As an artist, designer and director, Tosh Kodama’s work has an undeniable elegance, and the visually-engaging worlds he creates are crisp, vibrant and inviting. Having long possessed a passion for illustration, Kodama attended Pasadena’s Art Center College of Design, where he studied advertising before beginning his career as an Art Director at Fox Television. He later moved on to yU+co, where he honed his design voice while working on numerous title sequences and commercials for brands such as Honda, Mazda, Sprint and Xbox. Kodama’s diverse portfolio also includes dynamic branding campaigns for BET, the MTV VMAs and the Oscars.
In September of 2014, Kodama joined Emmy-winning creative studio Imaginary Forces as a Director, and his recent work includes a campaign for FXM that stops time to elevate palpable moments in a selection of films from the FXM lineup.
To Kodama, design is more than just a job… it’s the way he sees the world, and through the use of sleek, breathtaking imagery, he seeks to strip away the extraneous details and distill his visual storytelling down to its emotional core. To learn more about him and his work, visit www.toshkodama.com.
What was your upbringing like, and how did it shape who you are as a person?
I didn’t fully realize how much my parents influenced my view of the world ’til I was much older. As a kid, I grew up in Orange County in the surf/skate culture of the eighties but at home, everything was Japanese. There was an elegance to the way my mom even prepared sashimi. Everything had to be perfect, every slice had to be the same, everything had its place. My dad taught me the fundamentals of Japanese gardens, that’s where I picked up composition, scale, form and dimension. So my childhood influences were pretty polar but that shaped who I am. And still to this day I always start with form and find ways to disrupt it.
When and how did you initially become interested in art and design?
It literally happened by accident. In eighth grade I got hit by a car and couldn’t participate in sports the following year. So I had some extra electives and ended up in an art class which I probably would have never taken. Well, my teacher, Mrs. Wolfe, encouraged me to submit my work at a local fair and that was the beginning. My broken foot eventually healed and my love of design never stopped growing.
Who are your biggest creative influences?
Tadanori Yokoo. When I first saw his work I was sure we had the same upbringing. A punk attitude that constantly confronts the traditional form. I found we didn’t have much in common but I still like to think we are kindred spirits.
Eva Zeisel. What an extraordinary life. To grow up and imprisoned in war-torn Europe is one thing. To come out of it creating the most beautiful pieces of pottery only shows how much humanity she has in her being.
Stacy Peralta, or more so Powell-Peralta. My first board was a Sword and Skull. That’s kinda all I have to say.
And a quick shout out to my wife. We met in design school and she’s constantly making me a better designer, not to mention a better person.
How has skateboarding culture influenced your approach to art and/or life?
One half of that culture is the actual skating. The other half is expressing yourself through design, music, photography, illustration and fashion. It essentially goes hand-in-hand. I remember my brother and I would film my friends skate when I was 12 years old. We would shoot it on an old Super 8 camera. We didn’t know what we were doing back then but that was probably where my fascination with motion started. The culture definitely influenced where I am today. I suppose it opened doors for me but I’d like to think I have evolved from where I started.
What did you learn from your time at Fox Television?
I worked there back in the nineties. At that time, FOX was still considered the new kids, not part of the big three networks. The television landscape was completely different. They had to do things louder and bolder to get noticed. I learned that anything goes, break the rules. It was raw, nothing refined but that’s who they were back then. They did it their way and they got noticed.
How has your artistic style evolved over the years?
I don’t necessarily prescribe to any particular style. At least I don’t think I do. If anything it’s my approach/process to projects that has evolved. I could go into this in detail but there’s nothing sexy when talking about process.
What are your day-to-day responsibilities at Imaginary Forces?
I work with designers, animators, editors, writers and editors to solve problems. Each day, we work out a small piece of the puzzle in an effort to get at the big picture. It’s like sculpting, we chip away slowly ’til something recognizable starts to emerge.
What tools and software could you simply not live without?
In looking back over the projects you’ve worked on, are there any that you’re particularly proud of? Any that truly encapsulate your personal style or the full extent of your creative abilities?
We recently finished a project here at Imaginary Forces for the Motion Picture Association of America. There were many parts to this campaign but my favorite is a series we directed that shows the hard working people behind the scenes of movies. We captured honest and relatable people that tell their experience working in the movie business.
Another project I recently finished was for FXM. We created a launch campaign that consists of two parts. First, an engaging and beautiful edit created mostly from movie scenes with one point perspective. Second, we slowed a pivotal and fearless scene of a movie to 720 fps, so we literally created a 20 second spot from a single frame of a movie. Both spots capture the fearlessness of FXM. It’s always nice to have great clients and they are truly fearless.
How do you unwind after a long day?
I haven’t figured that one out yet but a pint of Boddingtons is a great way to start.
What’s the best song you’ve heard recently?
Ariel Pink’s “Jell-o.” It’s a super fun and silly song. It’s the perfect song to play while burning the midnight oil. The whole album is great.
If you could offer one piece of advice to your 18-year-old self, what would it be?
Don’t be so serious. Have fun with it. If you trust your own judgment, you’ll be right more times than not. And my 18-year-old self would say, “What a douche.”