Interview with Rafael van Winkel

Hi, everyone! Today we are going to meet Rafael van Winkel, a Brazilian graphic designer that works as Art Director at Art Machine, a Trailer Park company, based in Los Angeles. For those who don't know, most of Hollywood productions' branding (trailers and artworks in general) are done by Trailer Park.

Rafael is originally from the state of São Paulo, Brazil, and has been living in L.A. for some time now, doing advertising material and package design. If you enjoy movies you most definitely have already seen some of his artworks, such as the Lego Movie and Pacific Rim boxes. Besides this interview, you may check more of his work at his personal portfolio and Twitter.

Interview with Rafael van Winkel
Meet Rafael.

1. Hi, Rafael! I wanna thank you for taking your time to answer these questions. Abduzeedo's audience gets really inspired by designers that evolve and develop their skills to the point of getting acknowledged by the design community. First of all, how did the interest for design begin for you?

Thank you for the opportunity! My passion for design started pretty early, probably when I was around 8 or 9 years old, even tho I had no idea what it was. I was always fascinated by CD covers and booklets. I would go over my parents CDs one by one looking at the art, noticing how the booklets extend and complement the main cover art. After I started playing around with image-editing softwares, I would try to design my own album covers. Eventually I started designing websites about the bands I liked.

Interview with Rafael van Winkel

2. How was your learning process in this field? Were you self-taught or did you go to school?

It was probably 50-50. I was a very curious kid and I spent hours and hours every day clicking around in the computer trying to design things. I actually designed websites for companies as a side job prior having any web or graphic design classes. That actually encouraged me to pursue a career as a graphic designer. Those years of do-it-yourself definitely helped and gave me a good graphic design base and software experience. After I finished my BS in Computer Science, I moved to Los Angeles and did a graphic design course at UCLA where I learned more about design theory and started connecting the dots. While studying I created my portfolio focused on entertainment design.

3. How long did it take from the time you started learning until your first professional job?

I actually focused on creating a good portfolio first. I spent two years creating different pieces for it (while in school) and then a few months after I graduated to organize it all together. I revised it a few times based on comments from colleagues, professors, people in the business, etc. Only when I was completely happy with it, I reached out to a few companies for job interviews. I got hired a couple months after.

Interview with Rafael van Winkel

4. How ideas for a specific project come to you? Describe for us your creation process.

It's kind of a mixture of research and imagination. There are some tendencies in the movie industry we need to follow sometimes but we also need to put our creativity into it and take it to the next level, making it new and fresh. I like to take a moment and have a clear idea of what I'm designing before going to Photoshop or sketching. Once I'm set on a concept, I start a research process and go through the assets we have to see how I'm gonna execute. If you start throwing things on Photoshop right away it can take a while to form a solid concept and that can be frustrating.

5. As a designer, what are your greatest influences? What inspires you?

I love looking at movie posters. I visit at least three times a week to check what the studios are aiming for. I'm also a big fan of packaging design and how designers literally think outside the box. I'm constantly looking at special packaging, collector's editions, etc, for movies and TV shows.

Interview with Rafael van Winkel

6. From all your artworks, which one is your all-time favorite?

Usually the ones you struggle with the most, end up being the favorites in the end. While I was working on "The Lego Movie" campaign, I had to digitally build a maze from scratch using Lego pieces for a children's magazine. It was actually like playing with Lego in real life, I had one lego piece image and I was placing it side by side, building the walls of the maze. It took me a long time but at the end I was really happy with it and so was the client. I also did a steelbook art for a "Kingdom Of Heaven" 10th anniversary release that is also one of my favorites. I re-created this shield from the movie with a cross in the middle, an iconic piece in the movie. They printed it in a metal case with metallic ink. I really like how it turned out.

7. What are your tools of trade, the ones that you don't miss a day without using?

Most of it is Adobe Photoshop for me. I use Illustrator as a base for title treatments, logos and shapes and then bring them to Photoshop for textures, lighting, etc. I use a lot of InDesign as well. It's an important one to know if you're creating material for print.

Interview with Rafael van Winkel

8. Working abroad is the dream of many designers, even more for those whose home country doesn't offer much opportunities in this field. How was it for you getting to work abroad and how has your experience been until now?

My dream was to work in the movie business and I knew I had to come to Los Angeles, the heart of entertainment design, to make that happen. I really wanted to be at the source and create art for the big studios. It's not an easy transition but I worked really hard to be where I'm at now and it definitely paid off. It's a big responsibility working with the greatest movie production companies in the world and very rewarding to see your work out there in stores all over the world.

9. If you could give an advice for those starting in graphic design just now, what would it be?

Most of all, be creative. At the beginning it can be a bit difficult to develop your ideas and bring them to life. As great as they are, it may not look as good as you thought it would after you design them. Keep your mind open for criticism and reach out to learn how you can make it look better. A good knowledge of color, topography, design theory, etc, can go a long way. When it comes to mastering the tools, look for tutorials online, articles, videos, reach out to other designers, and actually click around and try to figure out how to get something done. It's one of the best ways to learn in my opinion.

Interview with Rafael van Winkel

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