Getting Reel: A Talk With Motion Graphics Artist, Jesse Vartanian
When you frequent a neighborhood as dynamic as The Fenway, you just never know who you might end up standing next to. That unassuming guy right there, for instance, with the backwards Nike cap? That's Jesse Vartanian. He's come down from his home office upstairs to grab a cup of joe at Pavement before diving into his latest project for the New York Yankees. Don't worry. As a long-time resident of New England, he's still a dedicated Sox fan, but he's also an in-demand, Emmy award-winning motion graphics artist, who has worked with so many high-profile clients that listing them all would use up our word count. But to name a few, because we like to brag, they include, Showtime, Under Armour, ESPN, HBO and the MLB Network. A self-described, "one-man band," with creative roots in animation, Jesse has been applying his design expertise to projects of all sizes for a broad range of clientele all from within striking distance of his own sleeping chamber. Jesse took some time to talk with us about his early inspirations, his work ethic, favorite projects and why he’s chosen to call The Fenway home.
So, you’re obviously very deep into the graphics and motion picture world, and we were interested to know which came first? Was it design or photography?
So, actually it started in animation, and it’s always kind of a funny thing that, in my industry, I found I was forced to go into design as well. I mean, here I am in college thinking I was going to be just doing animation and it’s pretty much 50/50 now. So, I do half animation and half design.
What were some inspiring animations that you saw growing up that were formative influences?
I was always a Looney Tunes kind of kid. I always say that I’m pretty lucky to do what I do by watching cartoons. They were such a big influence. If you ever see my office, it’s just full of toys: Ninja Turtles, Toy Story and stuff like that. It’s just a great inspiration for me, to remember where I started.
You do a lot in-house: the pre-production, the branding, all the way to the production. What are some pros and cons of taking that all in-house?
I think I’ve been lucky to be able to do as much in-house as I’ve been able to do. I kind of act as a one-man band and I pretty much do whatever I need to do to get the job done. Which is one of the great things of acquiring skills throughout the years to be able to do things like that. When my first few clients came to me, they realized that, ‘Hey, we can just throw everything at this guy and he’ll just do it from start to finish.’ That just kind of kept going all the way into MLB Network and Under Armour.
For pros and cons, it’s great to have your stamp at the end of it, but it’s certainly a lot of work. It’s always great to work with other people as well and have different inspiration and a different eye come into the project as well.
I saw the Under Armour connection, does Steph Curry come to your office often, do you guys work directly together, or is it mostly a remote situation?
*Laughing* That would be awesome.
The Under Armour thing was actually most recent. They came out with these sunglasses that they needed a product video for. They sent me over the sunglasses, and I just kind of built this whole world in 3D for them to come to life and showcase the new features for it.
Is there a style of content that you prefer to work with or create?
The good thing is that in my industry everything is always changing and evolving. The needs are constantly evolving as well. I work on a week-to-week basis, and this week I’m working heavy in sports, for the New York Yankees, but next week it could be something entirely different, like a lifestyle brand or a marketing video. I really don’t have a preference. I actually enjoy the variety because it keeps things interesting and always tests my skills and my limits.
Do you have any tips how you stay on track and organized?
Well anybody who talks to me and finds out that my commute is pretty much crossing the threshold of my kitchen to my office, they always find it interesting that I can work at home every single day of the year and not go insane. There are certainly things, like your make-up and your discipline. For me, I always get dressed as if I’m going to work, but I walk right into my office and put some music on. I’m usually a pretty focused person, so if I know I have a task to do, I don’t really leave until it’s done. That’s just kind of my personality.
Do you have any go-to, 11th-hour rituals for when you really have to put your head down and get a big project done? A particular album you put on, a beverage, or a special hat you wear?
Well, I usually do put on a Nike training hat. I typically go down to Pavement, which is right underneath me, and I’ll grab a coffee. For music: whatever’s new on Friday, usually they release something new on Friday and I’ll throw something on.
So, you’re right in the mix. You’re right above Pavement. How long have you been living and working there?
About 2 years, I’ve been in The Fenway for about 4 years now.
Obviously there are a lot of changes, especially over the past 4 to 5 years with influx of new businesses, restaurants and tech companies. How has that affected your lifestyle as the neighborhood has changed around you?
I think it has made my lifestyle better, just because I have so many resources around me. I don’t even need to go in my car and go anywhere. If I need coffee I go downstairs, and I go to the gym every single day either in my building or across the street. That can be a downside because sometimes you just want to get out of the neighborhood and not always be here, but it is hard with all new restaurants emerging and movie theaters—it’s just so convenient.
Are there any particular places that you frequent more than others, particular favorite bars to unwind, or restaurants to have a meal?
I love Citizens. I think that’s a great upscale bar without the college scene. You can just go and get a nice bourbon on the rocks and hang out.
You work for a lot of sports, and you’re currently working for the New York Yankees in the middle of the Fenway. Where do your true sports allegiances lie?
With the Red Sox, of course! I grew up with the Red Sox. When I was 10, I drew a picture of Mo Vaughn and submitted it to the Sports Illustrated Kids magazine and they featured it. Then, Mo Vaughn reached out to me and sent me signed copies and photos of him. It was kind of hard, at age 10, to be anything other than a Red Sox fan, you know?
Do you have anything that you want to talk about that you’re working on now? Anything you’re excited about, or anything aspirational that you would love to work on in the future that you wanted to shout out and get in print?
I’m branching out a little bit this year. I’ve had some people reach out in terms of speaking. I’ve done a couple of talks at some universities in the area, but I’m speaking at Suffolk at the end of the month for an entrepreneurial talk. And then I’ve been invited to Vegas in April for one of the largest conferences in this industry (NAB) and I’m going to be speaking there. The following week I will be flying to Germany and I will be doing another talk there in a similar industry. Basically, I’m going to be breaking down some projects like MLB and stuff and just kind of show people an intro on how I work and how I did some of the jobs.