An Interview with Brian Behm of Rooster Teeth

Brian Behm, or brianb, as he’s known on the site roosterteeth.com, is one of the people behind the success of the most popular webseries ever to exist, Red vs Blue. Based in Austin, Texas, Rooster Teeth started as a few friends doing videos and has grown into a huge conglomoration of creative minds. As the Rooster Teeth graphic designer/art director and part of the visual effects team for Red vs Blue, Brian is, in his own words, the “guy that makes sure everything looks cool.” If you have not taken a gander at some of the amazing work being done by Brian and the rest of the RvB crew… You have no idea what you’re missing.
 


Brian was gracious enough to take time out of his busy schedule (Rooster Teeth is putting out amazing videos on their site every time you turn around) to answer a few questions and give some insight into what goes on behind the scenes in the team’s offices in Austin, Texas.



1. You probably get this question all the time, but how did you get involved with and subesequently hired by Rooster Teeth?



A few years ago my wife and I moved to Austin, TX to be closer to the film scene. There’s a really vibrant community of film geeks here that have created something particularly special. There were enough reasons that we wanted to be here during the year that we decided that since there wasn’t holding us in Colorado where we were living at the time that we’d make the move to Austin.


One of the people in our group of friends is a filmmaker named Emily Hagins. A couple of years ago she was gearing up for her third film, MY SUCKY TEEN ROMANCE. Another friend, Paul Gandersman, was producing the film and I offered to help Paul and Emily out with whatever they might need FX and art wise on the film. I was actively involved in postproduction for a (now failed) startup in town and was doing a lot of corporate production work. Visual Effects turn out to use a lot of the same skills as regular more mundane production. Anyway, the scope of the work I was working on grew and grew as production went on and by the time the show was finished there was poster work, a title sequence, a fake video game that I had to design the elements for, a few dozen visual effects shots that I worked on with a crew of other vfx artists, a website and a few other pieces of marketing material. The movie was good enough to get into SXSW and some other friends in the Austin community started asking me to help out with their productions as well.


MSTR led directly to working on a project directed by Aaron Morgan called NO WAY OUT. Aaron has been a friend of Burnie Burns since early in the days of Rooster Teeth and while I was working on the production I asked if he’d connect me with Burnie. Honestly, I just wanted to know if they needed any extra VFX help with Red Vs. Blue. I had always admired what they’d accomplished but wasn’t a die hard fan who wanted to work at Rooster Teeth. I just noticed that they were doing bigger more complicated animation productions and thought they might need an extra set of hands. The startup I’d been working for had finally failed and I was just lining up freelance work where I could. Aaron made the connection and I sent over a reel that was filled with title designs (which had always kind of been one of the things I’d focused on as I was doing corporate production). Unbeknownst to me, Matt and Burnie had decided at the beginning of the year that they should try and find someone who could design titles.



2. What’s your creative and educational background?



I’ve always been creative. When I was a kid I liked to use legos and Construx (really ugly building pieces that were sort of like Lincoln Logs but uglier and plastic-ier (I realize that’s not a word) http://www.splitreflection.com/const.html) to build spaceships and moon bases. My dad had a very early camcorder and I’d use it to try to make little films with my creations. The only problem was that I didn’t have an easy way to edit what I shot. Flipping through the cable channels one day I saw that the local public access station was holding an ‘access-a-thon’ and they were teaching people how to edit. We went down, I signed up for a class and ended up getting involved in volunteering at the local public access station and the high school production crew (I was a geek) all through the rest of junior high and high school.


Aside from the public access stuff i was involved in I worked with the newspaper doing layout and spent a lot of time in the high school graphic arts department. For some strange reason our school ran a commercial print shop (printing all of the school districts various sports team shirts, other shirts, calendars, diplomas, etc) and you could take a class that helped run the print shop.  I loved my photo graphics classes but I never really thought I could be a professional designer. You were either an artist who painted or drew or sculpt or you weren’t. I wasn’t particularly great at either of those first three things so I focused on other pursuits.


