Everybody wants to be an architect, right? Wrong. Believe it or not a few would-be-Rems get distracted along the road to concrete kudos and fall into new lines and patterns of work. In this series, in collaboration with our colleagues at Baunetz, we trace the careers of a few architects gone rogue. Allow us to present the Architecture Defectors...
Second in the series is Ben West, a man who can make trucks float, turn football stadiums into flying saucers and bring sushi to life. For the last three years, Ben West, a trained architect from Australia, has lived in Los Angeles, where he works as a creative director at Framestore. Founded in the 1980s in London, the company now has some 1,000 employees in London, LA and Montréal, where they produce special effects for music videos, commercials and films such as “Gravity”, which won an Oscar in 2014 for its visual effects. Luise Rellensmann joins the dots from the drafting board to the storyboard.
These days, as young architects master digital architectural production with hyper-realistic renderings and visualisations while still in school, a career in the field of film animation doesn't seem so far off. But when 44-year-old West completed his architecture degree at the University of Technology in Sydney, it was the end of the 1990s. “Back then, everything was in a state of flux, but the professors still placed strong emphasis on functional and hand-drawn designs,” says West. Technical drawing came easy to the engineer's son – he learned the 3D programmes on his own.
Even as a student, West was drawn to the formal aspects of architecture. “My interests lay more in the creation of beautiful forms than the building’s functionality,” he admits. After studying architecture, he went on to do a master's degree in directing at the Australian Film Television School in Sydney, followed by a one-year animation course in London. He earned money along the way with visualizations of ambitious construction projects, such as for the Olympic Games in his hometown or high-rises in Asian metropolises. “I did things at the architectural firm that were completely different from what was taught at university,” says West. But he sees the study of architecture as a good foundation, especially since a large part of it includes constant scrutiny and criticism by others.
There are also parallels to his current profession: for a Super Bowl commercial he transformed a sports stadium into a hovering UFO – “a kind of architectural performance,” he notes. And developing a storyline or conveying the message of an advertisement in just 30 seconds are processes similar to developing spatial structures. West estimates that the amount of work involved is also about the same: “In the time it takes to make a feature film, you could build a rather large construction.”
It has only been since his move from Australia to California three years ago that West has devoted himself entirely to filmmaking, going even beyond the ad world. For “Fugu & Tako”, a quirky and funny short film incorporating his passion for Japanese culture, he took on the roles of vfx supervisor, director and writer. The film is about a friendship between two Japanese salarymen whose lives radically change after one of them eats a live puffer fish. West is now developing a graphic novel based on the film which is being funded via Kickstarter.
West relishes the artistic freedom that his work as an architect could not offer him. Still, he is certain that “architectural skills have become part of my DNA and influence everything I do.”
Support Ben West’s Kickstarter campaign to turn Fugu & Tako into a graphic novel here.
Further reading: Revisit the first in our Architecture Defectors series with London-based DJ Claus Voigtmann: Life Without Buildings