André Elijah

Virtual reality used to be a science fiction trope in the 90s, but now, virtual reality is actual reality! Take it from this week’s guest: the one and only André Elijah. His work building games and doing marketing projects as an immersive director is sought after by brands and celebrities worldwide, including Google, Meta, Snap, Drake, and Beyoncé. And that’s not all!

Our conversation began with a slight nerd-out moment about VR Troopers — shout-out to Michael Hollander! — and then André gave a rundown about AR, VR, the metaverse, and the ins and outs of immersive experiences. He also shared a bit of his origin story as a child actor, Ryerson University grad, and becoming one of the first people in Canada to use RED cameras (which are now a worldwide industry standard). André also gave some great advice for people looking to get into the immersive space.

There’s more than one way to success, and André proves that you don’t have to chase VC funding to do it!

Transcript

Full Transcript

Maurice Cherry:
All right. So, tell us who you are and what you do.

André Elijah:
My name is André Elijah and I’m an immersive director working in augmented reality and virtual reality.

Maurice Cherry:
How has the year been going for you so far? I can hear from in the background that you probably have started off this year with a pretty big announcement.

André Elijah:
Yeah, my twins are born in January. So yeah, I guess you can hear them in the background. I’ve got noise canceling headphones on.

Maurice Cherry:
No, no, no. You’re you’re all good. Congratulations.

André Elijah:
Thanks, dude. Yeah. It’s been a bit of a shift, but no, it’s been good. It’s been good.

Maurice Cherry:
How has it been juggling work and family? Are you sort of finding that balance now?

André Elijah:
No, it requires a really good partner that can take care of things on the home front while I work maniacally at all hours of the day and night.

Maurice Cherry:
Well, let’s jump into that work a little bit. You have a studio, André Elijah Immersive, and you just recently celebrated your five year anniversary. Congratulations on that.

André Elijah:
Thank you, sir.

Maurice Cherry:
Tell me more about it.

André Elijah:
It’s basically a studio where we build everything we want to see in the world. There’s multiple parts to the company. We’re building games. We see games as the major catalyst to enable these new mediums and platforms. And so we want to be there and kind of build the content that we think will sell units and sell headsets and make this augmented reality and virtual reality future pervasive. And then on the flip side, we also work with a number of agencies and brands doing marketing projects, ad campaigns, that sort of thing, building interactive elements of that, or activations, augmented reality activations, metaverse activations, all kinds of stuff. So we’re constantly busy, probably a little bit too busy, some would say, but no complaints. This year’s been absolutely mental. I think I’m really lucky in that I was able to survive this long in this industry.

André Elijah:
A lot of people thought that VR in particular was going to pop off multiple times already and it didn’t and really kind of found its footing during the pandemic. There’s a lot of things that came together. Everything from Oculus Quest 2 or I guess now Meta Quest 2. Everyone being at home with the pandemic and needing something to do, the rise of VR fitness was really another thing that popped off and helped sell headsets and find a user base. And so all these things coalescing at the same time allowed for me to still be here and be in business all these years later. Definitely one of the lucky ones in that regard.

Maurice Cherry:
VR as a technology, I feel like has been trying to pop off since at least, I guess at least the ’90s, right, the mid ’90s.

André Elijah:
Yeah, that’s correct.

Maurice Cherry:
It has tried to gain some footing. The first, and this is probably weird, but the first thing I think of when I think of VR is VR Troopers. That really horrible, horrible show.

André Elijah:
That show. Yeah. In the ’90s it was basically a riff off of the Power Rangers because there was the three VR Troopers. I remember that. There was a TV station called the New VR and they carried VR troopers. Yeah, it was a station based at a Barrie, Ontario.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh wow. So, interesting thing. Do you remember the black guy that was on there that played JB?

André Elijah:
Yes.

Maurice Cherry:
He works in gaming. I’ve had him on the show before.

André Elijah:
What?

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, yeah.

André Elijah:
That is wild.

Maurice Cherry:
He told me all the behind the scenes. That show is so chopped up. It’s like the video form of, I don’t know, scrapple or something. It’s like a whole bunch of stuff taken from different shows that they cobbled together and it’s wild. It’s not even from one show. It’s from five different shows that they put together to make that show because they have different outfits in VR grid versus when they’re fighting the monsters. And it’s so funny. There’s a video on YouTube, if you want to check it out. There’s a video where the cast got drunk and did a voiceover of one of the episodes. It’s so funny. It’s so funny.

André Elijah:
That is awesome. This makes me really happy to hear, I’m not going to lie. It’s funny because no one knows what the hell VR Troopers is. You can mention Power Rangers and everyone knows that. Occasionally you can mention Masked Rider and people will get that because it’s just Kamen Rider. You mention VR Troopers, no one ever knows what the hell you’re talking about. So, you made me really happy right now.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. But to go back to my earlier point, VR has really tried to pop off since then. You had Nintendo with the failed Virtual Boy. You even had video games that had virtual or virtual in it, like Virtual Fighter. There’s been all these attempts to try to make virtual reality really a big thing. And it seems like, as you said now-

André Elijah:
Even the Metal Gear Solid VR missions. And I think it was Metal Gear Solid 2. It was all these simulated missions that were, quote unquote, in VR.

Maurice Cherry:
But even now, as you said, there’s been this perfect storm of I guess the pandemic and the technology becoming at a enough of a consumer price point where it’s starting to become commonplace now.

André Elijah:
Yep. Hundred percent.

Maurice Cherry:
So with your studio, what does a typical day look like for you?

André Elijah:
I don’t really think there is a typical day. It’s everything. So, right now we’ve got multiple VR games in production. One is kind of midway-ish. One is at the tail end and we’re about to go into certification. We’re working on a number of augmented reality projects and advertising campaigns and things like that. So, every day is kind of a mishmash of touching base with my team to see where things are at, play testing our products and projects and giving some feedback there, investigating new technology that we might be called to use in a campaign of some sort or an activation, pitching projects that we ultimately want to build and do. It’s a mishmash. Every day starts early and it goes late, but there’s really no set formula, just whatever we get time to do.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. Now we’re talking about VR virtual reality, which again I’m pretty sure most of the audience knows about. But I also just kind of want to level set the conversation because there’s a lot of terms when we talk about these immersive experiences that get thrown around, like AR, XR, the metaverse. Can you give us a couple of definitions of terms that are widely used in this space?

André Elijah:
Yeah. The three that I use are AR, VR, and regrettably metaverse because those are three biggest ones. XR I throw out the window because that just opens up its own can of worms. So, augmented reality is basically digital information overlaid on top of the physical world. So, whether that’s virtual screens that exist in your room, virtual pets that exist in your space and navigate your space that you interact with, things like that. Virtual reality is an entirely virtual space. So, you put on a headset. There is no pass through. You’re not seeing the real world. You are immersed in a fully virtual world with virtual interactions and virtual environments.

André Elijah:
And then we’ve got metaverse, which is basically a think ready player one basically networked experiences with other people in a virtual space. Doesn’t necessarily have to be in VR. You could make a case that Fortnite is a metaverse of its own with the way that people are able to express themselves with various designs and skins and way you can customize yourself. And you’re communicating with people and you have shared tasks and goals or you can just hang out remotely together. I think that’s the perfect example of a metaverse. And so those are really the three that I try and stick to because otherwise you get way too in the weeds with all the different terminology and you lose people.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. Why do you regrettably say metaverse?

André Elijah:
Ever since Zuckerberg changed the company’s name, Facebook’s name to Meta, everyone’s been jumping on the metaverse bandwagon. I think in some ways it’s good that we have a shared language finally because if you’ve been working in this space for years, the terminology got pretty hardcore. You had AR, you had VR, you have XR. And then there’s a whole debate online as to what the hell XR even stands for and where the origins of it come from. That’s literally a Twitter battle every other day. And then we’ve got spatial computing, which Magically tried to use to differentiate themselves. And we have Microsoft with Mixed Reality.

André Elijah:
And so there’s all these terms and everyone has their own branded version of the same thing, which made having that common language difficult. So, here’s Zuckerberg blowing $10 billion a year, whatever to make the dream happening. Renames the company Meta in the spirit of the metaverse. And so everyone now is using metaverse for everything. But I just think if you’re building this content, you’re building real time content with networked interactions and expressiveness and personalization, all of things like that. Now we have everyone saying that Web 3 projects are all the metaverse. You buy an NFT and it’s for the metaverse, even though you can’t use that content anywhere else. I saw an article the other day about an audio metaverse and it’s like-

Maurice Cherry:
Oh God.

André Elijah:
Everyone is just… If you do a Google search every day, it’s just nothing but metaverse this metaverse that. And most of it’s bullshit. If people are selling you stuff that will be used in the metaverse, 99% of it can’t be used anywhere because there’s no interoperability with any of the platforms. So it’s kind of disingenuous I find when people use the term metaverse. I think it’s great because it grounds the conversation to a degree. And if anyone with real understanding will know that we’re talking about networked multi-user experiences that are digital. But for the most part, I think it’s become a bit of a hype train thing and I’m waiting for it to die off again.

Maurice Cherry:
It sounds like Meta, Facebook, whatever, they muddied the waters a bit by calling what they’re doing the metaverse because right after that, everyone of course is asking, “Well, what is the metaverse?” But they’re associating the metaverse with Meta and think that everything metaverse related has to do with Meta the company.

André Elijah:
Yeah, that’s true. But I was watching an interview this morning on the Breakfast Club with Charlemagne, and DJ Envy, and Angel Yee. And they had a Ja Rule on there and he was talking about how he’s building a Madison Square Garden for the metaverse. And I’m like, dude, what now? And so then he said two things later, he had said that he was building inside of the platform called the Sandbox, which is a crypto platform. But one Web 3 real time product isn’t the metaverse. He needs a certain level of interoperability between the different platforms and we need to be able to jump to and from them easily before I would ever consider it to be the metaverse. But it’s common parlance now. It’s to the point where 46 year old rappers are dropping the metaverse now in interviews.

Maurice Cherry:
Right. It’s funny. At work where I’m at now, we just released a print magazine and our next issue that we’re doing the theme for it is Web 3. It’s geared towards product communities. And so I’m trying to find what that intersection is going to be between Web 3 and product communities and stuff. But we were initially going to call it metaverse because of that kind of large encompassing, I guess, general definition of it as so many people jump on the bandwagon. But I think narrowing it to Web 3 hopefully will help with that. But I wanted to get those definitions because I think that along with NFTs and DAOs and all that stuff gets thrown in together and people just get confused and I almost feel like that’s on purpose.

André Elijah:
Yeah. I think the running joke right now is if you want to raise a bunch of money, maybe not right now because things are on a downturn, but certainly a couple months ago, if you wanted to raise money, you just say Web 3, metaverse, and DAO and a pitch deck and all of a sudden you’re valued at $50 million. And I was even thinking about doing some stuff in the crypto space and I talked to a couple investors. And honestly, dude, I didn’t have anything solid. It was pretty shaky. The idea that I had and the investors were like, “Yeah, your company, if you started right now, it’s valued at $25 million. I can help you raise $5 million tomorrow.” And it’s like, “Say what? Dude, I don’t even have a deck. I don’t have a company. What are you talking about?”

André Elijah:
I felt a little bit dirty having those conversations. I’m like, you know what, I’m just going to keep on doing this VR AR thing for a minute and just ride this out. But that was the thing. You throw enough of those terms around in a deck and you got a really big valuation and chances are Andreessen Horowitz is going to jump in and value it at a billion dollars, which is those things that was happening. So, it’s interesting.

Maurice Cherry:
So, I was going to ask this question. I’ll still ask it, but I can’t help but notice in your profile picture you have these Snapchat, AR Spectacles. And that’s one way that people can experience these immersive experiences. You also mentioned Meta Quest 2. Are there other ways that people can start to get a sense of what these immersive experiences are about?

André Elijah:
Yeah. So in the case of the spectacles, those are very much developer only or creator only, as Snap’s terminology would be. So, there’s only a handful of people in the world, maybe 600-700 people in the world that have Spectacles right now. They’re early. They’re very cool. I love using them, but they’re really for us to figure out what the capabilities in a lightweight headset need to be for augmented reality to be real and to go mainstream. So, there’s a lot of dialogue between people like myself and Snap to eek out the most performance and have an understanding of how we want to use these things in the first place. I think in the coming years they’ll hit mainstream and you’ll be able to buy them. But right now those glasses are very much for developers to spell out what the future is going to be like.

