Hilary Ament ’15 (Graphic Design BFA) continues to make a splash in the film graphic design world, less than a decade after graduating from MICA. In the past few years alone, she has worked on by Christophe Nolan Oppenheimer as lead graphic designer and Jordan Peele Nope as a graphic designer.
We caught up with Hilary to talk about her time at MICA, how she got into the film industry, and more.
Q: Why did you want to come to MICA? What was your favorite part of participating? Are there any professors who had a big impact on you during your time at MICA?
I loved my stay at MICA and I miss it. On my first visit, I saw such a buzz of students energetically creating and experimenting. It also appealed to me that I could take classes outside of my chosen major and that the campus was so grounded in the city.
My favorite part was living in a community of talented and passionate peers, and the school gave us room to explore. It can be rare to be in a space with constant collaboration and resources to bring your ideas to fruition. As a student, I participated in the management of a haunted house in the BBOX theater of MICA. We had painters who made walls, fiber majors who made costumes, people who made puppets, technological devices, lighting, etc. My closest friends today are people I met at MICA, and I’m sure creating in that environment is why I work in film today.
Nolen Strals and Bruce Willen’s lettering course was a game-changer. I hadn’t done a lot of hand drawn design before. We learned technical skills, but something expressive or quirky was also encouraged. Isaac Gertman was awesome too. He supported me and gave great advice on historical fonts when I started my thesis.
Q: Why did you want to get into graphic design? Have you always wanted to do graphic design for the cinema? Can you explain to us what this work entails?
I started doing graphic design in middle school or high school as a hobby, then discovered graphic design for film my senior year at MICA and became obsessed. I did my thesis on graphic accessories, so it’s been a goal for a while.
As a graphic designer in film, you work in the art department under the direction of the production designer, who is responsible for the overall look of a film. I also work with props, set decoration, painting, costumes, cars, visual effects, etc. I start by reading the script and breaking down all the graphics that are written. These can be store signs for a street scene, a magazine a character is reading, or an old pirate map. Often we have to make something look intentionally naive or bad to fit the story or the character, which I find liberating.
Q: How did you get into cinema?
I got into filmmaking by researching and emailing many people in the industry for advice. Eventually, someone hired me as an art production assistant, and it’s been mostly word of mouth ever since. It’s a surprisingly small world! A nice group on first man promoted me and helped me join the union.
Q: Talk about some of your recent work. What has been your favorite project lately?
I enjoy any project where I can learn, so I gravitate towards vintage pieces. Jordan Peele Nope has been my favorite job lately. I’m a big fan of his first two films, so it was a great opportunity to see the process. I started with this gold rush theme park called Jupiter’s Claim. Production designer Ruth De Jong was responsible for the set and had reference images and notes from Jordan and his producer Ian. They really care about the backstory and the concept, so I had a lot to start with. I started out printing a ton of alphabets from funky 1800s script books. I was able to do a lot of hand lettering, illustrations, and write cheesy cowboy sayings. Film work is quick and there isn’t always time to draw and hire sign painters, so I appreciate that Ruth and her team understood the importance. The Jupiter’s Claim ensemble is now permanently at Universal Studios for their studio tour, which is a rare honor. Amazing to see people interact with him!
Q: What’s it like working on big projects like Nope and Oppenheimer?
It’s always crazy to be in the same room and work with people I’ve admired for so long. It can be very difficult and taxing work for the team, but there’s really nothing like being in a theater where people see your work on the big screen. Sometimes they take on new life in editing and visual effects, which happened with the maps I made for Disney. Jungle Cruise. So funny!
Q: Do you have any advice for current MICA students who want to embark on a career in graphic design and more specifically in cinema?
My advice is to contact many people for advice, instead of just asking for a job. The world of cinema hires quickly without notice, but it will remember friendly and passionate people. For the cinema, it will first be necessary to be an artistic PA.
To be curious. Walk around alone and take pictures of street tiles or flyers for inspiration. Don’t just follow design trends. It’s normal not to have a personal “style” yet. Study typography and practice pairing fonts. Learn a good foundation of typography, then don’t be afraid to break all the rules. Sometimes I can use more than 10 fonts in one piece! If you’re an illustrator, take a typography class too!