Finding authenticity in visual storytelling with Mohamed Danawi

Episode 124:
Finding authenticity in visual storytelling with Mohamed Danawi


This is an episode for: art & design students, storytellers of all kinds and SCAD fans.

Molly Geoghegan, Narrative Strategist

Molly Geoghegan

Jun 13, 2024

Mohamed Danawi is many things—an artist, Founder and Director of IlloZoo, professor at SCAD—but if you were to ask one of his current students, they’d say he’s just “Mo.”

SCAD alumni and GhostRanch Creative Director Allie Wilson joins the ‘cast with Mikey and Mohamed for an amazing conversation around art, visual storytelling, design trends and how to be authentic in your art. 

Mohamed’s experience teaching over the years has given him a unique perspective with how the arts department has evolved, the growth of illustration and the challenges  “teaching” creative mediums. Visual communication is powerful—it can both take away from and enhance a story. So we especially loved how he typically requires students to “present” their projects in class.

What's in the Spice Cabinet??

Find more Mo!

Any favorite books Mo recommends for visual thinkers?

  • His latest book is The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*** by Mark Manson
  • “I don’t read about visual communication to be able to tell you—I read about other things and I think that’s what you need.”

Mo’s walkout song?? 

Parting words?

"What’s important is maybe just expand, you guys have the opportunity to expand your platform.

Most people do the visual storytelling, all that for commercial reasons. But I feel like you have also a very good chance of doing what you do using art that is more humanistic in nature, because like you were saying, people might be tired of the graphic stuff, or at least start a new department or a new division where you're focusing on humanistic things—society, culture, making things better. Because people now—especially the new generation—care more about making life better than selling. 

So maybe shifting focus and/or maybe adding to your focus into more storytelling for humanity, for society, for making life better, basically. That's my words of wisdom, I guess."


Click here to see the podcast transcript

pt124 Mohamed Danawi - release v01

Mikey Mioduski: [00:00:00] Welcome back to Presentation Thinking, the Storyteller Study Club, aka Mikey and Molly nerd out, talk about presentations, visual storytelling, all the things that make us better business, soft skill, and communicators. Am I right, Molly?

Molly: That's right. Happy to be here. Uh, what are we talking about today, Mikey?

Mikey Mioduski: Today on the show, we had a special guest, someone I've been wanting to talk to for a Nearly my entire life, nearly at least many years of my adult professional life. That is Molly. Yeah. And you just listened to, you listened to the conversation. You were, you were tied up that day, but, um,

Molly: I don't know what I was doing, [00:01:00] but I miss this great combo.


Mikey Mioduski: Yeah. So Allie Wilson, executive creative director at ghost ranch joined me. Cause she really made the connection. The gentleman we interviewed was actually her illustration professor. He was a department head. of illustration at the Savannah College of Art and Design where Allie went. I was down there for a bit.

Other members of our team came through SCAD. Go Bees!

Molly: Yeah.

Mikey Mioduski: And he goes by the name.

Molly: We're expanding our SCAD network, which is always fun.

Mikey Mioduski: Yeah, we love it down there. Savannah, amazing place if you haven't been. Mohammed Dinawi drops a couple places I think you should visit too. Actually, no, he didn't because he said his wife cooks the best, so.

Molly: He did say that at the end. It's

Mikey Mioduski: still worth a visit. But yeah, Molly, we've been wanting to talk to Mo, Muhammad al Dinawi, for a long time.

Molly: Or your highness, he says, people call him. Yeah,

Mikey Mioduski: because. What Allie and Brice on our team talk a lot about is that he pushes this idea of conceptual [00:02:00] development, conveying ideas and communication through visuals.

So, you know, when you and I, or, you know, the general public might think of illustration. We might think of something as decorative or ornamental or something that makes something look cool and pretty, but the true illustration professionals out there, they can tell whole stories without any words at all.

And so I think we wanted to get to know this fella and learn about, you know, like what his perspective is, tell us about his career in illustration. He's a professional artist himself. But also a college professor and an entrepreneur. So he's the founder of something called Ilazoo, which is a visual communication agency representing artists from around the world.

Molly: Yeah, really cool place. They're like really cool way of connecting artists to the, like the right work, kind of almost being the agent in a way and making sure that people. Can get employed and find the right, right project. And I really liked listening back to this conversation. If you are in any way [00:03:00] a storytelling nerd and you liked a lot of our episodes talking about the seven basic plots and some like visual communi like core visual communication fundamentals.

This really brought me back to some of that original stuff that we'd been talking about on the Cast Mikey. And it was really fun to hear you and Allie just be your, like, bring out your artistic, like, collegiate selves, thinking about, like, projects you had done and how Muhammad's students present in class.

And it was really, it was a really great, great episode. So if you're, if you're a storytelling nerd. Or a graphic designer or someone that's interested in visual communication. Tune in. Here we go.

Mohamed Danawi: Well, before it used to be print design with the iPhone and apps and the internet and the fact that a lot of these publishers have also digital platforms, it start to become more open to different techniques. So, and then the gaming [00:04:00] industry is huge. And then people couldn't. Picture anything unless you visualize it for them.

