Gary Hustwit and Joshua Davis on Hillman Curtis
I’ve had a difficult time processing the news of Hillman Curtis’s death. His on Creating Short Films was instrumental in my thinking as I set out to film my first documentary. My good friend Espen Tuft had the pleasure of working with him at an important point in his design career, and I had the pleasure of interviewing him a few years ago.
I’ve been looking since for tributes to his influence and legacy, and so far have found these from Gary Hustwit and Joshua Davis.
In 2005, when I began the process of making Helvetica, I was searching for other design-related documentaries. I discovered there was only one filmmaker out there who was documenting designers and their work in an innovative way. Hillman Curtis’s Artist Series shorts were beautifully conceived, shot, and edited, and they really inspired me. You could tell he was passionate about documenting creativity and sharing it with other designers through these short profiles, which were always available free on his website. I was in awe of his creative output and how he balanced paid gigs with passion projects. His filmmaking style was unique, and he often put the guts of the film production process (boom microphones, lighting stands, backdrops, dolly tracks, etc.) on-screen as visual elements. In a way, his films simultaneously exposed his subject’s creative process, and his own.
I lost a great friend to a 3 year long fiercely fought battle with colon cancer. I am humbled and honored to have worked on 3 films with Hillman Curtis and enjoyed being inspired by his creativity at speaking engagements and dinner over the better part of 12+ years.
I miss you something terrible… but will always cherish the time I had being your friend.
Sweet Prince Hill, true gentleman, good dad and passionate artist, Rest in Peace.
I’ll keep my eye out for further reminiscences.
Update: From The New York Times obituary:
Long after designing his last Web site, Mr. Curtis remained an important presence in the imagination of Web designers. And professional online journals, which referred to him as “the Michael Jordan of Web design” and “the Grandmaster of Flash,” remained fascinated by his decision to give it all up.
“It seems like you had it made,” an interviewer said recently on the Web magazine the 99%. “Why did you move on?”
Mr. Curtis answered that he had always wanted to make films and had accomplished his goals as a designer. He detailed those goals in a 2002 interview: “The reason for designing new media is simple — to subtly and quietly change the world.”