After high school I decided I was going to be a radio deejay and went and got an associates of broadcast communications from a little technical school in Minneapolis, MN. While I was there I got a job working at the public access station I’d volunteered at through high school and started getting interested in design and motion graphics. In the late 90s it was still VERY early in the switch to computers for editing and After Effects was JUST starting to come down out of the stratosphere price wise. Since they really didn’t have any money to pay people particularly well, the access station let you have a lot of latitude in what you worked on and I started trying to figure out how to move things around and make show opens. Humorously, there was no easy way to actually get something off of the computer so we’d end up taking a camera into a dark room and focusing it on the monitor. It was crude, but it worked.


I continued to work on developing my design skills reading everything that I could get my hands on at Barnes and Noble and the library and tried to start looking for an actual design gig, where i promptly discovered that I really didn’t have any of the design skills or chops that I needed so I headed back for a 4 year degree at a liberal arts college in Minneapolis called Augsburg. I never quite finished (a company I was working for at the time relocated me to Colorado Springs), but while I was there I worked on a double major in Graphic Design and Business Marketing with a minor in religion and an active role in the Honors department (which meant I was reading a lot of classics and philosophy).


Anyway, since then i’ve always been actively exploring and learning and as I’ve worked and learned and created, my work has gotten better.



3. I know that working at Rooster Teeth is quite possibly one of the best jobs to have ever of all time. I’m sure you weren’t originally expecting to work there. Where were you looking to work before getting hired at Rooster Teeth? Also, what other work have you done creatively?


I’ve spent my whole career bouncing between doing video production and graphic design. A lot of those jobs were in church and non-profit in-house departments. Like the public access station I mentioned before, you often have to do as much as you can with much less than you’d like and you really have to learn how to stretch. I’ve also done a lot of design work for medical device companies. I think I’ve probably got the strangest resume at Rooster Teeth. It turns out though that all of those jobs, whether they were sexy or not (and for the most part they really weren’t) played into teaching me a lot of the skills that I use every day in my job.


Aside from RT projects I’ve also continued to dabble in visual effects work on the side. I was a visual effects supervisor earlier this year on a film called Blue Like Jazz and I did vfx and title work for 30 episodes of Ain’t It Cool with Harry Knowles for The Nerdist Channel.



4. As the graphic designer and art director for Red vs Blue, what kind of equipment do you use?


The actual tools for graphic design and what I do at Rooster Teeth are fairly standard. Get a Mac, a copy of the Adobe Master Collection and a few plugins for After Effects and you could replicate my setup. I think more important than anything else to my job are my brain and my experiences. So much of who you are as a designer is influenced by what you’ve put into your brain. Design, fundamentally, is a problem solving exercise. I know that I have to create project A, which serves audience B. I know that this is what audience B likes and I know that the world © has currently been doing this. My job is to think and figure out a way where I can take A and C and turn it into something that appeals to B. A good chunk of that is experiential. It can’t necessarily be taught in a classroom, you just learn it from trying and failing and  then going back and trying again. Do that for enough years and you have a handy tool that you carry around with you wherever you go.



5. Anyone who has watched RvB has seen some amazing moments. Some pulse-pounding, some heartbreaking, some that made us cheer, and all of them just awesome. What were the one or two moments that just made you say “That was it! That was the moment!”?


I’m particularly fond of the scene with the director and carolina at the end of season 10. I will admit that I teared up when I first saw their interactions and then (spoiler) saw him basically commit suicide.


With regards to stuff that I worked on, I’d probably point to the season 9 training sequence or the break-in. We had some fairly crude compositing processes in season 9 for tracking things into a scene (tracking is the process where your computer figures out where in x, y, and z space things are so that you can take another object and make it feel like it’s part of the same scene). For whatever reason I just could not get a good track of the flamethrower guy in the break-in battle so I spent a good solid three weeks of work finishing both the flames for the flamethrower and then the manual tracks trying to figure out just how far the camera moved in that frame and how far the flamethrower man moved. It was a royal pain in the ass and was so stressful that when I finally saw everything finished it was quite the bit of cathartic relief.