So like the newer generation now are used to show me, don't tell me. So that is illustration and it's still freelance. I mean, most of the illustrators work freelance on their own, but because of the fact that our world is so picture oriented, and even if I want to tell you a sad story, I wanna show you why it's sad and how dramatic it is.

If I want to explain to you something funny, I will also show it to you in a funny way. People have no patience for long discourse, you know, long sermons. And that's part of it. So number one is culture. Number two is a platform. And number three is the fact that you have so many. New talent that are young, that are starting early to understand the importance of visual communication and drawing and painting because of [00:05:00] technology helping them, the brushes, the apps, the softwares.

So you have a lot of rock stars who are doing amazing work at age 18, 19, 20, which you never had before. You have to go to school, get a degree. Work for three, four years before you start to build your portfolio. Now you you're coming from high school already equipped, you know, all your brushes and techniques to put together a decent art.

And also you have people looking at each other a lot. Like, you know, so, so American companies used to hire mainly American illustrators and now American companies are looking outside. In the Philippine and Eastern Asia and hiring artists from there too, because now they're expanding. So there's so many factors, you know, turn that into the publishing industry still working, the editorial industry, news, newspaper, magazines, still doing stuff, but they're now have a digital platform.

So they even need more visual explainers and all that stuff. [00:06:00] Are we, are we live by the way?

Mikey Mioduski: We're doing it. Yeah. I'm going to call. Yeah. We're into this.

Mohamed Danawi: I was doing this two years ago for the illustration department podcast, kind of similar podcast, but we're having conversation halfway through it. He said, you know, we're, we're recording this, right?

Cause they all have no idea. We're just, you gotta declare that we are recording it. And you guys are the same thing.

Mikey Mioduski: That's the best sneaky

Allie Wilson: sneaky.

Mikey Mioduski: Yeah, exactly. This was the best stuff.

Mohamed Danawi: Yeah, that's cool. That's

Mikey Mioduski: Mohamed Dinawi. I only know you as Denawee because that's what Allie and Breezy call you. What, uh, what do most people call you?

Mo. Oh,

Mohamed Danawi: your highness. Your highness always. Your highness.

Mikey Mioduski: That's

Mohamed Danawi: great.

Allie Wilson: The king. Yeah. That works.

Mohamed Danawi: No, Mo is always good. I don't really, people start with professor and I said, I'm tired of this professor. Don't be, be casual. So my new team now, the Gen Z people. The Gen Z like to call me Mo, so I'll go with Mo.

Mikey Mioduski: That's cool. Oh my gosh. You're an artist, educator, [00:07:00] entrepreneur, artist representative, family man, world traveler. You live in gorgeous Savannah, Georgia. That's what you call home, I think.

Mohamed Danawi: I do.

Mikey Mioduski: You're, you're many things. Like, can you tell us a little bit about how you got into illustration in the first place?

And, um, I'd also love to hear about Illozoo as well.

Mohamed Danawi: Yeah. How I got into illustration wasn't so exciting. I mean, I, I studied design in Canada and then I realized that I can take design. I was, I was mainly focusing on experimental design in Canada and Concordia University, then I heard about the illustration programs in the U S and I, uh, applied and I got into it.

Uh, I did my master's degree in illustration. And then I realized, wow, there's different ways of making a living from drawing. And I did that for a while. I graduated in 94 and then when moved back to Canada and I, you know, start to work in the industry for a while. First on my own, then through an agency in [00:08:00] Toronto, 3inabox, which is, they're still around.

And then I got into, uh, 3D animation and went back to, went to Toronto and got a degree in, uh, it used to be called Softimage, which is a new software that they were using for like Toy Story and all that was coming out that there was a 96, 97. So I took courses in Softimage to learn about turning my drawing and my, uh, illustration and.

Picture books into 3d. So I learned in a 3d and got into soft image later on. I then moved to Savannah in 97 to teach a scout. So it happened so fast.

Mikey Mioduski: Been there for a

Mohamed Danawi: while. Yeah. 97. I came here. My daughter was born at 97 three weeks later. I decided to move. All of us together to Savannah and from Toronto, from very cold Toronto.

And then I realized, wow, uh, this is too chilled. Came to where I was to relax and probably I'll stay for a couple of years and then head back. But then, uh, six months later, Scott offered me a chair [00:09:00] position to be the chair of the department. It happens so quick. I don't know. I just jumped from, uh, from illustrator to animator to a professor at SCAD.

And then I turned into a chair and I found myself deeper into the program. That's when I started to get more into, you know, what I'm doing at SCAD and, uh, kind of like revamping the entire department at a time. It was a small department. We started to get more into bringing in art directors and illustrators into the program, start to connect with animation as well.

And I kind of helped expand it more into. Sort of like, uh, adding more multimedia element into illustration. When I, when I first got here, it was mainly like drawing and painting experimental, like, like Ali was saying, a lot of printmaking. And then because of my experience with Softimage and animation, I started getting more into multimedia.

That was in 97. So it's still basic. And I, I chaired it for four years. And after that went back to after I kind of established that, [00:10:00] that facet of the illustration that became more an illustration, but also it became more. Motion and storytelling with videos and music and, and bringing in, uh, we created an entire catalog of like, how else can we apply illustration into the different market.

That's when we start to build up until 20 2001, 2002, and then I cannot make sure everything's fine and I sat back and watched it grow. As a professor, going back to be a full time teacher of that. So that's what happened.

