PK 021: Adam Volker from Moonbot Studios: Why Winning an Academy Award Is Only The Start

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A still from The Scarecrow, produced by Moonbot Studios for Chipotle Mexican Bar & Grill

“I came to the realization that, with art, the more you do, the more it’ll give back to you.”

Many artists would think they’d hit the big time after winning an Academy Award, but for Adam Volker, this was just the beginning.

Like many artists, his story is one of getting into college and realizing he wasn’t the best anymore. It’s also one of job uncertainty, staying true to doing what he loved, and constantly pushing himself to work on challenging and exciting projects.

Growing up in Minneapolis, he started drawing from an early age thanks to encouragement from his mother, an art teacher herself.

At school, he soon developed a reputation as ‘the kid who drew things’, and, after graduating, it seemed natural for Adam to go to art college.

However, once he got there, he soon realized he wasn’t the only one with artistic ability.

“It was like a light switch being turned on in my brain,” he says. “It’s then that I knew I had to up my game and work really hard. I came to the realization that, with art, the more you do, the more it’ll give back to you.”

And so, he got his head down, put all his efforts into his art and felt really happy with his achievements when he graduated. There was just one problem – he couldn’t actually find any work after leaving.

Midway Games and an Uncertain Future

After a few months of uncertainty, he got a phone call that would change the course of his creative career. A friend from college was working for Midway Games in Austin, Texas, and asked Adam if he’d consider moving there and working as a concept artist. Adam didn’t need much convincing. He packed his bags and prepared to re-locate more than 1,000 miles from home.

At the time, Midway Games was responsible for producing some of the world’s biggest games titles, such as Mortal Kombat. That’s why it was such a shock when the company went bankrupt in 2009, leaving its staff to continue working on projects they knew would never see the light of day.

“It was a surreal experience,” explains Adam. “I’d only just started, and here we were being told the company was going into liquidation! At the time, I had no industry experience, so it was all very new and strange to me.”

Thankfully, Adam managed to land a job at BioWare, and began making friends among the supportive and highly creative game development community in Austin.

One of these new friends was William Joyce, an artist who was working on children’s books and developing his ‘Man in The Moon’ titles into an animation with Dreamworks.

He suggested a move to Shreveport, Louisiana, where he and some other friends were talking about setting up their own animation studio.

Moonbot Studios and Winning Academy Awards

And, with that, Moonbot Studios was born and Adam quickly got absorbed into his new role as creative director. Together with William and fellow artists Joe Bloom and Brandon Oldenburg, he stared storyboard work on a short film, The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr Morris Lessmore.

Their hard work paid off, and the film scooped an Academy Award in 2012. But, rather than resting on their laurels, Adam and the team knew they had to keep working hard to make Moonbot Studios a lasting success story.

“Surprising as it may seem, it wasn’t such an easy ride after winning the award,” explains Adam. “Once you divide all the money up between everyone who worked on the project, it’s not actually such a huge amount. You’ve just got to keep on drumming up work, which can be tough at times. You often find that only one out of every 10 jobs actually pans out, so the only way to keep on going is to take a lot of jobs on board at one time. Trying to juggle all this can get really draining at times.”

However, it’s not all been an uphill struggle for Adam and his team. As he explains, “Eventually, you find people with real vision to work with on projects, and that can be really exciting. One such project was The Scarecrow, an animation to accompany the app-based game launched by Mexican food chain, Chipotle.

The film focussed on the importance of sustainable farming and was a huge hit on YouTube. If you haven’t seen it, you can check it out here:

As creative director, Adam’s job involves talking to artists and clients and bringing his vision to a project. He says: “I like to get everybody working in tune with each other on a project. I always ask everyone involved ‘What’s going to make this an exciting project for you to work on?’”

The future of Moonbot looks exciting, rewarding, and always challenging. “Our eyes have always been bigger than our stomachs,” laughs Adam, who says they often take on jobs where the whole project has been a process of trying out new things and working out how they’re going to achieve a quality end result.

Although Adam and his team are heavily involved in producing console-based games most of the time, they still find time to produce children’s books and short films. In his spare time, Adam likes working on comic book projects with Joe Bloom. They recently held a gallery exhibition which you can check out on Adam’s Tumblr feed.

So, what still excites Adam about art? “For me, art is about communicating something you can’t say with words,” he explains. “The ultimate challenge is to create something that people can relate to. That’s what still gets me all fired up!”

Listen to this week’s show and learn:

  • Why you need to be committed to your art to succeed
  • How a creative director role often involves dealing with many different people
  • Why hustling for projects in an essential part of the process

People on this Episode:

Mitch
Adam

Mentioned in the episode:

Moonbot’s Website
Moonbot on Facebook
Moonbot on Twitter
Adam on Tumblr
Adam on Vimeo

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Thanks for listening to our show! We’ll be back next Wednesday morning 8AM EST.

Cheers,

Mitch

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