- Swiss Army Knives: The Art Of Emotional Storytelling with Bernard Semerdjian
Swiss Army Knives: The Art Of Emotional Storytelling with Bernard Semerdjian
Written by Cara Pico
Bernard Semerdjian’s official title at BRC is Art Director and Experience Designer. A better title would be “Master of the Art of Emotional Storytelling.”
Bernard is yet another “Swiss Army Knife” on the BRC team: an inspired artisan with a mastery of expressive graphics, visual communication and production design. He’s able to conceptualize and choreograph the entire journey of a guest through a narrative space, using graphics, typography, color and textures to put the guest at the center of the story.
What I love the most about Bernard is that he’s a team player. I’ve had the pleasure of working with Bernard since 2012 and no matter what the task or project is—be it a proposal deck, creating a vignette, or designing environmental graphics—he’s someone that’s always willing to jump in where needed, which is a huge asset on a team. He’s the epitome of what some might call a ‘servant-leader’—someone who leads from within and is most focused on empowering those who work with them.
A dear friend and a valued member of our creative team, I recently checked in with Bernard to ask him some questions about his experience at BRC and career as an artist.
The Revelation of BRC: This Is a Business!
“I’ve always loved comics, cartoons, and creating art, so I originally wanted to study animation. The media arts program I enrolled to included graphic design, print layout, and UI design as well. I had a lot of fun sketching, rendering, and integrating design with story, but I wasn’t that excited about the technical side of animation: the rigging and the math that supports it. As I was pondering what to do with what I’d learned so far, I visited a car show and I found myself fascinated with—not the cars, but the settings that showcased them. For the first time, it occurred to me that someone designed all this to create a sense of emotional excitement around the car. Then I interviewed for a job at BRC and the lightbulb went on! This is a company that combines the best of filmmaking, architecture, and creative design to create immersive environmental narratives that move people! This was a whole new world for me. Imagine creating a film that people could walk through, and you get to design the space, the sounds, the light, the music, and most importantly what they see and feel, both tactically and emotionally. This was for me.”
From Presentations to Project Team
“Initially, I was brought on to create client presentations. These tend to be pretty elaborate, with custom layouts, themed branding and environmental graphic intent: the whole point is to put across the visceral excitement of the project. Through this, I learned the skills I needed to become an experience designer. It’s all storytelling.
In presentations, my goal was to get the client excited about moving forward with the project. As an experience designer, my goal is to use the core principles of design to transport the guest to a wholly immersive story world that’s both delightful and transformative. I feel lucky: at BRC, we have tools that even the people at Pixar don’t have. We’re able to take guests inside the story. We can move them both physically and emotionally.”
Expect the Unexpected
“What I like best about BRC is that I’m always encountering the unexpected. It’s great coming to work wondering what I’m going to work on today. Each project is so different, and that means a different approach that pushes me to learn new skills and develop new ways of telling stories visually. A big part of this, of course, is the collaborative nature of our BRC teams. We all support each other. We all work together on the same goal: creating a visceral, enchanting narrative that delights the guest and pleases the client.”
The Art of Table Tennis
“I have a side business designing luxury table tennis tables. I love ping pong. It’s the one sport that I’m really good at. My partner and I wondered what would happen if we applied our passion for the sport with our love of design: tables that were really striking and luxurious but also practical. I was new to industrial design, and so this helped me grow. In one way, I’m pursuing the same task I have at BRC: how do I produce a ‘Wow!’” How do I make people see a familiar thing in a brand new way? We became successful and expanded our designs to pool tables, shuffleboard, poker tables and more.”
My Experience at BRC has Made Me a Better Designer
“I’ve become a better designer by being able to collaborate with team members—writers, project managers, architects, filmmakers—to use all the tools I have to integrate what I do into big, emotional narratives. We always begin with story. And everyone on the team has to make sure that everything we do enhances the story and delivers the narrative with the greatest possible emotional force. Whenever I find myself struggling with a design, I always go back to our theme statement. What do we want the guest to feel in this moment? Is this on theme? We’re all here to serve the story.
The most surprising part of this job is how satisfying—pleasurable, even—it is to integrate myself into a great team and produce inspired work that delights our guests. I can always see my piece, of course, but to see it all come together—how what everyone does makes everyone else’s contribution so much better—that’s what it’s about for me.”
I would like to conclude with Bernard’s thoughts on pepperoni pizza: “The color contrast of the red circles on the white cheese make pepperoni pizza very visually appealing. When you think about a pizza, even in cartoons, it’s always going to be cheese and pepperoni. You have just the right amount of salt and spice with the cured meat, and the flavors blend so well together—it’s simply a work of art.”
It’s such a pleasure to work with someone like Bernard. Someone who’s consistently pushing the boundaries of design, brings the team together, and who’s forever changed the way I look at pepperoni pizza.