Monique Wray

I had such a fantastic time speaking with artist, animator, and illustrator Monique Wray. Her bold, colorful, and lively art has been used by Google, Disney, Nickelodeon, Apple, and Microsoft (just to name a few places). We caught up recently to talk about her career and the evolution of her craft over the years.

Throughout our conversation, Monique offered insights into her creative process. She talked about the impact of a pivotal year of self-discovery, the importance of emphasizing humanity in digital art, and she shared her experiences with freelancing and maintaining a balance between professional work and personal projects.

Monique’s journey is such an inspiration for anyone interested in the confluence of art and tech. Thanks to Sam Bass for the introduction!

Sponsored by Brevity & Wit

Brevity & Wit

Brevity & Wit is a strategy and design firm committed to designing a more inclusive and equitable world. They are always looking to expand their roster of freelance design consultants in the U.S., particularly brand strategists, copywriters, graphic designers and Web developers.

If you know how to deliver excellent creative work reliably, and enjoy the autonomy of a virtual-based, freelance life (with no non-competes), check them out at brevityandwit.com.

Sponsored by School of Visual Arts

The BFA Design program at the School of Visual Arts consistently produces innovative and acclaimed work that is rooted in a strong foundational understanding of visual communication. It encourages creativity through cutting-edge tools, visionary design techniques, and offers burgeoning creatives a space to find their voice.

Students in BFA Advertising are prepared for success in the dynamic advertising industry in a program led by faculty from New York’s top ad agencies. Situated at the center of the advertising capital of the world, the program inspires the next generation of creative thinkers and elite professionals to design the future.

School of Visual Arts has been a leader in the education of artists, designers and creative professionals for over seven decades. Comprising 7,000 students at its Manhattan campus and more than 41,000 alumni from 128 countries, SVA also represents one of the most influential artistic communities in the world. For information about the College’s 30 undergraduate and graduate degree programs, visit sva.edu.

Mike Nicholls

As we wind down this year’s Black History Month (and our anniversary month — 11 years!), we’ve got a super-sized episode with someone I’ve wanted to have on the podcast for a long time — the one and only Mike Nicholls. Mike is an award-winning storyteller with deep roots in hip-hop culture and design, and is probably most well-known for creating Umber — the design and culture magazine that highlights the global perspectives of Black people and POC from around the world.

Mike talked about how his love for magazines inspired him to create Umber, and shared some of the triumphs and challenges he’s faced over the years as the brand has evolved from a magazine into a media platform. He also spoke about his time as a designer in Atlanta, Philly, and Chicago, how Oakland inspires his work, and talked about how being a designer and a hip-hop artist helps keep his artistic integrity intact.

For Mike, his creative expression is about more than just making ends meet — it’s about creating with a purpose and about telling stories that resonate on a deeper level and embrace the authenticity of Black and brown experiences!

Sponsored by Brevity & Wit

Brevity & Wit

Brevity & Wit is a strategy and design firm committed to designing a more inclusive and equitable world. They are always looking to expand their roster of freelance design consultants in the U.S., particularly brand strategists, copywriters, graphic designers and Web developers.

If you know how to deliver excellent creative work reliably, and enjoy the autonomy of a virtual-based, freelance life (with no non-competes), check them out at brevityandwit.com.

Sponsored by School of Visual Arts

The BFA Design program at the School of Visual Arts consistently produces innovative and acclaimed work that is rooted in a strong foundational understanding of visual communication. It encourages creativity through cutting-edge tools, visionary design techniques, and offers burgeoning creatives a space to find their voice.

Students in BFA Advertising are prepared for success in the dynamic advertising industry in a program led by faculty from New York’s top ad agencies. Situated at the center of the advertising capital of the world, the program inspires the next generation of creative thinkers and elite professionals to design the future.

School of Visual Arts has been a leader in the education of artists, designers and creative professionals for over seven decades. Comprising 7,000 students at its Manhattan campus and more than 41,000 alumni from 128 countries, SVA also represents one of the most influential artistic communities in the world. For information about the College’s 30 undergraduate and graduate degree programs, visit sva.edu.

Matai Parr

Happy new year! We’re kicking off 2024 with Matai Parr, a designer with a unique approach to his work and his career. Matai just finished the Masters program in interaction design from ArtCenter College of Design, and our conversation was full of fresh insights into the evolving nature of human connections in the digital age, particularly with freelancing, gaming, and social media.

Matai talked about his love for computer science in high school which eventually led him to ArtCenter, and he spoke at length about the significance of gaming communities as modern-day social hubs, the importance of advocacy in the design industry, and what he’s got planned for this year — writing about design!

Matai is all about appreciating the now and making projects that matter to him, and I think we’ll be hearing a lot more from him in the future. Thanks to Breon Waters II for the introduction!

Sponsored by Brevity & Wit

Brevity & Wit

Brevity & Wit is a strategy and design firm committed to designing a more inclusive and equitable world. They are always looking to expand their roster of freelance design consultants in the U.S., particularly brand strategists, copywriters, graphic designers and Web developers.

If you know how to deliver excellent creative work reliably, and enjoy the autonomy of a virtual-based, freelance life (with no non-competes), check them out at brevityandwit.com.

Sponsored by School of Visual Arts

The BFA Design program at the School of Visual Arts consistently produces innovative and acclaimed work that is rooted in a strong foundational understanding of visual communication. It encourages creativity through cutting-edge tools, visionary design techniques, and offers burgeoning creatives a space to find their voice.

Students in BFA Advertising are prepared for success in the dynamic advertising industry in a program led by faculty from New York’s top ad agencies. Situated at the center of the advertising capital of the world, the program inspires the next generation of creative thinkers and elite professionals to design the future.

School of Visual Arts has been a leader in the education of artists, designers and creative professionals for over seven decades. Comprising 7,000 students at its Manhattan campus and more than 41,000 alumni from 128 countries, SVA also represents one of the most influential artistic communities in the world. For information about the College’s 30 undergraduate and graduate degree programs, visit sva.edu.

Sam Viotty

We’re exploring the intersections of design, music, and social impact with this week’s guest, Sam Viotty. Not only is Sam an extremely knowledgeable program and experience designer, but she’s also the co-owner of a record label and she’s an adjunct professor at Loyola’s Quinlan School of Business. And that’s just scratching the surface!

We started off by defining program design and experience design, and from there Sam talked about her label, Rosedale Collective, and her dedication to showcasing BIPOC voices in country music. She also dove into her previous work at The Obama Foundation, and how that opened her world to the importance of design in project management and social innovation (and for starting her own company, Viotty Design Studio). Sam even talked a bit about her current role at Adobe, and shared her plans on what she hopes to accomplish in the near future.

Sam’s career is a lesson in how we can all reshape our perspective on the conventional borders of design — something important to learn in this ever-changing world!

Interview Transcript

Maurice Cherry:

All right, so tell us who you are and what you do.

Sam Viotty:

I’m Sam Viotty. I’m a program and experience designer, a creative at heart, and someone who really just loves design all things design.

Maurice Cherry:

Just before we really kind of get into the conversation, I’d love for you to explain just off the top, like, what does experience design and program design mean to you? And the reason I’m asking this is because oftentimes and we’ll, I think, get to this later in our conversation oftentimes when people think of design, they’ll only think UI/UX, visual type of thing. What does experience design and program design mean to you?

Sam Viotty:

Yeah, I think a lot of the time when I say program design, people are like, you design computer programs? I’m like, no, not that kind of design. Or they’re like interior design. And so program and experience design really to me is thinking about service and experiences for people. It really is people design in how I see it. So when we’re designing the ways that people interact with one another, build relationships, operate in the world professionally, develop themselves, that’s how I see program design. So really designing programs and experiences that people go through and then experience design, I think is a little bit more broad than program design. So it includes program design, but also thinking about events and experiences and things that people kind of experiencing go through. So events, conferences, those types of things, all thinking about not just what people are going experiencing, but seeing, smelling what they’re taking away.

A lot of it is like learning. So overall experience.

Maurice Cherry:

So it’s kind of like an encompassing it’s funny you mentioned event because that’s really sort of something that indulges or can indulge all of your senses. What you see, the swag you pick up, any sort of beverages or drinks or food or anything like all of that kind of can fall into the realm of experience, design, it sounds like.

Sam Viotty:

Correct? Yeah, absolutely right.

Maurice Cherry:

How have things been going for you this year?

Sam Viotty:

It’s been a busy year. I was traveling a lot. I took on just, like, really trying to spend a lot of time thinking about what is my life outside of my professional work. I live in Los Angeles, so I’ve spent a lot of time outdoors. Started hiking this year. Yeah, I just really trying to absorb a lot of the outdoors now that I live in a warm climate. I grew up on the East Coast, and so it’s really nice to spend more time outdoors more times during the year. And I feel like it’s definitely ignited my creativity in a way that it hasn’t before.

So I’m really excited about that. So, yeah, spending lots of time outdoors reading, trying to figure out this has been an exploratory year, and I think next year will be more of the taking action on those exploratory ideas. But I’ve been thinking a lot about I’ve always thought of myself as a designer and a creative and an artist, but recently have more thought about myself as being a curator. So really trying to dive into what that means.

Maurice Cherry:

And also, I should say congratulations are in order. I was doing my research, and I saw you were recently selected to participate in something called the 2023 Keychange US Talent Development Program. So congratulations on that.

Sam Viotty:

Thank you so much. Really excited about it. It kicked off at the beginning of October with a cohort of 25 really incredible human beings. It made my heart really warm to spend, like, three days with all of them started in October and it ends in March. So I’m really at the beginning of the program right now, and so far we’ve only had a few interactions, so one in person and two virtual events together. And I already feel like I’m a part of a community, which is why I applied. I was really excited about being a part of a larger music and artist creative community in Los Angeles. But it’s a Los Angeles, New York and Nashville based program, so we’re also the first US cohort.

So I love being a part of a pilot program. We’ll probably get into this later, but yeah, I’ve been a part of a lot of pilot first time programs, which really is exciting to me to kind of lay the groundwork for what’s to come. It’s been really fun. We’ve spent time working together. We went to Joshua Tree Music Festival together. I’ve never gone to a music festival for work before as fun, so that was amazing. Yeah. Being a professional at a music festival is interesting.

It was really so four of the participants in the program also performed, and it was the first time I got to see them perform. So just seeing the people who are your peers do their thing on stage was just like a proud mom sitting in the audience.

Maurice Cherry:

Nice.

Sam Viotty:

So, yeah, it’s a really beautiful community that they’ve built.

Maurice Cherry:

And now you said it’s the first US based cohort. Is it normally international?

Sam Viotty:

It sounds like yeah, it’s an EU funded program, so they mostly do projects in Europe, and so this is the first time they’re doing a cohort in the United States, which is exciting.

Maurice Cherry:

And now what will you be doing as part of the program? Is this affiliated with some of your other work?

Sam Viotty:

It is. So I applied as an innovator. So it’s twelve innovators and 13 musicians or artists who come together to work just professionally develop. So really thinking about what is your career? I’m the co-founder of a small indie music accelerator and label focused on uplifting the voices of people of color in country, folk and Americana music. We’re expanding to other genres of music. So think like genres that you don’t normally see people of color on the charts. We’re helping amplify those. I applied thinking, how incredible would it be to be a part of a cohort of people who are working towards similar things, trying to achieve equity in the music space, trying to change the music industry.

I’ve been working in the music industry for a few years now, and it’s very interesting. It is unlike any industry that I’ve ever worked in. I used to work in nonprofit, I moved to the private sector. But music feels very different. And living in Los Angeles, on any Wednesday, you’ll go grab lunch and you’re like, Why is it crowded? Because everyone’s having a lunch work meeting within a different culture than I’ve ever experienced. Yeah, it’s very different. I applied thinking, how do I build my music community and work alongside other musicians and innovators to change how the music industry operates. A lot of the label is called Rosedale Collective.

We really often think about how do we change the way that artists are treated and supported and how do they have ownership, in particular, Black and brown people having ownership over the work that they create. So how do we revision no pun intended, actually, how do we revision a way forward for how artists create work and work with labels? And so we’ve designed a residency program that is a year long. We’ve done a few that are shorter. We have not launched our long term, one year long program yet, but we’re working on that. But the long term vision is you support a cohort of artists throughout a year. You pay them a salary and they get to focus on making the art. And then instead of owning the It or the masters to the work that the artists create, we revenue share throughout across all of the different categories that an artist to make money. So through merch and royalties on streaming and touring.

So we split those and instead of just outright owning the work, an artist gets to keep ownership. So we’re really trying to rethink how the industry makes money with artists, and right now they’re making money off of artists. So we’re like, how do we make money with you instead of off of you?

Maurice Cherry:

First off, that is a fascinating model. I mean, I think there’s no shortage of horror stories about musicians getting shafted in some way by the music industry or taken advantage of or something. So I love that you sort of have this revenue share thing and then also the fact that the focus is on a genre of music. I know you said you want to expand it, but you’re focusing right now on country music, which, again, is probably not seen as very super diverse. Like, I can probably count the number of Black country artists. There’s more now than when I was a kid. I’ll say that in terms of visibility, but yeah, that’s such an awesome I mean, I feel like there’s a great story behind even the fact that you co own a record label. That is amazing.

Sam Viotty:

It’s a fun, actually. I met my co-founders at a conference in DC while I was working at the Obama Foundation. We got tickets to A Day of Healing and Restorative Justice. And so I was like, I’d love to not go into the office today. I’d rather be at a conference. And so met these people who are working at the intersection of social impact and entertainment. And I was like, this is such a cool job. You just get to use celebrity money to change the world.

