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SEKANI
SOLOMON


'You have one life to
achieve what you are capable of achieving.'

Sekani Solomon, 2023 AD

Seneca

Sekani wears the Orion Jacket in Khaki.

The award-winning, New York-based Motion Designer and Creative Director discusses his journey from Trinidad & Tobago to working on Black Panther, and now leading Motion Design for Block.

All words by Sekani Solomon in conversation with Seneca.

Seneca

I'm originally from Trinidad & Tobago. From a young age, I remember thinking, "What am I going to do with my life?”

The time came to apply for college. I put together a portfolio with my Photoshop work, experiments in After Effects, and a little bit of 3D.

I applied and got a scholarship from SCAD. It was a bitter sweet moment though because I had this scholarship, but it wasn't enough to cover everything. Then, I got a scholarship from Tobago as well. And my parents paid for the rest. With that combined financing, I was able to go to SCAD. When I got accepted, I was thinking, "Everyone at SCAD are going to be beasts.” So I was at home, working on my craft because I didn't want to feel like I was behind.

What I didn't realize when I got to my freshman year, well, I was a little bit older, I was 20. Most people were 18 and they had no idea what they wanted to do. I discovered I was a little bit ahead of the curve. Also, I knew that I'm not a citizen here, so in order to stay, it would be performance-based. With that in mind, and going back home to Tobago not being an option, I hit the ground running. During college, I had four internships.

That first summer of 2012 when I moved to New York, it was an interesting feeling. One of being overwhelmed, but also super excited, and so hungry to do whatever to make it. I was a college student, broke, sleeping on a mattress of my mom's friend's living room. And I didn't care. It was a matter of keeping that momentum.

Growing up, I was artistic and used to draw a lot.

I grew up specifically on Tobago, which had a population of 50,000 to 60,000 people. Growing up on such a small island, you realize the opportunities to have an engaging career are small. In school they didn't really have many places to learn art, so I gave up on arts and decided to do software engineering, focusing on coding for my high school years.

When I was around 18, redesigning the school website, I jumped back into Photoshop and that type of thing. When I went back online, I saw that the resources had all changed. They had so many more tutorials to learn from, and I instantly got obsessed. I was doing photo manipulations all of the time. But at that point, I had no idea what I was doing. I had no idea of design principles or anything. I was just doing what looked good to me and also what tutorials taught.
Seneca

In 2017 I worked on Black Panther. What I do is very abstract to people back home in Tobago, and this gave a tangible example. It was big for me.

After school, I got a job with a company called Imaginary Forces. They've done some very noteworthy work over the years, from the original Marvel logo animation to main titles for Madmen and a ton of classic shows. Because it was also a smaller company, I got to wear a lot of hats and touch all parts of the production pipeline.
The Star Wars: The Last Stand project started off as a gag with the IT specialist at Imaginary Forces, Aled Jones. We were like, "Yo, he's a big Star Wars fan. We'll dress him up in a Jedi outfit. We'll put him in the CGI wall. It'll be fun." That never happened. But the seeds of this film started there. I ended up leaving Imaginary Forces in 2016 after two and a half years.
And then in 2017, I worked on Black Panther, on the main on end titles. On the sequence where you have objects being created out of sand. That was a crazy project. When that movie was released, it had so much press about it. It became a way bigger deal back home in Tobago than I initially thought it would've been. It was a great experience and good exposure connecting someone that came from a small island to a production that had such a global impact.
In 2018, I released Hidden, my first short film. And then, later on that year, I had the opportunity to work for CashApp, which I wasn't super familiar with. I initially joined as a freelancer, and ended up joining the staff. It gave me the opportunity to help build an internal brand, which is something I hadn't done before. I've been there about four years now.

Now for one of the first times in my career, I'm solely focused on my work at my job. It is fulfilling, but also, we have the opportunity to do something truly unique, which is to create an internal studio that rivals work of other vendors that are solely dedicated to motion design. I'm building those resources. It's the opportunity to start something new. And that's what I want to help build.
Seneca

Sekani wears the Orion Jacket in Khaki.

VR vs AR

My issue with VR is, the bar to entry is still too high. The tech is big and bulky. It’s novel at first, but you get used to it. You have to adjust to the nausea aspect or having space in your house to utilize the tech. It’s also somewhat isolating. I'm not sure people want to be at home in a virtual world with a headset on, when we could do that with a controller in our hands, hanging out with friends on a couch with popcorn. Fortnite is a type of metaverse already.

I think AR has more legs because everyone already has an AR device, which is their cellphone. Right now you can augment reality. And I think there's a lot of practical uses for industrial design, when you need to visualize an object with the correct dimensions and characteristics. Even in a living room, if you want to see how a chair or couch could fit, you can visualize that in real life. So AR has a practicality, and almost no bar to entry.
Seneca

A scene from Sekani's Star Wars: The Last Stand.

Motion design requires GPU power and I had to build my own machines.

The work we do requires GPU power. A lot of the 3D graphics are rendered using graphic cards. Getting as many graphics cards as possible into my home, that was the mission. I built two machines, each with four GPUs each. So in total, eight GPUs, which enabled me to render lots of my projects, like Star Wars: The Last Stand and Hidden. But it's funny because, six years ago, all of the rendering was CPU-based, so you couldn't make those types of films at home. You would require a render farm, so the technology also really enabled artists to do a lot more without having as high of a bar to entry to meet these things.

Making sure that I'm maximizing my potential is the thing that keeps me going.

Seneca

If you have one life, you want to make sure that you've achieved what you're capable of achieving. And for me, I may not maximize my fullest potential, but if I give it my best effort, that's good enough for me.

I think, early in your career, you shouldn't focus on money. It should just be about learning the skills because if you have that, then in future, you'll be able to leverage yourself better. It's better to front-load work when you're younger, so later on in life, you could hang back and enjoy things a little bit more.

It's also like, what's the point of having success if you can't share it with anyone, or if you're lonely? I think maximizing your potential is holistic. It's work, and more successful work enables you to do more things. I feel fortunate to have an amazing wife and great group of friends around me. And I think without the support of that unit, it would be very difficult to perform at my best.
Seneca
Achieve what you are
capable of achieving.
Sekani Solomon, 2023 AD

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