From the Photo + Film Department to the Super Bowl, an Interview with VCUarts Alum Adam DuBrueler

Recently featured by VCU News for his work in art direction on this year’s Bud Light Super Bowl Commercial, Easy Night Out, VCUarts alum Adam DuBrueler is a multi-disciplinary creative currently working at Anomaly in NY. As an undergraduate DuBrueler studied within VCUarts’ Photography + Film program before going on to earn a Masters of Science (Business) with a concentration in Art Direction from the VCU Brandcenter.

In this interview with current Photography + Film undergraduate, Maddie Han, DuBrueler spoke about his career and experience in advertising.

How do you think getting a BFA in Photography and Film influenced your advertising work?

There are two things I believe tie the art school mindset and advertising together–influences and concept. From day one in AFO (Art Foundation), we champion the self-constructed concept. A box that we fit all of these layers, metaphors, and meanings into that we tie together with a bow with a title. Along the way, we pull these references and influences that we love from other artists that speak to the soul of our project, but also help reinforce it with context and external meanings.

Advertising is the exact same, in my opinion, at least how I approach it. Sure, while you aren’t putting your soul, your meanings, or your truth into what you are making anymore–but you are figuring out that puzzle for someone else. Taking these layers, product truths, and metaphors–I turn it into something executional that we add a tagline to.

Going from photography to the position of an art director, how has your creative process changed or evolved over time?

Being a photographer and being an art director use different sides of the creative muscle for their respective creative process. I can definitely compare them to one another, but ultimately they use creativity in different ways. 

Art direction uses the side of the creative brain more meant for critical reading and analytical thinking. It usually starts off as a brief written by a strategist–this outlines all the details, goals, and messaging that we need to hit with our creative solution and campaign. When creating your concept, you take all these findings and create a campaign that can tie it all together neatly. It is also really interesting to have a copywriting partner to bounce ideas off of, then craft the project together. 

The creative process for being an artist and personal work still happens the same way. It usually starts from a feeling that then develops into an idea, snowballing from there. You never lose the knack for concepting art once going through school.

How do you balance both your personal and professional art practice, or do you find you need a balance at all? 

Finding a balance is very hard. Having a creative job can drain creativity for sure, so it’s always nice to have your personal art practice to come back to. I have always found personal work to be more meditative, something that is relaxing–a time where you can get back to your interests and self-discovery. It’s really important to keep that up, especially when working in art professionally.

I also find that my mind tends to wander into the realm of personal work fairly often. When not doing actual work, I am always crafting something new that I would like to make. Like the last question–creativity is made of two different sides, the art direction side can get burnt out from being more analytical, whereas the artist side of you doesn’t tend to do that because it feels almost comforting (at least for me). From lunch breaks to train rides and everywhere in between, there is never a time when I am not just letting my mind go to personal work. Just finding the time to make it is the hard part. 

Coming out of art school, did you have a plan or opportunities lined up for you?

I had a plan (barely) and that’s all you need! By the time that I had graduated, I had already applied and had been accepted at the VCU Brandcenter. I had thankfully stumbled upon this career path when I was interning my junior year. Look up the program if you want to get into advertising, it’s a great school and already at VCU!

At the time, I thought I had wanted to be a food stylist for editorial and commercial shoots. I had just ended an internship at Richmond Magazine, where I had met a connection who pointed me in the direction of a food stylist and photographer duo. I then started interning with them as just an assistant–learning all the food styling basics and continuing to learn more photography. Sadly, I cannot cook–so I couldn’t be a food stylist. 

It wasn’t until we were on a shoot with the Martin Agency for Ritz Crackers when I saw a copy of a Pre-Production Deck. It was full of composites and created by art directors for what they wanted the shoot and cracker arrangement to be. It was then that I became interested in advertising and becoming an art director.

That production deck set a new course for me–applying to Brandcenter and going to grad school a little earlier than expected. 

If there was one thing in art school that you wish you could go back and focus on more, what would it be?

I think the biggest regret was not focusing on filmmaking as much as I wanted to. I put this box around myself because photographic practice can be very isolating and individual. While that aspect gives a great work ethic because you are producing everything alone, it also hindered my actual interests in film, screenwriting, and storytelling. I still feel like I am a student in that aspect of creation and it’s something that I am still trying to catch up to today. 

You should embrace everything that interests you, no matter the field. Being an artist means that you can expand your horizons rather than place yourself in a singular box. Retain everything that you learned in AFO and draw from other departments–or even from within the same department. I regret not getting into filmmaking as much because I feel like that is my next frontier–yet I could have been chipping away at it from the beginning and embracing moving images. 

There is no better time to start doing and making what you want to. It’s all about manifesting it and putting your interests into practice. 

What would you say to your freshman year self?

Biggest piece of advice: Be a sponge. Soak up all of the influences that you can. College is such a pivotal time in your life. Learn the names, watch the films, listen to the music, read the writings.

Media literacy is such a huge part of the art and advertising industry. I would tell myself to just embrace everything your professors are telling you to watch, listen, read, and discover because influences and knowing what you gravitate to means a lot. In every interview I have, whether I am being interviewed or doing the interviewing, I always end with the same question: What has been inspiring you creatively recently? 

This usually takes them a second, but I always love hearing the responses and seeking them out. It is a great way to diversify your creative intake and also learn so much about whoever you are talking to.

(Photo credit: Adam DuBrueler, Anomaly NY)