VICE'S DERSU RHODES WANTS YOU TO USE YOUR TALENT TO TAKE A STAND
WNW Member Dersu Rhodes is a Venice-based creative and hirer on Working Not Working. In our interview below, Dersu offers generous insights into his process on both sides of the coin as Design Director at Vice. From creating verticals for Vice like its women's channel Broadly and lifestyle channel Viceland, to searching for creatives who are as passionate as he is about making original and meaningful work, Dersu both embodies and embraces the spirit of Vice. "Vice has said 'fuck you' to offshore drilling, pipelines, discrimination of all ethnicities and sexual orientation, and I full-heartedly stand behind that. I’m 100% ready to chain myself to some trees and hopefully VICE will let me use my PTO."
Dersu repeatedly stresses that every endeavor for Vice involves extensive collaboration among creative minds. And they're always on the lookout for more impassioned makers and thinkers. When we ask Dersu what advice he can offer to creatives interested in working at Vice, he cuts to the chase: "Email me if you want to work with us and also if you want to be involved in taking your talent and using it to take a stand against the dark shit that could possibly be coming."
Tell us a little bit about your creative background. Who is Dersu Rhodes and how did he get here?
I grew up in a family that celebrated and supported absolutely any crazy creative ideas that I had as long as it didn’t involve television or video games. I remember drawing for hours listening to Ladysmith Black Mambazo and acting out imaginary epic sagas in the woods behind our house. I still find myself coming across new artistic mediums and convincing myself that this is my next calling. The benefit is that I dive into a new way of telling stories which keeps it exciting; the issue is that I end up spending a lot of time doing some stuff that doesn’t make a ton of sense for my career. For example, freestyle rapping.
My core has always been Fine Art, as that is what I went to school for. That eventually translated into graphic design, art direction, and more recently directing live action and motion graphic pieces. I come from 6 years in the surf industry before I got into advertising and media, so a lot of my aesthetic originates from that world. I also ran away to Berlin a few years ago, so my taste for sun flares was replaced with darker, moodier work.
How did spending your formative years in such naturally beautiful places as Montana and British Columbia inspire and influence your creative pursuits into film and design?
It’s funny that when I was growing up I couldn’t wait to get out of the wilderness. I thought that photo shoots and films that took place in the city felt more real and were more interesting. Now, I keep writing stories or dreaming up shoots that take place in the places I grew up.
I didn’t realize how much that chapter of my life and part of the world would influence my work until recently. I find myself gravitating towards stories that involve the outdoors or spreading a message of conservation and staying connected to nature. Now more than ever, my fear is the places that have been the source of the most peace and happiness will not always be here. Anytime that I’m feeling frustrated or uninspired I go surf, or go into the woods and immediately my brain takes a breath and I notice creative thoughts creeping back in.
How would you describe your creative style? Do you recognize a signature style that links all of your projects, or do you try to excuse yourself and approach each project as its own entity?
It varies a bit according to the project or client but my own personal style is really reflected in my Instagram feed as of late. I’ve really tried to collect inspiration and projects that I feel reflect my current mood and style.
I love photography and art that really makes me feel something. Vice has definitely influenced my taste and I find myself working with photographers who tell stories that are very authentic and gritty. On the other end of the spectrum, I love working with my friend Dean Bradshaw who has a more polished look, but his ability to tell stories with his work is just as impactful.
I’ve always loved Scandinavian design and the book Dutch Graphic Design sat on my desk for a long time. The ability to direct the eye with so few elements is mesmerizing to me and I try to mirror that effect in a lot of my work.
I recently had a friend suggest an exercise that could help define my signature style. He told me to pull together 100 images that speak to me and create a mood board with them, I’ve done this over the years and I realize that the style I’m drawn to has really changed a lot. It seems minimalism and emotion have really started to play a part in my work.
As a co-founder of music/style blog “Witness This” and a deep house DJ, what does the art of curation mean to you?
Curation is everything at this stage of my life. There is rarely a project that doesn’t involve more than one medium, and most projects present the opportunity to involve illustration, dance, photography, or music. Witness This began as an excuse to interview the people in my life who inspired me. In time it became a reason to reach out to artists or photographers in different cities and presented opportunities to learn from them. I approach most of my interviews with people like photographer Damien Vignaux or DJ HOJ as not only a chance to learn as much from them as possible but to try to convince them to collaborate with us somehow. ;)
You’ve been Design Director at Vice for three years. What separates Vice for you? How have you seen its identity evolve from within in recent years?
