After several lost semesters spent doing serious (read “heavy”) anthropological research, I relocated to the desert and changed universities. During my first summer there, I re-discovered drawing. It’s something I’d always been good at, and enjoyed, yet somehow I’d been more or less totally repelled by every art class (and art instructor) I’d taken during my primary school education. So when I attended Professor Dan Britton’s introduction to drawing class, I didn’t expect it to become an immediate and consuming obsession. But it did.
That summer, I think it must have been 1999, I spent a lot of time dragging a folding card table to the forgotten corners of Phoenix, Arizona, setting up under the sun and drawing crumbling buildings, ranches and trash heaps. The textures of entropy were the perfect matrix to exercise my eye and hand. People would stop and watch, sometimes ask questions, and occasionally menace me.
For about three days in a row, I sat at the outskirts of a junkyard. There were piles of wooden pallets and old tires, burned out car bodies, old appliances. Looming over the whole scene was a decommissioned power plant: essentially a massive tangle of pipes and girders and catwalks, paint blistered and peeling from the sun and burnished smooth by the wind and sand. I worked fiendishly, trying to capture the irregular and battered shapes, the patterns of decay and wear.
Back in class, Dan pinned my drawing to the wall by its corners, then stepped away. He moved closer, then further back. The whole class was tense with his silence. I thought for sure he was mesmerized by the graphic composition that organized a seemingly bottomless feast of spectacular detail. Finally, he looked right at me, building the suspense even further with his imploring gaze.
“What the fuck is this?” I took him to be teasing me, pretending befuddlement at my virtuosity.
“It’s a junk yard,” I reported with a satisfied smile.
“NO!. This?” He gestured across the paper horizontally, about two-thirds up the page. He was serious. My head started to spin.
“Ummm… Mountains?’ I clarified.
“Bullshit. That’s a wiggly line. …Mountains?’ he scoffed. He looked back and forth between me and the drawing repeatedly, his disdain obvious. “Jesus Christ,” he cursed. “You’ve gotta draw the shit out of the mountains.”
I remembered the moment I’d noticed the Four Peaks of the Mazatzal Mountains, faint and blue in the distance, the long meandering movement that traced out their peaks, even thinking I was clever for insinuating the distant geography so simply. “… and… done!” I’d thought.
Dan lightened up on me after his initial salvo, but his lesson came through plain and clear. If you’re going to include something in your composition, don’t do it as an afterthought. Make choices. Be purposeful. Develop, explore and execute EVERY DETAIL.
There’s nothing wrong, so to speak, with a simple squiggly line. They can even look like mountains. But Dan could tell that I’d made an empty gesture, and that’s what made him angry. I’d taken the mountains for granted, drawn them in simply because they were there… and it showed.
So now, when we include them, we try to draw the shit out of the mountains.
When I was in third grade, my brother and hero, invited me to become a member of a “very exclusive social club” he’d founded — The Wart Hogs. There was an initiation fee – forty dollars – which was five dollars more than I had in savings at the time. There was also an induction ceremony: new members of the club were to sit, Indian-style, while the club founder flicked them in forehead, repeatedly, until they could not withstand even one flick more. The number of painful blows one could tolerate would determine their rank and role within the club.
My hesitancy to participate was met full force by my brother’s considerable oratorical and rhetorical skills. He listed people ahead of me in school, kids I knew and respected, that had already paid up, both in dollar and swollen flesh. He called upon the ancient adage “pain is temporary, glory forever” which seemed to me like something only someone doing the flicking might say. He donned a “No Fear” t-shirt, and spoke of Tony Hawk and Don Majikowski, and the litany of heroes who had battled through pain and injury only to emerge dripping irresistibly with glory and respectability. Schematics were drawn up of an impressive clubhouse, it was to be built in our backyard, and it would host all the club meetings. “This is what your dues are paying for,” he explained. Finally, and most effectively, he called me a total pussy, and accused me of being scared.
67 flicks to the forehead later, a giant welt throbbing above my eyes, I was deemed treasurer, fourth in command, my brother said, contingent upon my full payment of club dues. The following week, I forked over the five dollars I’d earned picking apples at an orchard down the street, at the rate of one dollar an hour, and it became official — I was a member of the Wart Hogs.
