From set design to animation: creating worlds by hand

Published:  May 19, 2016

Los Angeles-based set designer, creative director and photographer Adi Goodrich will be speaking in Sydney this June at Make Nice: An Un-Conference for Creative Women. Goodrich, whose work brims with strong, bright colours, started building and designing from a very young age with her father who owned a woodworking business.

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Aizone – FW15 Campaign
Set Design & Build
Art Direction/Agency: Sagmeister & Walsh
Photography: Stephanie Gonot
Set Design for FW15 campaign for Aizone, a department store in the Middle East. Full campaign + behind-the-scenes video here on the Sagmeister & Walsh site.

Today, Goodrich’s work ranges across set design, directing commercials, designing interiors to shooting photography for advertising, production design, illustration, animation, and event design. What’s most admirable is even though her projects range across these fields, Goodrich’s trademark of having her designs handmade never wavered. Her creativity, endurance, passion and personality has landed her projects with big-name clients including Wieden+Kennedy, Target, Apple, Adult Swim, Pizza Hut and Toyota, but Goodrich shares that she also sets some time for her personal work, too.

desktop caught up with Goodrich ahead of her maiden travel to Sydney to learn more about her, her creative process and the worlds that she creates by hand.

Your interest in design started at a very young age with your father owning a woodworking business. How did your childhood experience bring you to where you are today?

My dad was a woodworker, a semi-truck mechanic and an all around jack-of-all-trades kind of a guy. I was his right hand man from a very early age. He taught me how to take engines out of huge trucks, re-wire houses, do plumbing, restore wooden floors in old houses, tear down plaster walls and replace them with drywall, veneer tables, lathe spindles. He was always jumping around in new mediums and was never afraid to take on a project.

He always said, “I can fix anything.” With all of this, he taught me how to be brave, how to have confidence in myself. Through all of the shops, projects and people we worked with he never mentioned me being a girl. I was always treated like a really smart creative. He allowed me to make mistakes; he always had time to show me new things and he empowered me to become a strong lady – never discounting my abilities and thoughts.  So, this experience brought not only education in materials and technique but a confidence in myself. What a guy!

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“Like Thiiiiis?” photography exhibition
The Standard, West Hollywood – December 11, 2014.
Photography & Set Design
A series of photographs made by Adi for her exhibition at The Standard, West Hollywood.

Your set designs are full of quirks and colours. Where do you get your inspirations?

There are two major influences in all of my work.  They either come from museums or walks. My eyes are always wandering around. Sometimes a project is inspired by the tiles near my studio in Chinatown – pink ceramic tiles on the side of a building with white grout will turn into the walls of a set. And Sol Lewitt’s Wall Drawings from a visit to Dia Beacon will inspire ceramics that I paint.

What’s your design / creative process when you’re given a project?

  1. Listen to the client and understand what they are looking for. Ask a lot of questions to understand why they want to work with me and my team.
  2. Present an inspiration deck outlining my creative intentions. Sometimes this deck has three to five wildly different concepts and this helps them decide the direction to go with.
  3. Hand draw sets, costumes, and patterns. This is the start the design process, on paper and not the computer. It’s important for me to take time to draw things tangibly.
  4. Create 3D renderings of these designs.
  5. Hand off all designs to my team of builders, painters, illustrators and producers.
  6. Start painting/cutting/creating and overseeing all these things.
  7. Shoot the job/project with a stellar team of lighting techs, builders, producers.

It’s very, very important that we surround ourselves and the studio with people who we admire and respect for their brains, creativity and personality. Working with teams of people you don’t respect will inevitably turn sour and the work will feel terrible. I’ve been there!

You create all your set designs by hand and in-house. Could you share with us what are your favourite materials to work with and why you feel it’s so important to have that handmade element in all your projects?

We use a lot of house paint and bendy-board, a flexible wood.  It’s not important to make everything by hand, it’s just how it needs to be done on my projects. A machine cannot make these patterns or these shapes. It’s an aesthetic decision and large build houses won’t be able to make these things the way I want them made. So we decide to keep it within the family and make it ourselves. That way we can control it all and make sure every curve is correct, every line is straight and the colours are spot on. It’s a micro-managing type of aesthetic.

