Interview by Jim Borchardt
We interviewed Charlie Cultrara, the man behind the Newschoolers animated series "Mashed Potatoes." Charlie has a knack for creating short, accurate, and humorous animations depicting the ski industry and its surrounding culture. We were inspired by Charlie's creativity and thus, we hired him to create advertisements for our summer 2014 campaign. Within this article is both an interview with Charlie and some of his work. Enjoy!
Charlie, when were you first introduced to freesking? How did your in depth knowledge of skiing culture come about? Do you spend a lot of time browsing Newschoolers.com?
Like many skiers, I got into freeskiing before I knew what it was called. Its a mind set of experimenting with your skis, even before your first pair of twin tips. I started skiing in elementary school and within the following seasons I started emulating what I saw my boarder friends doing in the park.
After my friend introduced me to NS in 2009, I was addicted. In high school I spent an unhealthy amount of time on the site, making it hard not to know skiing culture well. I watched Chug Life and the Traveling Circus religiously, as well as catching up on all the older edits that defined our sport.
https://vimeo.com/108148364Bloom ad - Oh Snap!
When did you begin creating animated videos? What did they feature? And what motivated you to do make them?
I made a few claymations when I was 12 or 13, which featured the Geico gecko meeting his demise in various scenarios. I was inspired by Wallace and Gromit and I thought it was awesome to create a video completely from scratch, frame by frame. Unfortunately I have no idea what became of those animations.
Between then and my freshman year of college, I didn't animate anything else. It wasn't until I had to make a rotoscoped animation for a class that I realized I could animate in photoshop. This realization allowed Mashed Potatoes to come to fruition.
I'm interested in the entire process from start to finish. To start, how do you come up with your ideas? What's your technique? What is your process of creativity?
For Mashed Potatoes, the basic ideas come to me at random times and I jot them down in my sketchbook or phone so I can revisit them. Sometimes a song will prompt me to have an idea for an episode, instead of finding a song later to match it. The right music is very important to me since it sets the vibe and conveys additional information that isn't visually represented.
A strong concept will stick with me and I'll think about it throughout the week, mentally planning out the best and most humorous execution. I never actually dedicate time to working on concepts, it always happens while I'm doing something else, like walking to class, taking a shower, or washing dishes.
If I'm bored in class, I'll look at the list of other ideas and hash out how I can make them more funny and what details I want to add. I do very little sketching before I go to the computer, but this is when I'll sketch out facial expressions and do some storyboarding.
When I have several hours of free time, I start to work on the actual episode. I draw the characters and backgrounds in photoshop and reference any sketches if I have them. After animating the movement, I ask my roommate to be quiet and I record the voices. Usually, I record a few versions with different inflections and pick the one I like best. Oftentimes I know exactly how I want it to sound since I've been testing out the dialogue and laughing like an idiot in the shower for a few days before I record anything.
I then sync the audio with the animation, add music and sound effects, and export the episode!
https://vimeo.com/108088142Bloom ad - Look at that rail!
I have found in my own creative pursuits that creativity can never be forced. Like your experiences, I have found inspiration to come at random times when I'm busy. Its hard to sit at a desk and force out a creative impulse.
Now that you are in college, do you have a better idea of what you'd like to be doing in the future? Are you pursuing any sort of career that is related to the skills and artistry you have developed with animation?
I don't think of myself as an animator, since MP is only a fraction of the work I create. I spend the majority of my time on graphic design and printmaking. As a graphic design student, I see animation as design in motion. They are very closely related and animation is a great asset to a designer. I will definitely use animation throughout my career, though probably not as a primary medium.
For a several years I've been planning on working as a graphic designer in the ski industry. It seems like a perfect way to support myself while doing what I love. Currently, I'm interning with J Lev and LINE. So far its been great to work with them and to see what happens behind the scenes. I guess its only a matter of time until they discover I'm selling their trade secrets to one another and I'll be out of a job.