André Elijah:
In terms of what can you use today to get a sense of what all the stuff is going to be like, Snapchat is huge when it comes to AR. There’s hundreds of millions of active users right now using AR multiple times a day. So, a lot of the marketing projects that my team engages on are all Snap based just because they have a high number of users, the retention is really high, and people just love using the platform. And so my team has built projects for Direct TV and AT&T and Google and probably some others that I can’t even think of right now all on Snap.

André Elijah:
And typically when we get a request for breaking down the project, it always starts off with, “We’re going to target every platform. We’re going to do Spark AR and we’re going to do Web AR so you can hit the stuff in a web browser. And we’re going to do Snap and maybe even a dedicated app.” And two weeks into any of these processes, they’re like, “We’re just going to go to use Snap because they have the highest amount of users, the highest amount of retention, and the capabilities of the platform are dope. So, I think if you want to experience AR right now, Snap is probably the way to go on your phone.

André Elijah:
And if you want to experience virtual reality, Meta Quest 2 is basically the best headset you can get, best platform you can get. It’s a few hundred bucks. You can go to Amazon or Best Buy and pick them up and bring them home. And it’s honestly the best experience that you can get right now all in one standalone headset. You don’t need a computer, which I think VR was really held back for a while by the fact that you needed a gaming computer for the longest time to be able to drive these things. And so here we have a standalone device that’s basically Android phone on your face. And you get really compelling content. You get, if you want to work on your fitness, you got Supernatural, which is probably the best workout app ever. And I’m really into it for the boxing. We’ve got, if you’re into shooters, they’ve remade Resident Evil 4 in VR and it’s only available on the Quest and it’s probably the best VR game I’ve played next to Half-Life: Alyx.

André Elijah:
And so you’ve got all these games that are being able to run in a standalone form factor. And then if you want some of those PC only experiences, then you can connect with a cable or even wirelessly to your PC and have it be a PC headset as well. So I think if you want to get into AR, it’s going to be Snapchat on your phone for the time being. And if you wanted to get into VR, then it’s going to be Meta Quest. And even with the Quest, they’re enabling augmented reality and mixed reality experiences now, too. It’s black and white pass through, but all your content is color. It’s really compelling. It’s really compelling.

Maurice Cherry:
Wow. I have a client that bought me, well, actually I had requested him to get me a Meta Quest 2 instead of paying me a deposit, it’s still in my closet. I haven’t broken it out yet. I need to give a spin.

André Elijah:
Yeah. Well if you open it up, which you need to, we can play together and you can add me and I will onboard you. That’s a promise.

Maurice Cherry:
No, you mentioned-

André Elijah:
[crosstalk 00:19:12].

Maurice Cherry:
All right. You mentioned these earlier clients that you’ve worked with. You said Snap, you mentioned just for some of the others I’m looking at your website here, Uber, Sony, Drake, Beyonce. When you’re working with these brands, are you seeing any specific trends when it comes to the type of immersive experiences they want to create?

André Elijah:
Early days VR was very much driven by hype. So, you basically wanted to have a very basic project. Keep in mind the capabilities when this wave of VR was popping off a few years ago, five years ago, the capabilities weren’t really as fleshed out as they are now. So it was basically you could look around in a headset. If you were lucky, you had motion track controllers. But you’re still tethered to a PC that wasn’t very powerful, especially when it was driving a stereoscopic two views at 90 frames per second. So, you were.

André Elijah:
Limited in what you could do. And early days it was basically let’s build this thing, attach a celeb or a big brand to it, and get press. And so basically you were building projects just to get press because there really was no market to make money. So, you were getting paid to build the experiences and your metric was how many views and how many articles did you get? And I think that did a lot of harm to the industry because weren’t creating anything really of value that stood the test of time. People weren’t getting much utility out of it and it hurt the space. And that’s why when I say I’m one of the lucky ones that’s still around, I mean 90% of my peers have died off in this industry to go to adjacent industries or something completely different because there just was no way to make money in VR for the longest time until the last couple years with the advent of the Quest and Quest 2.

André Elijah:
So, I think now we’re at a point where we have enough data and we have enough users that we can make a go of this, if you do it right, and really create value for people, whether it’s through an entertaining experience, like a game, or something that provides utility, like a workout app that actually helps people with fitness. Maybe it’s a meditation app that helps with people’s personal wellness and that sort of thing. So, I think we’re at a point now where we’re trying to identify what are the opportunities to create value for people? As opposed to what’s this flashy headline that I can get with a celeb or a big brand attached just for shits and giggles? And it’s a very different way of working. That’s why I pitch a lot of projects because I don’t necessarily have all these clients coming to me. But it’s like, “Hey, I see an opportunity because I’m working with the platform. I have some insight as to the numbers or percentage splits of who’s engaged in what kind of content. And I see an opportunity here if we do it right.”

André Elijah:
And I think that’s the key thing is doing it right because you don’t want shovelware. You don’t want to announce something that never gets out the door and you ultimately don’t want to fail the platform. As much shit as they take, Meta’s done a really great job in building a platform that succeeds for the developers and that you know that if you manage to get to that store and they push you in front of their audience, you’ll live to fight another day. You won’t have to close up shop, you can pay your mortgage, everything is good.

André Elijah:
And I think part of that responsibility is creating content that stands the test of time, that shows up and does well for its audience. And ultimately, I say this every time we take on a project, we got to come correct. I don’t want to build a thing that we ship on day one and we forget about it. I don’t want to ship something that people forget about. It’s like come correct, create value for the platform, create value for the users, and then identify the next opportunity, and rinse and repeat. But the key thing is to come correct.

Maurice Cherry:
I’m glad that you mentioned shovelware because first of all, that immediately took my mind back to late ’90s, early 2000s when companies were just starting to get on the internet. And they were making just trash just to say that they had some sort of presence, like Pepsi world or something like that. Where you go and it’s like, “Oh, you can view our latest commercial.” Why would I want to view a commercial? It wasn’t any sort of intent behind it, I guess, outside of it being just another commercial, another ad. But I think that was also because brands then, this was such a new technology and a new space, they didn’t know how to operate within it. I would imagine now with the metaverse, maybe companies are a little smarter about the type of experiences that they want to have, maybe, possibly, not really.

André Elijah:
I don’t want to anyone under the bus, but no. There’s group chats with people and we see the latest headlines every now and then from the Verge or Engadget and we trade it around. We say, “Why does this even exist?” There’s a lot of that going around still. That’s kind of the nature of the beast to a degree. You got these huge multi-billion dollar companies that are trying to create platforms and they want some big names attached and the people that have access to those big names. It’s the traditional agency model in a lot of ways where agencies aren’t really run by creative people. There’s a million levels of abstraction involved and everyone takes a meeting on every little thing and it’s designed by committee and none of it is breathtaking. None of it is new. None of it’s innovative. And the end product hurts.

André Elijah:
So, I think a lot of these projects and products that come out that are associated with a big agency and a big brand, you can probably guess that it’s not going to be the greatest thing ever. But if you have a really small, nimble team, that’s dope at what they do and they’ve studied the space and they’ve worked at it, they’ve put in those hours, and they get a hold of something valuable, like a brand or IP, then they’re going to knock it out of the park. That’s been the game with everything from the internet to we saw what happened in last year with the NFTs and Web 3 and all this stuff. Did we really need a Matrix Avatar project that’s basically just a rebranded version of Unreal’s Meta Humans? No, I don’t think we needed that. So I think, VR, AR none of it’s really all that different. I think you just need the indies kind of lay the groundwork for everyone else to follow. And you just make sure that the indies get their flowers and they get their paycheck so they can live another day.

Maurice Cherry:
That makes a lot of sense. That makes a lot of sense because what you are seeing are a lot of small studios and independent developers trying to stake their claim. And now the larger brands are kind of trying to rush in. And now that they see that, oh, this is something that I think we can be a part of in some way, now they want to try to rush in and get a piece of it. So, that makes sense. But some of these considerations you’re talking about, there’s so much to think about with, quote unquote, the metaverse there’s virtual wellbeing, there’s economics around NFTs and stuff, there’s intellectual property. How do you factor in these other types of considerations within your work? Do you think about that stuff?

André Elijah:
No, I try and limit the scope of what I do to exclude all that or else I wouldn’t get anything done all day. Our business right now on the games front, we’ve got a couple original games that we’re working on and we’ve become the master’s of porting games. So, we have access to the IP. We don’t have to worry about any of that. So, we’re in a good spot there. And then when it comes to the agency side, obviously we’re working with the brands and agencies. So IP again, isn’t really a concern for us because they’re coming to us and saying, “Use our name and do this thing.” So, I think the way I’ve tackled this, we kind of get around all of that. I don’t think I have, as well as the studio’s doing, I don’t think I have enough dollars for all the lawyers that would be involved with everything you’re mentioning.

Maurice Cherry:
That makes sense. Let the big companies sort that out. That’s what they’re paying for, right?

André Elijah:
Exactly.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. I love that you’ve got this portion on your site with rejected projects. Why did you decide to show those?

André Elijah:
Yeah, so it’s weird, man. So, a lot of what people do when they’re indie is build products and projects and prototype things. But if you take a look at their portfolios, they only have the finished projects, the sexy ones, the ones that shipped. And you never know about what happened in those three months or four months between them shipping stuff. You never know what the backstory is. You don’t know the genesis of so many of these things. And I found myself for a while not shipping projects and doing a lot of prototyping and having a lot of discussions. And I just wanted an avenue to show it off and put it up as in a way that’s like, “Hey, this is not final. It’s not shipping. It’s not representing anyone. But these are the things that we’re thinking about. These are the conversations that we’re having behind closed doors.” The people that we’re talking to are probably people that you would want to want a product from or at least the conversation with to figure out what this would look like.”

André Elijah:
And ultimately I just said one day, “Fuck it. I’m just going to post all of this stuff sitting on all of these decks and all of these ideas and all these email threads and conversations that I’ve had. Why shouldn’t people know about it? They’re not secret.” I did the work to come up with the idea and get it in front of the right people and pitch them. So, maybe people should know that I’m not just kind of sitting around playing Fortnite all day, but I’m not shipping stuff, but I’m actually trying to get things done. I’m trying to build alignment behind the scenes with big brands and stuff. And so just kind of decided one day I got enough material, let’s do it.

André Elijah:
And to be fair, I’m probably showing only a 10th of the rejected pitches that are pretty decent. Just a matter of I need to find the time to throw all that stuff up. So I think we’ve got, what do we have in there, dude? We’ve got some People stuff. We’ve got Title and RocNation who I was talking to for a while about doing some stuff. I think we got Dead Menace in there. So, there’s enough cool ideas and content in there that it just kind of made sense to put it out there and say, “Hey, yeah, I know all these people.” And if we have something strong, I can take an idea back to them as well. And maybe we’ll do something in the future.

Maurice Cherry:
And it’s probably also just a learning experience, hopefully, for people that are like, “Oh, we just got pitched on a similar project. Maybe we don’t do it this way, or something like that. So it’s kind of a learning tool.

André Elijah:
Yeah. A hundred percent

Maurice Cherry:
Now as these immersive technologies become more readily available, now we’ve got, like you said, Snap Spectacles, we got Meta Quest 2. I’m sure there are going to be more peripherals that come down the line in the years to come. What do you think is going to set each experience apart as these technologies become more readily available?

André Elijah:
I think part of it is understanding the tech and how to make it work and understand the limitations and polish everything that you do. Like I said before, you got to come correct. So when we’re creating these different experiences, some of them are games and some of them are applications, mixed reality applications that add a layer of utility on top of your physical space, your home or whatever. I think user experience is really important. Onboarding users that have never touched a headset before is really important. Letting them feel comfortable and getting them to a point of comfort where they can share with their friends, “Hey, put on this headset and try this thing out.” We need to stop getting away from these high end technologies because this kind of tinkerer space or this hardcore technology space and realize that it’s for everyone. So I think polish and onboarding and taking the ego out of it is really important to grow that adoption.

