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Creative Ops

Renkewitz Studios’ Kris Renkewitz on how the internet changed creative work for better and worse

March 22, 2023 · 5 min read

This is part of our 100 Creative Directors interview series. It has been edited for length and clarity. To return to the series homepage and browse other interviews, click here.

What does it mean for you to be a creative director?

It’s an overused title. A creative director could be some big shot at some fancy Mad Men agency, or it could be some kid who just gave themself the title. I'm probably closer to the kid in the garage screen printing his own T-shirts. I use “creative director” as a title because I hate titles — it's simply the title that puts people most at ease when I say what I do, instead of giving them a whole list.

“Creative director” is the only title that can quickly explain what I do to people who don't understand the range of creative that I do. It tells people I’m working with, “oh he's qualified to make the necessary decisions.” 

What is the difference between an art director and a creative director, generally?

In many ways, nothing. Absolutely nothing. 

I find people generally believe that an art director is a little more hands-on than a creative director. They're actually generating art with a team. Whereas the stereotype of a creative director is someone who isn’t really generating anything, rather just sitting there and telling people what to do — the “ideas guy.” Whether or not these stereotypes hold true depends mostly on the size of a company.

Where the difference really comes in is at bigger companies where responsibilities are thoroughly delegated. Creative directors direct art traffic and art directors direct art creative. When you get to a bigger company as a creative director, you actually don't have time to put your hands to work creating. You’re focusing on deploying this team here, and that crew there, and you’re setting deadlines, and you’re hiring. Whereas art directors are actually getting into the fray and working with other artists and creatives, getting their hands dirty to produce work.

Of course, on a smaller team or at a smaller company, the art director and creative director, as they exist in larger companies, is probably just one person — again, no difference at all.

Over the course of your career, what has been the best and the worst change you’ve seen, regarding creative work?

One answer for both: the internet.

What’s positive is the Internet allows people to easily get access to references or skill sets. I can go online and see what a Bengal Tiger looks like in its natural environment, for example. It used to be, when I was starting off in the comics industry, I had to go to a library and find all these reference images. Do I need to draw a fight scene under the Brooklyn Bridge? I’d have to go sit under the bridge, take some photos, make some sketches. People entering the creative industry now don’t understand how much work you’d have to do to get references. We used to live in the library. 

I used to keep a flat file full of references, thousands of photos and magazine cutouts. Now I just type in what I’m looking for and there it is. The internet has made it easier and quicker to get those jobs done, where you need a ton of references to create something. It’s created shortcuts.

The flip side of the internet is it has allowed people to — I don't use this word loosely — cheat. Working on computers and using digital printing, you can go just grab a photo and draw over it without much effort. When I was working on Diablo 2, designing and modeling characters, we did most of the art from scratch. Now you can source all sorts of models and designs online, throw some digital tweaks on it, and you’re up and running.

That’s all fine and good — there’s nothing wrong with getting a job done faster. The problem is, when this is the only way someone knows how to work, and they're thrown into a more in-depth task, they crumble. I’ve had experiences where I thought someone was incredibly talented just from looking at their portfolio, but when they get into production and the pressure is on, they can’t deliver. You need to have a real depth and range of skill to be agile under pressure in the creative industries. You need to put in the work — hours of practice, sleepless nights, thousands of drawings — or you’re going to run into some tough realities.

What’s a piece of advice you received years ago that’s really stuck with you throughout your career?

Don’t lose sleep over the people you manage being more talented or hard-working than you. The best thing you can do is to hire people who are better than you. Don’t get caught up in ego wars, no matter how great you think you are. The best thing you can do for you, your team, and your work is not to care about who is better than who.

It’s a tricky line to walk, because you don’t want the person below you in the hierarchy to take your job. The fact is, though, that’s a risk you have to run. People coming up in their career will be faster and better than you, because they still have to go through all the steps to get to where you are.

It’s especially wild nowadays — these young kids can do incredible things incredibly quickly, because they’ve had access to all these tools and resources from a young age. That’s a good thing.

Cover yourself with people better than you, don't have an ego, and help them get to where they need to be. And if they need to leave, if they need to be promoted, you make sure they get everything they deserve.

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