Creative Lives — Halo’s visual director Hamish McWhirter on going from freelancer to full-timer and the unlikely benefits of partying
Even though it was the very thing that got him fired from his first job, Hamish McWhirter will admit that his love of partying has had a defining influence on his career. Having met Halo’s founders Nick and Vern at Glastonbury festival – where he still serves as a resident designer for the West Holts stage – Hamish started a full-time job as a designer in 2008. Years of freelancing have awarded him confidence in his own voice and a proactive approach (“There are YouTube tutorials for most things”) that has seen him recently move into a new role as the visual director, in which Hamish has been honing his expertise in motion graphics.
Visual Director at Halo (2008–present)
Bristol (Originally from Brisbane, Australia)
Designer for the West Holts stage at Glastonbury Festival (2011–present)
Freelance designer in both Australia and UK (1998–2008)
Diploma in Film and TV, Design College Australia (1998)
How would you describe your job?
My role at Halo has changed quite a lot over the last 18 months. Previously I was a senior designer concentrating on primarily print and web. A few years ago a simple video job came up at Halo so I thought I would give it a bash, and since then I have moved into working predominantly in video and motion graphics.
What does a typical working day look like?
I walk 3km to work every day, staring mindlessly into my phone. We kick off our day at 9.30am each morning with a stand-up meeting with the full team in the office, which gives everyone an idea of what is going on in studio that day. The balance of my work varies. At the moment I am probably doing about 40% video, 30% animation and 20% design and 10% admin and overseeing the studio.
How did you land your current job?
I won’t lie, it was through going out and partying. I met Nick and Vern (Halo partners) for the first time at Glastonbury through mutual friends in 2004 and freelanced for them on and off for a number of years. They asked me a few times if I wanted a full-time job during this period before catching me at a weak (drunken) moment in a dark corner of a nightclub. I’ve been here ever since.
“As a creative you have to be willing to take on other people’s opinions and criticisms, no matter how much you think you’ve cracked a brief.”
Where does the majority of your work take place?
I am primarily glued to my computer most days, apart from the odd shoot which I relish. Last summer I got to spend two days up one of the towers of the Severn Bridge, making a 360-degree video shoot with a helicopter. That was cool.
Our studio is fun, loud, sometimes chaotic but always exciting and a great creative environment. We’ve got all the stereotypical makings of a design studio with a rainbow-coloured glass meeting room, table tennis and Mario Kart. We are missing a slide though (you haven’t made it until you’ve got a slide!)
How collaborative is your role?
Collaboration is key in any creative environment. You never know where a good idea will come from. It could come from anyone whether they’re a creative director or an intern. As a creative you have to be willing to take on other people’s opinions and criticisms no matter how much you think you’ve cracked a brief first go.
Hamish at work in the studio
In the studio
What are the most and least enjoyable aspects of your job?
For me I love doing the motion graphics side of things. I am still developing these skills but learning new skills and pushing myself both creatively and technically is what keeps me going. Least interesting? Definitely filling out time sheets.
What has been the most exciting project of the last twelve months?
Besides the shoot on the Severn Bridge, the most recent project I completed was an three-minute, infographic-style animation (made in After Effects) for Knightstone Housing. Sadly, it was not something the public will ever see but I was really proud of what I produced and can take a lot of the skills I learnt on this project to future projects.
What skills are essential to your job?
Creativity obviously, but also a hunger to push myself to learn new skills is beneficial to both myself and Halo.
“Doing freelance work helped shaped me as a designer. It gives you a chance to find your own voice and push your own individual style.”
Do you run any side projects alongside your job?
I am often making work for Glastonbury Festival, designing animations, T-shirts, posters and backstage passes for the West Holts stage. It’s a good opportunity for me to experiment with new techniques in After Effects with a very open brief, and is always satisfying to see people wearing my work and watching it on the screens at the festival. I also do a variety of freelance jobs and headed the design for the ‘Vote for Your Voice’ rally in Bristol to encourage young people to vote and gain an understanding of how political change will affect their future.
What tools do you use most for your work?
InDesign, Illustrator, Photoshop, After Effects and Final Cut Pro. My desk looks a bit like the control room for a space ship…when it’s not messy (it’s mainly messy). Mac Pro, two monitors, avid controller, Wacom tablet, funky speakers and an array of hard rives. I love buttons, knobs and flashing lights.
How I Got Here
What did you want to be growing up?
I wanted to drive one of those trucks that pushes the plane backwards at an airport. Nothing like the smell of aviation fuel in the morning. I also once saw a show about a guy who flew around mountains in a helicopter, throwing dynamite out the window and setting off avalanches. That would have been sweet.
But in terms of how I got into the work I’m doing now, I think being involved in DJing and club promoting had a big influence. It’s how I met a lot of my peers and it kept me surrounded by like-minded creative folk who push the boundaries in all sorts of creative formats.
How (if at all) is the subject you studied useful to your current role?
At school I studied Film and TV before I eventually (and accidentally) became a designer. It has only taken me 20 years to eventually turn my hand to what I intended to do when I left school – video.
What were your first jobs?
I did work experience in advertising with Leo Burnett when I was in Sydney; my sister was working there. I then went straight from school into the mailroom at what was Brisbane’s largest advertising agency, Mojo (now Publicis) with the intention of being trained on an Avid suite. I started learning from the designers there and making flyers for club nights before eventually getting fired for ‘partying too much’ during the raving days of the ’90s. I then decided to study design and advertising and freelanced for 11 years in Australia and the UK before starting at Halo.
“Motion graphics is the most exciting skill I’ve learnt. Platforms such as Instagram and Facebook introducing autoplay video has made this kind of work very relevant.”
Was there anything in particular that helped you at the start of your career?
One of my oldest friends from Australia, Jo Sweeney, inspired me to get into design.
Was there an early project that helped your development?
There have been so many. I think doing freelance work as a whole has helped shaped me as a designer. It gives you a chance to find your own voice and push your own individual style. I would always encourage young designers to take on freelance projects even if you work full time.
What skills have you learnt along the way?
Learning motion graphics has probably been the most exciting skill I’ve learnt. Bringing designs and brands to life really excites me; I think platforms such as Instagram and Facebook introducing autoplay video has made this kind of work very relevant.
What’s been your biggest challenge?
Taking criticism will always be one of the most challenging things for a designer. But it is also important to have a voice and push back on opinions. There have been many jobs where I just did what the client wanted to get the job out the door, and the final output as been compromised.
Is your job what you thought it would be?
Yes and no. I have always worked in fun and creative environments and that is what I had hoped for when entering the industry. You do have to accept the mundane jobs with the glory ones.
Hamish at work
What would you like to do next?
Push myself further in motion graphics. I still have soooo much to learn!
Could you do this job forever?
I dream of opening a chilled out beachside bar on the island of Hvar in Croatia. I would still do the branding and advertising for it though.
What do you feel is the natural career progression for someone in your current position?
Diving head-first into bringing brands to life via motion graphics.
Words of Wisdom
What advice would you give to a young creative wanting to become a visual director?
Take time to venture from working in two dimensions. Step away from the computer. Or open up that application you’ve never tried, and start experimenting. Never say you can’t do anything – there are YouTube tutorials for most things. Thrive on any challenges. Work hard and be nice to people.