Professional Perspectives

Erin Sarofsky



Erin Sarofsky is a multi-talented artist and designer who runs her own studio, Sarofsky, located in Chicago. Erin leads a design-driven production company that produces original content for entertainment, broadcast, branding, and advertising. Her work has been featured in industry publications including Shoot, Stash, Boards Magazine, Motionographer, Forget the Film; Watch the Titles, Art of the Titles, and PromaxBDA. Her work has received multiple nominations for prestigious awards such as the Type Directors Club, the SXSW Film Design Awards, and a Primetime Emmy nomination. 

What drew you towards motion design?

I like the linear nature of motion design. Its as close to storytelling a•, you can get when it comes to design. I also like that people can’t ‘ouch it, can’t do anything to it. They just watch it. I enjoy doing win k that you get a captive audience for, like film titles. I think its really important that your work really satisfies what you want to do in the world.

What do you like most about motion design?

I personally love coming up with concepts and the early phases of execution, when we translate that concept into motion. After that, I like seeing what the animators and other artists bring to it. It’s always rewarding to see where a job starts, then watch how it evolves. If you’re a strong creative director, you can lead the process in a way so that comments are addressed and the work gets elevated.

I also love what we do because it is a pretty quick process. We are rarely on a job for more than a few months…. And then, it’s on to something new.

How do you come up with ideas?

I do a lot of writing. I mind map in a journal to see where thoughts lead to other thoughts. It always starts with words on paper..I also create style frames that are completely disposable. A lot of people treat style frames like they are precious commodities, but for me, I can create a full design board and then decide not to show it. It can be something that I spent a lot of time on, but it doesn’t matter if it is not working. I put everything down and start over. Once you have done hundreds of design boards and won maybe 10% of those pitches, you begin to realize how disposable it all is.

Figure 1.1: Doctor Strange title sequence. Created by Sarofsky for Marvel. Director: Erin Sarofsky.

Where do you find inspiration and reference?

I pull more towards history, architecture, and photography. I do believe everything is derivative. There is nothing you can say that is completely unique or original now, especially in the days of Pinterest. We have accessibility to everything, immediately, on your phone, in your hand, any second. So now, it is about how appropriate the reference is for what you are doing and how you evolve it to become own-able in this land of everything being unoriginal. 

Figure 1.2: Community: title sequence. Director: Erin Sarofsky

Do you have any specific methods or tools?

I approach every job very differently. Sometimes, I want to get out crayons and paper; sometimes, I might want to do some ink; sometimes, I will scan it; sometimes, I just want to look for the right images and treat them. Every job is its own thing. I am most happy when what I am doing is most appropriate for the project at hand.

Because of my photography background, a lot of my early work had a filmic look. Even my graphic design and typography looked like it was photographed. I used vignettes and color grading and made images feel like there was a natural light source. It was very subtle and simple stuff, but it helped me stand apart.

Figure 1.3: Apple IMac Pro commercial. Created by: Erin Sarofsky

To make the film, Erin’s  concept was simple: bring an old sketchbook and its contents to life by combining live action, computer graphics (both photo-real and illustrated CG) and compositing, using the iMac Pro to put it all together.

Do you have any suggestions for young designers?

To do real work, it is not about getting the big paycheck right away. It’s about putting yourself in a place where you are going to grow, learn and absorb. After you spend a few years there, then you can go chase the paycheck. But, to start on a career that is really going to be fulfilling, you need to find the right studio for you and somehow get your foot in the door. That’s going to mean a little bit of sacrifice at first, but in the long run, it will get you where you need to be.

How do you see the role of designers in design-driven productions?

The role of a designer has to be present throughout everything we do. Front end with concept development and design boards, and back end with production and delivery. I can always tell when a has had a hand in a piece, and when one has not.

I think there are two different kinds of designers. You need have someone with the eye, but also someone who is realistic. There is the optimistic designer, who is always pushing to make the design a little bit stronger. Then there also has to be a realistic designer, who knows how far you can push a client. Artists who create design boards tend to be more optimistic, where designers in production need to be more realistic about what is going to work. It’s the balance of those that get the work done that is beautiful, on time, and on budget.

Do you have suggestions about building a successful company?

In general, when speaking with students, there is a naivety to it all. Students have no idea what it takes to get access to the work we do. For me, it took the process of making hundreds and hundreds of design boards and producing who knows how many spots just to build a career and a name for myself. Then, once your career is going, you meet like-minded people along the way…. People that complement each other. Those people slowly became my team. Now, that team is this company, and as we grow, we are mindful of keeping that team growing in the right direction.

Success for me isn’t only defined by the bottom line (though that is a big part of it). Its also about creating work my team and clients can be proud of, growing fulfilling careers, and making sure our company culture is happy and upbeat.

Do you have any design heroes or mentors?

When I was younger, I was impressed by designers like David Carson. I think this speaks to the exact point in time I was in college and the kinds of books that were coming out. But now, I really look to the oldies; people like Saul Bass, who had a look and a way about their work that is a little more timeless. So, my inspirations have definitely changed over time.

What is your favorite project that you have produced?

 The film titles for Captain America. I think it is very special visually because of the restraints and the color palette. There is thoughtful consideration to every single aspect of it.

Figure 1.4: Captain America: The Winter Soldier main on end title sequence. Created by Sarofsky for Marvel. Main Title Director/Lead Designer: Erin Sarofsky.