Want to Work at [adult swim]? Meet Creative Director Brandon Lively
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[adult swim] is one of the most sought after clients for creatives; they were most recently featured on our annual Top Companies list. Below, we pull back the curtain for illustrators and talk to Creative Director Brandon Lively about why he loves working at [adult swim], why illustration is an important vehicle for [adult swim]’s voice, and what advice he has for those looking to join the team.
Header artwork by [adult swim] regular Josh Freydkis
Describe your path to what you’re doing now.
I grew up outside of Savannah, Ga and around 7th grade I got obsessed with skateboarding and all of the visuals surrounding that culture. The Powell Ripper was my first board. That one design set me on my path in art. I love the work of Vernon Courtlandt Johnson, who designed the Ripper, and is behind so many of Powell-Peralta's iconic illustrations. Jim Philips was also a huge influence on me. All of this led me to the School of Visual Arts where I got a BFA in graphic design. Right before I graduated I started doing work for Capricorn Records in Atlanta creating album packaging and everything around that. They offered me a position and that brought me back to Georgia.
A few years later, I was looking for my next opportunity and started working at Cartoon Network. [adult swim] was still fairly new and I was asked to join them. That was over 16 years ago and I can’t imagine another large company as supportive of creative as Cartoon Network. I’ve never once dreaded going to work, things always get changed up, and there are always new shows and challenges. Over my time at [adult swim], Jacob Escobedo has been my biggest mentor and friend. He taught me more about creative than I learned at school or anywhere.
How have you seen [adult swim] evolve over the years?
[adult swim] has always held onto its original vision. I believe that’s because the same great people that started it all, like Mike Lazzo, are still here. As the network/shows gained more of a following, we have been able to create more unique and larger experiences for the fans. We’ve really just grown. I get really excited about concepting and creating marketing stunts and as we’ve grown so have these.
Some of my favorites are The Adult Swim funhouse (16 rooms, each one based on shows. In one room it was snowing), the Rickmobile (I love the fan videos of this going down the highway), The Eric Andre legalize ranch shop (we had a ranch fountain, people drank out of it) and the numerous Comic-Con booths and events we’ve created throughout the years.
Being in a leadership position, how do you cater your approach to allow your left brain and right brain to coexist?
I don’t. Both halves are in there, so they better work it out.
Why is an eclectic mix of illustrative styles an important part of [adult swim]'s branding voice?
We always mix things up. It keeps us interested and excited which hopefully shows through our work. Working on a wide array of shows with varying styles also leads us to this eclectic mix.
What do you look for when hiring illustrators, specifically in regards to creative styles, tones, and approaches?
Generally, we’re searching for an illustrator that fits a concept/direction and every project is different – so we’re rarely looking for the same tone. Though we do have a few incredible illustrators/artists that we work with regularly including Skinner and Josh Freydkis.
Where do you tend to find new talent?
I mainly find new artists online. Our team is always looking out for new people to work with and we’re constantly sharing with one another.
What is the ratio of full-time to freelance illustrators you bring on?
Everyone on our team has multiple skill sets, including illustration. We work on a wide range of projects from show campaigns, events, marketing stunts, consumer products, and more. To work on this breadth of work, everyone on our team illustrates and designs. We’re also always engaging freelance illustrators to fill in the gaps in our skill sets. I’d say we work with over 20 freelance illustrators throughout any given year. Right now, I’m working with four.
Is there a good balance of bringing on people who send in resumes and people you proactively reach out to? Or are the scales tipped in one direction?
Honestly, we have very little turnover in creative at [adult swim]. We add new people as we grow but it’s rare that someone leaves. It’s a great place to work and we’ve made it a priority to build a well-rounded team that works well together. That being said, we are always looking so proactively reaching out would never hurt.
Are the branding and production arms of [adult swim] pretty distinct? Or is there a good amount of internal overlap between the two?
At [adult swim] there is no distinction. I oversee the creative department that is responsible for off-air – like marketing campaigns, events (like Comic-con, Screenings, Tours), stunts (Rickmobile, Eric Andre Legalize Ranch Shop) and consumer products. We all help drive and promote the brand and developing everything from concept to full production.
What advice do you have for prospective illustrators hoping to work with [adult swim] someday?
We love having a mix of different styles and aesthetics. It helps if their work relates to our shows and aesthetic. We are often looking for very specific styles to align with a concept we’ve come up with – so what we’re looking for is constantly changing.
What does it take to succeed at [adult swim]?
Everyone at [adult swim] is there because they love it. You need to have an appreciation for the obscure humor. I’m here because I can’t imagine doing anything else. It’s never felt like work. I go to a place every day with like-minded people and an incredible team to make interesting work. And we have full support. That’s hard to find.
What are you working on now?
At the moment we’re concepting for San Diego Comic-Con. We have a large space outside of the convention center where we build out a new experience for our fans every year. It’s always a big undertaking, but very much worth it.
What is your favorite [adult swim] show (current or all-time)?
Answering this would be like picking my favorite child in front of them. But my favorite rhymes with Abba Bean Younger Horse.