And then, of course, nothing happened. For weeks, I waited in anticipation of our first meeting, or for the lumber order to arrive for the clubhouse we would be building. I finally inquired when we’d have our first club meeting and my brother flashed a confused look. ”The club,” I pointed to the fading bruise upon my forehead, “When do we meet?” He laughed heartily and with delight, and revealed to me the truth: there was no club, really. I was the only person who’d joined – the only person who he’d told, in fact. It was all a ruse – both to bilk from me my meager savings, and to punish me for my gullibility. “It’s a life lesson,” he said, as if, as a sixth grader, he was qualified to give them.
My forty dollars? Spent, I can only assume in the candy aisle, in two neat installments – one of thirty-five dollars, and one of five.
And so now, twenty-five years later, it is with much ado and great anticipation that I welcome, at long last, a third member to the Wart Hogs Social Club. Katie Enright Norman, after your marriage to my brother, your membership is nearly complete. Considering the substantial pain and suffering you have no doubt experienced leading up to this event, the club’s traditional “induction ceremony” will be bypassed, and you will immediately be named Vice-President. Please forward a check for your membership dues, forty dollars, payable to me, and your membership will be complete!
Excitedly and with congratulations.
Treasurer, The Wart Hogs
Our friend from Chicago, Dan, a really thoughtful and intelligent guy, has always contended that all of mankind can be split into two teams – “Team Undershirt” and “Team No-Undershirt”, the difference obviously stemming from a man’s preference for what to wear underneath when wearing a button down shirt on top. Dan’s on “Team Undershirt.” I’m not sure how the fact that I’ve flitted back-and-forth from team to team impacts his theory. My strongest natural impulse is towards “Team No-Undershirt” – but when the heat is excessive, and as a result, perspiration becomes a factor – I’ll wrap up in an undershirt, preferably a v-neck, which is your no-undershirt-preferring-man’s-preferred-undershirt, or at least that’s how it’s always seemed to me. This is an odd exception where more clothes are donned in response to warm weather. What can I say? I’m a freak.
Not to disagree with Dan, because I believe his observation is by-and-large valid, but in all my years donning oxfords and henleys and t’s, I can’t help but draw out two distinct categories I’ve come to know that are more clearly delineated than his teams: the “Take the Shirt Off” contingent, and “Keep the Shirt On” faction.
A member of the “Take the Shirt Off” contingent is immediately and easily recognizable: at the first break of sunlight they tear their shirts off and toss them aside. Our friend Jack, in college, was a huge “Take the Shirt Off” guy – he was an advocate – a bleeding heart believer. Not only did he lead by example. but he also acted as Agent Provocateur – harassing anyone in his group, or even remotely affiliated with his group, when they made the decision to remain shirted. “Come on, man, what’s wrong? Get that shirt off! It’s beautiful out! Get some Vitamin D!” Jack spoke using exclamation points when he had his shirt off.
The “Keep the Shirt On” club members take a little more time to identify. They, like most of society, are clothed, but they remain steadfastly shirted even in the most unlikely of places: at the pool, in a hot tub, while in the sauna (I’ve never actually witnessed this), pumping iron. They’re more likely to speak using semicolons and periods than they are to use exclamation points. And they don’t take their shirts off. Ever.
So – what’s the deal? Why are they keeping their shirts on, even in the most suspect of places? Maybe they have a third nipple? Maybe they’re insanely, embarrassingly well-muscled? Maybe they have unnaturally high Vitamin D levels? Who knows? Not you – and you never will, because they aren’t taking their shirt off in front of you, that’s for sure. Probably, like me, they just like pizza, ice cream and beer a little more than they like taking their shirts off.
This does, of course, leave a third group, probably the largest contingent of people, who generally keep their shirts on, but remove them on a case by case basis — while making love, when painted with a letter for a stadium cheer, while snorkeling or mud wrestling. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this approach, but it does beg the question: when it comes down to the inevitable battle between the shirted and the shirtless, whose side are you going to be on?