That’s awesome. I was 25 then, so I was still doe-eyed and excited…a little jaded now. So I was very excited about that. And so I kept in contact with the people who were working there, and they reached out to me in 2020 about starting a record label and thinking about designing programs for people of color in the country music space. And so I was like, I don’t know a ton about country music. I know a little Shania Twain, but I do know that it feels pretty racist and so that I can get behind challenging that. And so how do we really think about what music would look like and how it would be different if Black people or people of color kind of were at the forefront? So country music was made by people of color. And so Charley Pride is one of our people that we look up to.

And so, yeah, how do we just reclaim a genre that really was made by Black people? And now the face of country music is not a Black person, not in the United States and not on the top charts. So how do we reclaim that? So we spent a lot of time thinking about narrative change and really redesigning the system of the music industry.

Maurice Cherry:

I mean, I feel like there’s a lot that has to go behind designing a label. I mean, of course you think of general things like album art and logos and things of that nature, but the design and business of putting something like that together, that seems like such a huge undertaking.

Sam Viotty:

I’m going to be honest, I didn’t know what I was doing. I still don’t know what I’m doing. And I think it actually has been really beneficial that I stepped into the music industry not knowing how the music industry works, because I’ve just been doing what I think makes sense, and that doesn’t necessarily align with what actually happens. And so I’m like, yeah, I think artists should own their work. And people are like, well, it doesn’t really work that way because we don’t make a profit. I’m like, well, that doesn’t make sense. We could figure out a way to make money while also letting people own things that they make. So let’s just design that.

I very lucky. My co-founder is an incredible…I don’t think he would consider himself a designer, but he designed our logo, and I think it’s genius. It’s a circle that has lines going through it and it’s the middle of a guitar. It’s a really amazing logo. I’m very proud of the logo. So we put it on everything. I wear a sweatshirt. I have a hat. Stickers.

And so thinking about how do we take symbols of country music and redefine them? Because I think right now people think country music. I think or before this, I used to think cowboy hat, cowboy shoots, cowboy boots. So what are the symbols of country music? And what are the symbols of country music for people of color. The guitar is one of them. We work with some other organizations who really like to uplift Black and brown artists. One of them is Black Opry, and so their logo is also a guitar. So just thinking about the symbols and iconography for black country music has been really exciting because I think it’s a different language. Like, we’re speaking a different language to a different audience.

And so I spent a lot of my time in undergrad thinking about symbols and iconography. And so it was exciting to bring that piece to the label. And thinking about a label, it’s like developing a brand. We developed a brand before we did anything. We came up with colors and a logo and a design and a deck. And so so much of it was like, how do we communicate who we are and what we do before we’ve even done anything? Which lots of conversations, lots of talking to people before we did a single thing, we did a listening and learning tour where we talked to tens of musicians, like 100 music execs and people in the music industry and in the nonprofit space trying to change things, social impact people. So just spend a lot of time talking to people to be like, what are people looking at? What do people feel and how do we communicate what we’re trying to communicate? And who is our audience, actually? So goes into a lot of the design work. When I went to grad school, I went to grad school at Emerson in a pilot program.

It was called Civic Media Art and Practice. And so that’s where I learned about design thinking. And so I’ve brought design thinking into ever since I’ve learned about it, I’ve brought it into every single job. And so I think when I don’t know what to do, I just rely on that process. I’m like, it’ll be good, we’ll just figure out how. It’s like the scientific method. I’m like, I don’t know how to get an answer, but if we just use this process, I can get us to figuring out how we get an answer. We did a lot of that.

And so that first stage of talking and listening to people is very similar to the empathy stage and the design thinking process.

Maurice Cherry:

I say that all the time to people about how design thinking is very much like the scientific method. So I’m glad that we see eye to eye on that.

Sam Viotty:

Yeah, I explained it like that. I’m like, it’s the same thing. People just yeah, anthropologists looked at it and I guess the design school looked at it and then rebrand it’s all branding. They rebranded it, but it’s the same thing.

Maurice Cherry:

I think what you’re doing with one, shining a light on country music and also promoting and uplifting artists, BIPOC artists, et cetera, in country is great because I grew up as a musician. I grew up as a jazz musician mostly, but there was one thing about like and this might be a bit of a stretch, so if it is, please let me know. But I feel like a lot of could do really well as contemporary country songs. I feel like there’s a thin line between Toni Braxton and that being a country song. I’m thinking love should have like “Love Shoulda Brought You Home” could totally be a country song.

Sam Viotty:

I absolutely could be a country song. We used to jokingly make a criteria checklist for what is a country song. One was like, is it about love or heartbreak? Check. Does it have a Twang check? I think you’re right. The only thing missing from the twang, like, if they all had a twang, they would absolutely be country.

Maurice Cherry:

Yes. A lot of, like, Anita Baker songs could definitely also sound like country songs. She has like, a slight Twang. But I get what you mean though. There is sort of a checklist of like, is it heartbreak? Is it lament in some capacity then it could totally be a country song. Now, we talked about Rosedale, but also you have another job where you work for Adobe. Can you talk a little bit about what you do there?

Sam Viotty:

Yeah, that is really exciting. I spend most of my time working at Adobe now. It’s one of those companies that when you’re young and in college and you think about design and education and what’s the coolest job you could have. It is the job I have now. And I think that’s incredible. College me would be very proud. So right now, I lead all of Adobe’s higher education professional development. So training programs for faculty and students in higher education in the United States.

We’re expanding to the United Kingdom and Australia. Starting to think globally about what does it mean and what are the skills that a 21st century college graduate needs in order to operate in the world. Adobe is notorious for being extremely challenging, having a high learning, a very difficult learning curve and being quite know one financially. And also, just like, the tools are complicated and there are a lot of them. Adobe has launched something called Adobe Express, which is the kind of premier product that I work on and work with schools to use. So think of the rival Canva as…Canva was a response to Adobe being really difficult. Adobe Express is a response to that. And so it’s an incredible tool.

I think the thing that’s exciting about Adobe Express is it has the generative AI in it, which is really helpful now and interesting, brings a conversation about ethics and IP and copyright, which Adobe is big on, especially because we’ve been working with artists and illustrators and graphic designers for ages. I spend a lot of my time helping faculty and schools and instructional designers think about what does it need to be a digitally fluent individual? And so how do you redesign your curriculum so that students are getting the skills that they need to be successful beyond college. So instead of maybe writing that ten page paper, what does it look like to help a student create an assignment that is actually a video storytelling project or create a podcast instead of the paper? So what is the alternative to the typical research paper? Because in my personal job, I am not writing research paper long things anymore. I am doing research and then applying it to a project. And so how do we do a little bit more project based learning at the higher ed level? I think a lot of K Twelve and high schools have taken this on, which is incredible. But I think the project based learning often happens either in really vocational or technical student projects. So if you’re in a graphic design class or create this poster or create a project for a client, those things happen. But in the kind of social sciences and English classes that’s not really happening.

It’s still pretty static and it’s like write a paper to respond to this. And I’m like, the world that we live in now doesn’t really do that. So how do we change how we’re thinking about it? And how do we cultivate the skills that people need? Creating presentations, marketing on social media, creating posters, creating graphics like everyone video and short form storytelling. Short form video is the primary way that people communicate now. They cannot scroll on any social media without seeing video. How do we cultivate those skills to make sure that students are signed up for success? So I spent a lot of my time doing that, which is really cool because I was really interested. I started my career in education and then I also just have always had this passion for being creative and working with creatives and just thinking about arts and culture. And so I feel like I get to bring those worlds together in my role at Adobe.

Maurice Cherry:

Now that is fascinating. You’re designing education or you’re designing the way that people are learning about these new tools and these new methods. And I’m curious, does that work and the work you do with Rosedale collectors, does that bleed into each other in any way? It feels like that could be a lot to possibly try to balance it.

Sam Viotty:

Is it’s like, you know, corporate world and also working at a small indie, but I sit in between the education team and the marketing team. And so I’ve learned so much about corporate marketing through working at Adobe, which as an Indie label and accelerator, we have the finances to play small. But I’m like how do we play big? Because that’s how the music industry works. There’s so much like everyone’s a musician, everyone can be right. And so how do you get the people that you want to bubble to the top? And it’s marketing. I was talking about those interviews earlier and we talked to so many artists, and I’d say, what do you need help with? What’s your biggest struggle right now? It is not songwriting. It is not making the music. It is not finding a producer.

It isn’t even touring. It is marketing. They’re like, how do I get someone to hear my music? It’s marketing and distribution. And so I’ve learned a lot about marketing and distribution in this corporate role and seeing how that plays out and being able to say, okay, if that’s true here, how do we apply it to how do we use some of these strategies for our artists and teach them how to do it for themselves? And so I see my role in both of them as I’m professionally developing people. They’re just different. But coincidentally, the artists that I work with are about the same age as the students who faculty are working with. I have a similar audience. Like, how do I prepare these 18 to 25 year olds with 21st century skills to be successful in the world to either market themselves, market the things that they’re working on, and really tell stories?

Maurice Cherry:

I mean, I think what you’re doing is just such extremely important work because I think what we’ve definitely seen over the past few years is that our systems are changing. I mean, definitely with the advent of AI and things, we’re seeing how that’s been affecting certain industries. But even like you said, with marketing and getting content out there, it’s even weird to call it old school. But the old school ways, which we knew about how to market things and how to learn things are changing. And a lot of that is due to technology. So I think you being at the forefront of that, particularly with sitting kind of between marketing and education teams, that sounds like a dream. I mean, I’m speaking for myself, but that sounds like a dream job to have.

Sam Viotty:

Yeah. Again, I think college undergrad me would be like, if someone asked me what job I wanted, it would be this one. And so I’m excited about that. The other thing that I just so excited about is generative AI. I know that it’s a hot topic, but working at Adobe and seeing just, like, how these tools have allowed people to make things that they wouldn’t have created before, same. Like, I also am an illustrator. Not a great one, but it’s my hobby. It has enabled me to create things that I wouldn’t have been able to create before.

And not in a plagiarism way, but I’m like removing the background from something. Used to take ages in Photoshop. Now in Adobe Express, it’s a like, it has saved me time. Technology is catching up with how quickly and how fast the world is. Like, things happen and then it is online in seconds, and the tools are starting to catch up to that. So I’ve been really excited about how do we leverage those tools to ignite creativity because I’m someone who procrastinates, and I also get really stuck. I think generative AI has helped me get unstuck as a brainstorming. Like, you know, let me just pop it in and see what I can start with.

Whereas before, I kind of just sit and wait and then never do it.

Maurice Cherry:

Just recently we had Andre Foster on the show and he has a motion graphics company in Detroit called First Fight and he talks about how he uses generative AI, kind of in the same way that you mentioned it. He uses it like a I think he likened it to a Pinterest board or a mood board where it’s a good place to sort of just take the idea from your head and start to instantly visualize it, to see where you could possibly go next with it.

Sam Viotty:

Love that. I totally agree with that.

Maurice Cherry:

Now, you talked about growing up on the East Coast, so I would like to kind of shift the conversation towards that and learn more about just sort of how you got to where you are now. So you grew up on the East Coast. Were you kind of always exposed to a lot of art and creativity and such growing up?

Sam Viotty:

Yeah. I grew up in New York City, so every field trip was to a museum. When I was in school. I also had parents who were really excited about the arts. My mother was a dancer, just really excited about performance arts. And with my grandmother and then my dad and my dad’s mother. My dad’s mother was a teacher. I was excited about reading as a kid.

He spent so much time at the library. I used to pick out books, and very often I would pick books based on their covers in contrary to what you’re told. I was like, if it looks cool on the outside, I’m sure it’s cool on the inside. And so I was just really excited about that. I used to draw a lot. Like, the Christmas gifts that I used to get as a kid was like, I don’t know if you remember those. Really big. I hope they still make them.

I haven’t seen them in a while, but it’s like pastel crayons paint.

Maurice Cherry:

Oh, yeah, those 130 piece art kits or whatever.

Sam Viotty:

Yes. And they’d have a bunch of pencils, and I never used to use they had, like, four types of pencils, and I was like, I don’t know what anyone’s doing with this. I like the color, so I used to get those every year. I’d ask for a new one. I didn’t always need a new one, but, yeah, I used to run the cray pods down to the bone, and so I used to play with those all the time. And so I’d, like, draw pictures of our family, draw pictures of the sky, draw pictures of the books that I’d read. Spent a lot of time drawing and. Creating.

I’d like, do cutouts. I used to play with paper dolls all the time, just always thinking about what I can now see in retrospect is design. And my dad, who just was so proud of me, used to, in our basement, created kind of like a little curatorial gallery of my work on a string through the basement. So anytime I came down or people came down, it felt like a gallery show. And so I always loved museums and art. Yeah, my art was all over the house. Like, it was on the fridge, it was on the walls, it was upstairs. And so I was really encouraged to express my creativity.

My dad was a computer nerd, and so he tried to teach me computer programming when I was younger. I think it was called Logo?

Maurice Cherry:

Logo, with the turtle!

Sam Viotty:

Yes, with the turtle! So my dad was…yes, he tried to teach me that. I hated it. I was like, this is so boring. I can’t stand this. He’s like, but you can create art with it.