Maurice Cherry:
Now we’ve talked a lot about your work. We’ve talked for the past 30 minutes about your work. Let’s kind of switch back to the real world. Let’s learn more about Andre Elijah, the person, the man. Tell me about where you grew up.

André Elijah:
Yeah. I grew up in Toronto, middle class family, parents working their asses off to give me a future. Initially wanted to be a child actor and got into that for a little bit. And that kind of kicked off my whole film industry thing. So, did a lot of auditions, was in some commercials and couple small movies and that sort of thing growing up. And really loved the energy of being on set really loved being creative with people. So, that I think set the tone for the rest of my career and seeing how people collaborated and worked under really stressful situations on a set to create something really, really dope.

André Elijah:
And grew out of that a little bit. Just the auditions were a lot with everything I had going on at school. I had a lot of extracurriculars and bands and drama and all that sort of stuff. Kind of aged out and then there was an opportunity when I was in, I think grade eight, seven or eight to do what was called an options program and I sucked at sports. So, it was basically an opportunity to do more creative things. So on top of doing debate, there was an opportunity to be part of the film club. And that piqued my interest immediately. My first time shooting and editing, it was a… My first camera that I used was a Canon and GL1 camera, which is a 3CCD or three chip semi-pro camera from Canon. And my first edit suite was I think Final Cut 3 on a Power Mac G4 with mini DV capture deck and external monitors and all that sort of stuff. So I started, they threw me in the deep end and I got to play with the pro stuff first.

Maurice Cherry:
Wow.

André Elijah:
It was probably seven or eight years before I ever touched iMovie. After I started in Final Cut, I found that whole process of shooting projects and editing them and taking them through post production really, really interesting and fascinating. And I picked it up quick. That just kind of became my thing. And I was always a geek and loved playing with computers. So, the fact that I could create the stuff that people would watch and enjoy while geeking out on these really hardcore computers was a dream from true.

André Elijah:
A lot of the older students, I was grade seventh, grade eight and a lot of the older students that were in grade 11, 12 when they graduated, they went off to work in the big leagues. We had some guys that went off to New York and worked on the Sam Raimi Spider-Man films. We had a couple guys go off to work at visual effects houses. We had some that went off to China and worked in documentary films there. And so I guess they all kind of took me under their wing and I got to see life through their eyes for a while and they onboard me to their projects. So, I was this young kid that was getting really shitty duties on their projects, but it was dope. And eventually I got good at editing. So I became an editor, freelance editor while I was still in high school and all that.

André Elijah:
I ended up working with Radio Television Hong Kong. I was editing some of their documentaries and a buddy of mine that I worked with in the corporate world, we were both moonlighting in the film industry. He ended up going to the American Film Institute. He became a directing fellow there and I edited the three short films that got him accepted into the American Film Institute. So, that kind of set me up. And then I worked at my first agency ever I worked at as a video editor initially cutting together demo reels for them and content for their clients. And then they turned me into a flash developer before flash got killed off by Apple, Steve Jobs, and one letter. They turned me more into a dev than anyone else. And let me see what happened when you press a button and something bounces on a screen. They did that. And I think in a big way kind of set me up to where I’m at now.

Maurice Cherry:
So, you got introduced into tech at a early age, but through media. I think that’s pretty cool.

André Elijah:
Yeah. I really just always love the creative process and being able to geek out to pull that process together. It’s been a lot of fun. It’s been a lot of fun. You see a lot of stuff and yeah, I think the common thread in my career though has been being on the cutting edge of technology. So whether it was the film and using janky ass versions of Final Cut Pro on these ridiculously powerful computers. I did a stint at Canada Pension Plan Investment Board. So, I was a systems analyst for them working on some hardcore service stuff. Years later, after film and agency stuff, working in AR and VR, again, cutting edge of technology. So, I think that’s always been kind of the constant in my life and in my career.

Maurice Cherry:
And now you went to Ryerson University, which I think by the time this interview comes out, people know it’s now Toronto Metropolitan University. But you majored in fine and studio arts as part of their new media program there.

André Elijah:
That’s correct.

Maurice Cherry:
What was your time like there?

André Elijah:
It wasn’t great. I went to Ryerson because the founder of my first agency, he was actually in the first batch of new media graduates at Ryerson. That guy has always been my hero and I love him to death. Shout to Spencer Saunders. I wanted to be like him, so I went to Ryerson and hopped into the new media program over there. And it was very different than when he went to school. I was one of those people, man, I like doing stuff. I don’t really like the theory of things. I like getting my hands dirty. It just didn’t click for me, which is fine. Maybe it clicked for some others, but I like getting my hands dirty. I like building stuff. I like doing the work.

André Elijah:
So, sitting in a class and watching someone code on a projector doesn’t really teach me that much. Hearing about a VHS fine artwork from 20 years prior when we’re doing stuff online didn’t really connect with me. It’s just one of those things. I think that’s been another constant in my life too. I just like doing, I don’t really like the instruction. I Just like getting my hands dirty with the code and seeing how things react when I change things around. So, Ryerson wasn’t really my bag.

André Elijah:
First couple years, I think I was in school full time. And then the last couple years I was working down the street at Canada Pension while I was doing my classes. So, Canada Pension was really cool. They let me slip off to class when I needed to for an hour or two here and then go back to work. So, I start my day early. I’d end it kind of later in the day, probably five, six o’clock. And skip out for, instead of taking lunches or whatever, I’d just go to class. So, at least my last couple years I had real work that I was doing to kind of balance it all out.

André Elijah:
But yeah, go get your degree. That’s the thing that gives you credibility I guess. But I can honestly say, at this point in my career, I don’t think I’ve ever looked back at Ryerson and been like, wow, they set me up for this or everything that I did there led to this. God, no. It was me just kind of downloading Unreal Engine when they announced Unreal Engine 4 and being able to play with those content examples and build my own stuff that really kind of got me here.

Maurice Cherry:
That’s interesting. I have I guess similar experiences to when I was in college. I would imagine that college is still set up this way where your first two years you’re just slammed with classes because you have to take your humanities and all the general stuff before you can really get into your major. And then once you get into your major, there’s not so many classes hopefully. So, you have more time just outside of school to do things. My first year at Morehouse I was ready to go. I was like I don’t know if this is what I want to do. And I stuck it out because eventually I did have part-time jobs. I actually started working in the computer science lab at Morehouse and that’s how I got into, not necessarily how I got into technology. I was into it before then. But I got to spend so much time in the computer lab teaching myself HTML, basic JavaScript, et cetera, reverse engineering webpages, figuring that stuff out on my own that had nothing to do with what I was actually learning in my major courses.

Maurice Cherry:
And so I think if I look back at my time, similar to what you’re saying, I don’t know if I would really recommend it. I could say, “Oh, I went to Morehouse.” And that means something to people in the world. To me, eh, it was okay. It was all right. I got my degree. I got out, no debt. I can say that proudly.

André Elijah:
Key part, right? You got out, you survived, you did it.

Maurice Cherry:
We had our graduation outside. They normally have the graduations outside and it stormed on my graduation, lightning hitting electronics stormed. And I’m sitting there in my cap and gown drenched because the person next to me had an umbrella and he wouldn’t let me get under the umbrella because he’s like, “I don’t know who you are. Our last names just happened to be together in the alphabet. Get away from me.” Yeah, I get what you’re saying.

André Elijah:
At least you went to you graduation though. I skipped mine. So yeah, that tells you everything.

Maurice Cherry:
So after Ryerson, you started out as a freelancer. You were working as a production artist. You were doing a lot of post production work. Was that kind of where the education for you really set in, doing the work?

André Elijah:
Yeah. But even what I was doing half the time there was no template for, there was no real learning other than doing it. So, I was fortunate enough that I got my hands on the first couple RED cameras that ever landed in Canada. So, for the people that don’t know-

Maurice Cherry:
Oh wow.

André Elijah:
Yeah. So that was a big deal. But for people who don’t know, the RED camera was really the first 4K digital camera that film productions could get their hands on. So, it’s from a company called RED and Peter Jackson was the first director that would create a project with them. And it was a short film that he created specifically for the company. And since then, they basically redefined Hollywood and they’re kind of the norm now. And if you watch videos from any of the big YouTubers, like MKBHD, or iJustine, or Jonathan Morrison, any of these people, they all have REDs.

André Elijah:
And back in the day, REDs used to cost as much as a house. So the guy that went off to be a directing fellow at American Film Institute and someone else that I was working with, they both happened to get REDs at launch because they could spend as much as a house on a camera and they were directors. They didn’t want to know how these things worked. They didn’t need to know. So me kind of being the post-production guy and ultimately becoming an onset workflow person, I learned how the camera worked. I learned how to get the footage off the cards, transcode it.

André Elijah:
I could see a camera shooting and know whether or not it was going to die. And in the early days reliability wasn’t that great. And I just became the guy that knew how these damn things worked. And so I was consulting a lot on RED productions. Known as the RED whisperer because I just knew everything about them. I figured it out on the fly. There was no real support network for these things. No one had them. So, we just had to figure it out by the seat of our pants on a really expensive production on set. And so worked with those cameras for years.

André Elijah:
And then that’s kind of what led into me working with Beyonce. So, we were shooting a commercial, a real estate commercial, completely unrelated in New York City. And on the last day of the shoot, I got a message from the director of the Beyonce project saying we’ve got 10 REDs on the floor at a place called Off Hollywood and we don’t know how to set them up. And my partner and I went over there and we got all the cameras on the same firmware version. We set them up so they could do multi-cam shoots. And we got them all up and running at the facility or at the location, which was Roseland Ballroom in New York City, which I think is closed now. And we got those things up and running for four nights and in a day basically.

Maurice Cherry:
Wow.

André Elijah:
For a live via satellite, quote unquote, live via satellite segment for the Michael Jackson tribute concert. We got through that shoot and it was the first 10 RED multicam shoot ever. And we did it for Beyonce and that just kind of we hacked that together. It wasn’t supposed to work and it did. So all of this stuff, it’s you learn by doing. You learn by throwing yourself into really uncomfortable situations and just saying, “Fuck it, let’s just figure it out.” So, that’s kind of led me from thing to thing and it hasn’t failed me yet.

Maurice Cherry:
Now you founded a studio back then, Last Step Studios. And based on what I’ve heard, your current studio evolved out of that over the course of a weekend. How did that happen?

André Elijah:
Yeah, I’ve had multiple studios. I guess, multiple studios under different names. And I keep on using up all the cool names. That’s why it’s Andre Elijah Immersive now because I just can’t come up with any more cool names that should be the name of a company. So in that company, I founded it with another student from Ryerson and we wanted to make video games. And on day one we realized, oh, crap, video games are very expensive to make, very expensive. And we don’t have money because we’re broke students. And so we pivoted immediately to doing architectural visualization work using real time engines. And so it was initially Unreal Engine.

André Elijah:
The work that we were creating in Unreal, it looked cool, it was realistic looking, and we could change material on couches and on walls and stuff. And that impressed some people, but they ultimately came to us for more traditional rendering work or dollhouse renderings and some static renderings, that sort of thing, because game engines was so new to the real estate market. It didn’t really get a lot of pickup. Ultimately, I think we wanted to do different things.

André Elijah:
I saw the demo of the HoloLens. I think it was at E3 where they showed off the Minecraft demo in AR. And I thought that was really kind of awe inspiring. And I wanted to try my hand at making something like that. I didn’t have the computers to do it. I didn’t have the know how to do it. I just wanted to do it. And at the same time, the Oculus Kickstarter had popped off and VR was trying to find its footing with Palmer at the helm. And there was something new and sexy and crazy about it that I really wanted to be part of. And it just reminded me of the same energy of so many other things that I chased over the years, whether it was doing the post production stuff in Final Cut or I was getting hands on time with the RED.

André Elijah:
It was just kind of new and unexplored and I wanted in. And I saw it. I saw it pretty clearly in my head what it could be. And I just figured I had a chance. So, literally two founders kind of going in different directions and we dissolved the company over a weekend. And by Monday my new company was spun up and I started trying to land that kind of work. And so tried to figure out ways to differentiate myself from everyone else. And I didn’t really know what to do. And I had never 3D modeled in my life. I was the engine guy, my old co-founder was the modeler.

