Designers step from shadows at digital duel

At the Cut&Paste Digital Design Tournament, digital designers of all stripes go head-to-head in front of a live audience.

Designers Loren Kulesus (left) and Kevin O'Leary go head-to-head -- er, back-to-back -- in New York while the seconds tick away. A live audience watched their work come together in real time, via giant screens hooked up to their computers. Dan Dealy/Cut&Paste

Do you know where that swoosh on your shoes came from? And just who, exactly, might be responsible for that plummeting ad man who magically avoids a messy death just before the start of your favorite TV show? How about that half eaten apple that may well be on the other side of the screen you're looking at right now? How did that come about?

"Designers do a lot of work in the shadows," says John Fiorelli. "The audience generally doesn't know where all this beautiful work comes from."

Five years ago, Fiorelli set in motion an event he hopes may one day help to change that. He's the founder of Cut&Paste, or, more formally, the Cut&Paste Digital Design Tournament. The global contest--which touches down in Berlin on Saturday night, and then continues on to Latin America and Asia before returning to the states--literally puts designers in the spotlight and gives them a chance to shine. And it does so in a compelling way.

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At the event, the participating graphic designers, illustrators, animators, 3D modelers, title-sequence designers, and others, compete with one another to visually communicate specific themes--under brutal time constraints and while the monitors on which they're working beam the action via large screens to an audience just yards away. It's visual art become performance art.

It's also something like a dance club: the colorful shapes moving onscreen, a DJ spinning classic funk, a tightly packed crowd, an open bar. In fact, Fiorelli was inspired, in part, by the hip-hop scene and its showdowns between emcees, DJs, and break dancers. He also just wanted to have a party.

In the intervening years, though, Cut&Paste has become more than that. It's a show, yes, but it also provides a place where design types--people who spend a lot of time in solitary communion with their computers; people who, in this age of e-mail and PDFs, sometimes don't even meet their clients face-to-face--can get out, hang with their fellow design geeks, and offer support. It's also a showcase, an event that enables specific designers to strut their stuff in the hope of attracting job offers, collaborators, or--simply--friends. And it enables the members of the design community as a whole to demonstrate what it is they do day in and day out.

It's this glimpse of the process that is one of Fiorelli's prime motivators. A former filmmaker, he had the chance to rub shoulders with a plethora of creative types--costume designers, set designers, marketing people--and he became fascinated.

"What interested me," he says, "was this amazing process that these different people go through to create this work. And most of us have no idea what goes into it. If you ask any motion designer today, most of them would tell you that their parents don't even know what they do for a living."

"Our tournament doesn't show the whole process, it shows a glimpse of it..." he continues, well aware that the show leaves out research, conceptualization, and other fundamental aspects of design, "but Cut&Paste is an attempt to get people to think about, 'Ya know, I don't really know what these guys do.' And if you go to the show, and you watch some, you learn something. But you learn how much you don't know--and that's fun, for me."

Dave Stolte, this year's victor in the 2D category at the tournament's Los Angeles event, agrees. And he hopes the event will grow to encompass the general public.

"I would like to see more people on the street, or people who aren't from the world of design and illustration, get in there and see a little bit about the design process and how different people approach a solution," he says. "It's very cool. It's a very cool way to get design out there up in front, in a way that revitalizes it."

It's also still a party. For your own glimpse, check out our two photo essays:

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About the author

Edward Moyer is an associate editor at CNET News and a many-year veteran of the writing and editing world. He enjoys taking sentences apart and putting them back together. He also likes making them from scratch.

 

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