is a designer and illustrator based in San Francisco.
She has worked as a Web, Flash and Graphic Designer
for several Silicon Valley- and San Francisco-based
studios, including Fine Brand Media, Spunky
Productions, Asia Web Networks, and Care2.com.
In her most recent position as the lead Web
and Flash Designer at Fine Brand Media she designed
for corporate clients such as SGI, Fujitsu,
First Republic Bank and BrassRing. Willo is
a fervent Flash evangelist who values clean
design and intuitive interfaces.
How did you begin
your career as a Flash Goddess?
I started using Flash in 1999. I had been working
as an e-card Production Artist at Care2.com,
and seemingly overnight I started noticing Flash
and Shockwave games everywhere on the Internet.
I was immediately drawn to the idea of motion
on the Web. I had been doing Web production
with animated Gifs, so as soon as I saw what
Flash could do I immediately took a class and
got the software. Back when I was studying design
in art school, computer animation hadn’t
really come into its own yet, so I had to learn
everything from scratch.
What was it about
Flash that appealed to you?
Long before Flash came around, I was an aspiring
artist and illustrator. I used to say I was
a “professional doodler” as I had
stacks of sketchbooks chock full of doodles
I didn’t know what to do with. I had always
wanted a way to animate my cartoons, but had
only known the kind on TV. Becoming a television
animator seemed like a very huge and unattainable
goal at the time, so when I discovered Flash
I was thrilled to find a program that gave me
the ability to animate my cartoons without needing
a major studio to provide funding, equipment,
etc. Flash really makes it possible for anyone
to create animations.
So you took a
course, bought the software...then what?
With my newfound (amateur) skills I made a funny
little drag & drop game called "Dressing
Darby" and a more risqué one called
"The New Pen". I left Care2.com
and was hired in April 2000 as a Flash Designer
for Spunky Productions producing Spunkytown.com
Flash cartoons for kids.
My time with Spunky Productions was amazing.
I was in charge of animating the title sequences
(opening and closing titles and credits) for
the cartoons. I maintained font and color usage,
and implemented any interactive elements. I
worked closely with the producers and creative
directors on the animators’ schedules
and administering post-production. Post-production
involved importing the sound, matching it up
on the time line and extensive optimization
of the flash files before they got published
to the Web. I also did layout design for the
cartoon’s environment screens. It was
a dream job, really. I love cartoons and the
team there was amazingly talented. I also had
an incredible Creative Director, Tommy Ajello,
who taught me so many design techniques, and
imparted a wealth of information about being
a great creative director.
From Spunkytown I went to Fine
Brand Media, where I was the lead Web and
Flash designer for several years. I had the
opportunity to work with a wide array of corporate
clients, and beef up my skills in corporate
design and branding, client relations, and working
within a client’s specific corporate needs.
I have come to value usability and clean design
as a top priority. It’s key to be really
Web-smart these days, so on every project I
try to keep in mind usability, load time, accessibility
and search engine rank. I also insist on using
CSS for fonts. The past three and half years
have left me with a very versatile set of Web
tools, which is great, because having recently
decided to take a stab at working for myself,
I will need to use everything I’ve learned
along the way.
joining the self-employed? What are you currently
So much! My biggest challenge now is going to
be managing my time to fit in all the great
projects I’ve taken on. What’s so
fun about working independently is that I have
the opportunity to work on projects in all my
areas of interest: Illustration, Flash animation,
Web and Flash Design. I’m especially excited
that I’ve gotten a number of illustration
projects, since illustrating and cartooning
will always be my first loves.
For my Web and Flash Design business I currently
have a handful of terrific clients. Some are
complete redesign projects, while others are
maintaining existing sites. For a while I was
so busy I had to turn away projects, but now
that I’m getting into a groove, I’m
better able to take on new projects that I find
interesting or that I think will give me an
opportunity to learn something new.
On the illustration/animation side, I recently
wrapped up a big project working on a cartoon
intended for the "tween" market (ages
9-13) on broadcast television that the producer
is hoping to air and then sell as a ½-hour
series. I did the character design, storyboards,
backgrounds and fully animated the intro &
three 1-minute shorts. It took me about a year
to finish it up, balancing that work with my
then-full-time job. It was really fun to do
and by the end I definitely noticed my skills
improving...and that's what it's all about.
You can only get better if you practice!
Working in Flash for broadcast was a terrific
opportunity. I learned a lot about the colors,
size ratio and exporting requirements. I have
been considering starting a Web site dedicated
to this information, as I had to do quite a
bit of digging myself, but I really can’t
give myself yet another project right now, because...