André Elijah:
And I figured, you know what, if I’m going to do anything, I’m just going to go build Drake’s house and see what happens. And so I learned to 3D model and I built out Drake’s house, which I think was I don’t remember now. I think it’s 25,000 square feet or something ridiculous like that, his new house. The floor plans have leaked on the BBC. And so I had the floor plans and I built it out. I made a website for it, sent it out to a couple places, a couple media outlets. It wasn’t anything… I didn’t do a full court press for it or anything.

André Elijah:
And all of a sudden everyone picked up this goddamn house and there were stories everywhere. Teen Vogue picked it up and the Verge or Polygon picked it up, everyone. And I got millions of views in record time. And everyone started hitting me up, platforms and technology companies and other brands. And they’re like, “What are you going to do with this thing? Can you do product placement in this house? Can we roll it out to our platform?” Et cetera. And it took on a life of its own for a while there, trying to figure out what it could be.

André Elijah:
And that kind of gave me the legitimacy in a weird way. It was a horrible project technically. My computers were really weak, so I couldn’t render shadows properly. Couldn’t render post processing. My processors were too weak so I couldn’t even bake the shadows. It was God awful. But again, you have a big name, like Drake, who he’s huge now, but he was big then. You take his name and then you add on something crazy like VR and all of a sudden that’s the perfect combination there for some headlines.

André Elijah:
And so from there, I got a bunch of companies and agencies reaching out to me to do some work and then created the first new home sales suite in real estate for Canada off the back of that. And it actually happened to be for Drake’s agency, the agency that represented him for a bunch of stuff and worked with him for a bunch of stuff. They hit me up to do the first new home sales suite in Canada using VR. And so we rolled that out and prospective home buyers actually went into VR in the sales office and checked out their future homes. And so we rolled those out. And I did some stuff out of Miami. And then all of a sudden I’m doing VR for real estate. The thing that I was intending to do with my old co-founder I’m now doing on my own. And from there other companies started reaching, startups started reaching out to me saying, “Can you prototype ideas of ours? Because we don’t have the talent in house.” So, that was a stepping stone.

André Elijah:
And then suddenly bigger companies are more amenable to me working on their stuff or they’re reaching out. Pretty gradual growth until a couple years ago. Epic Games gave me a MegaGrant for an educational project that I’ve been working on called Innocence in the Fire. And that was the first major co-sign that I ever got. And they were really great. And so as soon as I announced, “Hey guys, I got an Epic MegaGrant.” Bam, life went into overdrive and Snap took me in and has been really supportive. And they keep on shining a light on me with different profiles and different features at their conferences and stuff. And then now I’m working with Meta. I’m working with some other companies. So, it’s been, the last couple years have kind of everything’s gone into overdrive, which I really love and appreciate. But yeah, it took a minute and some craftiness to get in position for that in the first place.

Maurice Cherry:
It sounds like things really kind of snowballed after that. I think it was Drizzy Manor, that was what you called it, right?

André Elijah:
Yep, exactly. Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
Things kind of just snowballed after that. And now you’re also on the AR, VR program advisory board at Vancouver Film School. How has that experience been for you in a way entering back into education? Although not as a student this time, of course.

André Elijah:
Here, we’ve got a school that has some really amazing graduates. We’ve got Neill Blomkamp went there. End of story, Neill Blomkamp, it’s done, it’s a lock. We’ve got this really amazing traditional film school that wants to explore new media and a new platform. And they’ve really crafted amazing programs and talent to foster that growth. So, initially there was a buddy of mine that was teaching there. He had me just give a guest lecture. The students were really into it. They asked really great questions. And I was honestly impressed because I think certainly myself and my peers weren’t solid students like they were when we were younger. Just talking to the staff and the program coordinator, I was like, “Wow, this is legit. And let’s figure it out.” They just kept on calling me back to give talks.

André Elijah:
And for the project that ended up getting the Epic MegaGrant, we actually used some of the students for their thesis project. We let them build a prototype of the game. The work was really great. And so just in conversations of how do you teach the next wave of people how to get into the space and teach them to prepare for the future. That just kind of became the onboarding to bring me in as advisor for the program. And it’s been great. They take our ideas seriously. The students that they have are amazing.

André Elijah:
The talent they have teaching, they’re all practicing professionals. It’s not those who can’t teach. It’s like that’s not the situation here. They’re all professionals in the space. They’re all people I work with in the space doing really dope shit. And so the students are really lucky. I wish all these teachers were at Ryerson when I was there because maybe I’d take something from it. But no, it’s been a really great experience working with the school and seeing the impact that it’s had on these students and seeing where they land after they graduate has been really dope.

Maurice Cherry:
Now you’ve been quoted as saying that your biggest goal for the future is to set the standard for interactive and immersive education. Where does the passion for that goal come from?

André Elijah:
I went to private school when I was a kid and the best we had were VHS’s and DVDs that were horribly boring. And I think that if you’re paying that much in tuition, maybe there should be a better learning experience there. And I think with the accessibility of the Meta Quest or Snap on your phone, the level of access to content has never been more amazing and higher. And I think that if we, instead of doing shooty, shooty games all the time, we tried to engage people in new concepts and ideas and reinforce learnings, I think we’d be further along. So, I just think ultimately that if we were to use all these skills to build something dope, maybe the future has a chance, particularly around climate education.

André Elijah:
We keep on putting people into videos of this is a polar bear dying or this is the world on fire and it hasn’t really made enough of an impact. You just kind of see the trajectory that the world is on. It’s not great. So, I think that if we were to engage people more and actually show them the effects of their actions in a digital environment or in a simulation, that maybe it’ll hit different. The study’s have proven that if you experience things in VR, your retention is way higher. You understand concepts way more clearly in VR. And I think that if we were to use that for some good, maybe the world would be on a better path. So, that’s just one of my weird altruistic things. But I’m hoping that by making these games that are mainstream and onboard more users and get more people there, there’s a viable path to creating really dope immersive content for education. And then maybe we can turn this world around in a decade from now. That’s the hope anyway.

Maurice Cherry:
Now your career to date, as you’ve described it just in this interview, has been extremely prolific. Who are some of the people that have really helped you out over the years, whether there’s been mentors, peers, anyone?

André Elijah:
Everyone, man. I think this whole industry. I would say the immersive industry is more open and friendly and awesome than any other industry I’ve been part of. I think at the heart of it, we’re all a bunch of misfits trying to find our way and trying to lock in and create the future that we all want. And so it’s been ultimately way more collaborative than any other industry I’ve been part of. So, it doesn’t really matter if it’s a major executive at a company that’s doing immersive stuff or it’s a lowly developer that specializes in some weird thing. The whole industry has been really collaborative and really cool. And there’s you basically check your ego at the door. So, to single anyone out would be kind of weird because I’ve literally gone up to the top execs at Meta, formerly Facebook, and been like, “Hey, I really want a meeting with so and so.” And then they send a message and the next day I get a meeting with that person.

André Elijah:
It’s just one of these things. I think VR and AR, I don’t think anyone that’s in it, really in it isn’t a geek. I think we all identify with each other in really profound ways. And so there’s a level of humility involved in the industry that’s been really great. You see inside of industry Slacks and Discord groups and everything. We’re all sharing information. We’re all sharing learnings. We’re all helping refine each other’s pitches and play testing each other’s games and applications. And as much as it’s Andre Elijah Immersive, there’s a lot of people on my team and there’s a lot of people not on my team that have helped out and helped to get us where we are now. So, it’s really one of those things, it takes a village to raise a kid. So, I think we’re no different

Maurice Cherry:
If there’s somebody that’s out there that’s been listening to this and they want to follow in your footsteps, whether it’s I would imagine just getting into this world of AR and VR, what advice would you give them?

André Elijah:
I would say just do it. I don’t want to sound flippant with that, but this is one of those industries where it doesn’t take a whole lot to be able to get in and start building. When I worked in film years ago, you needed more than a Handycam to have a good looking image. You needed more than just iMovie to have a really solid edit and final delivery. You need the color correcting and all that sort of stuff. And so you have all the software and hardware considerations and all that. With AR and VR, you need a not so powerful computer and a $300 headset and you’re off to the races. Game engines are free. Unity and Unreal are free. They have lots of example projects and tutorials online that you can follow to find your footing and start building, but you don’t need a powerful computer because these headsets are all running mobile parts.

André Elijah:
So, you’re not pushing for photorealism for these projects. So I think for under a grand ultimately you can be set up and you can start building. And so I think that removes a lot of the barriers and a lot of the excuses as to why you can’t get into it. So, I would say literally just Google some of your favorite games and how to rebuild some of those mechanics. There’s literally YouTube channels that just show you in Unreal or in Unity how to build mechanics from games that we all play and like. Learning about the interaction systems and how to set up a project and how to compile. This is all stuff that’s available at your fingertips. So I think more than ever in this industry you want to do it. You can just go ahead and do it. You don’t need to ask for permission. There’s no one gate keeping any crazy hardware or software. You can literally just start.

Maurice Cherry:
What do you think you would’ve went into if you didn’t get into this field?

André Elijah:
I asked myself that a lot. For a while I wanted to be an entertainment and intellectual property lawyer. And for a while I wanted to be a robotics engineer. And for a while I also wanted to be a professional jazz trumpet player. I played trumpet for a number of years.

Maurice Cherry:
Nice.

André Elijah:
It was going to be one of those three things.

Maurice Cherry:
Nice. So given how fast all of this is progressing, the technology and everything, where do you see yourself in the next five years? What do you want to be doing?

André Elijah:
I’m going to be shipping a number of games in the next two to three years and then probably go investor. My team members know that I can maintain this pace for a couple more years. They’re all young. They got a lot longer to go and I want to be the first check in on their companies when they go ahead and do their own thing. And I tell them all the time, “I need you guys to bang out these games on these projects and we’re going to do them together. And you’re going to have them to your name and it’s going to be great. And then you’re going to go out and you’re going to do your own thing and you’re going to stomp all over me and it’ll be fun. I just want to be the one to fund you.” So, I really want to be the ones that open some doors for them once they’re done with my stuff and just help the next generation I think.

André Elijah:
I think there’s been this whole thing since early web days, and then you saw the shift to the app store and everything and all these tech companies, there’s a certain progression. And you need to go get your Tech Crunch articles and your press and go get your venture capital and all this sort of stuff. And I think there’s other ways to do that. I think if you’re really good at shipping products and projects that connect with people, there’s a different way forward. And so I just want to impart my wisdom on these people and I know a lot of people and look at my rejected section, I know a lot of people. So if there’s a way for me to open some doors and connect some dots for folks, then I think that’s the position I want to be in a couple years. And not necessarily shipping a project for a brand every month, month and a half and deal with these crazy ass hours. I’m getting old.

Maurice Cherry:
And you got kids!

André Elijah:
And I got kids! I got to watch them grow up and do after school activities with them when they’re older and stuff. So yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
Well just to wrap things up here, where can our audience find out more information about you and your work and everything online?

André Elijah:
Yeah. My website is www.andreelijah.com. And my Twitter is @andreelijah. So if you want some industry hot takes, that’s probably the place to go. And then yeah, my website, that’s where the portfolio lies. And if you want to know the work that we’ve done or the stuff we pitched and rejected section, it’s all there.

Maurice Cherry:
Sounds good. Well, Andre Elijah, I want to thank you so much for coming on the show. Just hearing this, I don’t know, almost this whirlwind of activity that you’ve got going on, not just with what you’re doing now with the studio, but what you plan to do in the future and really how you’ve had this passion to do this for such a long time. I think it really points to the fact that while these technologies, VR for instance, have taken a long time to get off the ground, there’s been this constant steady push by people like you to really push things into the, not just the mainstream, but to the next level to create experiences that in the future we’ll be talking about for years and years to come. So, thank you so much for coming on the show. I appreciate it.

André Elijah:
I appreciate you, dude. Thanks for having me. It was a lot of fun.

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Emmanuel Nwogbo

We’re headed to the Great White North this week to meet someone that I learned about while doing a deep dive on Nigerian artists. Emmanuel Nwogbo is a visual artist based out of Montréal, and to me, his work reminds me so much of the creativity and fun that design can create.

