Where the Wild Things Are: In Designer Geoff McFetridge’s Studio


Chances are you know designer Geoff McFetridge, even if you don’t know you know him. Think back on Spike Jonze’s brand of skater-influenced, low-fi, desaturated work. Most of the typographic elements — type being a factor that sets the tone for the entire scope of a project — were created by McFetridge, founder and principal of Champion Graphics. When he’s not working side-by-side with Jonze, McFetridge pursues his own fine-art projects, as well as two commercial lines, one for quirky, print-heavy wallpaper and the other for thoughtfully crafted skateboards. As the entire universe continues its countdown to the release of Where the Wild Things Are on October 16, we checked in with the artist at his studio in Cali.

Designer Geoff McFetridge. Title images courtesy of We Love You So, the official blog of Where the Wild Things Are.

Goeff chatted with us about the nature of design and his longtime collaboration with Spike Jonze, even delving into a certain left-handed drawing contest that ended up in the film, as well as some illustrations for the New York Times (the paper of record!) that were left uncredited.

Flavorpill: How long have you known Spike Jonze and how did the two of you conceptualize your design work for Where the Wild Things Are?

Geoff McFetridge: I have known Spike for about 9 years. I have been involved in small ways on a lot of Spike’s films over the years: we worked very closely together on the work I did for Wild Things. This film was clearly very personal for him and it showed in his attention to every detail. With this film, there was a lot more room for me to be involved. I think because of the marketing materials involved… and the subject matter is just more graphic, there were a lot more needs for art with this film.

Spike was really involved with even the smallest details of the things I worked on. Over the years I have gotten good at predicting what he likes, and he has a very consistent thought process. He likes things to feel very real, rough, conceptual and simple. He recently came to my studio to work on the titles with me and we had a left hand drawing contest. Those drawings became part of the main titles.

FP: You have often worked as a director yourself. How has that helped in your collaborations with Jonze?

GM: I think a big reason I ever wanted to direct things was because of watching Spike work. It felt like just another way to create things, and it was a way to quickly create work on a larger scale. The depth of Spike’s ability as a director eludes me. I can relate to his thought process though, the decisions he makes when conceptualizing and creating a film are very familiar to me. It is a fun exercise to replicate this process in graphics or marketing for the film.

Shadows of the Paranormal wallpaper print for Pottok Prints by Geoff McFetridge; Traveler Deadstock board from Solitary Arts.

FP: How has your work changed over the years?

GM: The thinking remains pretty consistent. The game seems to be applying this thinking to the constant formal exploration that I do. I am always following my interests and digging deep into different ways of working. I remember a moment years ago when I was working on a show. I had an idea and I was trying to draw it out to make a poster out of it. Then I had the realization that instead of the image of the thing I could just put the actual “thing” into the show.

This simple realization freed up my thought process by disconnecting my thinking from what I was doing formally. It also made me free to apply what I do to any form, media or style of working. So the work I do may appear to be visually unhinged, but it all feels very close to me.

FP: A lot of graphic designers now are super focused on computer drafting and how digital technology can aid design practice. How does that statement apply to you? How do you incorporate hand-drawn designs into projects mainly done on a computer?

GM: I work a lot on the computer, and it makes what I do possible. I mainly use the computer to speed up a type of production that is very traditional. I still control the work in the analog world and the computer just helps me get it done.

When you look at my work you can see that I do a lot of vector-based graphics that are very clean, but also do a lot of work that is very handmade looking. The surface appearance of my work varies, what is consistent is that at the center of what I do are art shows and installations. My creative momentum is generated from doing these projects, which are universally handmade, and often physical experiences. In that way the most important work I do is generated in this hands-on way, so even when I am making things on the computer they are always looking back towards that work.

FP: You once said, “When I do a motion graphics project I find myself making things that barely move.” Do you get asked to do many motion graphics for clients? Does it take a lot of convincing to steer them away from the Hollywood big budget effect?

GM: Nobody comes to me for big budget effects. I have have also noticed that even the flashy effects based places are doing more simple and rough solutions for motion graphics. This means it’s time to get into doing Hollywood big budget styles!

The reality is, that all these designers doing stylistic stuff and copying each other are just doing work that is going nowhere. There are rewards along the way, but really there is no end to it. Working the way I do is very much about staying out of it. By suggesting that motion graphics do not need to move I am not trying to make myself obsolete but to focus instead on a discussion of what the graphics are meant to say, not how they fly around.

FP: So what are your dream projects?

GM: I really would like to focus on public art projects. I have found that these types of projects (on a large scale of course!) are exactly what I want to be doing with my art. It is everything I like about doing graphics but without the baggage.

FP: What else have you done lately that you’d like to share with the world?

GM: I recently did the cover type and illustrations for the inside of the New York Times magazine [Editor’s note: the September 2 issue; the Times credited McFetridge in a correction that ran on the 20th] and was not credited for it. It was a jawdropper of a mistake. So that’s news. The illustrations were small drawings that are about Spike and his personal history and illustrative typographic treatments.

I have done a lot of the marketing materials and graphics revolving around Where the Wild Things Are film. There is a line of fabrics I did that Urban Outfitters is releasing on Friday. I also have a wallpaper company Pottok Prints and a skateboard company called the Solitary Arts. We are coming out with new product in a few weeks as well.