way. Music is just an amazing connection to human emotion.”

Allen said he has a trusty companion for his writing and music: his iPhone. He said he uses his iPhone for all creative functions, from taking notes to filming short clips and listening to his project playlists. Since he works on nearly 10 projects at a time, he said he also uses it as an organizational tool to keep all of his different tasks from falling apart.

“The iPhone changed my life,” Allen said. “It’s my favorite notebook, pen, pencil, and camera all at once.”

For some audience members, Allen’s emphasis on specific details of the creative process, rather than general advice, made the lecture especially helpful.

Azusa Kobayashi ART ’13 said that though art students discuss the “creative process” frequently, they rarely hear exact details of how individual artists view their own processes. Chris Svensson ART ’13 added that Allen’s lecture was “very generous” in sharing his secrets.

Another unique part of the lecture, two audience members said, was his discussion of “the trade school approach” to video production. That approach, he said, places too much emphasis on learning how to use software to create art, and does not focus enough on the art itself.

Allen is known for both his time lapse footage shot in New York, Paris and Barcelona that plays on an installation at JFK Airport and also for the Levi’s “Unbuttoned” campaign.

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