Allie Wilson: And then in 2005, you came visited. No, no, no. Before I came, I was all bucked up and ready to go to Michigan state.

And you came for a visit to Detroit, Michigan. You came up to Michigan. I was still in high school and I, you were doing portfolio reviews and I brought my portfolio to you. You looked through it and you were like, yeah, that's it. You know, you've got some good stuff in here, but you're like, you know, you could probably get a [00:11:00] better scholarship if you took a life drawing class.

Oh, wow. So I went and took a life drawing class at night. I think it was from like 8 to 10, 30 p. m.

Music: Yeah.

Allie Wilson: From like the fall of 2005. I took it for like six months. And resubmitted my portfolio and got a BAM scholarship. So thanks for that. And ended up going to Staten because of your visit to Detroit in 2005.

Mohamed Danawi: So it's amazing. Like, I don't remember that particular moment where I came to Detroit, but I probably did. You did

2005. That's history.

Allie Wilson: 2005. It's, yeah, know it's really serious. Used to lot of used,

Mohamed Danawi: I used to travel a lot within the US to meet students and review portfolios. I remember that after. I did it for a while and then I stopped doing travel on, you know, and I, I guess the department, and I remember you very well from the poster class.

You were, you were a rock star at the [00:12:00] poster class. I remember you had graphic design intuition. You brought it in with you and, uh, like you understood typography, you understood thinking outside the box. So a lot of your ideas, I remember that you did a film poster and you With, uh, about remembrance, about what is it called a Jim Carrey,

Allie Wilson: eternal sunshine of the spotless mind

Mohamed Danawi: and, and the whole idea of like the remembering something and being and forgetting and remembering again, like you, you brought in some new ideas to the whole concept of remembering and forgetting, which I really liked.

And then you did a few other posters for a theater for, I think Lucas theater at a show, I knew the poster on, on immigrants, people coming in from Europe to just states. Uh, but anyway, the point, the point is you, you

Allie Wilson: remember, he's better than must.

Mohamed Danawi: See, I remember that because I had to look them up first, make sure I've seen some of your posters in this particular class.

I still have posters of all the classes anyway, I collect them. But anyway, so it was, [00:13:00] it was great to have you as a student in poster class. And now here you are.

Mikey Mioduski: Allie, I was gonna ask, what is taking a class with Muhammad Zinawi like? What's his, his teaching style? Why do you love him so much?

Allie Wilson: It was different from anyone else.

And I think that's why you like students stay in touch with you and you have a stickiness to the things that you teach. That to me was completely different from anyone else. And it was, you were, you weren't necessarily pushing like a medium or an application. You were pushing ideas, which is what I think, why I connected so much to that poster class and to you and why I like, I've continued to like follow you, you know, from a distance, like watch, like everything that you're doing, because you were just as relevant in 2005 when I met you then, as you are now, because you're all about the idea and like what something means.

Even just how, what you were just talking about, what you remembered about my posters, I felt you push that on students and pull that out of them more than anyone else, [00:14:00] any other professor I had while I was at SCAD, including the advertising department, which is supposed to be all about the big idea.

Illustration is also about the big idea, but it's about visualizing it without anything else. It's like, how do you express that idea?

Mohamed Danawi: Completely true visuals. Yeah, that's, that's good. That, I mean, it makes sense. And, uh, I'm, I'm, I'm still doing this. I think I'm still doing it. Like I, I sort of like try to connect with a student before anything else.

That's very important for me. Because we're all in this together and it's all about learning from each other. I don't see myself walking in a classroom and lecturing and telling them what needs to be done. I also shift a lot. Like I shift the whole process based on dynamic of the class. And, and you're right.

Like I, it's all about ideas. And also it's about, Conversation and communication and connection, connecting with the students. And that's how I did it throughout my, I think, 27 now, 27 years of teaching at SCAD, when I [00:15:00] walk in the classroom, I'm learning and I'm teaching and I'm showing, and I'm asking them to show me too, and, and to communicate their ideas, but also to get comfortable and to relax.

Like it's so, you gotta do it. Just. We need to create that ambiance first, and that's important. Sometimes students are like scared, not sure what to do, and, uh, things are uptight and there's a syllabus to, uh, follow. But I, you know, it's all about just chilling, you know, honestly.

Mikey Mioduski: Mo, in your classes, what's the role of presenting work?

You know, I think a lot of us as, as younger designers, our thought is like. The work should sell itself, right? It should hold up on its own. Is that your approach as well? Or do you think there is a need to kind of like sell the idea and communicate so the client understands what they're looking at?

Mohamed Danawi: Well, you can show someone an illustration without explanation, and they will react to it based on the aesthetic, or you can show them an illustration after you [00:16:00] had built up the story and show them how you researched it and how you made it happen block by block.

And then when you show it to them, you get a different reaction. You get a much more emotional reaction because you connected. That's what I was saying before. The same thing with every assignment in class, the students have to present their why to begin with, are they're doing this and what did they look at?

Did they look at art movements to support them stylistically or did they create their own kind of hybrid art style, but also who are they trying to communicate with? The demographics and, and the, uh, nature of the people who are going to view this image or this film or this story, and then all the different visual element that they looked up and accumulated to build it, and then they show it to us.