Long before I got here, VICE was already flying. The people that are leading the charge are so passionate about the stories they are telling and so hell bent on succeeding that it was a dream just to be able to jump on board. It was an opportunity for me to learn absolutely everything I could and be a part of telling stories that truly matter. This company is ready to take a stand for all of the progress that has taken place over the last years. Vice has said "fuck you" to offshore drilling, pipelines, discrimination of all ethnicities and sexual orientation, and I full-heartedly stand behind that. I’m 100% ready to chain myself to some trees and hopefully VICE will let me use my PTO. My goal is to learn from all the incredibly talented and passionate people here from all media channels and continue to do everything I can to tell stories that truly matter and better the world.
Is it a challenge to adopt Vice’s distinctive voice when working on a project, or do you feel that you already spoke that language when you came in?
It can be challenging because we do have a lot of verticals (channels) at this stage. However, each vertical has a publisher who along with the channel manager and their squad truly become the voice and filter for that vertical. I helped launch the women’s channel Broadly and we clearly defined the brand guidelines for that vertical, while making sure it followed the overall Vice brand guidelines.
I come from the surf world and advertising, and in a lot of ways so does Vice. Jake Burghart, the most O.G. DP at Vice, comes from the surf/skate world and there are lots of people that have worked on both sides. Our in-house agency Virtue works on brand art and design so you have to be a chameleon.
What Vice projects, campaigns, or endeavors are you proudest of?
I am very proud of our work in helping to launch VICELAND. We cranked through the holidays working on the show packages for Huang’s World, Vice World of Sports and Party Legends which all involved a lot of talented designers, art directors, motion designers and producers working very hard and really caring about what we were doing. Every time I speak with someone and I mention VICELAND, people tell me how much they love it so that feels really awesome.
Working with Diplo and K-Swiss for the launch of “The Board” was amazing as well. We had a rock star team of creatives, producers, photographer and filmmaker's and the result was a campaign geared around educating young entrepreneurs in design, marketing and making a social impact. At one point we had 5 of us in a hotel room rewriting a creative script at 1 in the morning the night before our first shoot!
Being in a leadership position, how do you cater your approach to allow your left brain and right brain to coexist?
I listen to a lot of deep house and crush coffees in the afternoon. I try to keep my creative time where I can really dive into problems and strategy for early morning or later in the evening. During the day I find myself in meetings that sometimes involve numbers which are not exactly creative, or working on Keynote which is sometimes creative so it’s definitely not all fun and games. But we have a great team and we talk through a lot of our ideas which makes it fun during the day.
What advice can you offer to creatives hoping to work at Vice? What can they expect from Vice’s creative culture and what would it take for them to succeed there?
I can say that you should email me. We are looking for designers and motion people. If your work is good and you know what we do and want to join us then let’s do this. You can expect to work on the VICELAND broadcast network, on Noisey, Broadly, Thump, experiential events, brand work and any ideas you dream up that you want to pitch for any of the Vice channels.
What do you look for in creative portfolios that are unique to Vice?
Portfolios that have a point of view. Having good taste is really a huge part of it. That could look like curating a tumblr or having a section that showcases your favorite work. Showing that you are aware of what is going on in the design/art world is important as well. Also a lot of CV’s that I get are sadly designed and honestly I won’t even look at those. Try to present a tight package that reflects who you are and what you care about. Show me you have a personality and are passionate about doing good work!
What’s next for you? What are you working on now?
We’re working on a bunch of new network shows. I’m directing the main titles and branding/animation packages and also working on a few freelance passion projects. One project is directing a short doc about a guy in Oregon who finds animals that have recently been hit by cars on the side of the road, and makes incredible moccasins and bags while not wasting any of the meat. We’re on the hunt for a composer to score it at the moment.
What do you do when Not Working?
Finding music and DJing has been such a huge source of joy for me. I’ve kept the business out of DJing and as of now it’s the one creative avenue that has no rules. I can play what I want and no one is asking me to make the logo bigger, although we do occasionally get requests to play Rihanna. I also love surfing and spend at least a day a week in the ocean.
Who are some WNW Members whose work you admire and why?
Tony Chen (former VICE broadcast editor now freelance) is someone who I have loved working with over the years. He pours his whole heart into his work and is so incredibly passionate about learning and pushing the boundaries of storytelling. I also had the opportunity to work with Michael Sevilla. That dude is seriously one of the most incredible digital designers and artists in the world. Balind is a homie as well and such an intelligent creative director/strategist.
Anything else you’d like to add?
Email me if you want to work with us and also if you want to be involved in taking your talent and using it to take a stand against the dark shit that could possibly be coming. I’m ordering Jessica Walsh’s pins when I get home tonight. Viva La Revolution!!!