I was just, I’m not interested. I really regret it. I wish I became a computer scientist, but I just constantly encouraged. I used to use the Paint app on Microsoft and on, you know, all kids, but I was really into just, like, creating, and I was really encouraged to create, which I’m so grateful for now. I think my parents really let me explore, at least when I was a child. This changes a bit when I get older, but while I was a child, in my adolescence, I was very much encouraged to paint, create, make things get messy, do whatever, and explore my creativity, whether it was, like making my own clothes, designing clothes, designing paper, making notebooks, writing stories, like, anything. And I think that I brought a lot of that into how I kind of exist now and explore my creativity now.

Maurice Cherry:

Did that shift happen in high school?

Sam Viotty:

Yang it did. And I think it’s funny that, you know, that I was not encouraged to explore art when I was in high school. I remember I liked our art class, and I did quite well. My dad was excited, so my mom passed away when I was six. So a little hard. My dad had to take on being a single parent and then remarried. My parents were divorced at the time, so it wasn’t like that stark of they’re dating someone else difference. But I was close to the woman who is now my stepmother, who I’m very close with and who helped raise me.

She was a nurse, and so registered nurse. And so just like a very practical human in a way that maybe my dad and I were not. And so she’s like, you need a practical job. Need you to get a practical skills, like, what are we doing? Which I think she’s brought the logic to my creativity, which is wonderful. But once I got to high school, I was not discouraged from taking art classes, but it was like, well, then what are you going to do? I used to use my room as a curatorial space. I’d buy as many magazines as I could, and then my walls were completely covered with images, and I just would always do that. I’d look at font type and ads. I was like, how do I create this? And I wanted to go into advertising and market and communications, but my parents were just like, maybe I don’t know.

My dad was like, Please go into science. I was like, I’m really not good at physics. And my mom was like, Please do something practical. And so I was kind of, like, torn. And all I really wanted to do was change the world. Then I just became privy. I went to a predominantly Asian school in New York City. So 50% of the population was Asian, maybe 20% was white, and then the rest was, like, Black and Latino.

Maurice Cherry:

Okay?

Sam Viotty:

Yeah, maybe Southeast Asian. It was a very interesting mix, but just was starting to become more privy to racism, I think. Growing up in New York City, I’d always thought in high school, thought, I’d go to such a diverse school, I’ve gone to diverse schools, everything’s fine, and then realizing the world just doesn’t operate in the ways that it should. Extreme poverty exists. I want to work in that. How do I do that? And my parents were not excited that they were proud of me, but they were not excited about that career path. My mom’s like, you want to go into nonprofit, you’re not going to make any money. And so I ignored them and went to college.

So I went to college at Wheaton College in Massachusetts. Small liberal arts college, about 1600 students. So very small campus was like, you could run around it. I couldn’t even really get my laps off when I go for a run because it was only a mile and barely. So it’s a very small campus. And so I was like, I’m just going to major in English. I wanted to go into marketing, communications, but small liberal arts college only had English as a major. I was like, Seems close enough.

I major in English. My parents are like, sounds fine. It seems like a scale. Great. And I start applying to internships, and I’m not getting anything. Like, absolutely nothing. I’m like, I can write things. This seems practical.

What’s going on? But I was applying to things that were a little bit more creative, a little bit more ad comms marketing, and I think they were, like, looking for someone who was in that. My junior year, there’s a new major called Film and New Media Studies, and so it sat within the English department, and so I could take film classes as an English major, and so I did. And the first class I took was race and racism in U.S. cinema. Blew my mind, was excited. I was like, this is all I want to do forever. I need to change my major right now. I know I’m getting ready to graduate, but I have to.

And I also need to study abroad. So how do I make it happen? My professor and advisor at the time. Incredible. Here’s what we’re going to do. You’re going to switch your major. You’re just going to change it, and you’re going to go to Australia because that’s where they have a mutual program. And you’ll study film and graphic design there. You’ll make up your freshman credit for the major, and then you’ll come back and you’ll finish the credits and you’ll graduate on time.

I was like, great. Sounds lovely. I changed my major to New Media Film and New Media Studies on my resume before even changing it formally on paper. And all of a sudden I’m getting responses back on internships. People are so happy to talk to you. This is ridiculous. And that to me, is the epitome of that’s. The power of branding and marketing.

Yeah, pursued that. I was excited about Film and New Media Studies. I didn’t love actually being behind the camera. I was like a senior in freshman classes in Film Production 101, learning about Aperture. I was like, I don’t want to do this. This is not fun for me. I was like, Can I just tell someone what to do? Isn’t that a thing? And someone’s like, oh, you want to be a director? Yes, exactly. So, yeah, I moved a little bit away from technical film and really loved the theory and things like that.

And so I was able to explore ideas of concepts of social justice and equity and race and representation through that studies and then took that into my hope. I was hoping to take it into my professional career, which I did, which quite different as my first job, which was I was helping first generation college students get into college when I first graduated, which there’s more similarities than I thought. I was really excited about that role, and I wrote a lot. I helped every single student tell their story, writing college essays. I reviewed lots of college essays, lots of supplemental essays. They ended up being more connected than I thought they would be. But yeah, I did not go into a Film and New Media Studies advertising role right after college like I wanted to. But I think supporting students to get into college was really an impactful, one that led me to the career that I have now in education.

Maurice Cherry:

I mean, I feel like, and I’ve said this on the show also before college is really that time for you to experiment and explore exactly what it is that you want to do. And I think it’s specifically for the reasons that it sounds like your parents didn’t want you to go into some specific field. I mean, K through twelve, we’re kind of booked or we’re sort of subconsciously shaped and molded into a particular trajectory that we may not even want, we may not even want to do. I know for me, when I was growing up, I really wanted to write and I wanted to major in English, and my mom was like, no, you stay on that computer. You’re going to do something with that computer. Like, you’re going to major in something with that. And I liked web design, but I also went to a small liberal arts college, and this was in the oh, my God, I’m dating myself. This is in the they didn’t have web design, so I was like, oh, I’m going to be a computer science major.

And that was not web design back then. I mean, we’re talking 1999, 2000. That was not web design. That curriculum did not exist. You learned it on your own, and you just kind of hoped to make a way for it. It wasn’t something you went to school for. But I say all of that to say college is really that time where you’re able to branch out and see where your interests take you. I mean, there’s very few places outside of that particular type of institution where you’re allowed to explore and play and do different things, and it won’t have a detriment on your status as a human in this capitalist world.

Maurice Cherry:

You know what I mean?

Sam Viotty:

Totally. And I wish I knew it. I guess I felt it then that that’s what it was for. My parents were like, the tuition money four years, so explore all you want within that amount of time. So I felt like there was a ticking time bomb. And I was one of those kids who was like, I literally cannot go back home after college. I can’t live my parents. I am an only child who is just constantly being helicoptered.

I need to live elsewhere for all of us, for everybody. And so I really need a job. I need a job that pays me enough to leave. And so, yeah, I moved to Boston. So my school’s in Massachusetts. I ended up moving to Boston right after college and lived there for quite a bit. But yeah, college was an interesting time, and I loved school. I was one of those kids who loved school.

When I was younger, I looked forward to going to school. I think part of it was being an only child, because I make all these designs and stuff, and the only person looking at them was my dad or friends who came over occasionally. So I was so excited to go to school and get affirmation from teachers.

Maurice Cherry:

I 100% know what that’s like. I mean, I wasn’t the only child. I had an older brother. But yeah, to get that sort of validation that the work that you’re doing means something, it’s actually making an impression on other people. I was very much. Oh, yeah. Especially in college. I was very much like a school kid.

Like, I did not want to go back to Alabama. I’m like, we have to make it out. I don’t know what that looks like, but we got to get out. We can’t go backwards. Now. In 2017, you started working at the Obama Foundation, and you sort of touched on some of your early career things that you did right after Wheaton. How was your time at the Obama Foundation? Like, how did you sort of start there?

Sam Viotty:

That was like I remember getting my offer verbally, and I just was stunned. I was like, I cannot believe I’m about to work for the person who was the first Black president of the United States. It meant so much to me. I think it was after he was in the presidency, so he made a foundation really focused on organizing community work for young people. I worked on the education team at the Obama Foundation, which, again, mixing education with what I was excited to end, like, changing the world. I was like, my goodness, dream job. And it’s so, like, at every stage that I’ve had a job, it’s been like a dream job only. And now I’m in a job that I also think is my dream job.

And I’m like, what will I think years later when I have another job? Anyway, it was incredible. I have made the closest friends I’ve ever made. It was an interesting time. I think a lot of I never worked on a campaign before, but I imagine some of the campaign culture had seeped into our workplace. And so all of us were very close, spent a lot of time together trying to work towards the goal of empowering 18 to 25 year olds to change their worlds and their communities. I loved it. It was incredible. I was hired as an experienced designer, so thinking about our program, so the education team had one program at the time.

I was there for a few years, and so we developed more programs, but the original program was like a one day experience for 150 18 to 25 year olds in Boston, Chicago, and Phoenix, Arizona. And so we went to each city, and we work with community organizations. We’d work with designers and organizers to really fire up these 18 to 25 year olds, get them passionate about the thing that they were excited about. So we’re like, what aren’t you passionate about? What do you care about? And how can we drive you to a plan of action to organize towards that? And so I saw my role as one just understanding our audience. So I spent so much time talking to the 18 to 25 year olds that we worked with. I set up design workshops. I would work with them. So I used a lot of my design thinking stuff from grad school that I learned and would go through that with them.

I taught a lot of our design thinking sessions, so I go from city to city just going through project based learning and talking about, how do we like, well, if this is what you care about, how do we develop a plan for that? How do you understand them? Who is your audience? A lot of 18 to 25 year olds are like, I want to end poverty. And I’m like, yes, where do we start? Like, poverty, poverty where? And so that was really exciting for me, and it was really impactful. I can still remember the day that we brought President Obama to meet all of the students who had been in the program. Not students, community members who had been in the program. And it was just, like, the most joyful I’ve ever seen. People are crying. They’re, like, falling down. He decides to shake every single one of their hands.

He was supposed to be going to a meeting with donors, and we were scheduling him to just take a photo. He was supposed to come and take a photo with the group. We’re very excited about that, that he was going to be able to do that. But he is supposed to be rushing to a donor meeting. He was already late. He was late to come get us for the photo. He finds out that he’s late to the donor meeting and is like, oh, well, and just stands there and shakes 350 hands. And so I’m so happy I got to witness that.

And so that was the power of his brand. I was so lucky to be able to I felt like I could walk into any room and just be listened to because of who we were representing and the power that that had for people in many communities across the united States. It just symbolized change. It symbolized hope. And I’d never been a part of a brand like that. I’d worked at many nonprofits, but obviously nothing like that. And so that experience is yeah, I loved working there. I met so many incredible people, so many smart people who have worked and lived all over, had different experiences, but everyone came together for this one central mission, which was to empower people.

To change the world is absolutely incredible. I think about that experience very often.

Maurice Cherry:

I mean, if there’s any brand that could get you probably in the foot of any company, it would be Obama. I mean, God, that has been such an amazing experience to be able to do that kind of work. I think you kind of alluded to this a little bit earlier when you said, like, making I wrote it down. You said something about using celebrity money to change the world. That is awesome.

Sam Viotty:

Yeah, it was so great. And the other thing that I was able to do was, because I was our experience designer and helping to design our program, I got to choose who we put on so or who we got to put on a platform. And I was so excited about that. I was like, this is it. I get to choose the people of color that I want to be on stage or the people who I think are making a difference. I can get to curate that experience. So lucky. I’ve worked with Antionette Carroll and Chris Rudd, who have also been on this show, who were a part of that amazing program that we ran over the course of a few years.

So just really excited to be able to give opportunities to people who really deserve one recognition, the amplification, and just, like, the connection with the community that we really thought they were already doing but wanted to uplift them. So absolutely incredible. Got to work with a ton of designers and creators because I was working in that space, and you send an email with Obama.org attached to it, and people responded, which was, you know, there’s.

Maurice Cherry:

A saying that you can’t be what you don’t see. And I can only imagine, because you had that level of access that it probably opened up for you a lot of possibilities of what you could do personally out in the world. I know while you were at the Obama Foundation, you started your own design studio, via studio. Did that sort of come from that time of seeing what was possible because of the Obama Foundation?

Sam Viotty:

It did. I didn’t know how much money existed in the world until I worked. Mean, like, talking to donors and who you have access to and who responds and what people are willing to do, and how many people of color I’d seen and worked with who started their own companies. So many of the designers that we worked with ran their own design firms. And I was like, oh, I can see how it’s possible. I had never thought of it before. I knew I wanted to start something when I was younger, but I didn’t know what. And so I started doing design consulting, so designing programs and giving design thinking advice and doing design sprints and workshops for other companies and nonprofits at the time.

But, yeah, I was so inspired by all the work that I was doing with other people. I was like, well, if you’re doing it, I think I might be able to do this, which is really exciting. And I had help. I mean, the connections that I made at the Obama Foundation and the people and the designers that I spoke, like, I don’t think people were trying to gatekeep at all, which I thought was really beautiful. People were like, I mean, I work with them. You should totally work with them. Let me just make an intro, which I had not experienced before. I think a lot of nonprofits that I worked with before that were gatekeeping, and I understand why.

It was like, well, if I tell this company or this grant about you. Will we get the money next year, right? So it was a lot of, like, I want to keep things to myself, but it was not like that at all. I was like, this is amazing. So everyone wanted to help each other, and so I was able to make connections and get clients pretty quickly. And a lot of them came from I think all of my first clients are Obama Foundation related.

Maurice Cherry:

Wow, that’s amazing. That’s amazing. Now, you were there for a number of years, and then afterwards you left and you went to work for a biotech startup, Curative. When you look back at that time, what do you remember? Because I could imagine it’s probably a lot different from nonprofit work, especially the Obama Foundation.

