Take a look at Studio Mals' portfolio. Wow, they have produced some crisp, colourful and inventive imagery, right? Well, what if I told you that they make everything by hand, without the help of 3D animation. Impressive, right? And they have companies like Ikea, Orangina or Lipton as part of their client roster. Which is why this 10 year old Dutch design studio has been invited to Barcelona's own OFFF festival to give a talk this Saturday March 25th about their behind-the-scenes magic. We speak to Martin van der Molen, the co-founder, about the company's creative process and so much more.
Could you start by introducing who you are what it is you do at Studio Mals?
Studio Mals is a small studio with a big love for craft. We create ridiculously crisp handmade animations and imagery. Our work is very clever, playful and really colourful.
We’re a team of creators with special skills in props and set design, stop motion animation, film and photography. Our work is very tangible, preferably handmade, and has a playful attitude to it.
My name is Martin and I’m co-founder and Creative Director. When it comes to the design process I focus on building sets and props.
Can you talk us through the design process, from conception to completion?
We like to do as much as we can ourselves in the creative process. From start to finish. Not because we are total controls freaks, we just like to be involved in every aspect from the creative process ourselves to get the result we want and make our ideas come to life.Usually, we start with reading a client's brief and then throw the brief away. We don’t instantly discard the client's wishes, it’s just a matter of keeping an open mind while having a general idea of the brand's wishes. We’d like to have our own view on the subject instead of the client's one.
Sketches or storyboards are then made and presented to the client. Once approved we start with the pre production process. This pre production phase is the most important part for us. Since we are not a 3D studio but we build everything in real by hand, we have to explain beforehand exactly what it is that we are going to do. That’s why we make a detailed document, where we meticulously explain which materials we need, what the exact colour codes we’ll use for the props and sets, what products we will buy, etc. When this document is all approved we start building the sets and props. We have a big workshop with all the tools and materials we need.
When that’s done, we plan the shoot. We’ve built our own in-house film studio with all the gear we need. The advantage of having your own studio and gear is we don’t have to rush. We can spend days in there and can do as many takes as we like until we get the perfect shot, without feeling the stress of time. This is also what allows us to be so focused on the details. This creates the most realistic look and feel, and also saves time in post-production, as we try to keep it to a minimum.
During all the previous steps we shoot behind the scenes pictures or film. Because when the project is completed, we want to build a good portfolio case and show the world how we’ve made it. This is a really important step for us, because it allows us to show the next clients what they can expect from us. Besides that, it's cool content for our social media as well as inspiring for other creatives. And then, when a project is completed and done, we’ll send it to our clients and dive into the next project!
Are there any particular places or methods through which you look for creative influence?
Of course, design festivals like OFFF are great places to see other creatives and get inspired by what they are doing. But I personally get my inspiration or influence by normal things in life. Going places, talking to people, reading books. I really think that you shouldn’t look for or try to force inspiration too much. Ideas flow through my head, no matter what. It’s my job to be creative so I just sit down and go to work. It’s something that comes natural.
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Your website says that you are “a team of meticulous crafters who cherish the details.” Why is paying such close attention to detail so important in your work?
When we tell a story in our commercials or images, we try to leave away all the details. Brands often want to share their brand values, successes and their latest product all in one commercial, so those details are only distracting from the key message.
As a viewer, you’ll be lost in those details and you’ll be distracted easily. So, as a creative it is our job to strip the story down to the minimum to convey it in a matter that still understandable. Something simple like “These cookies are delicious.”
A simple story therefore needs a minimalistic set design. This brings the focus on the product, and the product only. Which also means all the details have to be right. If something is off, it's a distraction. Its takes your focus away from the message and that’s something we don’t want. Everything needs to be perfectly balanced and built to convey the message properly. That's why we’re meticulous crafters; so everything feels right and effortless.
What made you choose the niche of creating visuals that were so cheerful and playful?
We didn’t specifically choose this niche as a business opportunity. We just wanted to create colourful and playful work and have fun doing it! Over the years it really developed in the distinctive aesthetic we are now known for. And still, the main goal is to create beautiful imagery while bringing smiles.
How do you balance functionality and aesthetics in your designs?
It’s a cliché but form follows function. The main goal is always to convey the client's message as clear as possible. If the image doesn’t communicate well, it’s not a good image in our book. Of course, its needs to look good, but that’s secondary. As I said before, though, once you strip the message down to the core, it shouldn’t be too hard to tell the story and make it look good. You just have to get the details right.
You have worked with companies ranging from the likes of Ikea to Lipton to KPN. How do you ensure you maintain the signature elements of your work?
Clients come to us because they’ve seen previous work and want something similar. Being a creative studio for over a decade now shows we have a certain style and way of working that’s consistently on a high level. We’ve build up a pretty portfolio with international brands and campaigns.
So, brands come to us for the work we love making the most. They want that clever playfulness. They know what to expect and they trust us with their brief and product. We often can do whatever we like because we get that trust and creative freedom. We have the luxury of only picking the projects we feel like doing.
How do you work with your clients to ensure their vision is realised in final design?
Oftentimes we get a brief with ten pages of brand values, marketing goals and targets. Complicated info with unnecessary details. It's our job as creatives to take the client by the hand and filter all the info to bring it back to the core. Start a conversation. Ask them how they view things and what they like. We usually end up asking them a simple question: can you tell me in one sentence what it is you want to say? This makes them rethink what’s most important, and usually this filters down to a simple message or idea. Once that’s figured out, we’ll go from there and start working on the project.
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Following on from this, more generally, can you talk a bit about the importance of collaboration and communication in your work?
Both are key in creative work. Communicating is important to keep a smooth process, when agreements are made everyone knows what to do and when and, if all goes well, no surprises occur. A smooth process makes the creative part easier.
Collaboration is equally important. There’s many steps in the project where you need a different view, a different skillset or just a pair of extra hands. So being able to work with some else, brings great benefits. Doing everything alone and by yourself might give you control, but also slows the process down drastically.
You will be participating in OFFF Festival in Barcelona, a festival that showcases “contemporary visual creativity and design.” Tell us a bit about what you’ll be doing here.
Yes, we’re stoked to be a speaker at OFFF and share the stage with all these other amazing artists! You can expect to witness an explosion of colourful and playful aesthetics, and incredibly sexy handcrafted eye candy. It's a mix of personal and client work, random insights on the creative business.
As our work is really analogue and handmade (no CGI here!) we love to take a deep dive into the making of process by showing amazing behind the scenes. This way we can really get to the bottom of our handcrafted eye candy while also sharing a thing or two about running a creative business. We will show you how we turn work into play in a very low key, accessible manner!
Are there any other companies or creatives you are looking forward to seeing at OFFF Festival?
We are definitely looking forward to seeing our friends from Snask again, but also Not Real, Javier Jean, Gab Bois and our fellow Dutchies KesselsKramer and From Form. There are too many. Besides that, it's nice to hang out with creatives from all over the world and meet new people.
Finally, can you tell us about any upcoming projects or plans for the future at Studio Mals?
This year marks our 10th anniversary as a studio, so we’ll be celebrating this throughout the year. We have some amazing personal projects coming up, and are always working with new exiting clients. Just follow our Instagram to stay updated!
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