And [00:17:00] so it's a process they show. Every student has a process. First, they do a presentation of the entire process, mood board, and all the visuals that they use, and also writing about what the idea is. So they build up that interest. Okay. And then two weeks later, they show us the final art. So when we critique it, we have a good understanding of why and how.

The art was created and, uh, that essential, otherwise it becomes more, we're not, we're not like machines manufacturing pictures. That's what AI does. And the whole idea is like, well, we'll connect with us first and tell us why, why use this font? Why do you place it there? Why is it, uh, this particular typeface, not the other typeface, but also how is the idea different than any other ideas that are similar?

And what are you trying to say now differently than before, all these things are important. These are all like the foundation, the blueprints of your illustration, you're right, [00:18:00] the image. So that's very, very essential, of course, and we still do it in class all the time.

Mikey Mioduski: Love to hear it. And, and like, I guess what we're, Allie and I are, we've been racking our brains.

You mentioned AI.

Mohamed Danawi: Yeah.

Mikey Mioduski: What we're guiding our team away from is, is that thought of like, make it pretty. Because we know, you know, early in our careers, that was our role is like someone hands us You know, a finished presentation, the content is baked, the ideas are there, and they want us to make it aesthetically on brand, polish it up, but as we need to position ourselves against what potentially Gen AI could do, which is make it pretty, polish it up, format it.

Yeah, we need to make it, our communications like say something and you called it visual communication. I'd love if your take on this, like, what does that actually mean? And, and, you know, it's kind of hard to grasp. We have a lot of listeners who are marketers. Maybe they're good at messaging and communication, the written form, but might consider themselves like not visual [00:19:00] thinkers.

But I'm curious if you think they actually could become visual thinkers, uh, even though they might not have the illustration skills themselves.

Mohamed Danawi: Yeah, I mean, it's, uh, the illustration, okay, so the visual communication idea, and when we do this a lot at Illozoo as well, sometimes people have a story to tell, like we're doing something for things right now, they do, uh, different types of, uh, underwears and all that.

And they're doing actually a story about domestic violence using different concept art painting, like realistic painting of, so like to make it more impactful, I remember once a guy came to talk about, uh, depression and suicide, uh, on campus and he was standing on the podium, just talking about it and there was nothing behind that person.

It was just light. And I was thinking. Everything that he's saying is going in my head, his story about how he felt [00:20:00] about the depression and led to different things. And, but he's just talking after a while, I start to notice people are like getting tired of not tired, but as you know, just edgy a little bit about the, like, there's nothing simulating them.

And it's almost like you're giving documentary and you have people being interviewed and they're just talking after a while you get tired of them talking, see what they're talking about. Yeah. That's visual communication. It could be in a form of infographics. It could be form of a visual explainer. It could be form of music along with a video, live action, uh, could be in a form of an animation, animatics, stop motion.

It could be in form of series of sequential illustration could be in the form of a linear poetic drawing. That is only line and washes. It takes on different forms. Basically, whatever you are capable of creating, whether in 3d or 2d, digital or traditional, it's a form [00:21:00] of making a picture happen. And the picture sequentially will tell you the story, especially when there's music or there's sound incorporated into it.

Otherwise, you're looking at someone's face yapping the whole time, like I am right now. And, and it'd be nice if I have a video behind me saying all this, but, but that's why animation is so powerful. When you hear sound and you see expressions, it takes you, basically it's like telling someone your dream.

How boring is that? When you said, Oh, I dream about something last night, let me tell you what I dreamt of. But imagine you have a cloud above your head, visualizing that you will cry in front of that person if the dream is sad. And, but if there's nothing showing you try to from their facial expression and articulation of their face to connect with them.

But sometimes that's so hard, especially that today we cannot live without pictures. We're surrounded by visuals, we need, we strive, it's like water. We strive on visual communication [00:22:00] because. How else would I understand what you're telling me? Because I'm so used to seeing it happen, but that sometimes goes from like a bank explaining something boring to their client, how to invest, whatever, all the way to maybe a politician trying to convince you to vote for them, to a priest trying to give you some words from the Bible.

Through a mom telling the child a story about her past. It could be seven. So it's storytelling has been since let's go since the caves. Oh, that's nothing new. When I put a picture of hunting and gathering with line only on rocks, that's storytelling, but now communication, Platform change, storytelling never changes.

Always nicer to tell a story with visuals. That's all it is.

Mikey Mioduski: What separates the good illustrators than visual communicators from the great ones, the ones that you actually represent at illazoo.

Mohamed Danawi: Well, what separates the good illustrators from that you can't, there's, there's no, [00:23:00] it's a difficult question.

You. If you're looking for storytellers, there are amazing storytellers. It doesn't make them good illustrators. Sometimes you're a good storyteller with bad technique. Sometimes you have an amazing technique, but you're not a storyteller. Both of them could be good illustrators. You have storytellers who cannot draw, but they can design.

They're good illustrators. You have illustrators who paint beautifully, but they can only paint what they see. They're still successful. There's different roles for illustrators that could work. Visual storytelling is only one of them. I can decorate your wall with beautiful botanical elements, and that's not visual storytelling, but that's successful illustration in that particular need.