Sam Viotty:

So it was 2020. So the pandemic had hit, and I used to do programs in person at the Obama Foundation. 2020 happened. We’re doing programs virtually. I just was like, I don’t know that our programs virtually are doing the same thing that they were when they were in person. And so the world is in a really scary space. I want to be on the ground. And so I got recruited by Curative to lead all of their kind of expansion with communities.

So the job actually when I had that interview with Curative, the woman who hired me actually was in political organizing before that. And she was like, it’s actually she’s like, you’re telling me about your job at the Long Foundation, but she’s like, I think it’s really similar. I know it’s biotech, hear me out. But I think what you’re doing is, like, partnering and working with communities. We’re changing health care, and it’s the same thing, only it’s healthcare and not community organizing. And I was like, I think you’re right. So I partnered with community organizations to pop up COVID testing at the time and then vaccinations for communities of color in particular, where they didn’t have testing and vaccinations. And so I thought that I was like, this feels like a need, right? Like, people are dying.

I want to be of service. And so it was a crazy time. I don’t understand how I did not get COVID then. This is like, before, people were wearing masks. I was out helping set up test sites without a mask. And then I was wearing a mask, and I was traveling everyone’s at home, and I am on a plane to New Orleans to set up a test site alone on the plane because obviously no one’s flying. And I was, like, flying all across the country trying to make sure that people were getting tested. I thankfully, in the year and a half I worked there, never got COVID.

I got COVID last year at a conference. Yeah, literally, just like I was completely fine. But it was a really impactful experience. I got to use my design thinking skills. I did lots of marketing and trying to understand our audience. I worked with a bunch of different types of clients and customers. I worked with city governments. I worked with fire stations.

I worked with federal government. I worked with everyone private sector. I worked with schools. So many schools wanted to go back to in person, but they didn’t have a testing plan. So I was like, working with each individual school to workshop what will work best for you. And so I used a lot of what I felt like was my design thinking hat to design programs and processes that made the most sense so that people could return, not return to life, but be able to live lives that felt safe enough to live and still benefit. Yeah, it was a really crazy time.

Maurice Cherry:

I mean, it feels like it’s a lot of that sort of practical application or continuation. Like the person that hired you said you’re taking that same energy and that same sort of skill of putting programs together, but you’re doing it on really kind of a more tactical level in that way, especially during a time when the pandemic affected. I feel like all of us in different ways, but the one thing we all had to do was sort of figure out how to kind of move through it, navigate through it, move forward, especially with information changing a lot. Like you said, pre masks is a time that now is a bit hard to think of because they were so ubiquitous. And I mean, people are kind of still wearing masks now because we’re kind of still in the pandemic. But in a lot of ways, because of work that people like you have done, we found ways to kind of manage our lives through it, which who knows how long that would have taken if that didn’t exist or if there weren’t people like you that were able to make that happen.

Sam Viotty:

Thanks. Yeah, I was able to hire an incredible team. Just could not have done it with a bunch of other people. And it was a wild time, and I learned a lot about healthcare. I used to hate the healthcare system. I still do. But I now understand why there are so many entities designing for healthcare. Now that I’ve worked in it, I’m like, it makes sense.

It needs redesigning. It was my first for private sector job, which I was trying to pivot. Like, the Obama Foundation was great, but I was kind of tired of being a nonprofit. I was tired of not having enough money and working really hard all the time and working to the mission, but not getting paid enough. I was like, I think there’s a way for me to get paid enough and work towards a real goal. Being in the for profit during COVID was very interesting. Healthcare. We’re trying to save the world, but we’re also making money.

So a conversation for another day about the healthcare system. But yeah, it helped me understand a little bit more about the way the world works.

Maurice Cherry:

And now you’re doing Rosedale, you’re doing Adobe. You still have your studio, and you also teach. You are an adjunct lecturer at Loyola’s Quinlan School of Business. How did that come about?

Sam Viotty:

It’s an incredible am again. So I met two people. One was someone who was one of the first community members in the Obama Foundation program that we ran. Just stayed really close to her. She was one of those people that I called her our super user. She just would do exactly what I would imagine someone would do in our program. She’s ideal. I could predict her behavior.

It was amazing. And so we stayed in contact. She started working at the Baumhart Scholars Program at the Cleveland School of Business and asked me if I wanted to guest lecture her class, like, come and just talk. So I did. And then there’s another person who was in the program I did Starting Block, the Starting Block Fellowship a few years ago, probably 2018. More than a few now, but someone else who was a designer also taught another course and was like, hey, could you come to my class too? And so I did. He was getting ready to leave the following year because he got a very cool job at Capital One doing design. And so he left, and they were like, well, we don’t have anyone to teach class.

Do you want to teach it? I said, I’d love to teach this class. So it’s a project management and social innovation class, and it’s taken a bunch of different iterations. This will be the third year that I’m teaching it. It actually starts next week. Time for me to start designing the deck. But the incredible thing about the program in particular so the Bomb Harvest Scholars Program is within the School of Business, but it is for a select group of students who really care about social impact. And so a lot of their courses are focused on it. Obviously, you get an MBA, but a lot of courses that you have to take in addition to the MBA requirements are social impact focused.

So the project management course, I’ve done lots of project management, so I hadn’t thought about it as like, how do I teach it? I was like, It’s just something that I do. I’d gone to trainings for it throughout my career, but had not thought about, how do I teach this and then how do I teach the social impact piece? And so I actually really excited about how this class was taught. I have kind of mapped the class into different sections, and each section is a different aspect of the design thinking process. So it starts with empathy and goes to reflection. I also take the design equity framework. If people aren’t familiar, it’s the kind of typical design thinking process. Empathy empathize. Define ideate, prototype iterate, and do it all.

Over again. But I’ve added kind of equity pauses, which is a term that I learned from another designer, and reflection at every stage. So I talk about doing all of those things within project management because I think that’s really what project management is. It is like working with people. It’s understanding people. It’s trying things and then doing them again, and then trying it and doing it again. And so I’m really excited about it’s. A project based class.

Every single person in the course, it’s usually a small class, but every single person, I encourage them to choose a project that they are working on at work, or they’re all adult professionals who have jobs and do this MBA mostly on the side. And so they choose a project from work. And then I want you to change something at work or a project that you’ve always thought about doing, which you have never actually had the time to do. Like, let’s use this class time because you have to take this class. Let’s do it now. So people have come up with incredible things. Someone came up with a youth program last year, which I was really excited about. Someone revamped their entire board of directors processes, which I was impressed with.

She’s on the board of a nonprofit and was like, we just don’t fundraise right? How do we rethink the fundraising strategy and how do I lead my team through a process? A lot of the work is quite meta, where they’re redesigning experiences that will be redesigned. So they’re coming up with a project plan. So I bring a lot of the design thinking aspect to the course in addition to trying to give people practical skills on how do you manage a project, like what tools are we using, are you using Trello? Are you using Monday? Are you using Asana? How are you assigning roles to people? Are you thinking about equity when you’re deciding roles for people, how do power dynamics come into play? So really intertwining all of those things. And so I’ve learned so much from all of the students because they all work at different places. Some people are working in consulting, some are working in education, some are working at healthcare nonprofits, and so they all are working together. A lot of it is group work, but the end project is individual. So I hope that they’re learning from each other about what each other is working on and challenged with. So I love teaching that class.

It’s also not that long. It takes a few months. And so it’s what I look forward to every end of year. It’s a nice close out to the year.

Maurice Cherry:

I mean, it really feels like a perfect way for you to take all of these skills and things that you’ve learned throughout your career and pass that on to the next generation of, I want to say of innovators. You mentioned at the top of the episode that you had applied for this development program as an innovator, and the more that you talk about your career and the experiences you’ve went through, I’m like, I can see it plain as day. Like, you’re really out here changing minds and hearts. It’s so awesome.

Sam Viotty:

It’s nice to hear. I hadn’t thought about yeah. I guess when you talk to someone and hear it back, it definitely feels different. So thank you.

Maurice Cherry:

Now, I think what’s probably most interesting about you and your career and what you do is that you take design. And design is such a broad category. I think even when you tell someone you’re a designer, if you tell five different people, you may get five different definitions of what that even is. I mean, for you, what does design mean? Like, what’s your personal philosophy? When it comes to that?

Sam Viotty:

I believe everyone’s a designer. I also believe it’s people who want to take on that role. Like, if you want to be a designer, you can be. I think the most important thing about being a designer is understanding who you’re designing for. Graphic designer, and I someone who is a programmer, experience designer will have. What we have in common is, who are we designing for? The graphic designer is like, I’m making a poster, or maybe they’re making a poster, and they’re like, okay, well, who’s the poster for? I’m like, I’m designing a program. Well, who’s the program for? So really getting to the meat of how do I understand people? And for program design, I think it’s beautiful because it’s everything or experience design is everything. What I said earlier was, it’s what things smell like, what you’re touching, what you’re seeing, who you interact with, when you interact with them.

When we show you something, all of those things make an impression. So I think about design as design is everything. Yeah, I look at and now that I’ve been in so many different sectors, and I know that design means so many different things, I see design in everything. I can’t open a door without being like, someone made this and thought about how humans will open this door wild. So, yeah, designs and everything. I think it’s a branding. As I always say. It’s a branding, marketing.

Maurice Cherry:

It sounds like you’re really interweaving with design, at least with the way that you’re approaching design. Everything works together. All these processes work together. Nothing is in a vacuum. And I think that’s really a holistic way to look at design, because for years, people always say designers are problem solvers, but the problems they end up solving tend to be UX problems or browser problems or things like that when there are so many other things out there in the world. You mentioned healthcare. Government is another one. Government services.

There are so many huge systems that we encounter every day that could use that design eye and that design thinking. And so I hope that people listen to this conversation and start to think of design in a bigger way. Like, think outside of just what you see on a monitor or on a phone. Like, think of design in a broader sense.

Sam Viotty:

Absolutely. Yeah. I think you’re spot on.

Maurice Cherry:

What’s inspiring you these days?

Sam Viotty:

Thank you for asking that. Color. Color has been inspiring me. I started reading. I went to the library and I started reading Color — I have the book right here: “Colors for Designers: 95 Things You Need to Know when Choosing and Using Colors for Layouts and Illustrations”. And I’ve been having, like, a lull in inspiration, and I never really learned about color theory formally.

And so I’ve just been so excited about color. I’ve been going on hikes recently, and so I’ve been obsessed with the sky. I go on runs, and there’s a beautiful sunset on Monday, and I counted eleven colors in the sky. I was just like, wow, what eleven different colors? And so I’m, like, training my eye to see different colors and hues. So I’ve been really inspired by that. I started reading. I just finished the book “Stay Inspired” by Brandon Stosuy…or Stossai? Finding motivation to your creative work.

And it’s a book of just, like, a bunch of activities to get you motivated and inspired to do creative work. And so much of the book has you tap into childhood experiences. So I haven’t been writing all the activities. I’ve been at least thinking and meditating on them. And so that’s been really fun. So thinking about my childhood as inspiration for things that I create and do now has been really cool. And then, yeah, just thinking about color. Lots of color.

Lots of just trying to find inspiration and creativity. My end of year project right now is trying to create an art book. And so very similar to the fade on kind of like big coffee table books, I want to curate some type of yeah, I’ve never tried. So I’m going to just try and map that out over the holiday and see what I can come up with. Have a little theme. I love material culture, so I think that’s going to be the theme for the art book, is thinking about material culture and how artists use different materials to create meaning. So I’ve been doing lots of research. So that’s been my end of year inspiration.

Maurice Cherry:

At this stage of your career, even just looking back to where you’ve come from and where you’ve worked and the impact that you’ve had, how do you measure success now? What does it look like for you?

Sam Viotty:

So do I feel happy? Do I feel good? Do I feel motivated? Has been whether or not I feel successful or those are my metrics for success. Are things feeling right? Feels a little woo. Woo. I think it’s because I live in La now. I don’t think I’d ever talk like this before, but yeah, a lot of it is. Like, how do things feel? I think I’ve had a lot of moments in life. I have ADHD. I also have quite a bit of anxiety.

And so a lot of my life has been me trying to get around those things. And so my metrics of success now have been, do I not feel anxious? How often have I been feeling anxious? Is it less? That seems great. That feels successful. So, yeah, just kind of just like, monitoring my mental health and feeling good about where I am in life right now and being content, spending a lot of time just being happy with what I have right now. It’s hard because I think, how do you balance that with wanting more and being ambitious? I’m wrestling with that now, but just be happy with what I got.

Maurice Cherry:

Is there anything that you want to do that you haven’t done yet?

Sam Viotty:

Yeah, I really want to curate a show. Like an art show. I say it every year. So now that I’m saying it out loud to you and shared with the public, I think I have to do it. So maybe it’s on the 2024 docket. Yeah, I really want to curate a show. I’ve always said I plan for it, I figure it out. But maybe 2024 is the year that I start actually doing it.

Maurice Cherry:

You’re right there in La. That’s a great place to do it. I know that United talent artists has an artist space, but, I mean, there’s just so much art and design in Los Angeles. I feel like you could definitely make that happen.

Sam Viotty:

Thanks for saying that. I live close to the UTA artist space, and I’ve contacted them before just for other stuff, so yeah, thank you. You know what? Yeah, it’s going to go into the like when I envision boarding for 2024. This is it. Thanks for this.

