Colin Read's Spirit Quest is, without a doubt, one of the videos of the year. If not of all time in skateboarding. This may sound like a bit of an exaggeration, but it's a struggle to think of a video which has involved so much fore-thought, unique filming techniques, and sheer hard work as Spirit Quest.
One of the most striking aspects of the video was the animated transitions, matching the skateboarders style with that of their spirit animal. The man behind these illustrations is an illustrator called Cosme. We decided to catch up with him to find out exactly what goes into working on a project like this.
Interview: Matt Broadley | Imagery provided by Cosme
I guess we should start from the beginning - when did you first get into drawing and skateboarding, was it at a similar time?
Skateboarding came first. I started skating in the early 90s when I was a teen and I suppose that helped to transform school into an even more boring thing than it already was. I remember daydreaming about skateboarding all the time and I guess I just started doodling skate related stuff on books and notebooks. Not proper drawings or anything, I just scribbled board graphics, logos, or whatever I had seen in magazines that caught my eye.
But I was never serious about it, I only cared about going out skating. I didn't even know that drawing could be a career. Not that I thought about a career or anything back then because I was a total slug. Then I recall overhearing someone talking about this art school in my hometown. I had a couple of friends that were studying photography there and they were trying to use the video room to edit a skate video under the table. So I went up there with them one morning and fell in love with the place. I enrolled to study illustration first and graphic design a couple of years later.
Are the two things linked in your mind?
Yes, absolutely. The process is identical - putting in hours and try and fail, try and fail and very slowly breaking out of rigidness and learning to let it go, to be spontaneous… it's funny how similar both things are and I don't suppose it is casual. While I am at it time stands still and I can't think of anything else. I feel the need to go out skating just like I feel the need to ruin some paper. Although they are not interchangeable. They are two different kinds of monsters.
How did you first get involved with the Spirit Quest video?
I received a message from Colin Read telling me that he had this idea for a new full length and asking me if I was interested in making some animations. We had connected before when I bought Tengu direct from him and I contacted him the first time that he visited Vigo. He remembered my name from those Lakai animations some years ago. He simply told me that he liked the stuff that I was doing and that he thought it could work well for this crazy idea that he had.
"Colin knew exactly what he wanted and how he wanted it from the very beginning."
Did this happen around the same time you worked on the Pathways video?
Yes, it was. But I finished Pathways quicker even though in the end both DVDs came out nearly at the same time. Back then Colin was really busy filming. Every now and then he would tell me that he was going to send me something but he never actually did. He had just started editing. During that time Brett Nichols asked me to help him with the Pathways cover. He liked the handwritten title so he asked me to adapt it to the credits and to design the rest of the graphic stuff. I think that Pathways premiered in the TWS site on March which is around the same time that I started to receive Colin's first clips.
What’s the process like for this kind of project? Did Colin have very clear ideas of what he wanted before you started?
Colin knew exactly what he wanted and how he wanted it from the very beginning. He first sent me a Zach Lyons clip and explained me his idea for the transition. This one was actually the longest one. I struggled for a bit with the animation because I had the feeling that I was only ruining the footage.
After a little back and forth I found something that I thought could work. Colin liked it and we went forward with the whole thing. At first it was really mellow, just the chameleon intro, then Matt Town and then Jimmy Lannon. And then it got hectic, the amount of footage became overwhelming! That's when I felt that the style of the animations was getting nicer and my hand was loosening up so I went back to the first Zach Lyons' one and repeated it again.
"some of the trickiest ones needed real frame-rate so that meant thirty drawings per second of animation"
Were you involved in developing the whole Spirit Animal theme or was that Colin’s idea?
No, it was Colin's idea. The narrative transitions were completely thought out when I got them. I worked with rough edits of the parts but the transitions were already done. And I believe that all the animal analogies were decided way sooner.
Must have been fun to go through footage looking for animal poses in the skaters’ movements?
Colin was either looking for the animal footage to edit to a certain trick or the other way around, filming the skating in a certain way to edit to animal footage already selected. I think that the deep dive in nature focus was crazy. The edits were already flawless when he sent them to me. What I needed to do was just tweak the transitions in a certain way to try to fool the eye into a single flowing merged scene.
How long did it take you in total?
I really don't know. At first I only worked on it on random days and then waited for feedback. I was working part time at a friend's shop and doing some freelance design on the side. So I had to use any spare time that I found to work on it. Colin was still finishing filming on weeknights and weekends cause he and all of the skaters in the video, except Bobby Worrest, have real jobs.
The pace didn't catch up until the edits started to take shape, then I was clocking a bunch of hours everyday for at least three months. During the last six weeks before the premiere it was a full time gig everyday - including Saturdays and Sundays. Most of the animations were done at half-frame rate, fifteen drawings each second, and then some of the trickiest ones needed real frame-rate so that meant thirty drawings per second of animation. A whole day of work it's just a blink of the eye in the video!
"It is an independent video that turned four of Colin's friends Pro. It is a labour of love."
How would you compare this kind of project say to a more standard illustration brief?
Illustration or any agency commission usually has a quicker turnaround time. I am not allowed to reflect about tiny details. With Spirit Quest I had plenty of time to think about what I was doing. I was able to watch a transition loop endlessly just to decide how much texture the brush should have. Or to go back and rework some thing that I was not happy with.
Where do you draw inspiration for a project like Spirit Quest?
Oh, it was an act of pure selfishness, I love skate videos! Full length videos are an important part of my emotional education. Contributing to a project like this meant being part of something that I was going to hold dear anyway. Putting out a DVD is a lost art and in this case it is not just a marketing artifact to promote a brand. It's an independent video that turned four of Colin's friends pro! It's a labour of love, being part of something like this was my inspiration.
What do you like best about how Spirit Quest came out? Is there anything you’d have like to have changed?
I think it turned out perfect, I mean perfect in the sense that it responds exactly to Colin's vision. We were really concerned about the length of the video but he was adamant about not making any changes so he came up with the brilliant idea of the half-time break for the premiere. I really like how cohesive it feels, I was extremely worried about the animations feeling disruptive or out of place. I didn't want them to feel noisy and take the viewer out of the experience of the video.
I was looking through your Instagram and was struck by how the simplicity of some of your animations really gets at the beauty of skateboarding - the one of Aymeric Nocus' push for example - would you agree that it helps to simplify things to appreciate them?
Oh yes, I agree completely. Sometimes the only thing that I need is pushing down the street doing chinese nollies in the cracks. Maybe it is the perspective of growing older and longing for careless times. I love when something genuine breathes through the simpler things.
"My friend Ian Browning and I are trying to put together a magazine about Skateboarding and Type 1 Diabetes"
If you could only animate one skater’s style for the rest of your life, who would you choose?
Jahmal Williams. I guess that the answer should be the same as to who would I choose to watch skating for the rest of my life. Someone with a timeless style and good trick selection skating spots that feel like they belong to one another. For me that is Jahmal Williams.
What would you say are the three main inspirations for your work:
Doing something that connects with someone else on some level, keeping busy and not knowing how to do anything else.
What would be your dream job/project?
Definitely something that keeps me busy for a long period of time. I love when I am able to leave everything else to just focus on a single project like an animated short film or a video clip. Something that involves art direction and allows me to be absorbed, to be deeply lost in it.
What’s coming up for you in the future? Any similar projects in the works?
Well, Pathways 2 is being talked about. My friend Ian Browning and I are trying to put together a magazine about Skateboarding and Type 1 Diabetes - which is as crazy as it sounds. And I just finished a design for a deck for Josh Stewart's Theories Brand that should come out early next year.
Sounds great! Thanks for your time Cosmé.