Caspar Newbolt: Version Industries

Caspar Newbolt’s Version Industries makes nice-looking stuff; web sites, print design, motion graphics, etc. I’m tempted to call their work “slick”, but its more complex, I want to say post-post-modern, but what’s in a name. Maybe it’s the subtle layers to their work, or sometimes not-so-subtle. Pizzazz? Panache? But with great craft. Can a design be both reckless and well-crafted?

The Version crew is inventive in the melding of visuals. There is a rotoscopic nostalgia to their work and an outside vs. the inside juggling. The skin of idea might seem rough, harsh, punk, but the inside is pure charm, captured through the flickering lights of a Radio City Metropolis. Either way the root of what they do lends itself well to clients seeking ideas a bit more radical than the middle way. If presented with the right budget and a dream the Version crew could build a new virtual machine with platinum parts, a silent engine, and the whisper of a ghost that prefers standard 72s over any MP3.

Wise Elephant (WE): Why Design?

Caspar Newbolt (CN): Good question – you see I really wanted to make films & still very much do. However design just seemed to be what I was always doing in my free time & eventually someone called me out on it. I got paid a lot more than I thought I deserved for a small job back in 2001-2 and well, it got me thinking of the possibilities. Basically the whole time I was fighting with the idea of doing film but getting increasingly in debt & unhappy, so almost by attrition I started shifting over to the design world and doing more & more of that & less & less film. You think you’re stronger than you are sometimes when it comes to money and happiness. Suffice to say I’ve tried very hard not to sell out too much since then!

WE: Film, what type of film(s) do you want to make? Is it the silver screen that is intoxicating (visuals), where you are overwhelmed by the bigness of it, or is there a narrative (texts) you’re seeking?

CN: It’s funny – even though I design for a living, it’s not the visuals I get excited about first, it’s definitely the characters and the script!

When I first started writing scripts with a good friend of mine it was all very biographical. We wanted to make David Lynch / Larry Clark / Kevin Smith style things based on our own experiences. You know, where you peel back what appears to be pretty and reveal something darker underneath. Typically it was about self discovery through sex, drugs and rock n roll. I mean those kinda movies like ‘Fire Walk With Me’, ‘Dazed and Confused’, ‘Requiem For A Dream’ and ‘Kids’ are still my favorites and I think that’s because there’s a magic in the “naivete” of youth and given a chance to relive experiences is cathartic.

These days I don’t think my interests have changed in terms of core ideas, but I have also had a chance to think of stuff that’s less biographical and more fantasy purely because I have experienced more now & gained more confidence. In fact I have two ideas right now that I really want to develop and just wish I could find the time to.

WE: Why a design business?

CN: It just made sense. The money was coming in & the guys I set the company up with were both amazingly able at handling bank accounts and business decisions on top of their other worthy skills. Plus as friends we found it a fun way to pass the time, pay the bills and live near each other in the ever expensive London. On top of that of course came the rush of actually being creative for a living, which I think is all any of us would ever really let ourselves do, so it was a perfect marriage.

WE: How much control have you had over your professional career as a designer vs. it taking you with it?

CN: Another good one. Actually I think I’ve had quite a lot of control in one way & yet none in another way. We’ve certainly controlled the kind of work we’ve chosen to do & even turned down bigger jobs because it didn’t feel right or felt dishonest / fake / corporate. Which is ridiculous in a way because it’s not made it easier – in fact I think we’d all be a lot richer if we’d been less concerned about that.

But on the other hand, you can’t pretend you really control that stuff. So much of it is luck I think. We’ve met people in elevators who have given us work and we’ve got friends who put in a good word for us too. So yeah, it’s a bit of both. The only thing I make sure of is that we do the best job we can & that we never do the same job twice – I think this keeps us fresh, an interesting prospect in the eyes of others & also stops us hating our work. When you hate your work you stop doing it well … at least I do.

WE: If “feel/gut” is on the left and “intellect/reason” on the right, where in the scope of things (generally) could you put yourself when defining what you like?

CN: Well I’ve never given my intellect or reasoning ability a great deal of credit. It’s like a dice-roll for me mostly when I try, so I’m definitely happier trusting my feelings & gut on things. Especially
design / creative things. To me it feels like I just keep hunting for something that gives me that little rush. Same applies to other people’s work or my own. You know when you see something good because it drops all pretense and smacks you hard where it hurts. In fact that’s what bothers me most about a lot of stuff I see every day online or offline – it’s all so elaborate and high-tech and tasteful or clever and minimalist, but rarely does it make you really feel anything. So yeah, I guess I’m way to the left … way into those feelings & guts etc. Maybe there should be a creative fight club of some sort. You know, to weed out all the copycats and aesthetic posers & get things back to making you really laugh & cry & believe.

