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Interview with Michelle Crocker, Shillington Graduate and Freelance Designer for Film and TV

Before taking on Shillington’s graphic design course, Manchester graduate Michelle Crocker was already a graphic designer. Though, despite a degree in graphic design, she found herself lacking the real life design skills she needed to land herself a design job. So, she headed back to school and enrolled on Shillington’s full-time course. Three months later, with a fresh portfolio, Michelle headed out into the industry and started working as a freelancer taking on jobs in the film and TV industry. Since, she’s been working for Netflix, the BBC, on some indie films, music videos and commercials. Impressive stuff.

We caught up with Michelle to chat about why she decided to retrain with Shillington, how she found the course (during the pandemic) and the kind of work she does in her roles creating for TV and film. Happy reading!

Why Shillington? You were already working in design before the course, why did you ch0ose to jump back into studying?

I never really knew what I wanted to do. My course at university was very broad and I really struggled. I needed structure and found my course didn’t give me that stability. I spent my time printmaking which I loved, however I left with no real life design skills. After graduating, I struggled with getting a design job as my portfolio didn’t show the relevant knowledge. I used to collect a magazine called Frankie and saw an advert for Shillington College, so I went to the open day in Manchester back in 2014 and knew it was exactly what I wanted to do. I couldn’t afford it at the time, but it was a lifelong ambition for me.

I got a job in a jewellers and was fortunate to be invited to be interviewed for the design role in the head office. This is where I began to learn using Photoshop and Illustrator. I then applied for a traineeship to work on (British soap opera) Emmerdale for ITV and worked my way up learning as much as I could along the way. This was an incredible experience for me and opened me up to a whole other world of design. I left ITV to work at an agency, however it was very clear I lacked a level of design knowledge and I quit. I had never used InDesign before. Instead I decided to go freelance and took on some more film and TV jobs. In 2019, I made it my goal to study at Shillington and saved up as hard as I could.

What were you up to before the course? Can you tell us about the kind of things you working on before enrolling?

Before studying I was freelancing as a graphic designer on a few feature films up in North Yorkshire. I was lucky that there was free accommodation on site, therefore I used this time to save up as much as I could to fulfil my goal of studying at Shillington.

How did the Shillington course build on your existing design skills?

I had design experience, but I wanted to fill in the gaps in my education. Everything I knew was through being partly self taught and what I picked up along the way.

Shillington gave me the opportunity to really study and learn about the core fundamentals and the theoretical side of graphic design. There was a lot I needed to learn and Shillington gave me the tools I needed to feel more confident as a designer.

You were in one of the classes that had to be moved online due to the pandemic. How did you find the course? Tell us about your experiences!

My class did move online, which at first I was worried about, however the transition was pretty seamless. I feel lucky to have had experience in the classroom and getting to meet so many wonderful people, however the online experience was also amazing. I feel we had a good balance of learning collectively as well as getting enough one to one time with the tutors.

Regardless of the situation we were faced with in regards to the pandemic, the teachers made every day a truly unforgettable one.

During a time of uncertainty, I felt very fortunate that I got to get up every morning and have a goal to achieve (plus lots of homework ha!)

Did being online during lockdown bring your class close? Did you make any meaningful connections with teachers or fellow students?

I felt so close to many on my course. It was a shared experience and we all supported one another so much throughout the whole course. We felt like a team, constantly bringing each other up. I made friends on the course that I will be friends with for a long time.

The teachers are incredible and consistently give 100%.

Shout out to Nick and Lovish from the Manchester campus! They share so much knowledge with the class that I’ve spent years figuring out.

What was your favourite brief on the course? Tell us your process!

My favourite brief has to be the start up project. It was my first experience of creating a brand from scratch. The course is structured so that the process becomes organic. We began by researching the brief and going away to push our ideas as far as we could to then present to a small group. I didn’t think I would have the confidence to present my ideas at first, but I felt so excited by the research that I couldn’t wait to share them. Presenting to a  group wasn’t as daunting as I first imagined as everyone was encouraged to share ideas and get involved. I really loved seeing the process develop from a concept to a piece of design.

How has your life changed after Shillington? You’ve been freelancing since you graduated. Was this always what you planned to do?

After graduating from Shillington, I feel like a much more confident and articulate designer than I did before.

The whole experience itself was life changing and I feel more equipped now to apply for work I wouldn’t have done previously.

I have been freelancing again recently as it has suited my lifestyle and brought me to London. I’m open to work right now and just really want to get involved in exciting projects.

You’ve been working with Netflix on an upcoming film. Can you tell us about the project and what a graphic designer does when working on a film?

Yes! I have just finished doing the graphics on a Netflix thriller called I Came By, directed by BAFTA-winning director Babak Anvari. As a graphic designer in film and television, my goal is a little different from real life in that most of the time i am doing a good job if my work doesn’t stand out too much unless specifically featured. Depending on the genre and period, the graphic props that I make have to look realistic and help tell a story. When starting a project, I am first given a script which I read and break down into different categories. This includes hero props (meaning they are featured and will be seen up close), background dressing, phone screens etc.

I then work closely with the production designer and art director who shares their vision with me so that I can gauge the style they are going for. I create props that range from packaging, book covers, signage, vehicles, phone screens… the list goes on. OFCOM allow some product placement, however a lot of branding has to be covered up with fake graphics and so thats where I come in. 

Could you tell us about some of the other film and TV projects you’ve been working on over the past few months as well?

In the past few months, I have worked on a couple of small indie feature films, a BBC3 6 part drama, a Nike commercial and a couple of music videos. One of the music videos I worked on, my job was to fill a room with handwritten song lyrics for the musician George Cosby, so I asked him to write out every letter of the alphabet and I turned it into a font!

In terms of personal work, I took part in the Adobe 36 Days of Type challenge which was great fun and gave me mini deadlines I had to stick to every day. I’m currently freelancing with Bacchus Agency in London, taking on the role of project assistant. Something a bit different from usual, but a very exciting project.

Finally, if you could give one piece of advice to someone starting at Shillington, what would it be?

I would say be eager to learn and just absorb as much information as you can. It’s a very intensive course and there is no doubt a lot work and tight deadlines, but be assured that the teachers are there every step of the way. I would also say to make sure to look after yourself. Take breaks, eat well and get plenty of sleep. If you get stuck with any ideas, your course mates are the absolutely golden and will help you to bounce off ideas.

It was one of the best experiences I have ever had and have come away with some wonderful friends and a portfolio I am proud of and you will do too!

Anything else you would like to add?

Finally, you will get sick of hearing this, but it is honestly a concept that becomes more and more apparent as you progress through the course… trust the process! 

Huge thanks to Michelle for sharing her story and work with us! Make sure to check out her website and follow her on Instagram—and definitely take a look at her IMDb.

Fancy following in Michelle’s footsteps? Learn more about Shillington’s 3 month full-time and 9 month part-time courses Online or on campus in New York, London, Manchester, Sydney, Melbourne or Brisbane.

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