In Motion With…. Lahiru De Silva
In this series we’re shining a light on some of the people who breathe life and action into design, Aotearoa NZ’s motion designers.
This week we sat down with Lahiru De Silva who takes us through his career journey from just ‘doing animations’ to becoming a technical creative solution by working collaboratively with the developers and creatives, gelling both together to tell inspiring stories and experiences.
Brought to you in collaboration with our friends at Motion Designers Guild of Aotearoa
Can you tell us a bit about your career journey? Where did you start out and what was it about motion design that drew you in?
Since the beginning, when I was child I had a lot of influence and exposure to the different techniques of art. My grandfather was a carpenter, he was not a usual furniture table & chair guy, He loved adding wood carvings and designs to his work. So when I was little I drew a dog and my grandmother noticed and made a huge deal about it. I didn’t understand what they were talking about and why it was a big deal at that time.
As time went by and technology came along my dad brought a windows 95 PC for my sister. And me and my brothers were always playing games (Load Runner, Mortal kombat, prince of persia) on it. One day I opened up MS Paint and drew a Yellow Bird (American Goldfinch) using a regular mouse by looking at a picture in my art book, I saved it and closed it. It was not a big deal as it was just another drawing for me. One of my brothers happened to see this and showed it to my father, again another big deal out of it. That’s when my father discovered my potential with evolving technology, he gave me the first push and the education to do Graphic Design.
But me being me, having the exposure to different art styles I learned to do 3D by myself, that’s when “Autodesk Maya” was called Alias. And soon after my school I joined a company and then another as a 3D artist. Worked on TVCs, TV station ID’s and bumpers. With my knowledge in graphics design and 3D I was unknowingly creating Motion graphics and VFX. I had no clue as that technical term was never used in my country at that time. They just said I’m ‘doing animations’.
Understanding my potential and also as a person who worked in the advertising sector, my father decided to send me abroad to further my studies in Singapore. I achieved my Bachelor of Arts Degree in Animation Art at Lasalle College of the Arts. While I was studying I managed to do part-time work for a local company in Singapore and after my graduation I started there full time as a motion graphic artist. I had the pleasure of working with big brands like the Singapore Grand Prix (F1), SMRT, and Glenfiddich. These big branded companies wanted more than just a traditional motion graphic video; they wanted to take all these motion designs to actual spaces and/or AR experiences. So, slowly my role evolved to lead other team members and we achieved some awesome experiences and portfolio work.
After around 10 years of living in Singapore, my wife and I decided to move to New Zealand to settle down. It was not an easy move because we knew we had to start all over again. I was working as a Freelancer doing stuff for Singapore, advising clients and some hands-on projects for over a year before I landed my first and current job here in New Zealand at Method. Again I started as a motion graphic and 3D artist. Given the nature of the company developing Interactive, AR, Games & inspiring experiences using creative technology, my role evolved again and I’m now able to contribute much more than a video. Currently in my role as the Lead Artist/Animation Specialist I’m able to tell sorties on many platforms to connect people.
What’s cool about motion graphics is that you can use any technique, medium platform to tell stories. All you have to be is willing to look beyond and adapt whatever the techniques you prefer to tell the story. With my exposure to different art techniques, wood carvings, rock carvings, murals drawing and many more I was able to adapt to technology and apply the same theories in moving images/design.
Recently you’ve been diving more into interactive and AR. Can you tell us a little the difference between that and motion design and how you’ve transitioned into that space?
Yes I’m doing more of Interactive and AR space currently but there’s not much difference between what I’m doing as a motion designer. I’m still doing what I do but on a different platform. I would say it all started while I was in Singapore where clients needed to tell their stories in a different space. At that time I was creating my own and the developers integrated without consultation, so there were a lot of limitations. Also, developers were from different companies so the communication were not so great.
What’s cool about now is that I’m working collaboratively with the developers and creatives, gelling both together to tell inspiring stories and experiences. Overtime, working with developers I learned their language and also understood what barriers they come across. With my knowledge in Maya and node based coding, I overcame technical limitations and possibilities. Basically becoming a technical creative solution.
