BY COREY RITTER ’15, UNIVERSITY WRITER/EDITOR
A small-town kid with a big dream, that was Jason Perkins when he arrived at Drury in the fall of 1993. That big dream, and a little bit of hard work, would lead Perkins to play a pivotal role in developing Drury’s first website before graduating and making his mark as a successful art director and business owner. In 1997, with a Bachelor of Arts degree from Drury College, Perkins headed to California to pursue his dream of becoming an art director for tech and biotech companies across the country.
The summer before his senior year at Drury, Perkins landed an internship at Pfeifer-Swan Creative in California, which led to his first paying job after college: opening a web division of the agency called beyond cool. Perkins left the agency in 2002 to become an art director at InVision Communications, an event production company, where he would get his first experience in motion graphic art and event production.
As a staff art director, Perkins learned the ins and outs of developing artwork, working with staging and lighting crews, professional networking and customer service.
In 2005, Perkins left InVision Communications and moved to Portland, Oregon to become a freelance creative and founded a motion graphics art and event production company, Make Animals. Over the last 12 years, Perkins has significantly grown his business, providing services to large, international clients like Adobe, Facebook, Hewlett-Packard (HP), Cisco, Oracle and Microsoft.
Perkins’ success has been driven by his passion and energy, but he also credits his professional experiences and the educational freedom of exploration that he received from Drury as playing a vital role in his successes.
Performance is a broad term, often having multiple definitions. What is performance to you as an art director and how did your time at Drury influence you?
To me, performance is doing something that you’re proud of; when you care about what you’ve made. I also think that performance is about being a good teammate. In the larger production space, large teams must work together to make an event happen. Often, you have to pitch in on something that’s not your main focus. Because great teams drive great performance, I try to be the best team player I can be.
You helped develop the first website for Drury when you were a student. What was that like?
I have incredibly fond memories of my senior year at Drury and coming back from a summer internship in California, knowing that I had a job lined up running the website department at an ad agency before I even graduated. It was really interesting that my professors would see my excitement and help tailor coursework to my interests. I had an on-campus job with Don Ameye (director of publications) working on various design tasks for the school. He saw my excitement about the internet and said, “Well, we’re going to make Drury’s first website.” Getting to do that; knowing that we were going to fail many times, knowing that we were going to have to figure it out along the way, but knowing that we had complete control over what we wanted to do; it was invaluable. I think if you looked back at that first Drury website that we made, and what was on the internet at that time, it was a top-rate site. I’m still very proud of that to this day. I consider Don Ameye one of my professors, not just a guy I worked for to get through school.
Some develop talents at a very early age and others develop them over a lifetime. When did you discover your passion for working with audio/visual technology?
That’s an interesting question. I guess the token answer would be playing video games when I was a kid. I’ve always been a visual person; I’ve always felt like I could remember faces before I could remember names. I didn’t really know I wanted to be a designer until I was already in the work force, but I think the first time I knew I wanted to do visual work was in high school. I had just moved to Pleasant Hope, Missouri, and I had to take the freshman art course as a senior because I didn’t know I had to have that class to graduate. We were making portfolio covers to hold our work, and I remember my art teacher, Gail Emrie (another valuable mentor from Pleasant Hope High School), noticed my work. Having her like my work was a good feeling and it sparked an interest in visual design. I fought it a lot, though. I didn’t think I could make any money doing it, I was never sure if it was good and it didn’t feel tangible. Even during my early years at Drury, I wanted to do things that involved writing or public speaking, but I always had those minor art classes and I loved them and did well in them. I guess that’s how I became interested in all this.
What was your first experience developing this kind of work?
The Drury website was the first realworld digital communication work I did. I also helped Dudley Murphy (emeritus faculty of art and design) develop a website for his fishing lure collectibles. He was another professor saying to me, “Hey, let’s do something real here that’s not in the class that grabs at this passion you have.” But, the first work in the space of live events was with Ariba Live 2001 when I was working for the ad agency right out of college. Ariba was the posterchild for Bad.com, a website that would aggregate buys. They hosted a world tour, and I was swept up into the project and flown to Sydney, Australia to observe the first event. That was really the first time I was working “live” in the event production world.
What has this profession/performance taught you about yourself, your profession, or your work?
Working and doing what I do has taught me a lot about work ethic. When you’re a freelance artist, you’ve got to put in the hours; there’s no one else that’s going to do it but you. I’m told by my family and friends that I work way too much, but it’s because I love what I do. At the end of the day, when I’ve done my work well, people can sit in a theater and enjoy it—that gives me a lot of pride.
You’ve worked on a lot of projects; do you ever look back?
I look back all the time. You make decisions, you choose projects, you choose who you want to work with. I think analyzing the work and situations you’ve been in, especially in the short term, are key to making future decisions.
Does your work influence your personal life?
I would say the largest work influence in my personal life is that I am seeing the world now. In the past five years, the level of projects I’ve had has allowed me to travel to many countries that I hadn’t visited before, and the perspectives that I bring back with me are invaluable. To compensate for the long hours, I coach my boys’ soccer and basketball teams in an effort to force myself to leave the office and get involved in the community.
Practice makes perfect, right? How do you improve in your work?
Constantly listening. Listening to my peers in the industry, listening to what’s working and what’s failing, and even listening to audiences. I work on massive pixel spaces—huge projection screens—and when those are sitting in front of audiences of 10,000 people and a great graphic hits the screen, you can’t help but get a reaction from the crowd. Every job is practice for the next.
Have you ever failed?
Daily. You can always see things in your mind that you want to design, but when you really get down to the budget and the resources and time you have, you can’t always get to what you had in your head. Because of that, I feel like I’m failing all the time in my design work. The audience, though, never knows what you initially had in mind, so I’ve often been amazed that things that I really can’t stand have a positive reaction from clients or audiences. If you’re not pushing yourself to the point that you at least feel like you might fail, you’re not really tackling your work.
Obviously, technology has come a long way and continues to change all the time. How do you adapt to those changes?
Technology is moving at a pace with which you can’t keep up. It’s amazing to me just how often we purposefully don’t try new technology. In the live event space, you have to hit it; you can’t have your speaker on stage and have something go wrong because you’re pushing the envelope. The technologies that come out are groundbreaking and we work with them behind the scenes, but they never go to the stage until we know it’s flawless. Being too caught up in being on the cutting edge of technology can pull attention from simply making great visuals. Bad visuals are bad, no matter what technology is pushing them to the audience’s eyes.
When is a project “done” for you?
Well, sadly it’s when we’ve run out of time. And maybe that’s not sad. I’m often asked backstage at shows, “What are you doing? Why are you still working on this?” I just can’t leave things alone until it’s time for the show and there’s no reason to touch it anymore.
Do you have any advice for current graphic arts students? For recent graduates?
Explore everything you can, but don’t forget about the traditional arts. Software is wonderful, but the best graphic designers I know can also whip out a pencil and paper and draw something wonderful. To recent graduates, you have to want to work—you’ve simply got to earn it. Everyone that I respect in my industry, I know they earned their position and worked hard to be on the team. You’re going to have to do things you don’t want to do, but even if you don’t know where you want to go, if you work hard, you will arrive in a good place.