So the trick is to find what you are good at in the creation part. All of them are creators. Storytellers are part of the creators, you know? [00:24:00] And so I have illustrators who are designers. I have illustrators who are humorous, funny people. They tell funny jokes. I have illustrators who are dramatic, sci fi, historic, some of them are minimalists, some of them are maximalists, some of them are painterly, some of them are cartoony.

So like, it's just a different approach to what they do. And they're all good because they all know that they're good and they all focused on their language. The ones who turn me off or the one I think a lot of people apply sometimes is the one who are like doing everything. They're chameleons. They're kind of like good chameleons, but they're like fake chameleons.

They're like, they're sort of like, they're putting a show, like, I can do this. I can do that on the side. I have some, there's like, I don't want to, you know, we don't need that. We need specialists. We need people who know themselves first. We know their ammunition, how they can use it. And they're showing it to you.

Allie Wilson: What advice would you have? And I love the way you described that. Cause it's, you know, it is the tough question [00:25:00] because success can be completely different for different scenarios, right? Success means something totally different. But you said they can be successful anywhere if they have, I think, the right foundations in place.

So let's say you have an illustrator who is technically extremely successful, really good at, let's say, let's just call it really good at making things pretty. How do you train them to also be that ultimate storyteller to bring those two things together? What advice would you have for

Mohamed Danawi: them? If they are comfortable creating visuals that are so slick and visually powerful and command attention because of the aesthetic, then that is the thing.

I cannot tell them to change that into a story because the medium is the message. I think Marshall McLuhan said that Canadian guy. From the sixties, meaning in that, in that particular moment, like in that particular question, you're asking me the medium as a message means I created [00:26:00] that face for you to stare at it.

Okay. And that's my story and I'm sticking with it. And the fact that the craftsmanship is so impeccable as an example, that's my story. That's it. But some other illustrator, I don't have to go tell them that I don't have to, I'm not here to tell them, Oh no, but you need to tell a story with, with No, that, I mean, so I, society will appreciate them or the audience will appreciate them based on the aesthetic of what they're creating.

Some other artists are better at making you emotional and connect with you through their stories and not necessarily as polished, but maybe raw. And that's their thing too. Like I have a lot of discussion with my illustrators, like how can I make my work, uh, better, more commercial, more attractive, more this and more that.

And most of the time it's just be passionate about what you do. This is going to sound cheesy, but that's the truth. Don't pretend if you're not a storyteller, some people can tell a story, which is fine. Some people by their [00:27:00] blinking their eyes, by their facial expression can make you connect with them without saying a word.

And some people can speak forever and they're not saying anything. And some people can tell you a story through their music. Only, and some people can just write amazing stories, but when you talk with them, they cannot say a word or they're, they're uncomfortable talking. So it's a matter of recognizing each artist, what they are great at, and just focus, put all your damn energy into it.

And don't spread out too thin because your energy needs to build up and it will build up only if you focus, you're fixated on that particular way that you, you are designed to, to create, you know, I don't know if I deviated from the question, but

Mikey Mioduski: Ali, we, we see a lot of like lookalike stuff in corporate tech space.

We'll see a trend come in and linger for like five years. And it's like those like blobs behind [00:28:00] people and those like Kroger style cartoon kind of looking people. And what's, what's the role of, um, I guess like trends Mo and. When is it right to try to be on trend for a, for a brand or a company? And when is it right for them to try to find something unique to them?

Mohamed Danawi: Well, the trend has been the same, like, uh, depending on the, the trend follows format too, so if you want to, there's a lot of like, you know, vector or shape and, and kind of graphic shape, that's because it's easier, they're not layered, easier to animate. But also it looks better on a phone than let's say something more painterly and animated or in stop motion.

So the trend happens because of that, uh, because of the platform. But now you have also like, like I was saying before, this is really a new thing as well as think about it. We were animating paintings because we, the, the, the client wanted to show expression and emotions and they wanted the [00:29:00] concept art style animated in a humane way, not fantasy way or not sci fi way, but the majority of visual explainers today, whether you want to like show how things are created, tend to be right, tend to be flat and graphic.

And there's a lot of illustrators who are doing this successfully. And it's needed because it's easier to animate and it's easier to kind of visualize, but you also have, I don't know, you have, you have a lot of now new, like you, you actually, if you look at a lot of animation that's happening, some of them were also seen at the Oscar.

I just saw a few of them were like raw hand drawn animation. I feel like it's all coming back. It's almost like humanity is trying to prove. Well, hey, no, we don't need AI and CGI and 3d stuff. We need to kind of do raw imperfect hatching type animation on paper. I, I see that a lot of that coming back, like, uh, yeah.

Organic. Uh, a good place to check this [00:30:00] out is ansi. ANSI is a world festival of animation in France around the lake. The Lake ANSI is really beautiful on, and it's like the, the world's most prestigious animation festival and a lot of the ee uh. Animation shorts that you see there are like hand drawn, amazing hand drawn work.

And that's coming back, but the hand drawn animation tend to be almost like to tell a story or to like, uh, connect, but visual explainers like banks or insurance companies or pharmaceuticals, whatever, are not getting into it yet, they, they still want the client, the majority of people to see what they're doing.