Late last year, I became sort of temporarily obsessed (or at least preoccupied with) terrariums. I think I can trace it back to building dioramas back in grade school… one of my favorite scholastic activities. On the one hand, bringing some green, living things into the house was part of the appeal… as was having that bit of verdant nature sealed up within a modular, transparent bubble. By sort of “drawing a frame” around the plants, the implication of a narrative seemed to surface. Before I’d put a finger on it, I’d felt the impulse to add artifacts and characters to the environments and found myself scouring the fairfax flea-market for nick-knacks to place within, objects small but suggestive of some larger mystery: A hummingbird’s nest and tiny, bleached-white skull insinuating that perhaps a wild animal had at one point taken up residence, then perished. A rusting skeleton key nestled into a moist bed of Scottish moss, secreted there by some treasure hoarding visitor while I was pouring whiskey in the other room. An assortment of watch parts, half buried amongst the ferns.
At one point, I had like 12 different terrariums, but after being out of town for a month, I found many had been taken over by a rash of voracious mold growth, so now I’m down to a more reasonable 4. But I kept one of the contaminated specimens, within which I’d placed a small white pumpkin. It’s still sealed tightly, and the pumpkin is mysteriously preserved after more than six months, even though the various mosses and succulents have all gone black with rot. Somehow, I’ve inadvertently created a living version of a Tim Burton illustration.
In 1994 I was a freshman in high school. My brother, 3 years older, would’ve been a senior had he not left early for college, along with his girlfriend, who was a year older. As a result of his early departure, we never roamed the hallways of Cedarburg High School together – something I’d looked forward to with equal parts dread and anticipation. The distance his decision put between us also fostered the development of our relationship from frantic sibling rivalry, to one of mutual respect and admiration. With more than our bedroom doors separating us, it turned out we really liked and enjoyed one another’s company. Actually, we missed one another, and when put together in the same room, made a great team.
1994 was also the year the Beastie Boys released “Ill Communication” – an album that launched some of the coolest music videos of the nineties, catapulting Spike Jonze (AKA Adam Speigl – heir to the Speigl catalog fortune) into the public consciousness, making it somehow doubly significant in my mind. It was undoubtedly the influence of the Beastie Boys that led my brother and his friends at school to adopt monikers such as K-Rock and NezCube. And it was the arc of their tour schedule that pulled me from my coddled suburban nest, to the dormitory hallways of Marquette University, to the mean aisles of the of the Mecca Arena in downtown Milwaukee in the company of my brother and some of his new friends. It was my first “real” concert experience, and it was life altering.
The Beastie Boys performed with a live band and a DJ, and as I remember it, occasionally played instruments themselves. The show consisted of mostly material off of Ill Communication and Paul’s Boutique… sometimes it was a rap show, sometimes it was a punk show, some times it was quasi-psychedelia, sometimes it almost sounded like jazz. It was always impressive. For close to three hours the trio blended genres, defied convention, and spewed positivity. Somehow, they balanced street tough and cocky with thoughtful sensitivity. And they were funny – completely unafraid to make fun of themselves. They were heroes, alive and in the flesh — a group of three friends who had forged their livings from a passion for creating.
Three months later I was in my first band.
One of the most unique pleasures of directing is getting the opportunity to take on new challenges and tell stories in different ways. Often – if you don’t have it on your reel – you aren’t in competition. Getting a chance to build and flex new muscles is a rare delight.
This recent piece for Hovercraft is a great example of something that was outside of the “Norm” – but still in our sweet spot. It’s something that we had a lot of fun making.
The story unfolds in an unorthodox, design-centric way, and the characters are pushed to the very edge of frame. The way the message is conveyed – in animated slides presented to the viewer on a series of computer screens, phones or tablets – screen-within-screen – supports the message of the spot in a cool way.
The real fun was found working with an awesome creative team, highlighted by the talented and prolific Drifting Creatives. Their designs struck the perfect between “fun to look at” and “easy to read.”
In some cases – lines of the script inspired very specific ideas that we all thought were important to pursue; we tailored slides, sets and characters specifically around those ideas. But, as always, the flow of ideas moved in all directions, and we often found ourselves inspired by a location, or an idea for a character, or as we discussed the piece, someone would say something funny and it would give us an idea on how to introduce a wink into the piece.
Luckily, the people we teamed up with to execute design and animation are full of great ideas, they’re very patient people, and they’re very fast, hard workers.
