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ZOOLOOK | Flash Gurus (Pt II): Curtis & Da Silva

ZOOLOOK | Flash Gurus (Pt II): Curtis & Da Silva

The Motion men

Hillman Curtis 
vs Nicholas Da Silva

Flash isn’t all about web design. There’s a huge community built around making short films and animations – just ask our gurus…

Places of worship // // // // //

When it came to doing something as grandiose as picking the five most important men in Flash, the important criteria had to be variety. Part of that was always to include someone who was using Flash for its original purpose – animation and making short movies. This left us with a contentious decision between two men ultimately, one of which was all-round design superstar, D. Hillman Curtis. His recent penchant for focusing on filmmaking, both online and off, coupled with a reputation synonymous with Flash made him an important candidate. However, we can also call on a dear friend of the magazine, another man who has created a burgeoning subculture for Flash animation shorts and promoted exposure of other artists: ZOOLOOK’s Nicholas Da Silva. In a moment of indecision, rather than split the two it seemed more appropriate to combine and contrast their efforts for the greater good.

At the age of 45, there isn’t much Curtis hasn’t achieved or at least attempted in his creative career thus far. Born in San Francisco and currently residing in New York, Curtis initially came to prominence as a guitarist and songwriter in a band called The Green Things. Despite scoring a US radio hit with the track Beverley Hills 90210, the musical pursuits didn’t take off as hoped and the 30-year-old Curtis decided to venture into pastures new. Armed with a Mac and a copy of Photoshop, he embarked on a number of tough internships and CD-ROM production gigs before landing a freelance opportunity at Macromedia. Once hired full-time, it took him just eight months to be promoted to art director, working at that point with software such as Director and After Effects before the firm acquired Flash and the possibilities that went with it. “I love film and Flash gave me the ability to quickly experiment with cinematic motion, rhythm and pacing”, he explained to “At the same time, I started to become aware of motion designers like Saul Bass, Pablo Ferro and Kyle Cooper.”
In 1999, he became principle and chief creative officer of his own agency, hillmancurtis. Inc, which has since gone on to scoop an illustrious array of awards for very big commercial clients. Peruse the portfolio at and you’ll find examples for, Yahoo!, Paramount Vantage Films, AOL, Rolling Stone magazine and the Metropolitan Opera, as well as some sublime Flash motion commissions for successful campaigns. A growing collection of live-action short films includes work for NYC’s School of Visual Arts plus several conceptual pieces, as well as a recent CD-packaged documentary for the David Byrne and Brian Eno album, Everything That Happens Will Happen Today. However, no matter which direction Curtis treads, he can’t get too far away from his digital design roots – especially as the man dubbed affectionately by the creative press as “the Pope of Flash” or “the Michael Jordan of web design”.

“I don’t really do a lot with Flash these days, mainly prototyping interactive tests for larger CSS or JavaScript sites”, he told “That said, I’ll always be a proponent of Flash and a fan. My thoughts on the internet are still excited ones; I still am grateful to be involved in the most relevant medium of our time.”

Alternate Animation

Da Silva: Hitless meets Web Designer

Nicholas Da Silva shares in many ways this progression from web to dedicated motion work, while keeping Flash central to taking his chosen art form forward.

Obsessed with drawing and showing creative promise from an early age, the young Da Silva famously earned recognition from the Ford motor company after his dad encouraged him to send car sketches to the firm. “Ford thanked me for submitting my work but stated that it was against their policy to accept outside materials”, Da Silva recalls. “They encouraged me to continue my drawings and included a cheque for $1,500 to pursue a degree in car design.” It was advice he chose to ignore, although he did major in pre-engineering and architecture after a two-year stint at college. Still determined to go his own way and loaded with influences garnered from travelling the world with his parents, he joined the advertising agency Lewis and Partners as a graphic designer. Five years later, in 1999 Da Silva founded his own agency PaperMotion with business partner Ronny Fuad, a venture that lasted until 2001 and yielded work for clients like Grand Royal Records, Charles Schwab and ex-Fugee Wyclef Jean. It was during this time that he formed the site and brand, primarily as an outlet for animated projects such as Dread & Alive, TGSNT (The Greatest Story Never Told), Hitless and the Cavedudez. An FWA site award helped to stimulate millions of hits for the site in only the first few weeks of going live, showing enough promise to spawn accompanying graphic novels and comics. “First, I strive to be original in my design process – to be an innovator and not an imitator. I don’t find pleasure in creating something that has already been done. Instead, I push the boundaries of my imagination to create something that has never been seen before.” Part of this innovative spirit is also channelled into giving other Flash filmmakers the chance to showcase their efforts, culminating in Da Silva’s launch of FlashTV in 2000. These days, the project hosts animation shorts, comics, games and music from contributors all over the globe.

“I see myself producing feature-length movies created entirely in Flash, and distributing them via the web through a pay-per-view model”, Da Silva told “I believe that day is coming. I also see myself producing the next generation of digital comic books that can be viewed on digital devices like the Sony PSP and the iPod, but also offering a more engaging experience to the user.”

Magnus Askenback talks gurus

“Wikipedia: ‘A guru is a person who is regarded as having great knowledge, wisdom and authority in a certain area, and uses it to guide others.’ When it comes to Flash, there’s one person that stands above the rest: Colin Moock. Without his books as a companion through the years, I’d still be back on square one. Also, Grant Skinner, Aral Balkan and Alessandro Crugnola, to name but a few, has been a great source of inspiration and help in the past.”

Magnus Askenback on Gurus

(This article originally appeared in Web Designer 150, written by Mark Billen)