We chatted right around his first anniversary of moving to Canada, and we discussed his day job as a graphic designer, and how his passion for the arts inspired him to leave Lagos. We also talked about his 365 James Bond Characters project — a series of designs and compositions paying homage to characters in the 007 Universe. Emmanuel’s quiet confidence is one of his biggest strengths, so don’t be surprised if you see his work in a gallery near you one day!

Transcript

Full Transcript

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

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
My name is Emmanuel Nwogbo. I am from Nigeria. I am a graphic designer, so I work full-time as a graphic designer. I also do freelance graphic design, and I also do some visual arts. At the moment, I do the visual arts on the side.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay. So how has 2021 been for you? Did you learn anything new about yourself? How has the year been?

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
Honestly, its probably one of my best years so far. So I moved to Montréal at the end of 2019, and then 2020 happened, so 2020 was a very strange year. So 2021 was like my first full year in Montréal. Honestly, it went really well. It went really well, I pretty much hit all my goals, so that was a very exciting. It was also my first summer in Montréal, which everyone was … People really hype up the summers here. I can see why. So this was my first real experience of the summer in Montréal. It was a little restricted still because of COVID, but honestly, I think I had a pretty good year.

Maurice Cherry:
What makes the summer so nice in Montréal?

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
There’s so much to do. There’s so much going on here, event wise. There’s always something happening. You never run out of stuff to do. Typically, without any COVID or anything like that, there’s a ton of festivals that come in town and all that. It wasn’t as much as it typically would be, but there was still a lot of things to do here. There’s a lot of sports, a lot of physical activity, parties. There’s a lot. Honestly, I was a little bit overwhelmed at some point. It was a lot of things happening. Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
That sounds like Atlanta in the summertime.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
Really?

Maurice Cherry:
Or really in the late spring, going into summer, because that’s sort of our festival season, and where there’s usually a festival, a neighborhood festival or something every weekend or something. I say that’s usually the best time to come because it’s not too hot, the pollen is usually not too bad around that time. It’s maybe a two or three week period where it’s like, “Oh, this is perfect.” We have that in the spring, going into the summer, and we have it in the early fall. Because it never really gets super cold here, so early fall, I don’t know, like back to school, September, October, is usually a really nice time.

Maurice Cherry:
No, that’s good to know about Montréal though. Maybe when the world starts to open back up, people can experience some of those summers.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
Yeah, but you only want to come here in the summer, honestly, because winter is just miserable.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh man.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
There’s no fall. It’s summer, then all of a sudden it is just winter.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh man. So for 2022, do you have any goals or resolutions that you want to share?

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
So usually I try to set goals and plans. The only thing on my list for next year right now is to get my citizenship, become a Canadian. That’s the only thing on my list right now. I started the process this year, I submitted an application, so now I’m just playing the waiting game, but that’s the number one thing on my list.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
Second … I would say this is kind of the second thing on the list, but I’m not really sure how it’s going to go. I decided I was going to try to do some exhibitions in Montréal, because I haven’t done any since I moved here. So, try to break into the art scene a little bit. Honestly, I’m a little bit overwhelmed by it, because it’s a big city, and there’s a lot of art here, there’s a lot of competition. So there’s that little fear there. So I am going to attempt to see if I can do some exhibitions next year. If not next year, then maybe 2023. It’s a little difficult given that I have my full-time job and I have my own personal practice. Yeah, but those are the two main things that I have planned for next year.

Maurice Cherry:
Speaking of the full-time job, you work for MTL Développement. You work there as a graphic designer. Tell me about that entails. What’s a regular day look like for you?

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
So the company is a real estate development company, so they build condos, they sell condos. So essentially my job there is to make promotional materials for the marketing department, essentially materials that help sell these condos. And so for each condo project, we create an entire brand around that project, and then we then try to create ads, and our design is based on that brand that we created. So the company itself has its own brand and then each of the projects has a brand that comes with it. So my job essentially is to create those brands and to design for those brands, and to make sure that everyone that is doing anything for the brands is adhering to the brand identity.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay. So you’re doing this for, let’s say, like condominium complexes or subdivisions?

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
It’s mostly condominiums.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay. All right. I got you. Sounds like Montréal is probably a pretty booming real estate market then?

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
Yeah, it’s pretty booming, despite the fact that there was a pandemic. It’s still booming.

Maurice Cherry:
How has it been working during the pandemic?

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
I wasn’t really affected too much. I think there was maybe a one or two month period where my hours were reduced. So we had to go on this program that the government would … I think you work out pay … You say about maybe 20%, and the government would pay the rest, so I had to cut down to like 20 hours for about a month or two, but I pretty much worked all through the pandemic. So, worked from home, worked in the office, worked from home again, and then now we are back in the office since the beginning of the year.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
So the job was pretty much not affected, but obviously there was a reduced … The real estate market suffered a little bit, so there was reduced sales. So the marketing was totally … It was a little bit different than what it is right now.

Maurice Cherry:
Also, with the work that you are doing as a designer, you work with another design agency called Queer-IT. Is that right?

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
Yes.

Maurice Cherry:
Tell me about that.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
So that job, that’s actually the first job that I got in Montréal. So I came in October and then I got a job in November of 2019. And essentially, I saw this ad where they were hiring, looking for a graphic designer, because I was just applying for every graphic designer job I could see. So I saw the ad and had an interview with the person that runs the place, and then they just hired me.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
But essentially, what the job we is, is you give them your hours and then they send proposals to you based on your hours, or sometimes they just reach out to you and ask you to send the quote for a certain job. And then if the client accepts your quote, then they give you the job. Or sometimes they just tell you, “Well, this client wants to rebrand. Their budget is $2,000. Can you work with that?” That kind of thing. That’s basically how the system works.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
But essentially, it’s basically still like every graphic design job, except that I would say the company is maybe targeted more towards queer people. So that’s one thing that I was a little confused about when I got hired, or when I applied for the job. When I applied for the job, I said, “Well, I’m not queer, so are you only hiring queer people?” And they said, “Oh no, you can apply.” So yeah, I applied and I got the job.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay. It sounds like a collective model, where you’re not necessarily working full time, but as work comes in, if you have the time to work on it, they pull you into the project, they include you on the proposal. You’re sort of part of the working team for whatever that project might be, if they happen to land it.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
Exactly, that’s how it goes. And then there’s some projects that I did with them where the client was doing a full business plan, so there was like a strategist there, there was a copywriter, and we work as a team to deliver the project.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay. I want to switch gears here a little bit as you’ve been talking about your work, because I’m curious to know more about you growing up. Because you’re really a prolific artist, and I think that’s something that I really want to explore more as we go on in the interview.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
That’s a big one.

Maurice Cherry:
So tell me about where you grew up.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
So I grew up in Lagos, Nigeria. So Nigeria is the most populous black nation in the world, over 200 million people. And Lagos probably has a [inaudible 00:11:51] 30 million people. Nobody knows the real number, because the census is very funny, very corrupt. But Lagos is huge. I grew up in Lagos.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
Lagos, I would say, it’s pretty much … It’s a crazy city. There’s so much going on there, there’s so much crime, so much corruption. But again, even besides all that stuff, there’s a lot of art, there’s a lot of, I would say, heritage that comes with it. Lagos is an old city. It’s probably one of the oldest modern cities in Nigeria. So there’s always something going on.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
So growing up, I wasn’t exposed to too much arts in a sense, but I’ve always had the talent to draw. I always knew how to draw, so I was always in the fine art class. And even when I went to high school, which is secondary school in Nigeria, you had to pick certain subjects. A lot of people were not doing fine arts, we were very few doing fine arts. Maybe 20 in the class. When I say 20 … This school was a big … I went to public secondary school, so it was a government public secondary school. It was huge. My graduating class had 506 people in it.

Maurice Cherry:
Wow.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
Yeah. So it was a big school. Out of that 506, there was probably maybe 15 or 20 people that were doing fine arts. So that was my main exposure to arts. And honestly, the arts are not really supported in Nigeria. I think it’s a miracle that even my parents allowed me to go do arts at university. A lot of people were not happy about that. Because the general belief is that if you’re not a doctor, a lawyer, an engineer, you’re not making money. So there was always that to battle with, but I would say that … Honestly, the truth is a lot of artists are not making money in Nigeria. I also think it’s the way they present themselves. Art is not really respected, but then there’s also people making a lot of money it from it too. So I think it’s all about positioning and how you market yourself.

Maurice Cherry:
That’s so interesting, because I was going to ask about whether or not your parents supported you in this, but it sounds like you really got that encouragement from school to focus on arts and everything. When you decided that you wanted to go to college for the arts and for design, were your parents okay with that?

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
So they were totally okay with it. I didn’t know anything about design growing up. I was an artist in traditional media, so drawing, painting. So when I wanted to go to school, I wanted to do fine arts. And then I got the admission, and then I got to the school and then I did one year in fine arts. And then I had this friend that was doing graphic design and he would just make cool stuff on Photoshop. So I decided, “You know what? I want to make cool stuff.” So I just switched. That’s how I ended up in graphic design.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
But the program that I did was kind of an interdisciplinary program, in the sense that there was no real focus. We did a lot of things like art history or cover the art movements. We also did 3D … I did a full year in of 3D in design. I also did web design, I did regular graphic design, logos branding. We did everything, but there was no real focus. So even when I came out of college, I didn’t exactly know what I was because then it’s like you know how to do a little bit of everything, but you’re not really good at one thing.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
But the one thing that lacked in that whole school was research, because there was more focus on the finished product. But then as I’ve come to learn, a lot of design relies heavily on the actual process, not as much as the finished product. So when I came to Canada, to NSCAD, to do the Masters, it was a totally different experience. Because then at NSCAD, they were focused on research. That’s when I learned how to do research.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
And so they wanted me to do something … Because the Masters program has a thesis, like a final project. So they wanted me to do something Nigerian based. So I ended up doing this … I decided to tackle a social problem, so I decided to focus on the oil industry in Nigeria. So oil was discovered in Nigeria in 1956, and Nigeria is divided into four parts. There is a North, which is pretty much half of the country, and then there’s the South South, Southeast, and then the Southwest. I’m from the Southeast. So Nigeria has three tribes: Igbo, Yoruba, Hausa. So the Hausas are predominantly in the north, the Yorubas are predominantly in the Southwest, the Igbos are predominantly in the Southeast. And then the South, Southeast covers a lot of minorities.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
But at the time, when oil was discovered, oil was only discovered in the South South. So what that meant was that oil exploration, all the illegal practices that companies like Shell and all this other big oil companies, all the illegal practices and everything, all the nonsense that comes with oil exploration, only happen in the South South. But the Nigerian economy is pretty much only reliant on oil. So what that means is that that part of the country produces pretty much most of Nigeria’s revenue and sustains Nigeria’s economy. But then the people are suffering because Shell has so much influence in the Nigerian government. And so what that means is that they’re pretty much allowed to get away with whatever they want.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
So the oil industry is regulated, but it’s regulated to a point. Like I remember when I was doing the projects, around 2015, then there was an average of 1,000 oil spills in Nigeria every year. And that’s the reported ones. But in Europe they only had like seven in the last 10 years. So that’s how much oil spillage happened in Nigeria, and that’s because of illegal practices of mostly Shell. So my whole project was focused around how can we create awareness, because usually the only time you can get the Nigerian government to do something about it is when there’s pressure from the international community.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
But the Nigerian government does a really good job at hiding this whole problem. There’s a good 30 million people in this part of Nigeria, in this South South region of Nigeria, but even when I was growing up in Lagos, you only heard about this problem when the people in the area got upset. And then they created rebel gangs, and then they started kidnapping white oil workers, and asking for ransom. That’s when you started hearing about it.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
But on a regular basis, you wouldn’t … Like people would die all the time there, there was huge respiration problems, there was huge pollution issues, nothing was ever covered in the news. Or if it was covered, it wouldn’t be highlighted upon.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
So the whole focus was how can I create awareness to this problem? And then that awareness would force the Nigerian government to treat the people of that region well. And one major issue that Nigeria has, and even till now, is that even though Nigeria runs a federal government, the government is more unitary. Because I know, for example in the US, and even in Canada here, each province or state has control of its resources and everything.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, pretty much.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
Yeah, in Nigeria it’s the opposite. Even though we also have a federal government, all the states … We have 36 states, and each state, everything each state generates or makes goes to the center, and then it gets divided at the center to all 36 states based on some metric they come up with. So what that means is that the region or the country that was responsible for, say, 90% of the economy, by the time everything gets split based on population and other metrics they have, they get 15% back. But they are the ones taking all the damage, and so their whole protest has always been we want hundred percent control of our resources. But I don’t think that’s going to happen anytime soon.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
So initially when the rebels started, it started up as a small operation, and then it became a big time operation. They were kidnapping oil workers, they were killing government officials. 2006 was the peak of the rebels in that area. And they were getting their money from oil bunkering, which is also contributing to the problem. Oil bunkering is when you break a section of the crude oil pipeline, and then you take crude oil from it and then go refine it and then sell it.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
So they were doing that and they were making money to fund their operations, but that was also contributing to the problems, because that was causing oil spills and all the same environmental damage that the region was facing. And that region is right by the Atlantic ocean and then River Niger, which is the second largest river in Africa, and also runs through that region. So most people there are predominantly fishermen, and the water and the ecosystem is totally messed up. I think it’s going to take like a hundred years of no oil exploration for the environment to return back to its natural state. That’s how bad they’ve wrecked it.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
So that’s what I spent almost two years doing in the Masters. And it honestly was a very successful project. It taught me lots about Nigeria that I didn’t even know about. And it was an interesting research in the sense that me being Nigerian, and knowing all the nonsense that goes on in Nigeria, and then me now being outside Nigeria and trying to do all this research, and then reading research papers and materials from people that have been to Nigeria and seeing their take on Nigeria was pretty hilarious. There’s some American articles that I read about the same problem in Nigeria, and there are some claims they made and they said, “Well, this doesn’t happen.” Or, “This never happens.” Or the way they tried to exaggerate certain things was … Yeah. It was actually interesting to see that from a different perspective.