I’ve also just launched a Custom Wall
Painting business directed towards nurseries
and children’s rooms. My illustration
style lends itself so naturally to kids and
babies, it seemed like a perfect way to get
my creations out there. My first job will be
painting a large space at a preschool/daycare
in Marin, and I have a couple of private clients
lined up next for murals in their kid’s
rooms. I’m very excited about where I
can take my illustrations in the baby market,
and at some point would like to look into a
clothing line, greeting cards, etc.
Since I get to set my own schedule, I’m
also allowing myself time to pick up new skills
and indulge my other artistic interests. I’m
starting to spend more time painting and doing
photography. One, to improve my abilities with
those media, and two, because it’s fun!
It sounds like
you are first and foremost an artist who chose
Flash because it served your needs, as opposed
to a lot of designers and programmers who picked
it up because their clients wanted it.
Absolutely! In fact, most of the time I draw
directly in Flash. When I do still draw on paper,
I scan in my illustrations with Adobe Streamline,
export them to an Illustrator file and then
import them into Flash – voila! Flash
is wonderful for character illustration. I love
that the art is vector for the scalability.
And I’ve always been drawn to how beautifully
Flash creates smooth lines and offers such ease
of editing. My Wacom tablet works beautifully
with Flash. I have a lot of control and I love
the ability to add color to my illustrations
How did you get
into illustration and design in the first place?
I’ve always been interested in visual
arts. In school, I wasn’t interested in
much besides art class, and as a child I was
always drawing, doodling and creating various
characters. In junior high and high school I
began to notice logos and motion graphics on
TV and everywhere I went. I am a very visual,
creative person, so I realized early on that
I needed to do something artistic for a career.
When I graduated from high school I had no interest
in attending a 4-year college where I would
have to take more of the classes that didn’t
interest me. Instead, I set my sights on an
art school where I could learn specifically
about design. At the time I thought the best
path was to go into Graphic design, but looking
back I wish I'd chosen to study illustration
Why the interest
I have a few theories on why I picked up drawing
cartoons over other formats: I am very near-sighted,
so maybe when everything is so blurry I want
a nice crisp line. Also, I was an only child
for most of my life, so my little cartoon world
of friends was a fun place for me to go. I have
always been in awe of how a simple line or two
can create so much. And with Flash, you can
create even more!
do you have any advice or tips you could give
to those interested in using Flash for character
design and/or Illustration?
Get a Wacom tablet. Work and draw in Flash as
much as possible. Play, play, play! Get books
and build the games they have given you the
code for, make them your own, get to know what
does what. For illustrating in Flash, get to
know the use of lines vs. fills. Converting
lines to fills, changing the colors, creating
symbols, reusing your character library.
What uses of Flash
are inspiring to you?
Videos and Web-training interfaces, cartoons
and games, interactivity for the user, efficient
forms, the way ESPN is using it to instantly
update information without a page reload, integration
with backend databases.
What do you see
as the most common mistakes in Flash and Web
I hate it when I can’t read the text.
Dark text on a dark background is sooo annoying.
I also don’t have much patience for unintuitive
Who is your favorite
So many amazing artists inspire me. Museum level,
I’m very inspired by Robert Rauchenburg.
His years of experiments in multi-media are
so impressive. I have lists
of amazing illustrators that I’m impressed
and inspired by as well. There’s definitely
no single favorite in my book, I am in awe of
What has your
experience been with the Flash community?
Being self-taught initially, I actually had
to do quite a bit of reaching out on my own.
At first, I just made friends with my Flash
instructor, since he was the only other person
I knew who did Flash! We attended some of the
first Flash Forward events here in San Francisco.
At my first Flash Forward, I met the Creative
Director for Spunky Productions.
After working at Spunky and moving into Web
and Flash Design at Fine Brand Media, I didn’t
have any Designers around me. I was the solo
designer at the firm, so I found myself really
needing to reach out more. I attended a few
local Flash user group meetings and kept in
touch with people online. I was delighted when
I found Ann-Marie had started a Flash Goddess
I’m surrounded by friends who are creative
artists of all kinds (painting, glass blowing,
pottery, photography, print design), but for
some reason out of the friends I actually hang
out with, only 1 or 2 of them use Flash!
next for you?
I definitely want do more full-scale Flash Web
sites, and improve my
skills with actionscripting. I'd also like the
opportunity to work for a
more design-focused firm where I can improve
my design skills in print
and interactive media. I'm going to keep working
with my clients on Web
and Flash sites, put some energy in to my new
and try to explore some artistic media I haven't
had enough time for in
the past. At some point in the near future I
would like to explore
options for getting my illustrations onto various
product lines. But
really, I have so many fun business ideas that
who knows what will be
You can see Willo’s illustrations
and keep up with her projects at http://www.willotoons.com