Seven Questions for Jakob Trollback

trollback to the future.jpgSome of you may been lucky enough to hear Jakob Trollback, president and creative director of Trollback + Company, discuss the changing landscape of design last week at the Apple Store in Soho. Like any good speaker, he left us wanting more, so we gave him the ‘ol UnBeige Seven Questions treatment. Below he tells us about everything from the challenges of 18x HD resolution and a new documentary about Julius Shulman to reading Murakami (Haruki not Takashi) and why he can go on worry-free vacations.

1. Your firm designed the displays for the massive video walls of the IAC headquarters. What was the most challenging aspect of that project?
It was actually something as mundane as technology. It is very heavy to create animations for 18x HD resolution. Some individual frames took hours to render. Then there was the challenge of strange and idiosyncratic file formats. The whole wall is running on Windows machines. Still, it was a very tangible problem, it is much worse to have creative problems. On that front, we had ideas for at least three buildings.

2. What’s a new/recent project of your firm that you’re particularly excited about?
We just finished work on the documentary Visual Acoustics, a film about Julius Shulman and his photography of modernist buildings. It is beautiful.

We have recently finished some really great branding assignments and have a few more in progress – ESPNews, TV Land, and a few History Channel spots are among them. A Swiss network too, and we are just launching a major network rebrand. There are also a few TV commercials coming up, and we’re working on a project with Maya Lin.

3. Your firm creates movie titles, short films, and trailers (among other things). Besides those you have designed, what recent film’s trailer or titles have you found particularly memorable and/or well-designed?
Not sure if it’s the titles or that I so rarely watch Hollywood fare these days, but I have a hard time remembering anything really good from the last year. But then again, it might just be my memory. It is possible that I’m running out of RAM. I was pleasantly surprised by the end credits for Bee Movie, I didn’t see the opening though.

4. Last film you saw?
The Bird People in China.

5. Last book you read?
Haruki Murakami‘s South of the Border, West of the Sun and After Dark. Now I’m commuting with The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle on my iPhone. It is great to immerse yourself in a single writer. Like when Chandler was all I cared about some 15-20 years ago.

6. Best/most memorable design-related encounter?
Hmm… Is that an invite to do some name-dropping?

Coming to New York from Stockholm was quite intense. Meeting Ivan Chermayeff, Tom Geismar, and Steff Geissbuhler on the first day was amazing. Design legends right there! I worked with Richard Avedon and we became friends. It’s hard to beat that one, and now he is gone.

Title work can be great. I had many meetings with Al Pacino. I filmed Uma Thurman for the Hysterical Blindness titles. Back then I used to think that rich and famous people intimidate us. Later I realized that it’s the other way around – intimidating people become rich and famous. But in the end, those encounters just verified that we’re all just people. It’s more of an even playing field than you would ever guess. However, the best encounters keep on giving. For example, I adore Mira Nair and we try to work together whenever we can. Still, it is our discussions over lunch that really take the price.

As for other people’s design-related encounters, I love George Nelson bumping into Frank Lloyd Wright at Yale and asking him what architecture really is. I wish I could have met George Nelson.

7. Proudest design moment?
I still remember some beautiful moments as a DJ. Regardless of medium, the best thing is flow, when what you are doing is engulfing you completely. Music is unbeatable for that. Love is too.

Night Falls on Manhattan. Still holding up in my book. A lot of things you do are great in the moment, but many fade over time.

TED8, my first serious 3D type animation. I realize today that it was an unconscious homage to the original Universal Pictures opening.

There have been so many great projects coming out of the studio over the last couple of years. I’m most proud of starting a studio that has attracted so many amazing people, and where everyone is striving for excellence. Joe Wright, my creative partner is insanely talented. I can go on vacation and everything will be fine, maybe even better… That’s the ultimate thing to be proud of.

Finally, I have to say, the genetic design of my kids is pretty amazing.