Maurice Cherry:
I mean, that’s a lot that you just described around Nigeria and corruption in the country, and I definitely want to go back and touch on that, but I want to bring it back a little bit, because you took us all the way from college, to going to grad school, to going to Canada. It sounds like, back when you were mentioning this program, that it didn’t really prepare you for the working world. Was that the impetus to move to Canada? Did you just want to get out from another country? Because it sounds like you moved from Nigeria to Cypress, which is where this university was located. And then what spurred the move, of all places, to go to Canada?

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
What spurred the move was I’ve always wanted to come to the west, so it was either Canada or US or maybe the UK. I left school in 2014 February. That’s college. But I was already applying to several schools. So I got to teach university in Arkansas, and good thing I didn’t go there because I don’t know who lives in Arkansas but … Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
You would not have liked it. You would not have liked it.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
But the reason I ended up Nova Scotia was because the school has a little bit of reputation. I heard about the school and the founder of the school is Anna Leonowens. So I just wanted to go to the school, because the school had a reputation in the art community. I didn’t know anything about Nova Scotia, I didn’t know anything about the school. I just did some quick research. It’s the smallest place I’ve ever lived in. I think it’s like 300,000 people in Halifax. So that was a complete shocker to me. It was a totally different experience. I just wanted to come to Canada, right? I wanted to come to Canada or US, but Canada just seemed to work out better. And my dad has always preferred Canada, because he doesn’t like America because of the guns, and the fact that most people are just a little bit crazy in America.

Maurice Cherry:
That’s fair. That’s a fair assessment. But Halifax also has a pretty big black population too. We’ve had, back on the show … Oh God, this might have been a hundred or so episodes ago, we had Duane Jones back on the show. I think that was episode 203, if I recall, so it was a while ago.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
There’s a huge black population, but you have to go look for them.

Maurice Cherry:
He said the same thing. He said that too. Yeah.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
I used to work at a hotel in Halifax, at the front desk, and there are some times where a gal was having her birthday party, and all these black people would come. And every time I’m always confused. I’m like, “I have never seen this many black people before.” You actually have to go look for them. You have to go to specific places to find them.

Maurice Cherry:
How was it adjusting to Canada? I mean, outside from the fact that it’s a totally different country and different weather and everything, how was it adjusting?

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
It wasn’t too bad because when I came I was so busy with school that I didn’t really have time to do anything else. The weather was a huge shocker to me. So I came in August and there was a slow transition. And then, all of a sudden, on January first, that was the first time I ever saw snow in my life, there was a snow storm. January first of 2015, I woke up and there was a huge snowstorm, the snow was like four feet high. So yeah, that was an [crosstalk 00:25:38].

Maurice Cherry:
Whoo!

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
So yeah, I had to shovel snow. So that was my first experience with snow.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
Adjusting wise, in terms of … The thing with NSCAD is at the time I was there, there was about 1,000 students roughly, maybe five black people.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh, interesting.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
There was no real advocacy. Again, it’s an art school, there’s not enough black people going to art schools. But I’m used to always being the only black person in most places that I go. Most classes or most things that I’ve done, I’m always the only black person there. That was not a problem for me. That’s something that I was already used to. But I never really had any issues, honestly, because Halifax is a very small and very laid back city. And also because it’s Canada too, there’s not a lot of overtly racist problems. People are very low key about their racism, because Canada … People here are supposed to be nice, so they always hide everything,

Maurice Cherry:
But it’s still there though.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
Oh, it’s a hundred percent still there. Like I had a lot of experiences when I worked at the hotel for about three years. There was a lot of incidents that I thought were pretty much very racist. But in general, there was nothing to the face. Plus I’ve also noticed this, I noticed this even from working at the hotel. Because I’m a very tall black guy, a lot of people just don’t mess with me, just in general. People just don’t mess with me even though … That’s just something I noticed. So I never had any issues, overtly.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
The first house that I stayed in … I don’t know if they have this in the US, but here in Canada, when you come to university for the first time they have this arrangement where you stay with a family. Yeah, so when I first came, I was about 20 years old. I came in August and I already arranged to stay with this family, and I only ended up staying there for three months because I don’t think that family has ever hosted a black person before, an African in general. So it was a very strange situation. It was this old woman and her husband, they were maybe in their 60s, 70s. And it was just weird living with them. They just didn’t know how to interact with an African. It was really odd. So I ended up moving out because I was just not comfortable.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
And so even that area they lived in, they lived on Gottingen Street in Halifax, which is a predominantly black neighborhood. So typically, because of the way Halifax has been, I say, constructed, that’s a hugely black populated area so there’s all these cops and all this sort of stuff. But at the end of Gottingen, it turns into a super white neighborhood, so that’s where I lived at that point. And so the woman, when I first moved there, she said, “Well, you have to be very careful because you’re going to be a person of interest.” I still don’t what that means till today. I just remember her saying that to me. And I still know what it means.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh, it just means … Honestly, it’s just you’re a black guy in a white neighborhood or something like that. So if something were to go down then you’re the first one that they’re going to suspect.

Maurice Cherry:
So where I live now in Atlanta is a pretty black neighborhood. It’s called the West End. But before that I stayed in Buckhead, which is kind of the richer, whiter part of town. I stayed there for a couple of years in college and then afterwards. And I remember I would go to the grocery store and get groceries, and then even on the walk home, which was not that far, because the grocery store was on the same street, maybe about a half a mile, I’d say three out of four times I would make that walk the police would just roll up slowly. You hear the siren and I’m like, “What’s going on?” “Well, we heard about some things going on in this area.” I’m like, “Well I’m walking with groceries, so I don’t know what you think I’m doing.” So it’s like, yeah, you’re a person of interest. They just want to, I don’t know, intimidate you I guess.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
In Halifax, there’s something they call DWB. It’s Driving While Black.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, yeah, yeah. There’s a lot that everywhere, it seems like.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
There’s a lot of racial profiling, people just getting stopped randomly.

Maurice Cherry:
Right. Driving while black, walking while black, shopping while black. Unfortunately, that is all still a thing that we have to contend with even this far into the future. But I want to talk about this project that you did in 2018. So you did this … I guess you could call it a creative project where you designed or you did these photo manipulations, adding yourself in with James Bond characters. You did 365 of these. Can you tell me a little bit about that project?

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
Yeah, so the project was not about me adding myself. I think maybe I added myself in two out of 365.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh, okay.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
But basically what the project was … The planning started in 2017. I decided I was going to do a 365 project. This is something that I’ve always wanted to do. Because every year I try to set a goal at the beginning of the year and say, “Okay, this is my new year resolution and this is how I want to accomplish it.”

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
So I started working at the hotel in 2016, and the only reason I started working at the hotel was because I needed to get my permanent residence, which is kind of like the Green Card. It’s similar to the Green Card in US. And part of the requirement was that I was required to work there for a year, and the hotel was helping with it, so I pretty much got stuck there. But I was fresh out of school, this was a year after I got out of school. But then I’m also thinking, “Well, I’m going to be stuck here for a good year at least, maybe two years. I’m not really practicing design. I need practice.” Because you need to practice or you’re going to forget. So I was thinking, how do I go about this? But I also have the issue where I was always working at the hotel and I had very little time.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
So in the summer I did this 26 day creative project where I did something with the alphabet every single day. I did ABCD. Something based on A, something based on B. Just like that. And then I did all 26 days. I didn’t miss a day. So I’m like, “Okay, so this is actually doable.” So I decided, okay, starting first of January of 2018, I’m going to do a 365 project, but I had no idea what I was going to do.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
So I did a lot of research, came across this lady, she said she didn’t know how to cook, so she went and bought the recipe book and she would make something from the recipe book every single of the year. And then there’s this guy in New York, he would go around New York and paint historic windows. So every day of the year he painted one historic window. A lot of projects like that, that I started following. So I was thinking, what am I going to do? And then I found this guy on Tumblr, when Tumblr was still a thing back then. He was doing a 365 project where he just remade one movie poster. And I was like, that’s actually interesting. I would like to do something that is movie related. And I’m a huge James Bond fan.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
So I saw this, then I remembered that there was this article that I saw about top 103 James Bond villains. I’m like, okay, so if there are 103 villains, it means that there’s more people. So I started looking up on the James Bond Wiki, I found [inaudible 00:33:17] characters. So I made a list of all the characters, did some research on each one to make sure that I had enough content that I could use. And so I did that, took me almost three months to compile. And then January first, the goal of the project was to make one poster that pays tribute to a different James Bond character every day. Just from the movies, not the books. So that was the goal of the project. And the only objective that I had was that every day just had to look different. That was just it.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
And at the beginning of the project, I wasn’t focused on the actual design itself. I was more focused on … The main challenge for me was … Because I knew I could do the design already, but can I do this for 365 days straight and not miss a single day? That was the most important thing to me. But I also didn’t want to cheat. I didn’t want to pre-make stuff. I have to make something every day. So for me that’s the challenge that was going on. Till today, some people don’t believe that I actually made one every single day. Some people are like, “So did you make three in advance and just wait and post it every day?” I’m like, “No.”

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
Considering how much time it took, because I was averaging about 3.5 hours every day by the end of the year. And some days I had four hours, some days I had one hour, some days I had three hours. Well, basically I had about 3.5 hours every day to … I knew the character already, come up with a concept, and execute that concept. So that totally changed my whole design process, because there’s one problem that I had that that project fixed. The problem was when I get an idea and I think that this idea is a good idea, then I’m going to stick with it. It’s hard for me to leave that idea alone. But this project made me unintentionally grow out of the habit. Because there’s some days where I’m looking at the time, I’m like, “Well, I’ve been stuck on this one idea for three hours now. I have only two hours left. I have to do something else.”

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
So then at first I would discard ideas. But then somebody told me, “Well, instead of discarding it, then you can just have a folder where you just put in all the stuff that you haven’t used, and then in the future you can use them again.” Which is what I started doing, I would just put the ideas there. But at first, the first month started off as more of an abstract deal, because I was afraid of copyrights and stuff. But then when I read up on copyrights and all this sort of stuff, I was able to move towards more using the photos. And honestly, when I started, I wasn’t delusional, thinking I was going to go all the way. I was like, “You know what, I’m just going to do this and see how it goes.” And then when I actually did the first 30 days and I didn’t miss a single day, I was so much confidence. So that’s how went that project went.

Maurice Cherry:
I was going to ask, what did you learn about yourself throughout that process?

