During his visit to Lesley on Oct. 6, artist and TV producer Justin Richmond, left, lavished his time and attention on students interested in a career in game design and TV and movie animation. He was the Fall 2022 Strauch-Mosse Visiting Artist and the first featured guest of the 2022-23 Thought Leadership Series.
The return of the Thought Leadership Series at Lesley University was a master class in professional animated-television-making and game design taught by Justin Richmond, co-creator of the acclaimed Netflix series “The Dragon Prince.”
Richmond, a writer, game designer and television producer, enthralled a crowd of more than 60 people — predominantly students — with tales from the Hollywood trenches and trenchant counsel for artists and employers, alike.
“We try to hire what we call ‘Swiss army knives,’” said Richmond, referring to individuals with broad, fluid sets of skills and experiences. He pointed out that one writer, an ancient Greek history and mythology maven, contributed greatly to “The Dragon Prince,” even though it is a fantasy filled with elves and magic. The writer’s expertise in one realm translated to the morality and world-building of the fantasy series, even though the subjects and genres appear quite different from one another.
Similarly, another person who works on the show loves mobster movies and television shows like “The Sopranos,” yet the skulduggery and fraught family dynamics found their way into the fantasy series, as well.
He offered those examples as being indicative of “hiring outside the echo chamber,” making sure the workplace boasts a diverse array of backgrounds, viewpoints and ideas.
As a principal of the production company Wonderstorm, a 14-person outfit, he stressed that “small teams need to be resourceful,” especially when money is tight, and think of achieving maximal return on their intellectual property investments.
“Creating original IP is the most rewarding thing and the hardest thing to do in Hollywood,” Richmond said. “Making IP is hard and selling it is even harder.”
Richmond and his production company are enjoying considerable success: “The Dragon Prince” is launching its fourth season, and he showed a 9-minute trailer, strictly off-the-record, of a forthcoming series. Yet the real return comes with launching a beloved video game, Richmond indicated.
“We want to earn long-term trust and love in exchange for just making money,” Richmond said.
Passion and professionalism
Other advice was more practical and actionable for any budding animator.
“Get an awesome reel together and apply everywhere,” Richmond said. Make sure to “put your strongest stuff up front” and resist the temptation to include shakier works in progress. You only want to include animation that will immediately convince hiring managers of the need to call you. Any work that doesn’t rise to that level will hurt the applicant.
In addition, Richmond counseled, “Do not write a generic cover letter.” Yet, he added, “The only thing that matters is the reel.”
And he stressed the importance of sweating the details. For Amaya, a particularly popular “Dragon Prince” character who is deaf, Richmond’s team consulted with practitioners of American and Canadian sign language, and the various, nuanced variations of those languages, to animate realistic signing.
Such attention to detail impressed the audience members, including President Janet L. Steinmayer. In her introductory remarks, she highlighted that, as the mother of an alumnus of our Threshold Program, she is encouraged that “The Dragon Prince” elevates differently abled characters.
Steinmayer applauded the creators’ “inclusion of major characters with different abilities who function bravely and excellently without seeking magical ‘cures’ — and I deliberately put that word in quotation marks — for deafness and perceived restrictions on mobility.”
In that regard, the show’s ethos reflects Lesley’s social justice mission, President Steinmayer added.
“At Lesley, we know that a world of inclusion and respect for individual differences is a world worth fighting for,” she said.
As the first in-person iteration of the Thought Leadership Series (the 2021-22 series was virtual), the energy and excitement for last night’s program were palpable. Audience members gasped in wonder at the “super secret” trailer they were treated to. Others, during Richmond’s slide presentation loudly exclaimed their love for the video games he worked on.
The final half-hour of the formal program featured a vigorous Q & A moderated by Professor Derek Hoffend, director of Game Design and Immersive Technologies at our College of Art and Design. That session was followed by a less formal reception in the atrium outside the University Hall Amphitheater, where students lined up to purchase art books, seek professional advice and convey their gratitude and admiration for Richmond’s oeuvre.
Richmond returned the favor throughout his day and evening at Lesley, serving as more of a coach than a lecturer.
“Stay true to your original idea,” he urged students. “Stay true to the thing you find interesting and get that into the world as soon as possible.”
Strauch-Mosse Visiting Artist Lecture Series
In addition to kicking off the 2022-23 season of the Thought Leadership Series at Lesley University, Richmond was also the Fall 2022 Strauch-Mosse Visiting Artist.
As President Steinmayer explained at the outset of the evening, “Strauch-Mosse Visiting Artists are those innovators who at once push the limits of creativity and expand the boundaries of equity and social justice. These specially designated artists and thought leaders are presented by our Board of Trustees Chair Hans Strauch, one of Lesley’s most staunch and generous" friends and advocates.