WE: Was there a gig/job you turned down you wish you didn’t?

CN: I’m sure, yes. I remember feeling that way a lot when we had nothing on the table and bills to pay, though I can’t recall specifics. But yeah, looking back & cursing blindly about some gig that never came through is definitely not foreign to us, haha. But right now I’m very happy with the jobs we have gotten and the great people we are getting a chance to work with … so yeah, fortunately nothing comes to mind right now.

WE: How much does “New York City” influence you and your work?

CN: A vast amount. Funny you should ask this question really. I am in love with this city. As a brit who was born in London and spent his first working years there, I only made it over here every 3-4 years at best. But each time it gave me a glimpse of something that I found very enticing. Then when it came down to it, London had basically worn me thin and so coming here with a company that was finally seeing the light at the end of the tunnel was exhilarating.

New York has everything I got out of London / England and then so much more. The people are outspoken, eccentric and welcoming, which appeals to me massively somehow. Then there’s the film and the music – two things I care about almost more than life itself – and they are on
fire in this city. Last of all you have the insanely decrepit & decaying sprawl of it all … to this day nothing gives me a bigger rush than walking through this city at night with my headphones on,
struck dumb by the lights and the cinematic wash of everything.

All of it makes me sit down to work with an energy I haven’t yet found anywhere else.

WE: You mentioned ” insanely decrepit & decaying sprawl of it all”. What is it about decay that is inspirational? Is it building a phoenix that rises from the ashes, or seeing the whole life-cycle of things in a fairly compacted space? What is it for you? What is the energy you feel?

CN: Well it might be your life-cycle idea. New York’s subway for example is like this forgotten element of a city that tries to be as flash and glamourous as it can. You think you’re paying for a cheap ticket downtown and what you really get is a guided tour of New York’s rotting core. And what a core it is! It’s iron, porcelain, plastic and glass at war with mould, rust, trash and rats.

Firstly this seems to be stark reminder that too many people have ‘bigger’ issues on their minds and are therefore failing to deal with what really matters. It’s an idea that’s pervaded everything I do and that I think really drives me. You see I fear giving into certain rotting ideals and I see people doing it all the time. My “favourite” film makers, bands and artists all lose it for one reason or another at some point and I’m constantly trying to figure out why and what drives those who still haven’t yet.

Secondly (& perhaps more immediately relevant here) there’s an undeniable beauty in the rust, mould, rot and crumble happening beneath the constant barrage of lights, people and fumes. In fact it verges on apocalyptic at times to the point of being cinematic and captivating. So all you have to do is walk around in it by yourself with your walkman on and it’s not hard to feel like something amazing is about to happen.

WE: How much has your career been influenced by internet (if not entirely)?

CN: Haha, probably entirely. I did Archaeology at university and sat all night on the internet realizing there was a major disparity between my studies and my urges. One was deep into the past beyond all imagining and one was deep into the future of communications and networking. The internet even now is the most ridiculously exciting thing. It’s a censorship free, 24/7, plunge-pool of ridiculousness and to be able to take these creative urges I have and shape it for people to make a
living … well that’s pretty cool.

WE: What design trends do you see? If you could identify and/or define contemporary design what would it be?

CN: Hmmm … well, contemporary design is too often tied heavily to commercial production. This means that design trends concrete themselves thick and fast because the companies that commission them are rarely brave enough to try something new. They are investing lots of money so they want what is tried & tested & all of a sudden you get a million things looking the same. Which¬†also means that designs can’t be too challenging either and that complete rip-offs are found more & more.

So using that logic we now have one great design becoming a template. This template is then watered down & down to the point where it’s making as much money as possible for it’s multitude of users and eventually it loses the spark that made it great in the first place (and those buying them often have no idea it’s been lost).

Enter advertising.

Advertising takes what was left of good ideas and design trends and strangles them slowly to death. Gone is the notion of using ideas to reveal truth and touch you emotionally. Instead you have ideas created to lie to you and to make you feel things for things of commercial value.

Now whether you think that’s a good thing or not is beside the point – those, to me at least, are the trends and hallmarks of design today.

WE: What else (if anything) do you want to be doing?

CN: Well something I never do enough of is thank the amazing bastards I work with every day for believing in this thing that we do & somehow sticking with it day in & day out. No matter what I think or believe, I would not still be thinking or believing it without them.

Outside of that, it’s definitely films. Sure I’d love to make music, be in a band and all that … but I can’t. I know however that I can make films and still very much want to. That’s the next step, though when … I know not.



Visit Version Industries here: LINK