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
I am kind of a perfectionist, but then I also learned that I have to be okay. Because usually when you post your work online, you’re usually posting what you think is the best. Like, “Okay, this is really, really good and I’m going to post it.” But then I realized, well, I either have to make really good stuff and post it every day or I have to be fine with posting stuff that are not very good.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
So, at first I really struggled with that because I’m like, “If I have to post this, this has to be good on some level. It has to be good on some scale.” And so it started off like that, but then I met a lot of people that were doing projects too, and I talked to a lot of people. And a lot of people told me that you have to be fine with the days that are not good. You have 365 days, so if this day is not so great, you had a bad day. The next day you can knock it out of the park.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
And then I also figured out how to take breaks without missing a day. So some days, because I was working morning shifts or evening shifts or night shifts. So some days I would make something at nine o’clock in the morning, and the next day I’d make something at 8:00 PM. So that’s a good, what, 30 hours of rest? So it’s like I missed a day, but I didn’t really miss a day. And I made a lot of sacrifices. There were parties or places I couldn’t go to because I’m like, “Well I haven’t done today’s work.” So everything is in the back burner until I do today’s work. Once I do the work and post it, it’s like a sense of accomplishment, a sense of relief, that came with that.

Maurice Cherry:
I mean, I have to give it to you for really finding a way to do it every day. I did a similar type of a 365 project. Not a visual project, I did a podcast where I recorded an episode every day for 365 days called The Year of Tea. And I did these short, five minute episodes just reviewing a different tea every day. And I didn’t get to it every day. There were definitely some days that I batched about a week together, especially if I was traveling or something like that. So I have to give it to you for carving out … I mean, one, carving out time to do it each day, but then the fact that you carved out so much time, like you said you were averaging around like three and a half hours a day for these designs. That’s a lot of time.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
Honestly, there’s a few days where I spent a good eight hours on this. I’m like, “Well today is Saturday, I’m home, sure.” I would sit in front of my computer for eight hours. Because then, the days that I have so much time, I feel like those days that’s where I put in way too much time and I try too hard. Because I’m like, “Well I have a lot of time today, so I’m just going to spend as much time as possible in this.” But there’s a day that I only have 30 minutes and I managed to do something also.

Maurice Cherry:
And you told me before we had started recording that there’s hundreds of characters to choose from. Because initially I was like, “There’s over 365 James Bond characters?” I was like, there’s James Bond, there’s probably every bond girl, every bond villain, and I feel it sort of tops off right there.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
I mean there were some people that have one scene you know? There was a few people that showed up for one scene, so you have to do something for this one person. Maybe they said something funny. But so what I did was, when I was setting up the list, I spread out the characters. Because there’s a lot of characters that I wanted to get to, so I spread them out. So it was those characters that I wanted to get to that kept me going the whole time. I kind of put them strategically. So at the beginning of every month I have one major character, so one big villain or something like that. Day 200, I have one big character I have to work on. I strategically positioned each one.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
So the way I started the project … So all James Bond movies, and even the recent ones, there’s this organization called [Spectre 00:40:13]?

Maurice Cherry:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
So each person at that time, especially from the movies in the ’60s, they had a number. So there’s a number one, number two, number three. So that’s how I started. And then on day seven, I did James Bond, which is Double O Seven. So that’s how I started the first few days. But there were little things like that. And so, I unintentionally populated the James Bond internet space. Like when you just look up random things about James Bond, you see my stuff popping up. So that that’s something that I’m really happy about.

Maurice Cherry:
Well, I mean the thing with James Bond movies is that they come out every few years or so, so there’s a lot of time between movies to really fill that space with stuff, because there’s not a lot of active talk. I don’t even know if there’s a James Bond comic book or something. You would think with all the superhero movies and stuff, there’s always some kind of media that fills the gap between movies. It’s a television show, there’s a comic book, there’s something. James Bond, it feels like exists only in fiction and in movies. Of course it’s from the books, but there’s not really that other media around it to fill the gap.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
I think a few people not named Ian Fleming have written books recently. But I think it’s because Barbara Broccoli that owns the IP, and MGM, they have a really, really strict hold on the IP, so it’s very difficult for you to be able … Now that Amazon bought MGM, maybe Amazon might want to produce a TV show or something. Who knows? But I also think it’s because the IP is so old and it’s right from the ’60s, so it’s one of those things where there’s so much content already, so maybe they don’t think they’re going to make money. Who knows? I don’t know.

Maurice Cherry:
Could be. Oh God, you mention that … I feel like there was a cartoon series for James Bond. I don’t know if you remember. Well, I don’t know if they even showed it outside the US. It was called James Bond Junior. I’m showing my age by saying this, but it was like in the early ’90s. They had a TV show called James Bond Junior. I think it probably only lasted a season, but it was James Bond’s nephew who was also named James Bond, which I guess kind of makes sense for the show. But yeah, I’m pretty sure it’s on YouTube or something.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
I’ll tell you one anecdote about Africans in general. So, if you say … Say I’m 27 right now and say you’re 37, all the things that you experienced as a 37 year old, when you say you were 10, I probably experienced the same thing. Now, because of the internet, everything gets everywhere quickly, but as I’d say, the late ’90s, early 2000s, we were a good 10 years behind everything. The first computer I used was Windows 98. I also used dial up internet, I had a Walkman, I had the CD player, all the stuff, VHS. All the stuff that people my age here didn’t experience.

Maurice Cherry:
Out of all of the characters that you did, was there a favorite one?

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
My favorite one was … What was it? Day 124, which is May Day.

Maurice Cherry:
Grace Jones.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
Yeah, Grace Jones. So I did that on May first, which is May Day. So, that’s my absolute favorite. That’s the one that I’ve sold the most, that’s the one that people love the most.

Maurice Cherry:
I’m going to have to check that one out. I don’t know if I saw that one on your site, but I definitely have to go check that one out.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
You know the famous We Can Do It poster, with the woman flexing her biceps?

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
Yeah, so I did one with Grace Jones, where the background is yellow.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh nice. Nice, nice. So you alluded to this when you mentioned this piece, but you’ve even managed to exhibit designs from this project, you’ve done a number of different exhibitions with it. How have those went?

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
They went really well. So at the beginning of 2019, I did the exhibition … Actually, no, in May of 2019, I did an exhibition in a small gallery called Corridor Gallery in Halifax. It’s at Visual Arts, Nova Scotia. So that was the first exhibition that I’ve ever done. So I would consider myself a digital artist, so having to print out my stuff, put it in a frame, hanging it on a wall, totally new to me. But that was a great experience, so that’s the first time that I felt like an artist. That was amazing.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
And then I got to exhibit at the Halifax Public Library last year, despite the pandemic. I was there for about two months. The gallery there is a very lovely space. Huge. And they only accept, I think six artists a year, because each person stays for two months. So I applied and they accepted almost immediately. So I was beyond overjoyed. So that was the big exhibition that I had done. It was very good. I made a few sales from that.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
But like I said, the exhibitions, those were the things that made me feel like a real artist. So I really like exhibitions, that’s why I want to do some in Montréal, like a bigger city. Because I’ve always considered myself like a Nigerian artist. So the James Bond thing, I got a little popular from that because the James Bond IP was world renowned. Some people have never seen a James Bond movie, but when you say James Bond, everyone pretty much has an idea what you’re talking about. But I kind of want to stray away from that in a sense. I want to do more African themed exhibitions, so that’s what I’m working on right now. I’m trying to see if I can do something for next year.

Maurice Cherry:
So what prompted the move from Halifax to Montréal?

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
Like I was saying earlier on, Halifax is a very small city. Honestly, I was looking at it and … Because I did that job at the hotel where I was pretty much stuck for three years … I stayed in Halifax for five years. Two years in school, three years at the hotel. And I was at that hotel, stuck. I couldn’t leave because of the whole immigration thing, so I was not happy in general. And my last year at the hotel, there was a lot of racially motivated shit that went on. So every time that I think of Halifax, I associate it with the hotel.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
My plan was always get my permanent residence and move to some other city in Canada. That was always my plan. But I got my permanent residence in 2018 October, and then I decided, okay, in the new year, I’m moving to a new city. That was my resolution for 2019. I’m leaving Halifax in 2019. But the thing is because I made so many friends there, I knew so many people, I knew the city well, I was so comfortable, I just relaxed a little bit. So 2019 came around, and I applied for this artist residency in Banff. Banff is in Alberta. So I applied for the artist residency and made it to like the final three, but I didn’t get it. But that was my plan. I was like, okay. I had assumed that I was getting it for sure. That was how much faith I had in this. I was like, “Okay, once I get this, I’m just going to move to Banff.” The program was a two year program, do it for two years and make connections, and see what happens from there.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
So I didn’t get the program, so I decided, okay … So that was in May of 2019. I was like, “Okay, what am I going to do now?” I wasn’t sure. So my sister had a wedding coming up in August, so I went to Nigeria for the first time in six years for the wedding. And I decided, you know what? Once I come back from this wedding, I’m moving. But where to? I wasn’t sure. So I wanted to move to Vancouver because my sister was coming to BC for school, but then I started looking up Montréal because I knew somebody that lived here. I started looking up Montréal. So I went on Indeed, checked to see graphic design jobs. I was like, “Oh, there’s a lot of graphic design jobs here.” And I can learn French. So I decided, you know what? I’m moving to Montréal.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
So I decided, okay, I’m moving. So I went to Nigeria, I came back, I gave them my two weeks notice at the hotel, and then I moved in October first. Luckily for me, I was able to get an apartment right from Halifax. So I got the apartment, but then I started getting cold feet, because then I didn’t have a job, no real concrete plan. So to make sure that I moved, I shipped all my bags.

Maurice Cherry:
That’s one way to make it happen.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
So I left just one bag. So after I shipped my bag, I bought my plane ticket. I was like, “Okay, I have to move now.” But then I discovered something. There’s so many people that discouraged me from moving. There was a few people that were like, “You know what, this is a good move. You’re probably going to make big advancements from moving.” But there are so many people that were projecting their fears and telling me, “Well, if you move then it doesn’t work out, what are you going to do?” People were saying all this stuff to me. But then I talked to my parents and they were in support of it, and I just moved.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
Yeah, so I got to Montréal and I decided, well, I already did the job, worked at restaurants, walk at hotels, I think it’s time for me to get a design job now. So I decided, you know what? I’m only going to get a design job. So that’s how I ended up in Montréal.

Maurice Cherry:
So now you’ve been in Montréal for what? A little over, you said two years now, something like that pretty much?

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
About two years, yes.

Maurice Cherry:
Have you gotten a chance to kind of see what the design community has been like outside of work?

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
Not really, because last year it happened, so that was kind of a write off. And then this year has been super busy trying to balance both jobs and also trying to have a semblance of a practice outside of work. So I haven’t actually had the chance, but recently I’ve been going to art galleries, checking out a few stuff and seeing what people are up to. But as for the design community here, the truth is in Montréal, if you don’t speak French, then you’re very limited in a way. Even though Montréal is super bilingual, most people you meet speak both languages, but if you speak French it’s like a new world opens up to you there. So that’s what I’m trying to do by learning French.

Maurice Cherry:
How’s your French going so far?

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
Pretty good. All of 2020, I didn’t learn French, even though one of my goals was to learn French. So I moved here, but then I got cold feet, because I got a job even without speaking French. But then I was thinking if I try to learn French what happens if I forget words? What if I can’t learn? What if I can’t do it? Because usually I do things that I know that a hundred percent I’m going to succeed at this, that’s the kind of things I like to do. So I was a little afraid, but then at the beginning of this year, I was like, you know what? This is my New Year resolution. I’m a hundred percent committed to learning French, despite work and everything. So then I got Duolingo and then I got a private tutor. And honestly, the progress that I made this year, it leaves me thinking, why didn’t I even start last year?

Maurice Cherry:
Oh, okay.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
Yeah, I actually made good progress. Speaking is very difficult because the pronunciations … The pronunciations are especially difficult for me because the sounds don’t sound like Igbo, and a lot of them don’t sound like English either. So there’s some sounds in French that my brain cannot just wrap around. It’s a fun challenge, so I’m not complaining.