What's the most interesting thing you've learned about yourself and/or the industry through working with two companies both founded by Jason Levinthal?
So far my experience has reaffirmed my desire to work in the industry. I've learned that the market is quite saturated and that to make it as a new brand, you have to bring something fresh to the table. There's not much money in the ski industry, so everyone working in it is there for the love of the sport.
What, in your opinion, is effective advertising? What do you think is a powerful way to communicate ideas to potential customers?
I think the two most effective forms of advertisements are through humor and elitism. An ad that makes you laugh will stick with you. The ad can go viral and people might share it with their friends. A humorous ad is enjoyable to watch, and in the internet era of 10 second attention spans, it's important that viewers want to watch an ad instead of skipping it at the first chance they get.
Building a sense of elitism is another powerful method of advertising. By marketing a product as just out of reach, it creates an incredible allure. People want what they can't have. A good example of this is Jiberish's blacklist, which allows only a select group of people access to exclusive products.
https://vimeo.com/108147635Bloom ad - Drop in
I liked your point about short attention spans. We now live in the Information Age as a result of the internet and thus, we all have vast amounts of info at our fingertips like never before. I wanted to ask, how do you think the recent explosion of internet usage has affected our consciousness and world view?
Overall, I think its had a positive effect. Since news is much more readily available, people are able to be up to date on world events. This allows for faster social change and gives a voice to those that might not have had one in the past. However, instant info at our fingertips leads many people to be less patient and more distracted. It's difficult to hold a conversation with someone who has the option of grabbing their phone and accessing exponentially more information then you are able to relay to them vocally.
I believe you made a trip to IF3. How was that experience and how was your work received on the big screen?
I went to iF3 to do some coverage of the event Mashed Potatoes style. None of the animations were shown on the screen, though I was surprised by amount of NS lurkers that were familiar with the series. The movies and parties were top notch. I shared a cramped room with some fellow NS'rs and it was nice to put usernames to faces.
It was really interesting to see so many members of the freeski community gathered in one place, especially the hierarchy that exists amongst the pros, pro-hoes, filmers, judges, and fans. It reminded me of high school cliques. Here's the episode I made after the event:
If you weren't at IF3, here is a good video to reference to understand this animation. Skip to 4:50 http://new.livestream.com/if3/webcast/videos/62471315
Could you tell us a little more about what you plan on doing this coming year with your animations? Are you teaming up with NS and ON3P once more?
This year I plan to step up the quality in both the humor and execution of the episodes. There will be a mix of critical/satirical jokes on what's happening in freeskiing and non-topical episodes that those who are out of the loop will appreciate.
I'm really glad to continue working with NS and ON3P on this series. Because of their support, I am able to produce many more episodes than I would have otherwise.
What has been the biggest struggle you have faced with your work?
The main struggle that I face is balancing the time it takes to make the episodes with my school projects and other jobs. I usually post the episode the within 9 hours of finishing it since I wrap up working on it the night before.
Fortunately, I never struggle with thinking up the next episode. The skiing community is ridiculous, so there is always fresh material for me to riff off of.
https://vimeo.com/108088143Bloom Ad - Dress up
What inspires you? Who has been influential in shaping your view of life?
I'm inspired by the seemingly infinite amount of possibilities that there are in terms of art, skiing, and lifestyle. Because of the internet, I am able to connect with people that otherwise I would've never talked to, which opens up a plethora of opportunities to be explored. This is inspiring to me because I feel that there is always something new to try or something fresh to experience.
As for shaping my view of life, my dad is one of the most influential people. He has always been incredibly supportive of all my projects, from helping me build a summer setup to backing my pursuit of an arts degree. I know that whatever path I choose, he would support me on it if he knew it made me happy.
Thanks for your time Charlie! I know I speak for many of us when I say that I am stoked on what you are doing and am eager to see what you create in the future. To check out more of Charlie's animations, here is a link to his NS profile: http://www.newschoolers.com/ns/members/profile/member_id/128170/