Maurice Cherry:

Yeah. What kind of work do you see yourself doing in the next five years? I mean, I feel like you’re someone that, because of the skills and experience you’ve had, you could really almost go anywhere. Because what you do is you help build systems and you help build processes to work through things. So say it’s five years from now, what kind of work would you like to be doing?

Sam Viotty:

The thing that I have not dove into that I would like to do more is or just curation in general. So I think I want to move to a space where I think I’ve spent a lot of this part of my career being like, I want to be the artist, I want to create, I want to work with people and uplift them. I think I can do that in a different way. Whether I’m curating music shows, which I’ve started to do with Rosedale curating an art show, just like doing more curation and leaning into, I don’t have to be the person that’s doing the thing. I can support the people doing the thing. And so I think that’s where I want to go, and I want to do it across I imagine it being across a bunch of different sectors, and maybe it’s not just visual art. Maybe it’s also fashion, and maybe it’s also interior design and objects and vintage and stuff like that. So I want to dive more into my creative self of putting things.

I feel like a lot of the work that I do ends up being behind the scenes or I don’t get to share it very often, or it doesn’t feel like I share it very often on a public platform. So I would like to move into that space a little bit more.

Maurice Cherry:

Well, just to wrap things up here. Sam, where can our audience find out more information about you, about your work, your projects? Like, where can they find that information online?

Sam Viotty:

I occasionally post on my personal instagram, which is @samviotty, S-A-M-V-I-O-T-T-Y. But my art stuff is at @theviottystudio on Instagram, so both of those are on Instagram. I occasionally tweet. I’m @samviotty on most things. I think I’m also the only Sam Viotty. So if you google Samantha Viotty or Sam Viotty, I’m pretty sure you’ll find me anywhere that’s mostly I respond to DMs. People can also email me at hi at sviotty dot com. So happy to chat.

I love just talking to other people about what they’re working on.

Maurice Cherry:

All right, sounds good. Sam Viotty. I want to thank you so much for coming on the show. I mean, when I was doing my research, and I think what really kind of blew me away was, like, this is a program designer that’s like, trying to change country music. It felt like this weird sort of combination. But now that I’ve talked with you and I’ve gotten the sense to kind of see how you work and how you think, you’re the kind of person that I feel like the design industry needs to have more of. Like someone that can really synthesize all of the things that design can do and use them in ways that can help forward, move people forward, move systems forward, move companies forward. I mean, there’s been so much talk about generalist versus specialist, right? And I think what you embody is, like, the true kind of generalist type of designer that I wish more designers were like.

I wish more people were able to take their knowledge and think of it and use it and apply it in ways that can really sort of benefit the world. I mean, we live in a very crazy time right now, and a lot of the systems and practices and things we have are designed and can be and should be redesigned. And it’s just so empowering for me to see someone like you that’s doing this work out in the world, and I’m glad to share that with the audience here. So thank you so much for coming on the show. I appreciate it.

Sam Viotty:

Thank you. I’m so happy that you have this platform. It’s incredible. Everyone I’ve listened to a few episodes and people are really inspiring. So I’m honored to be on the show. So thank you so much.

Sponsored by Brevity & Wit

Brevity & Wit

Brevity & Wit is a strategy and design firm committed to designing a more inclusive and equitable world. They are always looking to expand their roster of freelance design consultants in the U.S., particularly brand strategists, copywriters, graphic designers and Web developers.

If you know how to deliver excellent creative work reliably, and enjoy the autonomy of a virtual-based, freelance life (with no non-competes), check them out at brevityandwit.com.

Sponsored by School of Visual Arts

The BFA Design program at the School of Visual Arts consistently produces innovative and acclaimed work that is rooted in a strong foundational understanding of visual communication. It encourages creativity through cutting-edge tools, visionary design techniques, and offers burgeoning creatives a space to find their voice.

Students in BFA Advertising are prepared for success in the dynamic advertising industry in a program led by faculty from New York’s top ad agencies. Situated at the center of the advertising capital of the world, the program inspires the next generation of creative thinkers and elite professionals to design the future.

School of Visual Arts has been a leader in the education of artists, designers and creative professionals for over seven decades. Comprising 7,000 students at its Manhattan campus and more than 41,000 alumni from 128 countries, SVA also represents one of the most influential artistic communities in the world. For information about the College’s 30 undergraduate and graduate degree programs, visit sva.edu.

Carl Bogan

Artificial intelligence has been a running theme on the podcast this year, and I couldn’t think of a better person to talk shop about this with than the one and only Carl Bogan. Through his studio, Myster Giraffe, he’s created viral mashups that have racked up millions of views across social media.

Carl spoke a bit about his experiences as a visual effects artist, and then we went into a deep discussion about all things synthetic media — generative AI, deepfakes, media literacy, government regulations…you name it. But we didn’t just geek out about that! Carl told his story about how he got interested in visual effects, what motivates him, and where he wants his work to go in the future. This episode will definitely give you some food for thought!

A selection of Myster Giraffe’s work:

Interview Transcript

Maurice Cherry:

All right, so tell us who you are and what you do.

Carl Bogan:

My name is Carl Bogan, and I am a digital creator and VFX professional living in Los Angeles.

Maurice Cherry:

How’s 2023 been treating you so far?

Carl Bogan:

2023 is…every year is a bit different. This one is no different from that. Starting out, very interestingly, more inbounds from Myster Giraffe. The VFX industry is a bit slow right now. The strike isn’t making it much better, but of course, always optimistic, looking for new opportunities in every single direction.

Maurice Cherry:

Yeah, I’ve been hearing from friends of mine in L.A. and other folks in the entertainment industry how the strike is kind of…I guess it’s reverberating throughout the industry. Because it’s one thing when the writers are striking, but then that affects production, it affects actors, et cetera. So, yeah, I mean, we’re recording this now as the strike is going on. I have a feeling it might still be going on by the time this airs. Given that, what plans do you have for the summer?

Carl Bogan:

Lots of family traveling time, creating new projects, coming up with new ideas, new ways to create new ways to engage with people. And so sort of never stop creating is one of my mottos. So the strike doesn’t really stop that.

Maurice Cherry:

Yeah. Is there anything in particular that you want to try to launch by the end of the year?

Carl Bogan:

I’m still working on a list. I have a long list, I’m turning into a short list, but Myster Giraffe is always sort of near the top of that list. It tends to act as a calling card in general, and so I keep creating every — I don’t know — every six weeks or so, maybe every eight weeks of a new piece in order to keep the beach ball in the air.

Maurice Cherry:

Now, you’ve mentioned Myster Giraffe a couple of times now, and I think listeners have probably seen your work a lot on social media. If not, I’ll make sure to link to a couple of clips in the show notes. But yeah, talk to me about Myster Giraffe. Like, I’m really curious on where that name came from.

Carl Bogan:

So Myster Giraffe is an online handle I created in April of 2019 as a way of honing my deepfake skills in a world that was very much pre-deepfake, generally speaking. And so the name Myster Giraffe was sort of a flippant reaction to wanting to put something out there, seeing if it had any value, and so it just sort of stuck after the first video went very viral. So now I was married to it, so it didn’t matter if I didn’t like it or not at that point.

Maurice Cherry:

Okay.

Carl Bogan:

But I do like it.

Maurice Cherry:

Yeah, I mean, it’s a pretty unique name, Myster Giraffe. And also, I guess the spelling of it probably also calls into a bit of mystery as well.

Carl Bogan:

Now, that was on purpose, namely because Myster Giraffe was born out of not seeing any…I had seen deepfakes to date at that point, but not any deepfakes that I could identify with in terms of Black culture or pop culture. And so I wanted to be that voice, but at the same time, knowing that history has told me, for good or bad or indifferent, you can be marginalized as a Black creator. If you show your work and then put yourself next to your work, the work may not stand by itself. So the M-Y-S — the mystery in Myster Giraffe — the goal was to be sort of more of a Banksy character, and that did work for many, many years and it really stoked the interest of many media outlets and people. Like, I wanted the work to stand by itself instead of having to say, “oh, well, that’s good for a Black creator,” or for that, sometimes people can put an asterisk next to your accomplishment.

Maurice Cherry:

Oh, brother, you do not have to tell me about that. I know that all too well. I mean, it’s one thing…yeah, you put your face or your likeness or something next to it, and then people will automatically kind of either discount it or buy into it. But when I was doing the Black Weblog Awards back in…I did that from 2005 to 2011. And even though it was, like, gaining notoriety, like NPR had reported on it, et cetera, I knew that people would not even pay attention to it just because it had “Black” in the name. Like, it would just go in one ear and out the other. And that was also when Obama was running, and so everything was post-racial. So if you mention anything with “Black” in it, you must be racist. So I know that feeling all too well and kind of being able to stand behind a bit of a pseudonym or just to kind of obfuscate your personal self from the work helps the work stand out on its own.

Carl Bogan:

Absolutely. Not to mention, I was thinking about having a clear delineation between me and Myster Giraffe, in case I get into a bit of trouble. You know, deepfakes are still sort of new, and so I didn’t know what I would create that may or may not get me in hot water. So I wanted to be able to put up a firewall just in case. So I can go get a sandwich and not get attacked.

Maurice Cherry:

Yeah, it’s interesting you say that, because I thought about that as I was looking at some of the clips, and one of the last clips that I remember seeing from Myster Giraffe was — you probably know the one I’m talking about — is Jonathan Majors and Michael B. Jordan, you know, doing the Dennis Edwards and Siedah Garrett, you know, “Don’t Look Any Further”. And I think that came out and then maybe it was like the next month or so, those allegations about Jonathan Majors dropped, and it was like, ohhhh.

Carl Bogan:

Mm-hmm. You never know.

Maurice Cherry:

Yeah. And it was in that media time where he and Michael B. Jordan were doing a lot of press together for Creed III and everything, and people were kind of speculating on their friendship or their bromance or what have you, and then that happens, and…yeah. I get what you’re saying. I get what you’re saying.

Carl Bogan:

Yes. You can’t always control the narratives when they leave your mouse click.

Maurice Cherry:

Yeah. You mentioned wanting to do the studio to kind of hone your talent, but what was the other inspirations behind starting your own studio?

Carl Bogan:

When I first started doing Myster Giraffe, I got a lot of inbounds from different people who wanted to work with me. This is even before I was really ready for the attention. I had been in freelance visual effects for maybe fifteen years at that point, so I was very familiar with freelance work. And so the demand kept growing and growing and growing and growing and working more and more brands, more and more music artists. And so it just made sense to launch an entire effort in order to take advantage of the inbounds.

Maurice Cherry:

Okay, so just sort of have one place to kind of funnel everything into.

Carl Bogan:

Sort of. That’s correct.

Maurice Cherry:

Yeah. Now, do you have a team that you work with or is it just you?

Carl Bogan:

Generally? It’s just me, unless thee job is too big and I need to scale it. And so if I have to do production onsite, I have to scale the team. I have people I go to and I hire, and we work very well together. Friends of mine, colleagues of mine. But for the most part, the Myster Giraffes online as far as the social media effort, that’s just me.

Maurice Cherry:

Okay. How do you come up with the ideas? I think some of them probably certainly are just inspired by, of course, Black culture. A lot of them are. But like…Steve Harvey as Megan Thee Stallion? Where do these ideas come from?

Carl Bogan:

There’s an instinct that only shows up during certain times. There’s maybe about 10 out of the 40 that I’ve created, I think around 40 or so, that I knew what they were going to do before they did it because there’s a little tickle that you get. There’s a little sort of…where you can’t stop giggling. You’re working on it and you watch it 37 times and you’re saying, “this is a good one. This is really good.” So I allow myself time in between creations. That way I don’t wear that muscle out. I wanted to always be able to recognize the funny before it shows up. Some of them I do them for me. Some of them I do as an experiment. Some of them I do as tributes. But there is a certain section that I have an idea for what’s going to work well within the demographic that I’ve sort of created or taken home in.

Maurice Cherry:

I mean, some of them certainly are really fun. I mean, they’re all fun. I don’t want to say some of them aren’t, but I think the one that really sort of stuck out to me and I was like “wait a minute, who is this?” I think it was one for Insecure…for the HBO show. And Issa Rae singing Luther Vandross.

Carl Bogan:

That’s one of my favorites. Well, because that one’s fun. So what normally I like to do when I first started out, it was a bit more cheeky. Man over woman, big difference over here, big difference over there, chasm in the middle. That’s where the joke is. But then pretty quickly I realized, “oh, you can really tell stories with this and sort of come up with alternate realities.” So that was before the term metaverse had really — or multiverse had really — sort of come to fruition. And so I had the idea of Rick and Morty’s intergalactic cable mixed with what Myster Giraffe sort of became. And so each of these sort of are their own reality and their own channel in a multiverse somewhere existing in simultaneous fashion. And so that one was all about the love triangle between Issa and their two male interests on thee show. And so it lines up with the lyrics of the song. Who doesn’t love that song? It’s an iconic song. Who doesn’t love Issa Rae? She’s fantastic. And so you put them together, you cut a trailer around it to help the story get sticky and then you put it out.

Maurice Cherry:

Now when you put that out, was it for HBO and the show, or were you just doing it just to release it through the studio?

Carl Bogan:

That was spec, but I wanted it to look as if it was commissioned because why not? I have no doubt in my mind they would have commissioned it or asked to repost it had it not been a day before they launched the next season. I just kind of got to it late because I don’t rush through these things. It’s like, oh, let me sit down, I’m ready to create again. And so Luther Vandross actually reposted the video — or rather his team — and most people from the show reposted it minus Issa. I’m not sure if she liked or she didn’t. I guess that’s not really the point. It’s to make art that I like and then see if others can appreciate it.

