Motion designer Sekani Solomon certainly personifies his own words. He just wrapped up his biggest project to date, working on the closing title sequence for the film Black Panther, and at the young age of 28 has become an incredibly accomplished designer—and he’s only just getting started. At the top of his list of accomplishments is the role he played as one of the animators on the title sequence for the television show Manhattan, which went on to win an Emmy award for Outstanding Main Title Design in 2015. He says, “I was responsible for developing the animation style, and animated close to half the shots in the title sequence.”
The path to working on the blockbuster hit Black Panther began in Tobago. Solomon was born and raised on the small Caribbean island, and he credits the exposure his parents, Gladstone and Sharon Solomon, gave him to technology from a young age, for his curiosity and desire to create. Seeing the work of artists online, he pledged to get to their level. However, his academic work took precedence over his artistic endeavours in secondary school, and it was only at the age of 18, when he collaborated with his Information Technology teacher to create his school’s website, that he rediscovered his love for design, igniting his enthusiasm for learning digital arts.
Not satisfied with just making graphics, he sought to make his designs move, leading him to the field of motion design, where he discovered two of the leading animation programs, After Effects and Cinema 4D. His main challenge was deciding whether to become a designer in the first place. He considers himself fortunate to have been helped by his parents, who both believed in him and chose to invest in his education, as well as the Tobago House of Assembly, which supported Solomon with a scholarship. Thanks to this help early in his life as a student designer, he considers it important to give back to young designers.
Solomon came to be involved with the Black Panther production when technology company, Perception, reached out to him last November about an upcoming project they had. Knowing that Perception was famous for working on Marvel Movies and that Black Panther was soon to be released, he put two and two together and figured out that they must be calling for that particular project.
Solomon is grateful to have the opportunity to work on a production of this scale, as he feels it can inspire the youth back home in Trinidad and Tobago. “Sometimes something can feel a lot more attainable if you know someone from similar beginnings achieved something you aim to achieve yourself. I’m also just grateful to be part of something this big, and the fact that my name is sometimes even being mentioned with Winston Duke’s, who had a significantly larger role in the movie, is still mind-boggling to me.”
As for his exact role on the design team, he says, “When I joined the team at Perception, they already had rough versions of several scenes laid out. My first task was figuring out how to achieve the look and feel of the piece. The idea was to create all the characters from sand, which was mostly back-lit, before coloured backgrounds. Recreating sand surfaces is a tricky feat, much less creating it in an efficient way, which wouldn’t require an exhaustive amount of computer power to render. A few days in, I figured out the right combination and came up with a formula that the other artists used. From there on out, I began working on different shots with the rest of the talents on the team.”Now that Solomon has crossed working on such a huge film off his to-do list, I was curious to know what he had up his sleeve for the foreseeable future, and was excited by the answer. “Honestly, just doing more work. I have a new short that I’m super excited for, which I’ve worked on for the past year, and many freelance opportunities coming in. Hopefully, I can get something on the big screen later this year, but as I usually work in the commercial world, you tend see my stuff more on TV.”
While Solomon is making a name for himself internationally, he still plans to eventually return home: “I see myself working quite a lot in the Caribbean in the future. There’s tonnes of room for growth. Before returning, though, I think it’s vital to get experience working in the top tier of my field.” He claims that working in the US has provided him with opportunities not available to him at home, but he seeks to change this, as he hopes to bring opportunity home with him when he has become more of a senior name in design. “I think it’s less difficult to effect change when you are a bit more accomplished and experienced. I have some really cool ideas I want to pitch to our government in the future, but everything is about timing.”
Solomon puts his success down to always doing more than what is expected. He also claims that continued learning has helped him continually improve his work, which has given him more and more opportunities. “It may sound simple, but acquiring the design and technical skills to work at this level takes a lot of time and dedication, especially when most of the time you are learning on your own. I’m fortunate to work in an industry where talent is recognized, so if your work is above the status quo, it begins to open up doors.”
When asked what advice he has for young designers in Trinidad and Tobago who might aspire to his levels of success, he says that to achieve it, you have to believe it. “The older I get, the more I realise achieving things comes from setting goals, then breaking those big goals down into smaller, more achievable ones. You can’t achieve something if you don’t make the decision to achieve it. As the international community is growing, companies are looking for talent all over the world that can work remotely. This gives youths the opportunity to work internationally without having to leave home. In this field, your work is your passport. Be active on the Internet and make your work known.”
Solomon is truly a unique person, both in terms of his drive to become the best in his field, and his desire to leave a lasting impression on the design community, specifically the youth of his home country. Only time will tell where his career leads him, but he is certain to be a huge success.