When The Wire first hit television screens in 2002, the show immediately ensnared its viewers. By the end of Season 1, HBO knew it had a hit; by the middle of Season 3, audiences knew they were watching a landmark unfold. Colleges and universities started offering The Wire classes, breaking down each episode and studying relevant socioeconomic factors, police brutality, corruption trends, and more.
Among those captivated during the show’s five-season run was Elliot Lim, a Bay Area graphics artist and designer. The Wire is Lim’s “all-time favorite show,” so he toiled away crafting a beautiful homage. The animation is now a Vimeo staff pick, and it’s completely worth your time — even if, for some strange reason, you’ve never seen the show.
Inverse emailed with Lim about his background, his craft, and his motivations with this project.
Can you brief me on who you are? Your background, your influences, what you do?
I grew up in the Bay Area, then studied fine art at UCLA. I’ve worked in the motion graphics industry for the last 10 years, primarily in Chicago and NYC. But about a year ago I moved back to the Bay, where I currently work as a director and motion designer.
You just released an animated tribute to The Wire. What motivated you to do that? How long did it take?
To put it concisely, it’s my all-time favorite show, so I’ve thought about making an animation on the subject for some time. This year I finally decided to make it happen, and my work schedule was kind enough to accommodate (barely).
Are you surprised by the internet storm you stirred up?
Yes! I had absolutely no clue it would make any noise. I was just hoping to make the rounds amongst my peers in the motion graphics industry, but I guess it kind of got into some mainstream channels. I attribute that to the strength and continued relevance of the show itself. Clearly I’m not the only one it impacted!
Did you expect that this project would turn into commercial potentiality? Is it turning into commercial potentiality?
Well, I’m not profiting off of this, if that’s what you mean. It’s purely a love letter to the show. But it does seem to have attracted some attention to my work, so in that sense I suppose you could say that it’s indirectly turning into commercial potential.
On your website, I noticed some other amazing projects. What does your process look like? Does most of the animating take place on paper or on a screen?
The process mostly takes place on a screen, from concept to design to animation. Sometimes I’ll sketch something on paper, but not very often.
Where do you start? What are the main stages of the process? And what computer program(s) do you use to make these masterpieces?
With a client project, there is always some sort of prompt. Sometimes it’s a well-developed idea that just needs a visual point of view, and other times it’s something that needs a concept from the ground up. In general, the steps go: 1) nail down the idea/script, and do rough storyboards, 2) get a visual style approved, 3) do final designs, 4) put together a rough “boardomatic” for timings and pace, 5) begin actual production of the animation. As far as programs, I personally use After Effects, Photoshop, and Illustrator. Many of the motion designers I work with on these projects use the same. But some jobs require other programs be used: Maya/C4D for 3D, Flash for cel animation.
Have you heard from anyone who worked on the show?
I haven’t. That would be pretty cool, though!
How did you hope to represent the show in the tribute? Though there are a few noticeable references and allusions, it seems more of an impressionistic representation than it does a literal representation.
Good question. Well, in a short animation like this, you can really only hint at the depth of the source material. The best you can do is convey the feel of the show by boiling down some of its signature visual elements. With that said, I did try to throw in some specific moments and characters.
Did you recently (re)watch the show, or did you base your animations on your memory of the show?
I think I was on the tail-end of my third or fourth viewing when I started the project.
Are there any easter eggs hidden in there that you can tell me about? Or, if not, anything you’re particularly proud of? Any scene or transition that proved the most difficult?
The only thing that’s kind of Easter-eggy is the street names on a couple of the signs in there, which might be a bit hard to read in motion. I remember hearing “North and Pulaski” mentioned several times in the show, so I stuck them in there. The most difficult thing about the project was the overall workload, more so than any individual scene. I burned out a couple times, and had to put it down for a month or so. But my goal when I started was to finish by the new year, and, happily, I just made it.