Bobby McKenna Enlists Elite Artist Lineup For Steven Soderbergh's Interactive HBO Series
MIKE O'DONNELL / EDITOR
Steven Soderbergh's name has become synonymous with breaking down creative conventions and being prolific, two attributes on full display in the first two months of 2018. His latest film Unsane, out March 23rd, was shot entirely on an iPhone. Mosaic, his murder mystery miniseries for HBO starring Sharon Stone and Garret Hedlund, was released as an iOS/Android mobile app and a television drama. The app essentially works like an interactive movie, allowing the user to determine from which perspective they experience the story and the order in which they gather evidence.
Soderbergh also elected to think outside the box in the development of the app, bringing in Working Not Working Member Bobby McKenna to help emphasize the viewer's power to choose their own path and to inject some personality. Given art's prevalence in the show's premise, Soderbergh and McKenna decided to "commission illustrators to create pieces that would serve as key elements of the interface." The resulting pieces from fifteen artists, including McKenna himself, are simply astounding, and do a great job of selling the creative tone of the show.
It's also great to see that half of the contributing artists are WNW Members. As McKenna puts it in our interview below, "I saw Mosaic as an opportunity to collaborate with talented artists who worked in a wide range of styles. I figured that an email with 'Steven Soderbergh project' in the subject line would be pretty difficult to resist, so I aimed high with my proposed artist lineup." Scroll down to learn more about collaborating with Soderbergh, briefing all-star illustrators, and giving them room to run wild. Then download the app to experience these pieces in action.
Header image by WNW Member Karan Singh
How’d you come to work on the Mosaic app and what was your objective?
I was introduced to Steven Soderbergh and the gang by a talented guy named Matt Keesan, who had previously hired me to do some work on David Chang’s delivery app Ando (may it rest in peace).
When I was approached about the project they already had a very early version of the app up and running, but Steven wasn't totally in love with it. His main concern at that point was that the experience didn't do a great job of streamlining the intricacies of the narrative or emphasizing the viewer's power to choose their own path through the story. It also needed an injection of personality.
After watching an early rough cut of Mosaic, I presented Steven with a few directions that I thought were valid approaches to solving the challenges he was struggling with. We decided to lean into the show's interest in art, which eventually led us to commissioning illustrators to create pieces that would serve as key elements of the interface.
Did you work closely with Steven Soderbergh? Was he heavily involved in the app or did you have a lot of freedom to run with it?
From what I can tell, it seems like Steven’s general approach is to hire people he trusts and let them do their job. His feedback was always considered and articulate, which meant he ultimately didn’t need to provide very much of it. After working with him on Mosaic, I think I have a bit of an idea of how he’s able to be as prolific as he is. The guy is efficient as hell.
What were some of the challenges and breakthroughs of making the visuals of the app feel as unique as the show itself?
Each chapter of Mosaic begins with a closeup shot of the character featured in that portion of the narrative, but when we tried using the stills themselves it felt a bit flat, and it was difficult to quickly parse your position within the overall story map. When I mocked up some quick roughs of color-coded illustrations and dropped them into the UI, everything clicked. That’s what led us down the path of commissioning artists to replace those roughs with actual artwork.
How'd you decide on the artists? Had you already worked with some of them or was it an opportunity for new collaborations?
I saw Mosaic as an opportunity to collaborate with talented artists who worked in a wide range of styles. I figured that an email with “Steven Soderbergh project” in the subject line would be pretty difficult to resist, so I aimed high with my proposed artist lineup. And my hunch turned out to be pretty much right on the money—I didn’t hear “no” too many times.
What was the brief that you in turn extended to the artists you commissioned?
I supplied each artist with a synopsis of the overall story (with special attention paid to the chapter they were working on), the still they'd base their artwork on, and as little art direction as possible. Outside of a color scheme and the imperative for the character to be more or less recognizable at a glance, they were pretty much free to take the illustration in any direction they wanted.
What’s your favorite Soderbergh movie?
Solaris whips ass, and Out of Sight is one of the great Elmore Leonard adaptations, but I gotta give the nod to an underrated classic: The Informant. Matt Damon is so good at playing a weirdo idiot, and the use of voiceover in the movie is up there with Adaptation and Goodfellas.
What’s next for you?
I have another project coming down the pike with the folks who made Mosaic, a company called PodOp. Can’t say much at the moment, but the hope is for it to be another step in the evolution of the medium.