6. Stepping away from RvB and Rooster Teeth for a moment, what do you like to do in your downtime?


Like I mentioned earlier, my wife and I moved to Austin primarily because we’re film geeks. We have a big projector screen at home and spend as much time as we can trying to catch up on the gigantic stack of blu-rays that continue to pile up during busy season.



7. Who and/or what would you consider your greatest creative influences?


It’s kind of a cliché for a designer to say Paul Rand and Saul Bass, but both of them radically influenced the world around me from a design perspective. I can’t give you a lot of individual pieces that have made an impact, but there was always something grabbing my eye. This must be the first piece of ‘motion design’ that really stuck with me: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KDm0PqjAF78.



8. Give an example of a typical day at the offices, during a “normal” day, and during “crunch” time.


Every day is a bit different. in general, I check e-mail and then sort out the list of tasks that need to be done for either the day or week then I figure out who in the art department is doing it and start to work through the list. I also make a couple of rounds every day to check in with the other departments inside the company and see if there are things they need from us or offer any input I can. Inevitably, there’s some sort of ‘fire’ that has to be put out and you focus on that. During crunch? It’s the same thing but the list you generate is longer. With not being as connected with animation production any more my crunches are different. Instead of ‘finishing the season’ my crunch is more like ‘getting all of the Christmas merchandise designed’. You just try to keep everything organized as best you can so that you know all of the items that have to get finished and can make sure that things are progressing. Keeping track of all the moving pieces is probably the most difficult part of being an art director.



9. What would you consider the greatest thing about working at Rooster Teeth and Rooster Teeth in general?


For me probably the best aspect is the latitude to be ME. Like i mentioned earlier, my entire career I’ve bounced between being a designer and a production guy. In most workplaces those are ENTIRELY different departments and never the twain shall meet. Rooster Teeth has allowed me to be able to bounce between both. It’s probably one of the only places I’ve ever been where I didn’t feel stigmatized that I wasn’t able to exercise both parts of what I am. The other thing that’s really satisfying is just knowing that the work I do is seen by a big and really appreciative audience. They might not know that it was me that worked on it, but they’re impacted by it. We just relaunched the YouTube channel design. It’s not perfect and there are things I’d like to change/tweak, but there are thousands and thousands of people who will be able to better see when our programming is coming out and maybe connect with the brand and the content in a way that they weren’t able to before. That’s really satisfying and it’s a bigger audience than I’ve ever reached out to in the past. There are plenty of other perks, but those are the big ones.



10. I really appreciate you taking time to answer some questions, and I promise this is the last one for at least ten minutes: What do you suggest for the budding designers and creative types out there that would help them realize their dreams? Not just creatively, but as far as marketing, promoting, et cetera?


Work on your craft. Develop your taste. Read then read some more. Find that rabbit trail where one book leads you into something else and then something else. As a designer you’re only as good as what you’re inputting into your creative diet so start to pick up design annuals like the ones Communication Arts and Print put out. Read websites like FFFFOUND! and DesignFloat. Put that good stuff into your head so that it lives there and starts coagulating with all of the other things you’re reading and learning. Get sleep and drink your water. Seriously, I don’t do enough of either of those last two things and as a designer you have to think. if you’re impairing your ability to think, you’re screwing up your tools. (like I said, preaching to myself on that last one). Honestly, learning, networking, practicing. repeat ad infinitum.



Once again, I want to thank Brian for dropping by and being kind enough to give this interview. For more work by Brian, you can check out (of course) roosterteeth.com and enjoy some of the greatest and funniest moments on the internet that actually happen on purpose. Until next time, you awesome party people.
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~ by Walker on January 31, 2013.

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