1/3 of Wilderness Bureau, Raul Zahir, admits to being a comic book nerd as a kid. He tells us about how he’d spend hours creating his own versions of X-Men or Spider-Man comics. These days he’s still obsessed with analog, despite working predominantly in digital, and he shares the best advice ever – ‘don’t pay attention to that shitty AP art teacher’.
When did you fall in love with design and how did you get started? I think for me, some of the first design elements that I came upon that would prove instrumental in shaping my future creativity were when I was in elementary school. At that time was when I really started getting into comic books and music. Not so much that I thought it realistic that I could have a career somehow related to those things—it would be much much later where that would even begin to be a remote possibility in my mind, but I did spend a copious amount of time consuming these things; listening to music, of course, and also pouring over liner notes and album cover layouts, and obsessing over and expanding my comic book collection. I spent endless hours drawing, even trying to do my own comic books, either my own versions of X-Men or Spider-Man or whatever, or my own original character stories. And similarly, I would create album covers for tapes that I imagined myself recording releasing, not unlike what Mingering Mike did decades before. And as I actually started making my own music, I would be very particular about creating accompanying artwork for those recordings, as well.
Give us the elevator pitch on what you do. The Wilderness Bureau is a multidisciplinary creative collective based in in Washington DC. Our output spans short film & motion photography, UI design, brand identity, graphic design and creative direction.
Any passion projects you would like to share? Perhaps by happy accident, but we have done a lot of work related to music. We’re all pretty passionate about arts in general, but I think stemming from some of our earliest collaborations together, which were based on music, we’ve had a number of projects that have involved working with bands and artists. Most recently, we helped to launch the WAMU/NPR website Bandwidth, where we booked bands at our studio space to perform sessions which we’d film and photograph. It was exciting because we were able to hit up all of our favorite bands to come over, play music and hang out with my cats. It was great. But I think we also were able to do some great work around that too. We have a few new projects in the works, and surprise, there are some music elements to those…
Who’s on the team, what are their roles and why do you love them? The team consists of 3 of us: Victor Aguilar, Maggie Famiglietti, and myself, Raul Zahir De Leon. We all have taken different paths to arrive to this point, and we occupy ourselves with pretty distinct projects across a range of digital media, branding and illustration, film and photography. What’s great is that while we do have so much in common, we have such varied interests which I think feeds into a pretty diverse vision for our output. We are also really close friends, so it’s pretty fantastic being able to collaborate with amazing people.
What role does digital design play in your studio in 2016, and how do you apply traditional graphic design skills in a digital age? Digital is pretty critical to our work today, we have absolutely benefitted from technology. I feel like I came up right at the cusp of when digital started to be the default, and I know that was the difference between me going one way or the other in my life. However, I’ve always been obsessed with anachronisms, and even if I was working in the digital realm, I always have thought about how to replicate or incorporate analog elements into design. When we were in the throes of the Bandwidth sessions, we were shooting and editing footage digitally of course, but the sets were all designed and set up by hand. Whether cutting out construction paper geometric shapes, plastic jungle plants, arranging LED lighting installations and pinatas or whatever. Short answer–we love that the digital has enabled our creativity, but we are obsessed with the analog.
What career advice would you give your 16yr old self? At 16, despite the fact that I was spending the majority of my time drawing and working on creative projects, I definitely did not believe it would be possible to end up in a creative profession. At the time, I thought about what I needed to do to be ‘successful’, but that typically involved wearing a suit and tie every day and for sure working in some kind of an office and doing something with finance or whatever. I didn’t know what any of that would even entail, but I was pretty sure it wouldn’t be anything fun. There weren’t very many voices around me at the time that were encouraging me in other directions. But, having said that, I would tell myself to keep exploring whatever you are interested in, because life tends to work out differently than we ever expect it to. The things that you feel passionate about are definitely worth spending time on, even if the world around you seems to discourage them. Also, don’t pay attention to that shitty AP art teacher who really does not want you to succeed.