Things on their phone and flat and graphic and vector. So that may be that commercial is different than conceptual trend. You know, like one more thing I remember now, VU TV in Hong Kong, few years ago, they contacted us and they were showing a documentary about the creation myth, according to different [00:31:00] cultures around the world.

And they said, we would like to work with illustrators from each of these cultures. To create the key art. And I was like, wow, that's interesting. Why does it matter? Like I can show you an Italian illustrator who can do something that is the same story about a Brazilian. I said, no, no, we prefer. So that's another trend now where they're hiring animators or illustrators from that same movement.

Like Google Chrome. Now we're working with them on that. They do this every year, like black history month. Let's say they want all the African American illustrators to create the art because it's coming from within, you know? And so that's another trend. So choosing the artists based on the culture of that particular campaign.

Like we started with VOTV and now I see more like. People contacting me, I have a children's book written by so and so writer. And we want the illustrator to be from the same kind of culture or from the same kind of [00:32:00] like, uh, whatever lifestyle. And I like this interesting, does it really matter? I said, yeah, it really matters more than the style of the illustration.

So that's another trend too, that's interfering.

Allie Wilson: It's a, it seems like it's connected though, too, to that craving. I think maybe that we're all having IMT for organicness. It's, I think it's. People wanting something genuine because of maybe what's happening with Gen AI. It's like, we, we want an African American, a black person to be making an illustration for black history month because then it's real and it's, it's true.

I think they're connected in a way. I think just a craving for like genuine human touch.

Mohamed Danawi: It's connection, but also like we did an ad now for whiskey in, uh, in England, and they, uh, they have this in flavor. And one of them is a Caribbean flavor and they're looking for Caribbean colors and, and Carnival. And they were asking me for a, one of my artists, Kim.

Well, no, she, they asked me what, do you know any [00:33:00] Caribbean illustrator? And I'm, I know Kim. Would that work? But anybody could have done that and anybody could have created that, but they wanted also came to come to the opening reception and paint her Caribbean flair while filming her. It's part of the whole thing.

Optics too. Yeah. So I was like, it's all about optics. So she, I mean, it's great. She did a great job. Of course. All I'm trying to say is like, whoa, I just felt bad for those who could have also did that, but done that, but not from the career. So I feel like. I don't know, the intention is to, uh, connect and to show authenticity, but I feel behind that there's also.


Mikey Mioduski: Right. And we, I don't know, like decade, two ago, it was all about the brand and the tightest brand constraints ever, you know, like, and you do not ever like diverge from this. And so to see some of these major brands, like a Google. [00:34:00] Just saying like, Hey, do your thing. You know, I think that's kind of an interesting play of like relinquishing some of the creative and giving more creative liberties to an artist to run with is it's interesting.

Mohamed Danawi: It's interesting. There's a lot of do your thing these days, by the way, we've been doing our thing as like less art direction and more like, Oh, are you just feel it with me? And then do it. When we did the Google is the same thing we did, like the Asian American, like last year, and it's like, just do your thing and show us what you've done.

And we can just minimally are directed. What else we did something? Oh, Affinity, Affinity software. Also last, they want, they were obsessed. We want Japanese artists. And I'm like, I don't have Japanese artists, but we want Japanese artists. So we got a Japanese artist. And then it's like the same thing in Japanese artists, like, what do you want?

And it's like, I don't know. We love your work. Okay, fine. But what exactly is, this is a template. Do whatever you want. Just throw stuff at us. Just, and they weren't taking it. They're loving it. [00:35:00] And it's like, well, what is the role of the art director now then? So like, is it more like, Hey, you pick like an art, are you an art buyer?

But you have to have direction. Right. So. It just happened. And I see a lot of that.

Mikey Mioduski: Well, we are, this is flown by too fast. I I'm curious, what's your, do you have any like opinions, uh, thoughts on presentations? I know like that's where Allie and I spend a lot of time, our listeners to whether it's like gripes about PowerPoint, any stuff out there that you're sick of seeing any good speakers that you follow or have really respected.

Mohamed Danawi: Well, I think I'm not sick of seeing, but I think there are you guys, especially you guys need to look at. People who stand in front of the crowd to talk, right? Sometimes they're selling a product, but sometimes they're selling a story, telling a story, but sometimes they're trying to get you to love them or follow them, or it's almost like, so most people, when they do a presentation, they go straight to commercial, they go straight to [00:36:00] like different companies that are selling a product, you probably need to look at.

Elsewhere too. And those who are doing that don't know that they can do it with visual storytelling. So you need to say, Hey, guess what? Your speech will be way better with a visual storytelling or with an image. It doesn't have to be a visual explainer. I'm talking about like, it could be series of images on the screen, visualizing what they're saying, prepared a concept art, like for gaming, but concept art for.

Speech. And let's just say a politician is talking to a bunch of people telling them what America needs. As an example, and imagine all the visual utopian images behind them, or imagine a, I don't know, a priest talking to a bunch of people because he wants to convert them to Christianity or whatever. And imagine biblical images or imagine someone who's like a guru who's trying to start their own [00:37:00] religion or their own whatever it's called.

And all the visual, then you should promote. You're a visual storytelling to politicians, to cult leaders.

Mikey Mioduski: Yeah, that's our new persona.

Mohamed Danawi: Yeah. So even speech therapists to, to people who are there to like modern day prophets. That's what the whole idea of the Bible didn't work out before, or all the other books they were written.

