Pearlescent plumes of smoke from two halves of the screen collide into a sleek, glowing curve, eddying and dissipating before swirling back into position. This design is just one of the many psychedelic idents – brief images played in between television shows – for BBC Two’s 2018 rebranding project.
The mastermind behind those ethereal spirals? It’s Motion Graphics Designer, Jessica Tan, who now works as the Creative Director of Superunion – a Branding Agency. Jessica was among the few lead artists for that iconic overhaul of the UK’s famous broadcast channel, and it remains her proudest piece of work throughout her time in the creative industry.
“It was massive. I love that project because it was the first rebranding of BBC Two in 20 years, and I enjoyed being a part of that,” said Jessica. The 42-year-old was working in London at that time but returned to Singapore in 2019 to spend more time with her family. She has garnered years of experience in visual effects – having taken on roles at Disney and VFX company The Mill whilst overseas.
Motion design combines graphic design, animation, illustration, filmmaking and digital product design to communicate stories through striking visuals. Some creatives like Jessica choose to make their living through this art.
Being one of the few women in creative technology, Jessica hopes that more underrepresented groups in the field can step forward, be visible and talk about their work. It is rare to see women occupy senior management roles in visual effects. Technical skills are prized, which women tend to shy away from.
“We Asians and women always tend to be self-deprecating. But after so many years in the industry, I realised that what we do is actually amazing,” said Jessica, “We need to make sure that we get recognised for our work, which is something that creatives are bad at.”
“The industry cannot function without creative people.”
A glint appeared in Jessica’s hazel eyes as she discussed her creative journey with me. The composed and soft-spoken woman took me through other major programmes she was part of – from creating visual backdrops for a Serbian opera to producing 3D live-action films.
In particular, Jessica loves making simulations of particles and clouds. That is why she speaks fondly of her work for performance artist Marina Abramovic. The performer was putting up a show about seven famous deaths in opera, and Jessica helped to design short clips of stormy skies to be played in the background of Marina’s live show. As each design was tied accordingly to the way that the characters died, Jessica’s work helped to add a sense of drama to Marina’s piece.
These eclectic experiences have shaped who she is – an ambitious individual who is not afraid to explore new possibilities. She never stops growing, looking for new ideas and finding new ways to challenge herself. Even after rising up the ranks in the corporate world, Jessica went back to upgrading her skills, having embarked on a graduate programme in computing shortly after coming back to Singapore.
“There’s a lot of things I want to try, a lot of things I want to learn,” explained Jessica, “As far as I can remember, I’m always working. So I will do my day job and then work at nights, whether it is studying, doing personal projects or making films.”
Studies and branding projects are not all that she has on her plate. Alongside her full-time role at Superunion, Jessica joined the Women Creators Programme 2022 organised by Epic Games earlier this year. For six weeks, she participated in virtual workshops and mentoring sessions before working on her own short film.
Titled ‘Uninhabitable’, Jessica’s short film follows the journey of a dragonfly who is navigating an increasingly hostile world affected by climate change. She hopes to create a visceral encounter of climate change from an insect’s point of view, encouraging viewers to empathise with other creatures whose survival is just as important as ours.
“What I loved was the focus on storytelling. I’m glad I managed to tell that story even though the film was not perfect. The programme gave me the chance to be thrown into the deep end and make a film in three months,” shared Jessica.
As you can probably tell, the creative director is inspired by beauty – specifically, how art, science and technology intersect to create immersive worlds. A big fan of VR, Jessica owns her own Oculus headset and puts it on daily. She enjoys studying how artificial intelligence is changing the modern landscape and how people are looking forward to the future.
Jessica feels that there is no end to things that you can try and explore in the field. “This is like a playground, you know, a wide-open playground that you can go in and play for your whole career and still be discovering new things. So that to me is like the really, really fun part,” she explained.
In our modern world, almost everything is run by design. Multiple industries converge and strive to make experiences beautiful, as we can see how motion design helps with advertising or is incorporated into apps, film productions and more. So much of our daily lives revolve around what motion designers imagine out of their heads, code onto their laptops and render on screens for mass audiences to see. And the technology keeps getting better and better every year.
It is a tough yet rewarding industry to work in. Pitching, drafting and editing is a never-ending process, but Jessica has risen through it all and learned to enjoy the journey. Right now, her next goal is to dive into real-time 3D technology – bringing art into an environment and running it in real-time on different devices.
So, what is her advice to aspiring creatives? She tells me, “Don’t stay still. You have to keep working on yourself. Open yourself to inspiration, push yourself into really uncomfortable places and learn new software. Because every five years, there is going to be something new.”
Cover image by Eunice Sng of the DANAMIC Team.