Ash Thorp is a renowned designer whose graphics and concepts have contributed to films including Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Assassin's Creed, X-Men First Class and Amazing Spiderman 2 to name a few. He has also made a name for himself in the role of Director, working on personal projects including the recently released Lost Boy. Given Ash's unique design sense and the strides he has made with both his personal and professional projects, we couldn't wait to chat with him about his experiences thus far and what keeps him inspired.

What was your first project in your professional career, and how did you land it?

I believe my first professional freelance project involved cell animating and rotoscoping scenes for a Transworld Surf film titled Tomorrow Today. My friend, Garrett, was working at a studio called Metal Storm, and he provided the referral introduction; since I had a background in drawing and art, he thought I’d be a good candidate for the project. At the time, I recall it was incredibly tedious work, but it helped me to focus on pursuing more design opportunities and to push my career further.

Interesting, and what drew you towards motion graphics after having that experience? And in what way has that influenced the course of your career?

Initially, I thought I would become a comic artist, but once I discovered design with movement, I fell in love with motion graphics. My admiration for iconic films helped influence my connection with wanting to work on feature film projects. It was a whole new level of design that I knew I had to be a part of, but I’ve still held on to my roots for drawing.

At what point did you begin focusing more on personal projects? Did anything spur this, or has it always been a part of you?

I originally chose art and design for my career because I feel the love for it comes from a very raw and authentic personal part of my mind. I always love when I get to work on my own personal projects if I can make the time for them. I enjoy creating and sharing ideas that live in my mind with the rest of the world, and I believe that my personal projects best reveal my true and honest creative intentions.

We imagine you stay pretty busy, what are some of the key components of how you manage your time?

Being an avid book reader, I’ve gathered many tips from books on personal growth and time management to help me be more productive with my time. I’ve found that there are three key components that have really helped me: 1) Set Priorities. By knowing exactly what are my true priorities, I use them to help navigate the answers to difficult choices. It also helps keep my mind clear and defined so that I stay focused on what’s most important in my life. 2) Make Lists. I’ve made it a daily habit to make a schedule and to-do list every night before I go to sleep of the things I need to accomplish the next day, and each task is given its own precise time slot. I use the list to mentally walk through my upcoming day, and even while I sleep, I will sometimes manifest the actions needed to resolve something on that list. When I wake, I am ready to start the day with a clear direction of what I need to do and in what order. Not only are daily lists important, but making a longer-term list of things I want to accomplish further out, months or a year from now, also help achieve larger goals. 3) Setting Alarms. I set alarms on my phone that correspond to each time slot on my daily list and follow that regimen to keep me sharp and focused. I tend to wander mentally sometimes, as I know most creatives do, as it’s just a part of our unrestrained mind. However, in order to be a high functioning and successful professional, it’s important to also focus on staying accurate and responsive. Just like Olympic athletes who diligently train their bodies, creatives also have to consistently train their minds to create healthy and productive habits for success. No matter the choice of career or path in life, we all share the same currency of time. What you do with your time, will define who you are, and who you will become.

Do you ever hit blocks in creativity? What sorts of methods do you use to push past these and regain inspiration?

Early in my career, I would often encounter creative blocks that would internally shatter me. The fear of the unknown or worrying about things that I really have no control over would take over me. However, as I’ve gained more self-awareness in how to keep my mind fresh, remain humble, and never stop learning or growing, I’ve been very fortunate not to experience many blocks in the past few years. I constantly stress the importance of incessantly developing your mind and grasping every opportunity to learn something from anything and anyone. This core philosophy on the importance of learning was one of the main reasons I helped create and launch Learn Squared, an online school for creatives. Learn Squared offers tutorials and lessons taught by proven, high-level professionals, who share their experience and trade secrets in an effort to help others advance their careers. Even though I’m also an instructor of Learn Squared, I still learn so much from taking the online courses of the other instructors; it’s so important to stay actively inspired and growing at all times. Lastly, make time outside of your career to do the things you enjoy on a personal level. For me, I love films, books, anime, cars, and jiu jitsu; by incorporating some of these things I love into my schedule on a daily basis, it also helps keep me balanced, happy, and avoid creative blocks.

Can you tell us a bit about your design inspiration for personal projects like Lost Boy? Where does a project like this begin?

I grew up with a heavy influence of comics and anime. So Lost Boy was a way for me to re-connect with my childlike self; the child that would sit for hours and just draw images and things from my mind. From there, I became so inspired that it quickly became an obsession resulting in drawing over 500 sketches.

Do you seek out a new team of artists for each project? Or do you have a close group of friends and colleagues that you keep on board?

I do have a core group of close friends that I often work with because we have already built a great understanding and effortless working relationship. So for commissioned client work, I usually call upon this core group because trust is so important in the creation process. Although when I have been able to expand my professional network, I see the effect of my work evolving in new ways from that partnership. Therefore, I really enjoy starting out new work relationships first on personal passion projects; this allows me to really see how well we can work with one another for future collaborations.

How does your approach and style vary between your design and director roles?

Each role is vastly different, but yet uniquely intertwined in my mind. I suppose the style may somewhat differ in that as a designer, I’m usually searching for the solution of a particular task or problem. However, when I’m directing, I’m more focused on finding the guiding vision to manifest the team’s greatest potential. Ultimately, I personally try not to focus on the definition of roles, as I prefer to just call myself a “creative,” and concentrate my time instead on offering whatever I can to help make the project great.

What are your software/tools of choice?

The answer to this question is difficult because it is constantly changing. I like trying to learn new tools whenever I can, but I suppose my main set of tools are: Photoshop, Illustrator, Bridge, Indesign, After Effects, Premier, Lightroom, Zbrush (recently started using it), Fusion 360, Cinema 4D, MOI, and Marvelous Designer.

And finally, what advice can you give to our users who have an interest in combining their design skills with a director role? Any learning tools or resources you can recommend?

As a director, you need to know how to clearly communicate and effectively lead others to follow an overall goal and vision. To help with communication, I would say it’s most important to first know who you are at the core level. Everyone will have an opinion on your work and may want to sway you in their direction, so it’s important to remember to stay true to who you believe yourself to be. Directing has a lot of creative freedom, but with a ton of responsibility, and so it may not be for everyone. I think if you are wholeheartedly interested and dedicated to being a director, I suggest you just go out and do it. No one is holding you back but yourself. Find the yes and keep going. Enjoy the journey and don’t look back.

We'd like to thank Ash for taking the time to interview with us! Special thanks to his wife, Monica Thorp.