Most people mistake AR thinking – they think it’s about putting an object to the real world and blending it to make it look seamless. And, yeah that’s cool! But what I am interested in is telling a story that’s more relevant to the audience and helping them engage with it. It doesn’t need to look like a real life object, it can be illustrated or stylised to stand out. Think of it as whatever you create for a video format but bring it into a real world space so people can interact with it.
Is there a notable project you’re especially proud of?
It’s really hard to pinpoint one project. All of the projects that I have showcased on my website I really love and are proud of. But I would like to highlight a few which I have achieved in New Zealand and some good examples in interactive or AR space.
8-bit Tokyo Olympics mini games was one of the fun and accessible experiences which was done for Sport New Zealand. Using pixel art technique I created flip book animations which allowed the developer to easily switch between interactions. And, inspired by neon Tokyo, I used the same art technique to design and animate the Mt. Fuji backdrops for different times of day to represent different games. What’s fun about it was that players were able to use their body gestures to initiate interactivity. And at the end it was so satisfying to see long queues of people wanting to engage with it.
Ātea Nuku – Time Walk Paihia is an experiential walking tour. As a foreigner to Aotearoa it was a pleasure to learn/understand the culture and history while working on it. Location-based AR, animation & 360 videos are some of the content which is included in this experience. Bringing the illustrations to life to tell unique stories, using AR to bring the past to life in unique style and capturing 360 content to put the audience at the experience was truly a great achievement for me.
Where is the best point in a project to bring onboard a motion, interactive, and/or AR designer?
It all depends on the client’s needs and the ambition of a creative director or a project owner. Sometimes it’s a means to an end, so there is no science or art involving it. But when it’s complicated and there is R&D involved before solving the creative, I would recommend consulting and brainstorming ideas together with a motion designer. As a designer who solves problems, I believe motion designers are no different. Also, as an artist who has experience in tech capabilities, I can advise what is possible within the space. You will be surprised how a simple idea can bring a lot of engagement.
The amazing thing about motion designers is that they come with different styles, techniques and execution. And all of them are unique, so you will be amazed what they can bring to the table.
Cool techniques or tools you’re loving at the moment? Other motion designers whose work you look to for inspiration?
My techniques and tools always change according to the project and clients needs. But base theories remain the same. Meta Spark Studio was one of the easily adaptable tools which I used to create awesome content for two well known clients. Air New Zealand’s Reindeer Finder which is an extension for the “Not quite Silent Night” campaign and TNZ – 100% Pure New Zealand’s Hooker Valley 360 which is an extension for the “IF YOU SEEK” campaign. I was able to carry out even the development part without a developer. I have to say Meta Spark Studio is more than just a face filter app. For Hooker Valley experience the audience was teleported to our immersive New Zealand landscape via AR and pushed the tech to its limits. And Reindeer finder is a fun game which you simply engage with your head orientation.
One of the greatest inspirations is Alberto Mielgo (Spanish director and artist). I have been following his work from 2009 when his motion design company was well known as pinkman.tv. Apart from his attitude and character the tools he uses always change and adapt to what he wants to showcase and express. Truly inspirational work.
What makes a good motion designer and do you have any advice around what makes someone excel in the industry?
It all depends on who you are and what you want to achieve. As I like to use different techniques, and mixed mediums my advice would be to keep an eye out on what are the cool tools available for you to tell your story. Be open to combine those tools with traditional styles.
Always look out for current trends, look at thousands of different motion designs, animations and movies. There is always something to take away from those. They don’t really need to be eye candy. What is more important is how they tell the story and what makes it stand out.
Be open for collaborations, two heads are better than one. I believe it’s always good to work on teams so you can share ideas and learn new techniques from each other.
There may be hard times, but you need to be persistent. Things wont turn out the way you want all the time, learn from mistakes and progress further.
What sort of advice would you share to anyone just starting out in their motion design career?
First find out and understand what makes you tick. Every motion designer has its own styles and strengths. It is about exploring first and understanding what is natural for you. Let your work speak for itself.
You are never too late or too old to learn new tools, softwares and skills. If you are curious you can achieve anything. If it’s hard or you can’t figure it out you can always ask an expert. Go to a forum of any specific subject and have a read. There are so many resources available online now. I’m still learning things day to day while working on projects.
Don’t expect a hand out from any one. work hard, build connections and create your own path.