In terms of process this project was really quite unique. Because we wanted to shoot all of the animated slides practically – on real devices in real environments – we executed all the design work and animation in the time leading up to our shoot. Then we loaded our assortment of phones, tablets and computers with exports of our animations prior to our two day production. It was like executing a good portion of the post-production process before even unpacking the camera. Editing and finishing went lightning fast, and we’re really proud of how the piece turned out.
Hats off to Mike Gerberding for his restrained yet expressive sound design!
Design – The Drifting Creatives
Animation – Kasana
Director of Photography – Kyle Bainter
Assistant Camera – Cory Popp
Gaffers: Jon Arturi & Mike Pisani
Sound Design: Michael Gerberding @ Noise Floor
Casting: Atmosphere Casting
Production Coordinator – Yajaira Quinto
Directed & Edited: Norman Brothers
Executive Producer: Pete Williams
A few weeks back, a friend invited me out the the Surly Goat in West Hollywood. I should have known that it was karaoke night, but I walked in and found myself waylaid, once again. At one point, this really talented woman got on the mic and sang “I Wanna Dance with Somebody.” She had a great voice and sang really confidently. Everyone in the place hit the pause button and tuned in, she was that good. A few songs later, the same woman jumped in front of us again, this time belting out a grinding version of Ginuwine’s “My Pony.” If you don’t know the song, read the lyrics or check out the video and you’ll understand how my head spun. Hearing these two songs nearly back to back, and performed by the same person, made them feel almost like a call and response, and had me laughing out loud as she sang. And I mean laughing with delight, like a baby watching a kitten batting at a butterfly. It was like seeing one person sing both sides of a juiced up, R&B version of the Olivia Newton John/Travolta duet from Grease.
Both songs are about loneliness, or really, being horny… but obviously, from two very different points of view (romantic love versus rodeo equestrianism). This woman blew the roof off the place with her singing alone, but what really elevated it was: a) hearing these two related POVs juxtaposed, b) encountering a performer who could understand and communicate both attitudes with such ease and authority c) seeing someone programming their stellar karaoke performances with such ironic wit. She even danced well.
With a bizarre night spent in a private song chamber at Zero Karaoke Bar in Chicago’s Chinatown notwithstanding, this was easily my best karaoke experience ever.
So, more formally this time, welcome… to the culmination of a lot of effort, inspiration, collaboration, dedication, and perhaps a mildly perverted attitude toward working for a living (and/or being brothers). Like anything worth making – this website, and the launching of this brand, were no small undertakings.
For The Norman Brothers website we wanted to create something narrative and inhabited with rich characters, something visually striking, and we wanted to explore the brother team dynamic, or more broadly, the dynamics of collaboration. And we also wanted something that carried within it the spirit of what we strive for in our commercial work. The scenarios and characters we ultimately brought to life all embody different personalities we (and perhaps everyone) play(s) throughout the process of making something they’re proud of.
Accomplices. Rivals. Enemies. Adventurers. Champions.
We shared ideas on pintrest.
We developed ideas on google docs.
We checked out a lot of cool websites.
We drew inspiration from things we love.
We engaged with experts.
We shared information with our website team on BasecampHQ.
Ultimately, we choose to work as a brother team because we enjoy collaboration, and believe it leads to our best, most creative and expressive ideas as directors — it allows us to push one another in very productive and fruitful ways. But the collaboration always extends beyond the sibling realm. The most rewarding projects we’ve worked on have been team efforts in which all parties involved share a unified vision of the project’s goals and objectives, and nurture an atmosphere of mutual trust and belief in each others’ competencies.
History will bear witness. A simple list, in this case, is the best and most compelling argument. Read it and weep, only children.
Romulus and Remus, founders of Rome.
Orville and Wilbur Wright
Orville and Archy Reddenbacher
George and Ira Gerschwin
The Hardy Boys
The Coen Brothers
The Warchowski Brothers
A Band of Brothers
Edwin and John Wilkes Boothe
Frank Zappa and the Brothers of Invention
Tom and Dean Koontz
Alf, Albert, Augustus, Charles, Henry, John and Otto Ringling
Estevez, Emilio, and Sheen, Charlie
The Everly Brothers
The Brothers Grimm
The Chemical Brothers
(Super) Mario and Luigi
So there you have it. Case closed. It’s a pretty simple, straightforward, and undeniable fact: The best solution to any given problem is, more or less, universally the same… always, every time.
A brother team.