Antfood is a creative audio studio with offices in Brooklyn, Amsterdam, and São Paulo.
We are all about Antfood’s website, which is built with Siteleaf. In particular, their loading animations inject a touch of humor to the site, which transforms a potentially boring wait into a moment of joy. This playful style translates directly into their work.
It’s one of the only portfolios where exploring and finding hidden gems feels like an exciting quest and a considered part of the user journey, rather than an afterthought. This thoughtfulness is perhaps unsurprising as the site was designed by XXIX, who make amazing treats for the internet.
We chatted with Wilson Brown, ECD and Partner at Antfood, about curiosity, collaboration, and the year ahead.
Can you tell me about Antfood, and how you got to where you are now?
We started Antfood in 2007 and have grown slowly from there. I felt we had drive and some basic talent, but truthfully we were kids with little experience, no connections and zero capital. We got to where we are now by focusing on making great work and seeking out great collaborators, colleagues and projects.
I feel very grateful for the successes that we’ve had, and I’m proud of the reputation that we’ve built, but it was achieved very slowly, by taking little steps to improve our craft, team, physical studio, instruments, equipment, and over the years our portfolio. Even now, we’re still trying to do the same thing every day, to take on new challenges, hone our craft and do things that no one has done before — or at least we haven’t tried yet!
You’ve collaborated with some fantastic companies, are there any pieces of work that you continue to look back on and think ‘damn, that’s great’?
Thanks for the kind words. We take pride in building relationships and actively try to find like-minded creative collaborators, who we can help elevate their craft, and they can help elevate ours. Buck Design has been a great collaborator over the years, and we’ve worked together on the number of pieces together since 2009, that have been seminal for Antfood regarding process and creative, and I hope the same is true for Buck too!
I rarely look back at old work on a day-to-day basis, but often when we’re putting together talks for conferences or festivals, revamping our website or social presence, or just reflecting on our mission and values past and present, I love seeing the work we’ve done over the years. Sometimes these are big portfolio pieces, and sometimes they are forgotten or ignored projects, and I love seeing tiny strokes of genius, humor and artistry within the more generic projects, that you don’t necessarily appreciate at the time when you’re in the thick of production, approvals, and delivery.
Pedro and I are putting together a talk for a conference in Amsterdam next week, and I came across a couple of pieces that I had pushed to the back of my mind, but still love Freebord (2009), Sundance (2010), AICP (2017). Also, a perennial favorite, that was played out back in 2012, but I still I love going back to is our deconstructed, and dingy Kafka-esque piece with Buck, Metamorphosis for Good Books.
What does your creative process look like?
In composition, I try to vary my process, to ensure that I’m coming up with new and different ideas sounds, harmonies and textures. That can influence what kind of instruments or structural form I begin with, and what I deem the central elements of the composition.
For example, sometimes I’ll start with a beat or a harmonic framework and build everything up around that, other times I’ll start with the opinion, the voice or even a more abstract point of view and use what musical and arrangement tools I need to convey that idea best. Similarly, there are times where I start with a specific skeleton and fill it in, or other times I will start with more of an open palette and experiment until I find something that seems strong enough to inspire the rest of the compositional elements to fall into place around it.
More broadly speaking, whether I’m composing music and sound design, making creative decisions regarding the broader scope of projects, selling through concepts and ideas, or even helping to steer our company’s entrepreneurial vision.
I try to do simultaneously define some kind of North Star or guiding principle, that I can always go back and ask “are we getting closer to the goal, are we on track?” but at the same time, to encourage and welcome dissent, to stay curious and open-minded, and realize we often come across better solutions and better questions then we had in mind when we started the process.
With all that said, I try to be pragmatic, and diligent at stepping forward rather than backward or sideways to actually get things done.
When was the last time you were afraid of making a work-related decision?
I’m often afraid of work-related decisions. These can range from simple production questions like, “should I put a guitar in this track?”, to broader business decisions like personnel, visions for the future of the studio, and what kind of projects we should work on. But these are fears with a lowercase ‘f’, and I think fear is an important driving factor in my creative work.
As artists, we often are consumed by self-doubt and question our choices. I think overcoming these fears, embracing them or just putting your head down and pushing through them, is what makes us better artists and stronger human beings, and gives our life and our work meaning.
If I only worked on projects that were straightforward and didn’t require the need to doubt decisions, I’d likely just be making mindless and generic work, and I don’t think that would be a substantive professional existence. So, while excessive fear can be crippling, or at least counterproductive, personally I think it’s important to embrace and push through, rather than brushing it under the rug or avoiding it entirely.
How do you stay curious?
That’s a great question and a very important concept to me. Especially as we grow up, get consumed by work, routine, families, and the mundane aspects of modern life.
I try to seek out new music, art and experience, that open my mind to different emotions, ideas, thought processes, and techniques. First, I try to keep an open mind and try new things, especially things that scare you or take you out of your comfort zone. Second, maintaining an interesting and diverse group of peers, that bring different perspectives and taste to help broaden my awareness of Art, culture and more. Finally, more specific to my work composing music and crafting sound, I find that using particular tools and techniques, or setting limits on how to structure the creative process, helps keep me curious by diving into new areas that I might overlook or remain ignorant of.
I have the great luxury of working in a studio where we have all kinds of tools and toys, and I think when you have a lot of things at your fingertips, you can revert to common tricks and techniques that you’ve used before. While this is one of the luxuries of having all kinds of fun gear and instruments, it’s also important to place limitations on yourself sometime so you can actually dive into a particular instrument or sound and find something new.
What are you most excited about looking at the year ahead?
First, we had a great year in 2018, we worked hard on building solid systems, and a fantastic team, so that we could focus on what we do best - the work. We celebrated our 10-year anniversary with all three studios (New York, São Paulo and Amsterdam) for a week in Mexico. There, we spent a lot of time patting ourselves on the back for making it this far, but focusing on about what the next 1/3/5/10 years will look like for Antfood and what we can do to remain relevant as well as continue to get better over the coming decade.
Specifically for 2019, we are developing a couple of new means of production, both for the AR/VR space, and for nonlinear games and experiences, but also for mixing custom, multi-channel audio in physical spaces. We’ve developed some neat tools for playing with sound and space, and I’m hoping we can convince some clients and collaborators to help us bring them to a larger audience!
I’m looking forward to our amazing team to continuing to grow and evolve and be able to take on more unique projects and challenges. We’re building a new (and hopefully) fresh platform based on machine learning to help organize and repurpose our back catalog of work. Finally, I hope we have the chance to continue working with our favorite people and meet some new ones to craft amazing audio work that moves people and gives some meaning to those who helped create it!