Artist Spotlight

Fight Through with Adam Dargan

Adam Dargan shares his thoughts on animation, motivation, and experimentation.


Reading Time | 6 minutes

MCAD alum Adam Dargan has, in his young career, shown an aptitude for both commercial and experimental animation. While he keeps them separate in practice, I have a sneaking suspicion that they fuel each other and allow him to make such awesome work!

Q&A with Adam Dargan

How did you get started in animation? 

Growing up I didn’t know that I wanted to go into the arts. I went to a community college for a year after highschool and I realized it wasn’t for me. I was studying 3D CAD but it lacked that sense of creativity so I looked into art schools and applied to MCAD. I originally went into MCAD with filmmaking in mind until I took an Intro to Animation class. After the first assignment, which was a flipbook, I was like alright, this is what I want to do.  

Were there any classes at MCAD that were important to you? 

The class that opened up my eyes for the type of animation I wanted to do was Experimental Animation with Tom Schroeder. First of all, Tom is a great teacher. In that class he opened up a lot of freedom, it wasn’t just about cell or 3D animation, there were no rules. One of my projects from that class I took a 35-millimeter film trailer and spent weeks scratching into it . Then I scanned that film and used the color information to create 3D displacement maps and render it in 3D. Having that class just helped open up the possibility that this is a viable thing and it doesn’t need to fall into an existing category to be successful. I don’t know if anyone is going to pay me to do it, but I still find it fascinating and enjoy the process. 

What are you currently doing right now? 

I’m currently working at Pixel Farm as a 3D Generalist. I work mostly in 3D with a bit of 2D here and there. The majority of the work is advertising for TV and social media. I find the work I do interesting and really enjoy it, but it doesn’t speak to me as much on the artistic level. There is still the opportunity to interject my own creative voice but in the end we’re just helping somebody sell more shampoo or whatever product it is you know?

…you also have to fight through the failures and keep going even when everything looks like it’s falling apart.

Do you have any favorite projects that you worked on at Pixel Farm?

One project I worked on was for a product called a Prescription Paper Pill Bottle. Usually for a pill bottle after you’re done you just throw it away, but this one is made of cardboard so it can be reusable and less wasteful than plastic. So, they came to us and we developed the style of the piece.  We decided to make this 3D paper world with a cardboard texture. It was a fun piece to create and develop visually. It felt less like an advertising thing and more of a public service announcement which was a nice change of pace. 

Still from Prescription Paper Pill Bottle

Another one is called In a Can. The idea was to make short animation of these food cans, but rather than food, the cans contain experiences. Things that people are missing out on because of COVID and quarantine. For example, sports in a can, ingredients include: beer and high fives and hanging out with your pals. This was a just for fun and collaborative internal project at Pixel Farm which I got to lead creatively. For fun, I also created a website for the project. 

The Minnesota Twins campaign was also an awesome project to work on. We basically had free reign to create what we wanted, the weirder the better, then everything was dropped into a timeline and cut together. Having so many artists involved with different ideas really helped push the final work to a higher level. And of course, research trips to a ball game never hurts. 

Still from Minnesota Twins 2019 Season Campaign

With all this pandemic going on, I believe you’re working from home. Has there been a boost in productivity? Do you prefer working from home? 

It’s an interesting question. I think if you asked me this question a month after being quarantined, I’d prefer working from home but I’m not so convinced anymore. It’s nice not having to commute and just roll out of bed and jump on your computer. But I think now it’s starting to drain on me a bit. Doing the same thing every day and you don’t get those interactions when you’re in the office. In the office it’s easier to just meet people in an area and throw ideas that spark other ideas than it is when you’re on a Zoom call. There’s less spark and energy there. I think there’s just something about working more closely with people where you can turn to somebody and ask them to check out what you’re doing and get feedback. 

Are there any personal projects you’re working on right now?

Yes, I’m working on one currently. It’s less animation and more traditional filmmaking. Over the years I’ve been collecting found-footage film and I found this 16-millimeter footage at a thrift store a few years back. All it said on it was Canoe Trip, 1938. It’s a camping trip of a group of young men exploring the Boundary Waters Canoe Area. It’s crazy to watch, because they seem so normal and it’s in color too, which makes it feel less like it’s from the 1930s. Seeing the environment really inspires me because I go to the BWCA every year. So, for the film I am retracing the route that the original group took and taking that trip with my own group. I will be documenting the trip on 16mm film as an homage to the original and then have the two films interacting in some way with one another. 

Still from Canoe Trip, 1938

Do you have any advice for aspiring animators? 

I’d say persistence is a good trait to have and is not talked about as much. I think only saying to “work hard” is kind of a cop-out when looking back. Obviously that plays into it, but you also have to fight through the failures and keep going even when everything looks like it’s falling apart. By pushing yourself you’ll end up with stronger work in the end.
One thing that helped me as a student was trying to see myself as a professional even though I was still in school. I see students with this idea that only after they graduate they’ll be a “professional”. Only then will they be worthy enough to make a demo reel, website, and start putting themselves out there. Students hold themselves back with this kind of thinking. Start thinking like a professional early on, don’t just do the bare minimum on assignments and hold your work to a higher standard. By the time you graduate you’ll be on the right track and starting to build that professional and industry sense which is so helpful. 

One thing that helped me as a student was trying to see myself as a professional even though I was still in school.

Have you experienced any artist block or burnout? What do you do to get back into the groove again?

Honestly, exercise is the best thing for me to reset. It helps me release the block and think more clearly. If I don’t exercise my head just gets too full of stuff, but after going for a run or playing soccer things become clearer. Also, getting out of your environment helps. You kind of get out of the preprogrammed things that you do at home. I swear my best ideas always come when I’m on vacation. The people I’m with will say, are you working? I’ll say no! It’s not really work. I just have these awesome ideas now. I think the ideas come by stepping away from everything and having new experiences. 

Interview conducted by Ching Thao

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