In Early December, we took a visit to the AWS Creative Bunker in Dayton, Ohio. There was frost on the ground and soon there would be snow and blizzards, but inside, hard at work was OG AWS visionary – Mike Hill. Along with TM Chad Bowers, these guys are responsible for all the weird little bits and pieces that have become the visual tradition and legacy of the Alien Workshop. And guess what – most almost all of it is done by hand, painstakingly crafted from paper mache, cardboard, glue, paint and a lot of patience.
Check the interview below with one of skating’s most undeground creative goldmines.
MIKE HILL INTERVIEW
MO: I guess I really want to talk to you about some of the hand made stuff 'cause the way it seems, not many people are doing stuff like that these days. I just wanted to get some of your thoughts on that. Do you find pressure to still do that or not do that?
HILL: I actually think it's a more of a relief to do that. It's hands on. You do so much computer stuff. Otherwise you're going through a program where you know you're trying to get to a certain place. Where as hands on stuff you don't really know what you're going to get. It's kind of a lot of thinking, a lot of talking and then you build a rig where you want to try something. Maybe it doesn't come out to what you want it to be in your mind. You can usually manipulate it to where you like it and then it's better than you thought, so I look at it as not the pressure to do it, more sort of I'd rather do that because then you feel like you're actually digging in to a project of this magnitude and you want it to be something that maybe you could get something that nobody else could recreate just because of the circumstances.
MO: Do you feel like the video is a nice opportunity to get away from the computer and make something from hand?
HILL: Yeah, for me I've been with the company since the beginning it reminds of the beginning where there was no computer. That's how we started it was all hands on – it was all playing with the camera in a basement doing different things to get different little techniques for flashes and for me it's part of the brand and I'm stoked that Greg wanted to go that route. I kind of feel privileged to do that stuff
MO: Has there been anything that you've tried and it's worked out horribly?
HILL: Yeah, sometimes you think that maybe you have something in your mind and it doesn't match and then you're disappointed but its kinda cool. Me and Chad will talk a lot about things and come up with and idea of how we'll make it work or he'll have an idea and then we're not on the same page and we'll sort of come together and we'll gel on something. I think that the main thing is figuring out how you want to get the final image. You know what you want it to look like and you have to figure out how you're going to get that and that's the thing with the software and computer you kind of know how to get there. It's just a matter of time and labor to get there, you have to actually try trial and error. Like how this rig works. With some things we were having trouble with, reflections of lights and fluids and stuff so and that was a set back in our minds. We were pretty bummed. Then we thought we can do it and figured it out and it wasn't that bad in the end. I think it's one of those things where you feel a little pressure because you're on time restraints and you're trying to do everything else that's asked of you for the brands but I look at it as the fun part. I mean I'd rather be back there.
MO: In relation to the other videos that are out, the Workshop videos have a reputation that they're fairly organic with Super 8 and a lot of hand held stuff. Do you think that's kind of getting a little lost in the world of high definition cameras?
HILL: I guess I don't watch enough skate videos to see what other people do. As far as the technology obviously it's kind of…. I end up embracing it and just using it as a tool to how you want things to look. Not so much that we don't want HD. The HD is a blessing because you can do stop frame things and you know if you've got it or not where is shooting it on a movie film you send it out and you have to wait and that rig may have been torn down never to be seen again. So I'm pretty in to the technology as far as the whole other side of it. I think may be it's something that feels like it's part of the brand. People identify that with the brand. I've tried pushing past that. I just look at it as kind of like -all that stuff has a certain texture and feel and to me it adds another layer to the brand versus something like illustrator vector graphics for the board. I like the fact that there's film that's Super 8 or whatever that may be not perfectly exposed. It just adds more depth to the visual side of the brand.
MO: That's interesting 'cause Greg kind of said the same thing – that he wasn't afraid or he saw it as a tool. I guess what I was referring to was some people get carried away with the technology and you guys don't seem afraid.
HILL: I think part of that is may be that … for me the brand is still really close … we carry it really close to ourselves and I want it to be its own thing. I don' t want it to be this glossy thing because time has moved forward and technology is moving forward and you're able to make videos, skate videos that are as clean as a full regular movie so to me its all about the brand. So I don't really see it as wanting to try and make it that way just because you can. It seems sort of generic when it becomes like that. Even if all the films were filmed the same way it would become boring.
MO: I guess people are excited because you guys do things so much more interestingly visually than a lot of the other skate videos that are out there. I guess its part of all those things that go in to it.
HILL: I think everything that we do is hands on even if its not hands on, just because it's such a small group of people that are putting so much in to it. Its not broken out into a lot of people doing things for the brand that are removed from it. Everybody that's doing something, from Greg, the team riders, Chad, to the team & myself. It's like you're living the brand. We don't have outside agencies that are doing things that aren't feeling the brand the way it's supposed to be. So it hasn't really gotten to where we have to worry about it. The down side is you end up having to do a lot. But in the end you have a way of keeping the brand the way that you want it to be.
MO: Are there any special things that people should look out for in this next video that is different to the last ones.
HILL: I would probably think that we went to greater lengths to come up with something original for the titles and that was the spark that me and Chad talked about originally that really got us excited about getting back in to building rigs to film things. In the past I would say that I didn't really care about titles so much but we came up with something's and we wanted to see if they worked. I'm stoked on that, also maybe having some bright colors in there. Just cause it contrasts cool with grainy black and whites and to me, too much of that made it Memory Screen 2009. I don't really want to do that. I'd rather progress, so to me doing things to where a little bit with the technology and maybe a little bit with the fact that we can get some get some different effects easier now than then because then there weren't really any computers, earlier on so if you film something it was what it was. Where as here you can get it kind of close and you know that you can tweak it a little in the computer to get a total glow.
MO: Is there anything else you want to mention?
Hill: I am just really excited about the footage. Seeing all the guy's parts come together was really cool. It really drives you to want to do things and accent it even more. The team is so individual and the skating is so really agro. I like the team how they have a diverse group amongst them. The footage and the way it has come together is really inspiring to do
MO: What's in the name?
HILL: I don't know, to me it was a way to describe maybe mental chaos that your trying to control and navigate through to get to this point that were almost at. It seemed like the team riders were going thru a lot of mental anguish and just focus to get their parts the way they want them and there's a ton of that and internally when were working on stuff all the time you're going thru intense mental turmoil and to navigate through this. It seemed to sort of fit. It's hard to come up with a name – we kind of settled it, added a bit of atmospheric theme to it. It lends itself to the package, which is vague and obscure maybe people can read what they want.