Maurice Cherry:

Yeah. What does the process look like when you’re working on a new project? Like, you have an idea for one of these deepfake videos, or if it’s something from a client, like, what’s the process behind going from idea to conception?

Carl Bogan:

I would say if it’s for me, the process is 80% concept and that is a very passive process initially, whether that’s daily Twitter usage or Instagram usage or TikTok usage. It’s a sort of…collecting things, collecting daily life into your brain. And then I sit down when I’m ready to create. I just kind of feel like, you know what, I’m ready. I sit down and it takes about three to four hours of just kind of going through, combing through what I want to say. I think… I want to have an idea. I think I want to do something with 70s African-American hair care products. I think I want to use this person. This person’s sort of been of the zeitgeist lately. Let me see if I can work them in. And so I kind of have this rolling list of people and topics in my head over in between the pieces. So then when I sit down, that three or four hours, I march, march, march, march, march and then I eventually end at a singular point which is a video. And then I back into it. So I always choose a person second. So I always choose the video first. It’s easier, I found, to not have to force a person into a place. So the people…if I wanted to do a person right now, I wouldn’t really be able to because I haven’t found the piece of media that fits yet. So finding the media is much harder than finding the subject. But if it is a studio, they normally come with thee concept [of] what they want to do. So that’s the easy part. Then they say, okay, great, they have an idea. I’ll either go on set and VFX supe it to make sure they’re shooting it correctly, because there’s a lot of things you can get wrong. We do a data collection of the person that you want to put in what they just shot, you know, we use a stand in. And so I’ve also created a very unique process of data collection for the subject. So that takes about half an hour, maybe 45 minutes, and then I take all the data back to my workstation, my home office, and I make a data set of the data. I get the plates from the studio and it takes about an hour to pre-process everything. And then I start training. It takes about a day and a half or two days. Then the compositing takes about a week, depending on how long and short it is, how perfect they want to be, how much they’re paying me to be perfect. So for the Myster Giraffe stuff, I purposefully don’t spend more than a day on the compositing because it’s not about how perfect it is, it’s about the story that it’s telling. If I do that, I’ll never get done because of my VFX background. I know too much in order to make it take less time.

Maurice Cherry:

Right.

Carl Bogan:

That’s about it. That’s sort of the broad strokes.

Maurice Cherry:

So it sounds like with Myster Giraffe, at least for your self initiated stuff, you kind of want to be a little bit more and this is not a diss by saying this, but it’s kind of rough and dirty, like you want to go ahead and get it and get it out there and get a reaction from people.

Carl Bogan:

Absolutely. I didn’t want to chase the pixel perfect deepfakes that some people chase, which is fine. I want them to push the technology forward. But I also realized, like I said, from being in visual effects, the goal is to have it be so good it disappears. Good VFX are invisible. And so since putting different faces on purpose, on different people, the goal is to create cognitive dissonance. So being perfect there is sort of working backwards. And so I do a good job of blending skin tones, face sizing matting and masking around the faces. Yada, yada, yada. So I get a lot of praise on how well integrated they look, but nothing past that because if they can’t see the job that I’ve done for this particular world, then I think it goes against the work that I’m doing. So sometimes I see an error and I just leave it in.

Maurice Cherry:

Yeah.

Carl Bogan:

Because it’s not worth the three hours to fix it.

Maurice Cherry:

Right. I’m curious also…when you put it out I’m imagining people aren’t coming back to you saying “oh, between this timestamp and this timestamp it’s a little off” or something. They just like the concept.

Carl Bogan:

Correct. I have yet to hear anyone complain about the compositing or the face generation because the story generative is so enthralling that it doesn’t really matter that it’s not 100% perfect. I will take 85 to 90 for this since it’s just for social media.

Maurice Cherry:

And I think that’s probably just an important thing that creatives listening can kind of apply to their own work. Like don’t let perfect get in the way of good. I don’t know how that saying goes. It’s something like that. But done is better than…

Carl Bogan:

Done is better than perfect.

Maurice Cherry:

Done is better than perfect. Thank you. Because you can spend a lot of time trying to get something to what you think is perfect. But the reality is that once it’s out there in the world, the person that sees it already thinks it’s perfect as it is. I mean there’s going to be some that will scrutinize, but for the most part, just put it out there and get feedback. You can always iterate on your own time but don’t let that stop you from releasing the thing, you know?

Carl Bogan:

Absolutely. Put the work out. Don’t worry about it. You can always go back and fix it, but put the work out. I remember the very first one that I did — very first piece was a Will Smith and Cardi B that he ended up reposting. I’m going to believe, to date, it’s still the third highest viewed post on his social media account. And I remember getting ready to really get granular and get into each pixel, make sure it’s perfect. And I stopped myself and said “you know what, this is good enough.” And I know sometimes you hear that, oh, “good enough is never good enough.” Sometimes it is. Sometimes it is good enough depending on the place you’re sending it and what you want to use it for and the time that you have and the effort that you have. And so I would say that examine that before you really spend a lot of time on something that may not matter in that context.

Maurice Cherry:

Yeah, I think that’s good advice. Now you’re working in…the area that you’re working in is known kind of generally as synthetic media, which I feel like is the talk of the tech industry these days. Generative AI, personalized media, deepfakes, like you said, with some of the social clips that you’ve done. And I’m sure that you’ve got thoughts on all of this. So I do have some questions. I’d like for us to chop it up a little bit and talk about some of this stuff. Now, the most obvious thing is synthetic media has the potential to kind of blur the line between what’s real and what’s fake. When you’re working with synthetic media, are there sort of ethical considerations that you think are completely essential for doing this work? Like, when a project comes in or when you’re working on your own project, what are sort of the ethical considerations that you have around creating something?

Carl Bogan:

So I will start with saying deepfake porn is a scourge on society, and they need to legislate that into the ground. It’s not okay. And I say that because that’s where all of this started.

Maurice Cherry:

Yeah.

Carl Bogan:

I say a lot of the tech industry is born from video games and porn. Well, this is no different. And actually, as quiet as it’s kept, a lot of creators would use a forum on a deepfake porn site because that’s where all of the information was on how to do this, how to do that. It was sort of an oddly placed forum in sort of a deep, dark place on the Internet. Sort of, I would imagine, in the same way that YouTube was created and how to get compression rates down and so on and so forth. So I don’t know how it still exists. I won’t list the website because it’s not important. But the sites that do indulge in that practice, I think they should be held to a much higher standard and shut down, so to speak. Because permission and consent in synthetic media is extremely important. Which is exactly why I and many other creators do not do work or use anyone’s likeness for money where they did not consent to it. And so if someone came to me and said, right now, “hey, I want you to put Steve Harvey in a commercial, I’ll pay you money,” I have to say no, because I did not get Steve Harvey’s permission to do that. And so when it’s all fun and games on the Internet, I’m not getting paid for it. It’s fine. It’s parody. As soon as you take money for it, it steps outside of parody and it’s paid for hire. And now you’re infringing on his likeness. Now, that being said, here’s where it gets tricky. You take Steve Harvey’s likeness, you put it into the machine, it turns those pixels into numbers. The numbers turns into whatever goes into the latent space of the training, and it spits out something that looks like Steve Harvey, but legally, is it Steve Harvey? Because I always ask sort of this thought experiment: if you have two twin brothers who are identical, one is a senator and one does pornography, what happens? It hadn’t happened yet. But is the twin brother who is in pornography, is he allowed to practice his pornography as well as next to his brother who’s running for Senate? And so that’s sort of, at least from where I’m standing — how do you handle likeness and what [someone then] does with something that looks like you, right? And so we’re kind of reaching this grey space of what to do with that and I don’t think anyone really has the answer right now. But I will say that having ownness over your likeness, not in the way that it has been done for the last 20 or 30 years, but in a new way…that hasn’t yet been created, I believe that’s going to become very important.

Maurice Cherry:

Last year, right around this time, I was working with a startup. We were doing a magazine and we were doing this issue on Web3 and it was really like my first time diving into, in a deep sense, learning about a lot of these issues. And it was amazing. Like, just hearing about the concept of digital twins and people considering licensing or putting some sort of restrictions around their voice, because someone could take like…someone could take this podcast and the hours of audio that I’ve done and put that into some type of, I don’t know, whatever sort of generative AI type of thing and spit out something that I’ve never said, but they’ve cobbled it together from the words that I’ve said over the years and stuff like that. It was fascinating in like a Black Mirror sci-fi kind of way. But I could see there being some really heinous implications if that is used for nefarious purposes.

Carl Bogan:

Five years ago I was talking to several generative audio companies, and none of them were really that good, if I’m just being honest. But something happened the last six months, because in AI, six months is like six years. And now, all of a sudden, from this one podcast, my voice can be cloned. Your voice can be cloned. And we can be singing Frank Sinatra or saying really inflammatory things about different races and cultures. And so where is it going to be in six months from now? I don’t know. But I will say the technology is allowing for less data to do better impressions visually and audio wise. The future of that I believe is going to…someone’s going to come out with a way to identify or there’s going to be some protocol that everyone’s going to have to adopt if they want to seem as if they are with the time. Sort of like the Truth campaign which got rid of a lot of smokers or stopped a lot of people from smoking. It was a social movement and if you were seen smoking, you were seen as sort of a disgusting act. And because of that, many people do not smoke. And I don’t think the Truth campaign or the Truth company get enough credit for doing that, but I believe it’s going to take that sort of social movement in order to prevent people from being ripped off. Or I think you’ve heard of the kidnap scam where people take your voice and they say, “oh we have Maurice. Maurice, say something.” And you’ll say, “help me, help me give them whatever they want,” just that little bit. And it triggers your family to then go into their banks and their coffers and pull out whatever money they have to satisfy the demands of the would be kidnappers. But little do they know you’re just on vacation in Hawai’i.

Maurice Cherry:

Yeah.

Carl Bogan:

And so that is a real thing that will also happen. And not to be too dystopian or anything, there’s so many other good things that are going to happen.

Maurice Cherry:

Yeah, yeah.

Carl Bogan:

But these are just the immediate things that are sort of the low hanging fruit. Especially because we’ve been in the media lately and we’re making tools and we’re using tools but we’re not really getting ahead of them fast enough. But not necessarily saying that these things will happen, it’s just that they can happen. But oftentimes things that can happen will happen.

Maurice Cherry:

That’s true. That’s true.

Carl Bogan:

I forgot. Is it? Occam’s Razor. No, I think it’s something it’s one of the laws.

Maurice Cherry:

It’s probably like Murphy’s Law or something like that.

Carl Bogan:

Murphy’s Law. That’s what you have. Exactly.

Maurice Cherry:

I mean, to that point, you know, you’re right. I mean, I even think about, you know, some technology that we have now that we take for granted, like cell phones and things like that. Those were inspired by science fiction. So you kind of have this interesting, almost symbiotic relationship of how the technology can be influenced by fiction and then that ends up influencing what people actually do with it in real life. It’s a weird sort of process and I think you’re right; it is going to have to get to some point where there’s some type of protocol or regulation. I know the government has been talking to Sam Altman from OpenAI about artificial intelligence and how it can be used. So I can see the government trying to put some guardrails around this. But in the meantime, what do you think? Actually before we do that — side note, you mentioned Truth. I was on a Truth street team in 1999.

Carl Bogan:

Thank you for your service.

Maurice Cherry:

No, you mentioned that and I was like is the Truth campaign still a thing? It’s still a thing. It’s been around for 25 years. Damn.

Carl Bogan:

Absolutely.

Maurice Cherry:

Wow.

Carl Bogan:

Now little did we know that they would go from cigarettes to vaping which I think depending who you ask is better or worse. But at least we don’t have to smell it.

Maurice Cherry:

Right.

Carl Bogan:

So maybe that was the goal. I’m not entirely sure.

Maurice Cherry:

But to go back to that whole thing about protocol in the meantime, what do you think we can do to sort of cultivate some literacy or some critical thinking around how folks can sort of, I guess, navigate and discern between what’s synthetic media and what’s authentic media? Like we’re already starting to see political campaign ads use kind of this generative video or generative AI for some things of course. I think probably earlier this year you were starting to see people do those AI avatars and stuff like that. And I know one way that people were sort of saying, like, “oh, well, you can tell this is fake. Look at the hands, because they could never get the hands right.” But now they’re starting to get a little better with the hands. But in the meantime, until this sort of protocol is implemented, how can people start to spot the fake, I guess?

Carl Bogan:

Well, for video, it’s easier right now. So for fully generated, like, prompted video, the data is not there. The computational math hasn’t really been done yet on the full models to make them fully realistic. Yet six months ago, it was much worse. Six months later, it’s much better. Six months, it’ll be even better. And two years from now, it’ll be almost impossible to tell. Sort of like Unreal Engine. And they got really, really good at generating rock formations and trees and landscapes because they’re using scans of actual rocks and trees and landscapes. Science plus computing power plus data equals reality, essentially.

Maurice Cherry:

Yeah.

