As a teenager, Sean Ohlenkamp had already set his sights on a career in advertising. “I was watching the Super Bowl with some friends and laughing my butt off that people actually get to make these commercials for a living,” recalls Ohlenkamp (BFA 03), Digital Creative Director at Leo Burnett Toronto. “I thought it sounded amazing, a kind of mix of comedy, art and creativity. So I pretty much knew from the age of 16 or so that it was something I wanted to pursue.”
Today, Ohlenkamp works across digital, film, photography, print, illustration, design and product design platforms. His independent viral stop motion video “The Joy of Books” for Type Books has drawn upwards of 4 million views on YouTube, and his interactive online ads for the ALS Society of Canada and print ads for Nissan have earned high praise for their arresting originality.
Working in numerous mediums—photography, clay, paper and pen, Dreamweaver, InDesign and Illustrator, to name a few—Ohlenkamp prefers not to define his multifaceted work. “I flat out don’t,” he says. “I don’t think we should solve a problem as determined by a media buy or as determined by a medium. We should look at the problem holistically and see what’s going to have the greatest effect—whether that be filming something, building a piece of utility or just screaming a message from the side of a building in a really interesting way.”
Born and raised in Los Angeles, Ohlenkamp was introduced to ArtCenter by his grandfather, who had attended the College on the G.I. Bill in the 1940s. After high school and a few community college classes, Ohlenkamp was accepted to ArtCenter. “From day one, that kind of critical thinking and one-plus-one-equals-three mentality was not something that ever occurred to me before,” Ohlenkamp says. “What ArtCenter taught me was how to think differently.”
While humor is part of Ohlenkamp’s creative signature, his striking campaigns for the Heart and Stroke Foundation and the ALS Society of Canada reflect a serious commitment to nonprofits and good causes. “I definitely like the mix,” Ohlenkamp says. “It does kind of break it up to get to go from very heartfelt messages that make people aware of things like heart disease or ALS, to doing something a little bit more fun—like selling a French television network and letting people dance on a piano that controls opera singers [Le Piano Vivant]. I think the ability to have that range keeps you a little bit more balanced in your work.”
Entertainment is important, but so is utility, Ohlenkamp says. “That’s one thing that often gets missed as an opportunity to be creative. Everyone tends to go for the quick win with a funny joke or a punchy commercial. But building something that changes the way people behave for the better is not only interesting as a creative solution, but powerful. At the end of the day, we’re trying to effect change. That’s our job.”
“Idea is king,” he continues. “Invent a product that will change a business. Use technology and digital platforms in unique and innovative ways. You want to have a unique voice, so let all of these brilliant people around you at ArtCenter help you figure out what that is.”