Maurice Cherry:
I mean, I feel like the Nigerian accent is, and this is kind of this way with some African languages, it’s very throat based. The accent is very much deep in the throat, whereas with French, everything is nasally. There’s a lot of nasal stuff to it. So I know when you’re learning French, a good phrase when you get stuck with something and you don’t know, and your tutor probably told you this too, but just say, “[French 00:52:44].” Which is, “How do you say?” Yeah, so you can be speaking and you say-

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
Yeah, that’s a good one.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, you can [inaudible 00:52:50], you’re like, “Eh, [French 00:52:51]”]. And you kind of roll your way through it. And most people … I mean, I’ve not been in a lot of immersive situations. When I have been, it’s mostly been France French, not Montréal French or Quebec French or Quebecois or whatever, it hasn’t been that sort of regional-

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
It’s a totally different bag, but the thing is my teacher is from France, and Duolingo I’m also doing is French, so that’s what I’m focused on.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay. Yeah, once you really start immersing yourself in it … And I would say now it’s probably a lot easier to do, especially you got a smartphone or stuff like that, because you can set the language to French. And then you learn just from picking up context clues and stuff like that. You can watch movies with the subtitles and get the sense of what they’re saying, things like that. It’s a lot easier now than it used to be.

Maurice Cherry:
When I learned French, I was a kid. I mean, I started in second grade and then studied it all through high school and all through college. So I know enough to speak it and read it, but it’s a different thing to be immersed in it, when it’s the only thing you hear. My French is very situational. If I’m in a situation where I need to know French, like it’s a French restaurant, I’m like, okay, I know all the things to get around. Like where’s the bathroom, I will order this, I need this. I know that stuff. But then if it were something where I’m plopped into Paris, I’m like, oh, okay. That’s the real test is how do you use it from day to day.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
But that’s the really amazing part about living in Montréal, because all the signs, everything is in French. It’s kind of a rule they have in Quebec. If you have any sign or anything you see outside is usually in French. That’s the rule they have. So everywhere you go, you’re exposed to French. People will say bonjour to you first, and then if you respond in English, then they speak in English to you. So my favorite game to play now is whenever I go out, I bullshit my way with French until the person realizes that I don’t speak very good French. I want to see how long I can play the game.

Maurice Cherry:
That’s a good way to do it, that’s a good way to do it. What are you most excited about at the moment?

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
Honestly, I don’t know. I don’t think there’s one thing that really, really excites me. Oh one thing that I did this year that I can’t believe I did was I learned how to ride a bike. Yeah, I never knew how to ride a bike because when I was growing up, I didn’t have a bike. So I just never learned how to ride a bike. So when I moved to Canada, it’s one of those things where I’m like, I don’t know if this is something that I can do, so I just never did it. But then I tell people I can’t ride a bike and people can’t believe it, because most people can ride a bike. So I decided, you know what? This summer, this is what I’m doing this summer. This is my summer project.

Maurice Cherry:
So did you buy a bike? Did you use one of those rent a bikes or something like that?

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
It was more like a rental one or a friend’s bike or something like that. I’m going to buy a bike, but that’s going to be next summer, because you can’t bike here in the winter. There’s people doing it, but those people, I think they have issues.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
But yeah, so that was the one thing that I did this year. It seems very small, but it’s one thing that just gives me great joy. Because I did a 30 minute lesson, and I could balance myself already by the end of the 30 minutes. And then I did another 30 minute lesson, and the next time after that, I was able to do eight kilometers. And then I was able to do 16, 20. And at the end of the summer I did 35 kilometers, so that was pretty amazing for me. All the while I never fell, until the last time I biked this summer, before it became cold. I was coming down on the bridge, one of these bridges in Montréal here, the Jacques-Cartier Bridge. I was coming down really fast, and they have these barricades that you have to wiggle yourself around. For some reason I got carried away. Next thing I know, I saw myself flying over one of these barricades. Yeah, that’s the first time that I’ve fallen in a really long time. Yeah, it was bad.

Maurice Cherry:
What do you think you would’ve went to if you didn’t become an artist and a designer?

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
Probably an engineer, because my dad is an engineer. So even though he was very supportive, and even my mom was very supportive too, I feel like if I didn’t go into design, they probably would have steered me in the direction of doing engineering.

Maurice Cherry:
Did you have an interest in it or do you think they would’ve just pushed you towards that because of societal expectations?

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
I never had an interest in it. Honestly, I’ve never had interest in science in general. I can’t think of one profession in science that I have any interest in, honestly. I’ve never had an interest at all. I think I’ve always been an artist at heart. And so even my uncles were really against this. Like, “How can you make money from art?” I was never really worried about money, because I always tell people it doesn’t matter what you read in university. There’s people on YouTube now making funny faces and making millions. I’m like, they didn’t go to school for that. So I honestly think that what you go to study in university is not relevant to how much money you would make or how successful you’re going to be.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. I mean now the whole thing that I see with some artists that are making money, they’re making it off of NFTs. I was reading this … It was some article I read maybe a couple of weeks ago about this artist. She’s a Canadian artist. I forget where, but she just started learning about NFTs in about a month or so. And then using that, she made, I think 50 something NFTs, and has made like $300,000 or something like that. If you’re able to get that much just off of a month’s worth of learning, you can do anything.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
Honestly, I’ve looked into NFTs a little bit, but I haven’t … I have a two week vacation at the end of the year, so I want to use the two weeks to really educate myself and see what I can do. Because so many people have been telling me, “You have to look into NFTs.” So I’m like, okay, maybe this is something I’m going to look into. Who knows? Maybe that’s where I’m going to make it big. Because my goal in art is to make that one piece of art that’s going to pay me for the rest of my life. That’s my goal.

Maurice Cherry:
Hey, if you find a way to make it happen, let us know, share the knowledge so we can get in on it.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
I want to be that guy that just sticks a banana on the wall and people just pay $200,000 for it.

Maurice Cherry:
Right.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
And then everyone can cry about it [inaudible 00:59:57].

Maurice Cherry:
If there’s somebody that’s out here that’s listened to your story and they want to follow in your footsteps, what advice would you give them?

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
I would say, honestly speaking, I’m probably one of the most fortunate persons that I know. I would say that because pretty much most things that I do, I succeed. I don’t know if there’s something special that I’m really doing that is leading me to succeed in most things that I do, but I don’t know, somehow I usually just pull it off. But I’m also someone that if I decide I’m doing something I’m going all in. And if I start something and if I realize that, you know what? Maybe this is not going to work out. I usually back out early. Once I get deep into it, then I’m seeing it all the way.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
Like for example, the 365 project. By July, I was getting really, really tired, exhausted. Coming up with a new idea every day is not easy. Plus I have to make these all through artist blocks, like creative blocks. I had to find a way to make stuff. But I was also thinking, if I’ve made it this far, there’s no way I’m stopping now, because then if I stop, I’m going to regret this for a long time. So that’s usually how I approach most things. Once I start, I’m going all the way.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
This is a problem that I realized that a lot of Nigerians have, and I used to have this problem. People are afraid to fail. Nigerians are afraid to fail in general, because the culture does not really encourage failure in a way where I feel sometimes failure is very important for you to get to the next level. Like you hear about these scientists where, oh, this inventor made 800 different versions before the final one worked. That’s not encouraged in Nigerian culture. If you do something, you have to succeed at it. This idea that nine out of 10 new businesses fail, if you start a business in Nigeria and you fail, a lot of people are going to make fun of you, even though it’s perfectly normal for businesses to start and fail.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
So it took me a while to get comfortable with the fact that not everything I do is going to go the way I want it. And so since I’ve learned to accept that fact, I think my life has gotten a lot better.

Maurice Cherry:
Where do you see yourself in the next five years? What kind of work do you want to be doing?

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
Honestly, I’m not really a five year planning kind of person. I like to take things as they come, so okay, I plan for the next year. At end of the year, I’m going to sit down and think and see, and write down my goals and see if I have things that I want to accomplish next year. But usually, I take it year by year. So every year I have a big new year resolution that I want to hit, and I have very little ones that I … Because I like checklists, so I like to check, check, check. So I have very little things that I want to do, and I have a big one that I want to do for the year. And so I don’t really have five year plans.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
Ideally, at the end of the day, I want to own my own design agency. I think, even before that, I want to become full-time freelance, but I still need to gain the confidence, because right now it’s really nice when you expect two paychecks every month. But then when you become full-time freelance, then you know that you have to do as much as possible, maybe at the beginning, to get money. Because I was looking into Upwork, and I realized that a lot of people in Upwork, they’re very, very talented and they’re probably very experienced. But if you’re starting an Upwork, you have to start like you’re starting all over. Because you have to beef up your reputation and your cred for you to be able to make money from it.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
So, I still need to gain a little bit of confidence, but eventually I think that’s what I’m going to do. I’m just going to go full-time freelance, because I think that, like my dad always says to me, “You can’t get rich from counting on other people’s money.”

Maurice Cherry:
Well, just to wrap things up here, where can our audience find out more information about you and about your work online?

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
You talked about my website. I have to update the website because I made that website as a portfolio website when I was looking for a job, so I never really went back to go update it, but I think I’m going to go update it. But my website is mister365.ca, so Mister, M-I-S-T-E-R dot C-A. I’m very active on Instagram. My Instagram is nigerianexpert, E-X-P-E-R-T. You can find me on Instagram, that’s usually the best place to reach me. Or Facebook by my name, Emmanuel Nwogbo, N-W-O-G-B-O. I’m very active online.

Maurice Cherry:
All right, sounds good. Well, Emmanuel Nwogbo, I want to thank you so much for coming on the show. I think from hearing you tell your story and even you talking about moving here from Nigeria, I get this sense that you have this very quiet, maybe not so quiet, confidence about you. I mean, I feel like you’re downplaying it maybe a little bit, but I definitely get this quiet confidence from you when it comes to pursuing the work that you want to do. Because it takes a lot of guts to move from Nigeria to Cypress, to Nova Scotia, now to Canada. You’re still in your 20s, you’re still trying to figure it out, you’re taking on these creative projects. That takes a lot of confidence to be able to do all of that and still push forward and succeed, so I’m going to be excited to see what else you accomplish moving forward with your entire creative career. So, thank you so much for coming on the show. I appreciate it.

Emmanuel Nwogbo:
Oh, thank you very much for having me. I had a good time talking to you.

Sponsored by Brevity & Wit

Brevity & Wit

Brevity & Wit is a strategy and design firm committed to designing a more inclusive and equitable world.

We accomplish this through graphic design, presentations and workshops around I-D-E-A: inclusion, diversity, equity, and accessibility.

If you’re curious to learn how to combine a passion for I-D-E-A with design, check us out at brevityandwit.com.

Brevity & Wit — creative excellence without the grind.

Angela Bains

I am absolutely thrilled to share my conversation with Angela Bains with you this week. Along with being the co-founder and strategy director of international branding agency TransformExp, Angela is also a design educator at two prestigious Canadian colleges — OCAD University in Toronto and BCIT in Vancouver. Wait until you hear her story!

We took a trip down memory lane as Angela talked about growing up in the 1970s in London, being exposed to graphic design and typography as a young woman, and starting her own design studio in the 1980s along the advent of the personal computer. Her story continues with emigrating to Canada in the 1990s, starting over and networking as a designer in a new country, and keeping the spark for design alive for then next generation of designers through teaching and decolonizing old design traditions. Angela is truly a design icon!

So there’s a bit of history behind this interview with the mononymous Toronto-based designer Nuff. He was one of the first people I reached out to over five years ago when Revision Path began, and while we’ve kept in touch since then, it’s only until now that I’ve been able to get an interview with him. And let me tell you…it was worth the wait.

We touch on a lot of different topics during our interview, including the Toronto design scene, his creative process behind his digital and physical works, staying creative in the face of impostor syndrome, and more. It’s a pretty comprehensive look at someone who has been forging his own path in this industry while staying true to his ideals.


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When it comes to his work, Mattieau St. Cyr’s philosophy as a creator is to always stay open. The multi-talented Torontonian has his hands in a lot of projects and wields a number of skills. As a visual storyteller, Mattieau created Mannik Realm, a vehicle for all his creative projects which includes film, apparel, design, and more.

We talked about the inspirations behind Mannik Realm, and Mattieau talked about how his time in Japan helped change him as a designer. He also shared the processes behind some of his work, as well as his influences and some of his goals for the rest of the year. According to Mattieau, anything is attainable, and I think Mannik Realm is a great example of creating the world where you want to live!


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