Carl Bogan:

And so eventually, we won’t be able to tell. And so I actually work with a larger group put on by MIT. It’s sort of like a disinformation panel of people all around the world, and we get on a call once or twice a year. We talk about where things are, what can we do to help usher in a safer future, a more honest future, and a more ethical future for everyone, so that we don’t end up in a Black Mirror episode, which we’re rapidly racing towards. And so one of the easiest things, I believe, that always comes up is just an identifier, whether that’s a logo or a bug in the bottom right corner or somewhere on the screen that lets you know what you’re looking at has been generated. That’s it. It’s nothing terribly difficult to do, but there just has to be one commission or one protocol that everyone signs up for says, you know what? I’m going to be a part of the winning team in terms of wanting to make sure that disinformation is not spread, whether that’s innocent or whether it is really damaging. There was a person who went to the Met Gala. Allegedly, she wasn’t there. Someone posted her in a beautiful gown on thee red carpet, and she was at home in her pajamas, so that’s not a big deal. But then you see, like, you’re saying, the political information where you see Trump kissing Fauci.

Maurice Cherry:

Yeah.

Carl Bogan:

And that’s a big deal. And so these are just images, or the images where you see Trump running from arresting officers.

Maurice Cherry:

Oh, I remember those. I remember seeing those. Yeah, yeah.

Carl Bogan:

Which is weird because you would imagine with the video capabilities of deepfakes and whatnot, and especially with voice generation, you can do a much better fake, but the more data points you have, humans are really good at spotting things that are not real. And so with images, they say a picture is worth 1000 words, but people are generally pretty bad at noticing what’s fake about one single image just because of the way we’re wired. Ever since we’re born, we open our eyes, we start collecting data about what’s real and what’s not, about what does a human face look like, what proportions, what are the microexpressions, so on and so forth. But you can’t capture any of that from a single image.

Maurice Cherry:

Yeah, you know, what you mentioned there is sort of an interesting corollary to what I tell people all the time about design. I often have encountered people over the years that are like, “oh, I’m not creative, I’m not a designer,” that sort of thing. But I tell them that everything that they have used or encountered in the world is a byproduct of design. Like the clothes you wear, the chair you sit in, the car you drive. Someone had to really think about that and cater that to a human’s usage or what have you. And so we know when something has been designed poorly. We don’t have to be a designer to know that, but we have enough just sort of like tactile experience with designed objects to know when something is poorly designed. So it’s kind of a corollary to what you’re saying with we see and know enough as humans to know when something is just not like maybe it’s in that uncanny valley, but something is just not quite right about the image that we’re seeing. Like the Pope in a white puffer jacket or something like that. Is that real, you know? That kind of thing.

Carl Bogan:

Exactly. I was reading a book about that, about design. I believe the author called it the Norman Door. Have you ever gone up to a door and you didn’t read the push or pull sign? But it had a handle, and handles generally mean grab and pull.

Maurice Cherry:

Right.

Carl Bogan:

But you grab the handle and then you push in where you’re supposed to push. And so you feel kind of stupid. You grab the handle and you pull toward you and it goes and then you see the word, it says push. Well, that’s not your fault, right? That’s bad design. Yeah, flat surfaces are for pushing and pulling gives you a handle and there’s no two ways about but, you know, depending on where you stand.

Maurice Cherry:

Like I like that analogy. That makes sense. One thing that I love what you’re doing with Myster Giraffe, and you talked about this earlier, is kind of…you’re using synthetic media to kind of amplify otherwise, I think, marginalized voices and faces. Honestly, looking ahead, what developments or advances do you see in synthetic media, and how do you plan to kind of contribute to that through Myster Giraffe?

Carl Bogan:

So what I would like to see, for one, is I’d love to see the world’s first synthetic host for an awards show. I think you can really get away with that for an awards show because the stakes are low.

Maurice Cherry:

Yeah.

Carl Bogan:

Or like a Dancing With The Stars or something where it’s purely entertainment. There’s no real weight on it. And then what I’d also like to see is…I’d like to see someone take the reins, if they haven’t already yet, and design a show specifically to allow you the choice of who you want to be the main character. So let’s say you have three identical body types. You have 5’10”, brown skin, clean shaven. There are several actors that can fit in that category. And so if you take three of those actors and you have one sort of dummy body, if you will, run through the scenes, run the acting, and still tell a good story. Right. And then let’s say, much like Bandersnatch on Netflix, you could choose your own adventure. I would love to be able to sit down and choose who I want to see in that role for that film and then watch it three different times to see how I feel about it. Because a lot of the times how we feel about actors changes how we feel about the film. And so if Jim Carrey was Vin Diesel in Fast and The Furious, the whole movie would feel different.

Maurice Cherry:

Yeah.

Carl Bogan:

Even if he wasn’t being funny in the moment, he would feel funnier because of who we know Jim Carrey to be. And so sort of experimenting and playing with that juxtaposition I think will be cool to see. I think also allowing us to…there’s no reason why when shopping online, we shouldn’t be able to see ourselves in the clothes that we want to wear. Why do we have to buy the clothes and send them back? We should be able to see how we look in them before we waste the fuel and polluting the environment, not knowing how it’s going to look on us. So we should be able to deepfake ourselves pretty much wherever we want to, whether that’s in a…I’ll give an example. Let’s say Cardi B comes out with a new music video, but she comes out with a version where you can put yourself in it and then everyone can put themselves in it as a means of creating another viral sensation. I mean, there’s so many different flavors of ethical ways to engage with people, allowing them to have fun with it instead of it being all sort of doom and gloom and, “oh, no, they’re gonna come get you.

Maurice Cherry:

Yeah. You mentioned that about the shopping, and that immediately made me think about what Snap is doing with augmented reality. Like, I think it’s like a Snap…I think it’s called like Shop Suite or Shopping Suite or something like that, where you can do just that. You can sort of use augmented reality to see how clothes will look on you before you buy them. So you can get a sense of like, “oh, this might work for me.” I think Target does this, Amazon does this, for some products where you can use AR to see how like a piece of furniture or a plant or something might fit in your space before you actually buy it. Because you know, if you go to the store, you got to measure, then you got to go to your spot and measure and make sure that it fits and all that kind of stuff. Whereas now you can just use AR to kind of approximate for the most part how something will look on you or in your space. So I could see that being fleshed out more certainly as technology kind of gets better.

Carl Bogan:

Absolutely. I’ve seen them for shoes. I’ve seen people…I just saw someone was just acquired or started working with Amazon for putting, trying shoes on, which is great because the hardest part about trying on shoes is that you have to go there and they don’t have your size, so on and so forth. But being able to see that the shoes are on your feet now, you still can’t feel them, which is the other half of that, but at least you’re halfway there. But I think there’s a lot of ways to use the technology and use your own face. Or my favorite one, or actually two of my favorite ones — one of them is…there’s a quote that says, “today is the youngest you’ll ever be ever again and tomorrow you’ll be older and older and older. So for online creators whose faces are their money or their investments, they spend a lot of time on skincare and wellness products and Athletic Greens to make sure their skin is glowing and they never bank the data. They never bank the data. And so right now you could take 30 minutes out of your day or every year 30 minutes and bank your data and keep…and sort of put this version of you in carbonite. So in five years from now, gravity, sun, wind takes us all down eventually. Why not be able to call on that older version of you to essentially freeze a digital version of you in time and have that be your Internet facing version forever?

Maurice Cherry:

I like that.

Carl Bogan:

That cuts down on having to get plastic surgery if you don’t want it, having to get Botox if you don’t want it. Just having an independent version of you that only lives online. Sort of like a Max Headroom that never changes. And I believe that’s going to be a way we’re going to interact with the Internet sort of in the near future. Sort of like a Ready Player One way where you just have your avatar and you can choose to show up how you want to show up because you should have freedom and individuality on the Internet.

Maurice Cherry:

Right.

Carl Bogan:

And the second one is — and I’m really passionate about this and I haven’t found the right candidate yet because I don’t know if I’m approaching it correctly — is that I would like to offer a burn victim the chance to restore their face digitally for use on the Internet, depending on how severely they were burned and so on and so forth. But if they have enough data of their face before the accident, you can restore their faces if they so choose.

Maurice Cherry:

If they choose, yeah.

Carl Bogan:

There’s so many different use cases that have yet to be seen that I’m really excited about either Myster Giraffe creating them or other people creating them.

Maurice Cherry:

You know, you mentioned the thing about the digital host, and immediately I was like, if there’s any media entity that I think that could probably pull that off and it would work, it’s probably BET. Like, BET had “Cita’s World” back in I was hoping you would like early 2001, but not only that, they brought Cita back. I think it was in 2021. BET had a reality show called “The Encore” that had these like it had like, Black girl groups from the it had like 702 and Total and I think Kiely Williams and some other folks and they were like all in a house, like, trying to make a hit or something like that. And Cita was the host. I mean, granted, it was only like, on a television, but it was like a more updated version of Cita that would be the so, like, if anybody, I think, could pull it off and at least has a precedent for it, BET, I’m putting that out there.

Carl Bogan:

You know, I’ve used that example and depending on the room you’re in, they won’t know it. They don’t know who Cita is. They’ve never heard of Cita.

Maurice Cherry:

Right!

Carl Bogan:

Cita who? Cita who? But that was ground– And this was 20 years ago. Yeah, actually, I was reading the story behind that and it was a couple of brothers out of Atlanta, I believe, that came up with the idea. And it was very popular and it fell out for whatever reasons. But I think you’re right about that. I think they definitely have the prestige in order to bring that back or to be the first. Let’s just say…let’s hope Tyler Perry gets to buy BET and puts it up.

Maurice Cherry:

Now, speaking of Atlanta, I want to kind of shift the conversation because we spent a lot of time, you know, just kind of talking shop, But learning some more about you as I was kind of doing research for this interview…you’re from Atlanta originally?

Carl Bogan:

I am from Atlanta.

Maurice Cherry:

Tell me what your time was like here.

Carl Bogan:

So I’m from Atlanta and I went to elementary school through high school and college. I started out going to…I got a band scholarship to go to Clark-Atlanta University. I was in the drumline, like most of the people in 2001 who played an instrument at the time. Only stayed there for a year, went to Georgia State for a couple of years for a graphic design foundation. Wasn’t really thrilled with the program, wasn’t really into graphic design as much as I thought it was. I was more into the motion. And so I left Georgia State after two years and went to AIU for the last year and a half to focus on visual communication, where I really dug into 3D, specifically Maya and After Effects and whatnot. Graduated, did an internship at Riot Atlanta, which I believe was absorbed by Company 3, and got my start. Left there three months later, worked in graphic design and motion graphics for the next six months, then I said, “you know what, I’m just going to go for it.” So I left to go to Los Angeles.

Maurice Cherry:

And so for your time here in ATL at Georgia State and then at AIU — I’m kind of trying to place this in terms of the time frame. I’m guessing this is like right around late 90s, early 2000s kinda?

Carl Bogan:

I graduated college in 2005.

Maurice Cherry:

Okay. So a little bit later. Okay. But I was trying to think of what the curriculum might have been, because what it sounds like is what you wanted to learn, there might have just been maybe just a limit in terms of how much the school could teach you.

Carl Bogan:

Absolutely. Everything was still books. YouTube didn’t really exist in the way that it did now. I believe They just got started and everything was 240p. And so if you wanted to learn it, you get a book and you get a DVD and good luck. So that’s not my preferred way of learning. Neither is most people’s based on the success of online courses. But I would say I didn’t really learn what I needed to to be competitive until I left Atlanta. Unfortunately, I had to come to Los Angeles, which at the time, and I think before the pandemic, they were still the number one market for motion graphics and visual effects. Now it’s much more global, so I don’t know if they’re still number one, but I do know that a lot of filming still happens in Atlanta, but rarely, if ever is there any post-production done in Atlanta. It still comes back to Los Angeles.

Maurice Cherry:

I mean, you know, we talked about this a bit before recording. You were like back then, the only places you really could have gotten a job was, like you said, TBS. What was the other place you mentioned? I forgot already.

Carl Bogan:

TBS, The Weather Channel…

Maurice Cherry:

The Weather Channel! That’s right. The Weather Channel. Or if you’re lucky, Cartoon Network.

Carl Bogan:

Correct. That was sort of it. It was sort of a one horse town in terms of post-production. Now it’s maybe a three horse town, which is great. I’m happy to see them growing, but there’s still not a lot of shops and certainly not — I know Method Studios opened up an office there, maybe a couple of others, but it’s definitely not a booming industry there yet.

Maurice Cherry:

Yeah. Atlanta, I feel like, has always been…and God bless them. I was working in the tourism industry like in 2005 and 2006. And I got to tell you, Atlanta was kind of as a city, and I say this only from, like, a tourism perspective, not from a cultural perspective, but from a tourism perspective…Atlanta was kind of failing because we had lost as a city…we had lost this really big convention. I think it was the Home Builders show. And that was like something that brought in like a billion dollars worth of revenue into the city every year, and then they just chose another city. Hurricane Katrina happened in…I think it was 2005. I think Katrina happened, and Atlanta picked up a lot of their convention business, and that really kind of turned things around, I think, for the state to the point where they were able to lobby to state government. And then state government started putting in these tax credits for entertainment. And then that’s how these production studios started coming here and filming. I’m curious as to what Atlanta would have looked like if we hadn’t…I mean, benefited is probably the wrong word, but if we hadn’t benefited from being able to pick up that business from New Orleans, because a lot of people, at least back then, really didn’t want to come to Atlanta. They had a really negative perception of Atlanta, partially from Freaknik, that just carried over into the next decade, but then also know people would come downtown and there was nothing to do. Like, they come downtown, and after five o’clock, everything is dead. And conventioneers would often be angry about thee fact that they can’t walk from their hotel to the restaurant without getting accosted by homeless people. And I don’t want to bring my family here, and there’s a whole bunch of strip clubs, there’s a lot of Black people. I just don’t know what to know to do…that whole thing. And the Atlanta Convention and Visitors Bureau was really trying hard to, like, we need to find a way to brand the city. Like, we need something like Milton Glazer’s “I Love New York” or something like that. And they paid this agency like $8 million to put together this Brand Atlanta campaign. Were you here when Brand Stlanta happened? I think you might have been maybe on the way to L.A.