No one wants to read anything. So you have to reinvent. The 10 commandments or the Bible or any Testament, but that's my idea. I'm just giving it to you right now, but that's what I wanted to do. To create this whole universe. Forget about religion, but politics is important. So if, if you're going there and you're like, you want to run for council for city council, and you tell them about like all the story, how the city was before, maybe you can show some pictures, historic picture, but you can't show the future.

So I feel like [00:38:00] that's what we need. We need artists, illustrators, visual communicators to visualize a future, but also to tell stories of humanity. Like if I'm telling you a story about myself, because I want to connect with you to the crowd, maybe, uh, about, maybe I'm talking to a bunch of college students about success.

Okay. I can visualize what I'm saying to them because this could be an abstract thought. So visualize abstraction too, not storytelling, an idea, a metaphoric visual storytelling, which people, most people can't picture in their head unless you show it to them. That's what you guys need to do, I think.

Mikey Mioduski: Allie, what do you think?

Concept viz for, for cult leaders? Yeah.

Allie Wilson: I'm, I am all in. I know how I was spending the rest of my day. Yes. Oh man. Finding us a cult.

Mohamed Danawi: I'm telling you, like, I, I was just watching this, uh, documentary on [00:39:00] HBO on cult leaders. It's really interesting how like they have this charisma. Yeah. Mainly it's a, it's a word charisma.

You need visual charisma

Mikey Mioduski: and that should be your

Mohamed Danawi: tagline. Visual charisma.

Mikey Mioduski: com. Look it up. You got to tag that. That's, that's incredible. Mo, I think we're in what we call the spice cabinet here. Rapid fire questions. If you're cool with it. Um, do you have any favorite books that you recommend for someone who wants to get into understanding visual thinking, visual communication?

Oh, I

Mohamed Danawi: have to look in my bookshelf. I haven't, I haven't been reading a book to understand visual communication. Um, Honestly, I do not have, but the latest book is the art of not giving a f k. Oh, yeah, this is the book that I enjoyed. I don't, honestly, I don't read about visual communication to be able to tell you, I'll read about other things.

I think, yeah, like, I think that's what you need. Like [00:40:00] I'm right now, I bought a book, but I didn't read it yet. It's just sitting on my shelf. About how to go along with Gen Z obsession with telephone and computers and internet, instead of fighting it. It's just about, it's a PhD. It's like a, it's a, it's a psychiatrist.

You're talking about like, you're doing it all wrong. Don't fight your children. They, they are the leaders of the future. Instead, uh, what's the word that she's using? Uh, instead like make them flourish, but by empowering them, actually empower them, and this is the normal sequencing of events, stop fighting it.

That's the book that I want to read. I haven't read it yet. But to actually give you, I mean, rapid fire, I'm sorry. There's no support. I went beyond rapid fire. There's no book. I don't know. I love it. I don't have one. Look it up. I don't know.

Mikey Mioduski: I think it's critical though. Like people who only study, only studying advertising, you know, by looking at ads, [00:41:00] you miss that human insight from what's happening in the real world outside.

Right. Yeah. I don't

Mohamed Danawi: like to read about what I. Like, I don't, I like to read about what I don't know, or, but so that's why I don't remember any, any books about visual communication. I don't, I don't, I have no idea.

Mikey Mioduski: Yeah, alright. Someone who's never been to Savannah, Georgia. Maybe a foodie. Do you have any, like any favorite go to restaurants down there?

Mohamed Danawi: Oh, about Savannah, Georgia restaurant? Um, see, my, my wife is an amazing cook and anything that we eat outside is always, doesn't taste as good as what we eat at home. So when we travel outside Savannah is where we indulge. All right. So let's go back to the question. Any good restaurant in Savannah? I mean, I don't know.

Where have we been lately that no, none of them were good. No, nothing.

Mikey Mioduski: Ali, we can come down to the Denaoui's for dinner maybe.

Mohamed Danawi: I'm really bad. I'm not the wrong. I'm the wrong person to ask those

Allie Wilson: questions. So, are you inviting us to dinner when we come to Savannah in February?

Mohamed Danawi: I think [00:42:00] you'll enjoy it better.

Because, you know. My wife has this upset. I mean, she travels different places and then she learns recipe and she makes her own really good. I mean, I'm not just saying that cause she's my, but she's very good at, uh, making cuisine basically. So I can't recommend anything. I'm sure there's amazing ones.

Maybe the pink house, but that's like a cliche. Okay. You want? Yeah.

Allie Wilson: A little bit, but that's okay. That tavern under the pink house.

Mohamed Danawi: Yeah. Yeah. It's really

Allie Wilson: cool. That's pretty sweet. I always tell people to go there when they go to town. I'm like, all right. Like pink house, go ahead, have dinner up there, but like go get a drink downstairs.


Mohamed Danawi: like a pirate

Allie Wilson: ship down there.

Mohamed Danawi: Yeah. The tavern's gotta been there once or twice. Yeah. When are you guys coming? Oh, yeah. So it wasn't like a big, yeah. So let's just let me know. Let me know ahead of time. Good. We're never in Savannah in the summer. That's the thing. Oh, really? You're out traveling

Mikey Mioduski: then?