Adi Goodrich 2

Wired Magazine – Holiday 2014 Gift Guide
Set Design & Build
Photography: Stephanie Gonot

You’re doing set designs, furniture designs, commercials, short films and more. Do you have the time for personal projects? Are there any you’re working on now that you can share?

I’ve actually struggled with this idea of personal projects versus commercial work. In the end, if you’re fighting for designs you think are right, it can all be personal work.

But, realistically, to answer your question, I do make time for personal work. My partner, Sean Pecknold, and I have started a studio together called Sing-Sing where we publish books, curate art shows, make films, animations, and ceramics. Having a partner in life and creativity has made it easy and possible to make more personal projects. We push one another to take breaks from work, to take weeks off and chase what matters most to us.

Sharing a home and a studio levels things out and allows us to choose when we shut off the commercial and turn the heart projects on. I’m lucky to have Sean, he’s consistently coming up with the best ideas for projects that we can collaborate on. He’s like Michael Jordan a bit, always slam dunking and flying through the air. He keeps me pumped to make the personal projects.  If it wasn’t for him, I’d work myself to death with commercial work, I’m sure.

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Warner Bros. Records – Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr.
Set Design & Build
Photography: JUCO
Inspired by the patterns of Nathanlie Du Pasquier and Trapper Keepers of the early 90′s. Adi, JUCO and Adi’s team hand painted and built dimensional set pieces and a deep space backdrop.

What other artists or designers whose work really interest you and why? Any Australian designers on that list?

Many of my favourite designers are long dead! I really spend a lot of time looking at work from the past. I try to stay away from looking at present work, because I really don’t want the current to influence me.

However, I do have people I admire immensely – mostly illustrators and friends, but musicians and photographers are there too. There are so so many insanely talented people: Chad Kouri, Paul Windle, Will Bryant, Stephanie Gonot, Robin Pecknold, Thomas Bird, Jimmy Marble, Thomas Bird, Andy Remeter, Tim Lahan, Julien Jess Bonham, Anna Lomax, Gemma Tickle, Bonsoir Paris, Gary Card, Vallee Duhamel, Jordy Van Den Nieuwendijk, Anna Kovecses and Jean Jullien to name a few of my favourites!

What advice do you have for budding designers? Any tips for them as they set foot into the creative field?

Follow your heart! Sounds so cliche but, honestly listen to your gut on everything. It’s a simple thing – stick to what you know, what you love, and what inspires you. Be yourself, because you’ll be the best at it.

Also, never sign a contract with without it having been looked at by a lawyer. I think this is something creatives overlook. We are focused on making, but you must protect yourself as a business person.

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Wired Magazine – Holiday 2014 Gift Guide
Set Design & Build
Photography: Stephanie Gonot

Vacation Records from the 50’s – 70’s. Myrtle K. Hile,  George Kainapau, Mary and the Maoris, Le Mystere Des Voix Bulgares, Ernest Tubb, The Higway O.C.’s, Mahalia Jackson.

Is this your first time to Sydney? What are you looking forward to?

It is my first time! I’ve been on a million jobs – so I’m very unprepared for the trip and what I’ll do for fun. But, I’m most excited to meet these amazing women at Make Nice. To be apart of the festival in its first year is such an honour. My new year’s resolution for 2016 was, “More girls and more skirts”. So I’m thrilled to be surrounded with ladies for a few days, all discussing dreams, talents and creativity. This is going to rule!

Meet Adi Goodrich along with graphic designer Leslie David (from France), photographer Elizabeth Weinberg (from USA), homegrown contemporaries, Vivid Ideas director Jess Scully, designer Suzy Tuxen, journalist Elize Strydom, editor Brodie Lancaster and M&C Saatchi Head of Art, Niccola Phillips at Make Nice: An Un-Conference for Creative Women.

Date: 2 – 4 June, 2016
Time: Thu 6pm–8pm, Fri 9am–11pm, Sat 9am–4pm
Venue: Cake Wines Cellar Door, Sydney / aMBUSH Gallery in Central Park, Sydney

For more information on the conference, click here.

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