Carl Bogan:

Might have just left. I left in 2007.

Maurice Cherry:

Yeah, they did this whole Brand Atlanta campaign, and they paid for this really bad logo that was like a combination…like, if you took the Target logo and the Ubisoft logo and put it in a blender, it basically just looked like a bullet hole, which probably was not a great visual for the city. It’s like ATL in this red bullet hole. And they had produced a song called “The ATL” with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and Ludacris, because I remember being in the [Georgia] Dome when that happened, when they premiered it, I was like, “this is really bad.” And granted, people still come to Atlanta for the music, and the entertainment and stuff, but they wasted so much money on that branding campaign, it was ridiculous. I say all of that to say that Atlanta really sort of benefited from that in some ways in the creative industry. But like, I think in other ways, you know, it took a while for the schools to catch up because Atlanta is pretty unique in that we have so many HBCUs, but then we also have kind of some top tier schools like Georgia Tech or Emory or something. And there’s also like art schools here. There’s [The] Art Institute [of Atlanta]. Well, Atlanta College of Art got absorbed into [The] Art Institute [of Atlanta], but the Portfolio Center, SCAD now has a campus here, but they didn’t back then. And now the city, I think, is known for its creative output. But for creatives that are here, and I can tell you this from trying to do the show, it’s been so hard to try to get Atlanta people on this show. They don’t want to do it. Or there’s always some excuse, or…and I mean that this is probably neither here nor there. But I say that to say I think Atlanta outputs a lot of creative work. I think it’s tough to be a creative and stay here because the infrastructure is just not supported from the business end. It may be from the community end, but not from the business end. There’s a lot of folks, a lot of really talented folks I know that have had to pick up and leave because the opportunities aren’t here.

Carl Bogan:

The opportunities aren’t there. I would agree with you. I just shot a music video in Atlanta maybe five weeks ago. Hopefully it’s going to release soon. And shooting the music video there with a small budget and three days of prep would have been impossible in Los Angeles, be completely impossible. I was able to show up on a Friday afternoon with nothing, no talent. Well, I had the main talent, but no supporting roles. It was a two day shoot, had zero locations, and in a day and a half I had everything. So I had the warehouse location that had proper lighting and had the white psyche and they had the robotic arm. I had the people who knew other people. I mean, it’s a very small community. The people working in post-production or production in Atlanta is a very small, insulated community. But I was able to find one person who let me into that community enough for me to get the resources that I needed. And so as much as I say Atlanta is not ready, it is ready if you have that one person. But if you show up to Atlanta and you know no one, you’re going to have a really hard time with trying to make it happen.

Maurice Cherry:

That is true.

Carl Bogan:

So, you know…it can be tricky, but they kind of saved my bacon. So I do want to say that. Now, that being said, all the post-production went back to Los Angeles, but in terms of getting stuff shot, finding makeup artists who actually know what they’re doing, B-camera operators, producers. Those people do exist in small amounts. There’s no strike going on there right now, so I think they’re okay.

Maurice Cherry:

Yeah, I’m pretty sure there might be some strikes here. I haven’t heard of anything but then I also haven’t really been looking, so I’m not sure. Now, right before you started, Myster Giraffe, you joined Aliza Technologies as their chief technology officer. This was in 2019. Tell me about that experience. How was that?

Carl Bogan:

So I had been freelancing for about a decade at that point, and I was looking for a new opportunity, and I really wanted to build something instead of just being the hired mercenary to solve this problem, which I really like doing, and I’m talented at it, but I just wanted to sink my teeth into something. So I reached out to a buddy of mine who has a company — shout out to Zerply — who does a lot of hiring for the VFX industry, and he connected me with someone who was looking for someone to build a team to create digital avatars. And at the time Lil Miquela was coming out, she was making a lot of noise being the first big one, the first American influencer to be an AI robot, and people didn’t really know what that meant, instead of just I don’t know. It’s sort of like a weird time. Anyway, Brian Lee of the League of Zoom Company, the Honest Company, and ShoeDazzle, had this big idea to have a universe of influencers, and he needed someone to help build the team and get the influencers created digitally. So I was hired in 2018 to facilitate that as a consultant. So I hired people from around the world working from home and getting those sort of…this quarterbacking that process, getting the designs from the concept artist to the sculptor to the renderer to the look of that person. When everyone was created, he said, “all right, we want you to come in here and lead the team and get everything going in person.” So April 1, 2019, got in the office, and besides building computers and setting up networks, asked, “where can I provide the most value?” And he said, “I want you to figure out how to animate these characters.” Prior to that, two months prior to me starting, I talked about deepfake, and they didn’t know what it was, so I told them about what it was and how maybe we can use it to animate the characters, because initially I gave them a budget, a VFX budget, and it was very expensive. And I said, welcome to VFX. And they said, can you make it cheaper? I said probably. So I told them about deepfakes. It was open source code out of the Eastern bloc, so from day one, I start specing out a machine to start learning on, and I don’t have a machine learning background. But what I do have is a method of solving problems from working in VFX, so I didn’t have to have a machine learning background or to solve a problem, so long as I would approach the problem methodically and chart my progress, so on and so forth. So three months from April 1, we were seeing really good signs of progress, and the task was to turn 3D data into a data set that could be used for machine learning to make animation 80 times faster and cheaper. And so three months later, we’re seeing some progress. Six months later we started filing patents. We got granted five patents, and those patents still hold. And that was sort of my role at Aliza was many things, but mainly focusing on the animation of these characters and how to get them, how to use a real human to drive the character, replace their head with a CG character in order to save time and money.

Maurice Cherry:

I’m curious if that work kind of helped feed into what you were sort of doing with Myster Giraffe. Not to say it’s like on-the-job training, but I’m curious if that kind of helped you out in that aspect.

Carl Bogan:

It was absolutely off-the-job training because I would do it on the weekends or in the evenings, because I was trying to, as a person who was not a deepfake artist at the time, I was just practicing. And so what Myster Giraffe started was it was really just scratch paper. I have this idea, I want to know what happens if I use less data for this, or I want to know what happens if I use three different types of data here. And so each of the first, I would say ten or twelve videos was just me trying different things. And then it became, well, I wonder how people are going to respond to this sort of thing. And it just became this sort of social experiment of how are people going to respond to this? Whereas it started as, I wonder how this is going to look if I do this XYZ, how much data do I have? What kind of data do I need? How big does video have to be? So on and so forth.

Maurice Cherry:

So it sounds like that was just a really good, I think, like you said, you had to have something where you could focus on building one thing as opposed to kind of doing these off, I guess, freelance type work, like working, doing one thing here, doing one thing there. You kind of had some stability, it sounds like.

Carl Bogan:

Yeah, I had some stability. I had now had a full time job for the first time in a decade, which was odd because I had not been in that role, but at the same time, I wanted that role so I could sink my teeth in. And so when everyone was settled and in the bed on a Saturday night, I’d show up to work at 8:00 p.m. and stay ’til 4:00 or 5:00 a.m. Wow. And just experiment, experiment, experiment. So there’s a lot of bloods and tears on intimate draft. I would say out of everything I’ve posted, that’s only about 10% of the work I certainly that’s only about 10% of the work I show. The other 90% is in a graveyard of stuff that is either too inappropriate to show because of it’s funny when you try to tell a story sometimes and you’re also trying to use comedy. Sometimes you try to toe the line, but you accidentally fall over to one side or thee other, and if you get lucky, you’ll stay on the good side. But sometimes thee experiments end up on the not so funny side and then you have to bury them or the data doesn’t work out. Like, I’ll give you an example. Some of those videos I’ll sit on for two or three years, and I’ll know I want to use them, but because I don’t have the right data, it doesn’t work out. So Michael B. Jordan, I’ve been trying to get the data of him for two years, and when he was with Lori Harvey and when he was doing different press campaigns and so on and so forth, I couldn’t get the right data. But because of this newest run for Creed III, I was able to get the right data, which made that video happen. So it wasn’t really up to me when I got the data. It just had to sort of arrive and now I could move forward with it.

Maurice Cherry:

Yeah, interesting, because yeah, like you said earlier about consent, you couldn’t just put this together if the footage didn’t really exist or you didn’t get that permission from them. But now that he’s doing this press work, he’s out there. You’re now able to sort of gather these sources and then use that to put together a clip like that.

Carl Bogan:

That’s correct, yeah. There’s tons of people I would love to do, but I just can’t get the right data for them. Like Prince. He’s gone now, unfortunately, and he looks so different every time you would see him. But it’s hard to really nail down a good data set of him. So it just may never happen. But that’s okay because that’s how it should be.

Maurice Cherry:

Personally, over the years, how would you say you’ve evolved as a creative?

Carl Bogan:

I would say I’ve become more thoughtful in what I create. I also spend less time creating and more time thinking. I used to create for the sake of creating, which scratched a different itch. But I think as I’ve gotten older, I want my creations to have a bigger impact with less effort. Because I believe that’s…when you’re creating a painting of a Campbell Soup can, you know, it seems like student work, but yet that’s one of the biggest American pieces. And so I think the more and more I do Myster Giraffe or anything for that matter. I try to spend more time thinking than time doing. That way I can do it correctly the first time without having to make a lot of changes to end up at the same place.

Maurice Cherry:

Now, this work with synthetic media, I think is only going to improve as technology improves. What kind of keeps you motivated to continue with this?

Carl Bogan:

I would say the storytelling aspect of it all. There are so many stories that need to be told. Whether they’re in still format or whether they’re a full video, whether it’s found footage, whether you have to go on set and shoot something. There are so many stories to be told. And I think that to be Black in this country is to have your culture cherry-picked for what it’s worth. But rarely do we get a chance to be at the forefront of technology and to tell the stories that we like to tell. Which is why there are so many slave biopics we don’t need anymore. Yeah, we want afrofuturism and afropunk to see the newest Spider-Man and to see the character that was the British punk character, but he was Black, was mind blowing for a lot of people because most people have never seen a Black British punk character in their lives. And while that was an entire movement, maybe the 70s, 80s, and 90s and in Europe, we never saw it in the U.S. And so I think just being able to see something and tell a story around it just because we want to, I think that is important and powerful because we’ve never been able to do that before. So now that the technology is being more democratized, I think is the best time to do it now.

Maurice Cherry:

To that point, I’m pretty sure that there are listeners that are hearing what you’re doing and they might be interested in wanting to try to get involved in synthetic media creating it or something in some way. What advice would you give them if they want to try to delve into this deeper?

Carl Bogan:

I would say to start just by absorbing as much knowledge as you can. Everything you ever wanted to learn is now on the Internet. Everything, every single thing. And if you don’t want to learn it, you don’t have to. But if you want to, just go read, go watch a TikTok video, watch a YouTube video, read a Reddit entry, go on a forum, ask someone. But there’s no more excuses for not doing. Everything is available right now.

Maurice Cherry:

Where do you see yourself in the next five years? Maybe this is a little hard to kind of see because of how the technology is changing so rapidly, but what kind of work do you want to be doing in the future?

Carl Bogan:

My immediate goal is to produce the very first deepfake leaning entertainment show. That’s my first goal. There’s a deepfake show that has not been created in the U.S. Yet. There’s one in the U.K. that didn’t do so well. But I would like to create the first deepfake entertainment show in the US. And then from there have a slew of game shows, talk shows, so on and so forth, proving that you can use the technology in an ethical way and have sign off on everyone who watches it.

Maurice Cherry:

I love that. I think you can make it happen too. I really mean it. You’re in L.A. You’ve got skin in the game clearly for doing this. I mean, you’re a pioneer as far as I’m concerned when it comes to this. So I feel like that’s definitely going to happen for you.

Carl Bogan:

Well, I appreciate that. From your mouth to God’s ears.

Maurice Cherry:

Well, just to wrap this up, where can our audience find out more information about you? Where can they see the clips, the studio? Where can they find that information online?

Carl Bogan:

Sure. So you can find me online on Instagram at @mystergiraffe, which is M-Y-S-T-E-R. Giraffe. G-I-R-A-F-F-E. Or you can just send me an email at carl@mystergiraffe.com.

Maurice Cherry:

All right, sounds good. Carl Bogan, I want to thank you so, so much for coming on the show. Like I mentioned before we started recording, I was super excited to talk to you and this conversation did not disappoint at all. I mean, like I just said earlier, you’re a pioneer when it comes to this. You’ve had skin in the game for years. You’re making work that is one I think showcasing and celebrating Black culture. But you’re doing it in a way that is fun, it’s informative. It’s not like you’re not trying to incite anarchy or anything like that. I mean, really, you’re at the forefront of this as far as I’m concerned. So I really am interested to see how far you can take synthetic media in the future and I really do see that show for you in the future. So thank you so much for coming on the show, for sharing your story and everything. I really appreciate it.

Carl Bogan:

Of course, thank you for having me. I really enjoyed the time together.

Sponsored by Brevity & Wit

Brevity & Wit

Brevity & Wit is a strategy and design firm committed to designing a more inclusive and equitable world. They are always looking to expand their roster of freelance design consultants in the U.S., particularly brand strategists, copywriters, graphic designers and Web developers.

If you know how to deliver excellent creative work reliably, and enjoy the autonomy of a virtual-based, freelance life (with no non-competes), check them out at brevityandwit.com.