Mohamed Danawi: Travel for three months, June, July, August. That's awesome. We meet our artists too. It's very important for us.

Mikey Mioduski: If you gave a Ted talk, something like [00:43:00] that, speaking at a conference, what would be your walkout song?

Mohamed Danawi: My walkout song? Oh, something from the flight of Icarus by Iron Maiden.

Flight of Icarus. Iron man is

Mikey Mioduski: awesome. Okay. All right. Well, um, Mo any, any parting shots, any, any words of wisdom before we, we sign off for the day?

Mohamed Danawi: Oh, no, I, uh, you guys are, are wise enough. You don't need more wisdom. And I respect you guys. You're doing great. You're doing great. And I think. What's important though, is maybe I just expand, you guys have the opportunity to expand your platform.

Most people do the visual storytelling, all that for commercial reason, but I feel like you have also a very good chance of doing what you do. using art [00:44:00] that is more humanistic in nature, because like you were saying, people might be tired of the graphic stuff, or at least start a new department or a new division where you're focusing on humanistic things, society, culture, making things better because people now, especially the new generation care more about.

Making life better than selling. So maybe shifting focus and, or maybe adding to your focus into more storytelling for humanity, for society, for making life better, basically. That's my word of wisdom, I guess. Love it.

Mikey Mioduski: Thank you. Thank you so much for joining us. This has been a blast. You're

Mohamed Danawi: welcome.

Mikey Mioduski: Mali, I loved talking with Mohamed. What a cool dude. I don't know if it made the conversation or if it was before we started recording, but we heard just about the growth of the [00:45:00] illustration department in general. You know, when Mohamed got there to SCAD, it was sort of a fledgling brand new kind of department, you know, like, and things evolve.

Art school evolves over time. There's some hot new buzzword, you know, like. Yeah. Computer graphics was probably a thing a long time ago. New

Molly: technology, of course.

Mikey Mioduski: And then it became what, like, like new media and stuff like that. But. I guess the illustration department has just gone crazy. Like everyone wants to work in illustration to the point where it's, it's got now like subsets, you know?

And so someone could go into illustration and want to focus on like the animated component of that, or, you know, like surface illustration, like all these other different tracks, which is, which is pretty sweet. Even to the point where Mohammed, I think he kind of said like, Maybe illustration isn't the right term anymore, you know, is it, is it visual communication, something like that?

Molly: Yeah, absolutely. And I loved hearing, like, how his, you know, seeing kind of that evolution happen and how visual communication is so [00:46:00] much more accessible to people and there's so many different kinds of it, it's like different platforms and stuff, so. Hearing his take on how visual communication can both tell and enhance a story and often sometimes distract and speak in the wrong way, too.

So, I liked hearing about that. I'd never heard of that animation, not conference, but uh, festival in France. Really cool. I wanna, I think we should follow up on that. I think so. Yeah, let's link that in the Spice Cabinet for sure.

Mikey Mioduski: Oh, that's happening.

Molly: And I loved hearing this like, He always has his students present the idea of like presenting your visual choice, like your visual story and your creative choices and like kind of really instilling that foundation of like every creative choice you make adds to the story and needs to have a why.

He said that he always has his students share. They're why I liked that a lot.

Mikey Mioduski: The work doesn't always sell itself. So yeah, whatever you can help someone feel and, and even just to frame what they're about to see, I absolutely agree with what, uh, Mo was saying there. And we'll link to his, um, [00:47:00] agency, Illozoo.

We'll link to his portfolio if we can, but, uh, yeah, look him up on LinkedIn. If you're going to enroll at SCAD illustration, program it, maybe you can go take some classes directly from him. Great. Yeah. Great. Go say

Molly: hi to Mo.

Mikey Mioduski: Yeah,

Molly: Muhammad. Thanks for joining. That was really, really special. I think it's interesting, Mikey.

Sometimes when we ask the question, we often ask, you know, what else do you consume? Podcasts, media books. And while often like people have, you know, the leaders in their own space that they follow or consume, they're like, well, I don't really, you know, Mo said, I don't really read anything about visual communication to get better at visual communication.

Like he's, he's consuming other media that is like beyond that, you know, and that's, I think just indicative of. Yeah. Storytelling is everywhere. Storytelling really is all around us. What does that love actually go for?

Mikey Mioduski: It's about seeing what's true. What's out there in the world. Those insights. That's when things click with your viewers.

Molly: Beautiful. Well, dear presenters, if you have a professor, visual communication or otherwise that [00:48:00] you've been inspired by for both presenting and storytelling, um, or any form of, you know, unique niche communication. Send them our way. Send us a tag because professors are incredible. Teachers are incredible.

We need more of them. And, uh, we'd love to talk to more on the cast. All

Mikey Mioduski: right. Mohammed Dinawi, thanks for joining us. Ali, thanks for co hosting.

Molly: Yeah.

Mikey Mioduski: Molly, until next time, keep on

Molly: pitching.

About The Author

Molly Geoghegan, Narrative Strategist

Molly Geoghegan is a writer, organizer, and film school dropout. She hikes frequently with her dog, Guinness, and signs up for too many email newsletters. Having lived in Chicago, Paris, Dublin and Galway, Molly has made her way back to the Rockies and calls Denver, CO home.

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