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The 23-year-old whose art is in the music videos of Elle King, Kygo and more

Avni Shivkumar, a motion graphics designer, on what makes the medium exciting, and why since after COVID, she works mostly out of coffee shops

Avni Shivkumar now works as a digital designer at RCA Records, a record label owned by Sony Music Entertainment. (Photo courtesy Avni Shivkumar)

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Just over three years ago, Avni Shivkumar, an artist and designer, was creating posters and crafting visual identities for brands that needed a social media presence. Fast forward to now – armed with a BFA in Communication Design from Parsons School of Design and a long fascination for the graphics that added to the atmospherics in all the EDM concerts that she had attended in Mumbai, the city of her growing up years – Shivkumar works as a digital designer at RCA Records, a music label owned by Sony Music Entertainment, in New York.

With lyric videos becoming popular across music industries, and concert production requiring highly customised and elaborate visualiser – specifically to match an artist and their album's theme, mood, and aesthetic – a motions graphic designer in the music industry has their work cut out for them. In an interview to The Beat in 2021, motion graphic designer and 3D artist Ian Frederick, who had designed concert visuals for the EDM artist Wooli, noted that now while “some artists just want a ten-second, seamless loop” through an entire concert, matching with a certain beats-per-minute requirement, “others, like Wooli, want specific animations for songs.”

That this space is only growing is evident with the sort of projects that Shivkumar has been on through her two-and-half years of work with RCA Records. She's made teasers and trailers for tracks, has worked on lyric videos, and even made filters and lenses, for Instagram and Facebook, specific to artists and tracks. Some of the big names for whom she's made interactive work include the American rapper Doja Cat, British singer Zayn, and Norwegian DJ and music producer Kygo.

Fresh off making a new official visualiser for Kacey Musgroves and Mark Ronson's version of the song Can't Help Falling In Love With You, which they had sung for the Grammy nominated Elvis OST, Shivkumar talks to Lounge about why motion design excites her, why coffee-shops are her preferred workspaces lately, and how she translates the work of an artist from an auditory medium into hers, a visual one. Edited excerpts.

Describe your current workspace to us. Has it always been this way? Or has it evolved over the years?

Having graduated virtually in 2020, a large majority of my working life has been 100% online and I was confined to my room where I would eat/ sleep/ study/ work. And living in New York there isn’t much space to have a nice workspace setup outside of your bedroom, so once COVID died down, my escape has been traveling to different coffee shops and working from there.

Since the time COVID cases have fallen, Shivkumar prefers working out of cafes.
Since the time COVID cases have fallen, Shivkumar prefers working out of cafes. (Photo courtesy Avni Shivkumar)

How would you define your daily relationship with this space?

I find myself to be more motivated when I’m outside the comfort of my apartment. I feel more productive in a light bright lively space. Since working from home has taken over and as much as I love spending a day at home, I feel more productive getting dressed, packing a bag in the morning, and leaving the house for 5-6 hours.

If you were to trade in this place for another, what would it be?

Since it’s currently winter in New York, sitting outdoors is not an option. However, if I could trade this workspace for another it would be a balcony or garden where I can sit outside and work in the sunlight.

The first work of interactive design or motion graphics that really appealed to you.

Growing up in Bombay, I used to go to a lot of EDM concerts since DJs were really the only international artists coming to India at the time. I wasn’t as much a fan of the music as I was of the stage graphics that accompanied it. Going to those concerts and seeing the way we can create art inspired by music, made me want to further understand how the two correlate.

Who was the first artist/artists whose work you emulated or whose style had a great influence on you. Why?

As a graphic designer, I was largely inspired by (American graphic designer) David Carson. The idea of maximalism and layering has always spoken to me, and I emulate that in my work.

A screengrab of the visualiser for Kacey Musgroves and Mark Ronson's version of the song 'Can't Help Falling In Love With You' for the 'Elvis' OST.
A screengrab of the visualiser for Kacey Musgroves and Mark Ronson's version of the song 'Can't Help Falling In Love With You' for the 'Elvis' OST.

What was the first medium/tool you used in the early years of practice? How has that evolved now?

When I was a teenager, I would use calligraphic and micro tip pens to illustrate, doodle and create my own fonts on paper. Over the years, once I started college and mastered my craft, I learned to use software instead of the manual pen and paper. However, I am trying to slowly go back to doodling and drawing for fun.

How does an artist translate the distinct sound of a musician into a visual language?

Artists can no longer be put in a box. Which also makes things very fun as they can reinvent themselves visually with every album release. Usually, when I am creating visual assets from scratch with no material given to me from the artist themselves, I try to look out for lyrics or words in the song that can be translated into visuals.

For example, I worked on the visuals for Drunk by Elle King ft. Miranda Lambert (the song was nominated for the Grammy Award for Best Country Duo/Group Performance, and won the Academy of Country Music Award for Video of the Year). The name itself made it super easy to create visual content and I based most of the visuals on wine spills, text/ words getting jumbled up, and a wavy trippy aesthetic that emulate the ‘drunk’ feeling.

Do you ever feel sometimes that the visual branding of an artist whose brief you're working on is very different from how you perceive their sound? How do you deal with that?

If there is ever a time where I don’t think an artist’s aesthetic match their sound, I sometimes draft two versions of whatever project I’m working on, one I think looks best and one that follows their aesthetic and let them pick. However, I think the due to the nature of music these days, artists can change their branding with every album, and it makes things more interesting and fun.

What about motion design is most exciting to you?

I think motion design is more interesting and exciting than static because the possibilities are endless…every frame has its own personality and can be a piece of static graphic design itself. Music is the same, where every beat/ verse has a personality of its own. I find it interesting to be able to create dynamic art that can emulate how every second of a song has its own flair and how a song can build up and drop – motion/video can do the same thing.

Creative Corner is a series about writers, artists, musicians, founders and other creative individuals and their relationships with their workspaces.

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