Mill Director | Matthew Darnall

A director, animator, designer and illustrator hailing from the Midwest, Matthew is passionate about visual arts, character design and all-encompassing storytelling. In his time at The Mill he has created work for brands such as Dairy Queen, PlayStation and Marriott. His boisterously fun-loving approach is fueled by his background as an animator, and his infectious attitude and unique visual style is infused throughout his work.
Work May 13, 2020

What made you want to become a designer and how did you end up working at The Mill? 

I never really knew I wanted to be a designer, or really understood what a designer was in this industry. In fact, I didn’t even realize this industry was a thing until my advisor at college recommended me to apply for an internship at Digital Kitchen. I remember walking in and thinking “holy shit, people are making stuff here…and getting paid to do it!”. I took a lot of art classes in highschool – I was always drawing and painting. I knew I wanted to do more with it, but wasn’t sure. So I went to a cheap state school in a corn field for illustration. After two years and many lite beers later, I wanted a change – so I transferred to Columbia College in Chicago for traditional animation. After the internship at DK, I freelanced around Chicago for a few years. When I heard this small startup called ‘The Mill’ was coming to town, I begged an old intern buddy who had freelanced there in NYC to help get me to the top of the email pile. I was able to book a few months there, then rolled right into a staff position. I was the first staff designer at the office! We had like, 12 employees at the time? Times have changed!


Can you talk to us about your top three favorite projects? Why have you chosen these?

Oh man. That’s hard. I have too many favorites, but I’m happy to highlight some personally significant ones I’ve had during my time at The Mill.

The first of which is Dairy Queen: Clap Your Feet America. This was basically my first shot at officially directing something, even though I might have not realized it at the time. DQ and Barkleys was looking to make a fun 2D animated music video for the summer that was for online. They had a fun song for it, but that was it. Basically, the MD at the time brought it to a few more senior creatives and myself, to see if anyone wanted to take it on. I was the only one foolish enough to raise my hand. Haha. It was a lot of work, but so worth it. Great clients. Great creative. Great first experience with taking the reins, if you will.

Below: Dairy Queen | Clap Your Feet America!

Another memorable one was an Orbit spot, maybe 2015? I had to design this character that was basically, a sexy slice of pizza, that apparently had a bit of a “pizza party” (if you catch my drift), with Damon Wayans Jr. I drew and concepted dozens and dozens of sexy pizza characters. It was later modeled and animated in house. Very satisfying experience for me to be a part of the CG pipeline for the first time. Cheesiest and sexiest two weeks of my life, no doubt about it.

Below: Orbit | Fireplace

Most recently, I directed a VISA Holiday spot that will forever hold a dear place in my heart. The creative was just so good. A :30 second short animated film essentially, with almost no product. A dream brief. I think that one was a culmination of all my experience at The Mill, and was one of those jobs that a place like The Mill can only do. The writing, the storyboarding, edit, the character and environment design, all the way through CG, Comp and Colour. I was lucky to work with so many talented people.

Below: Visa | Holidays

Tell us about directing a project like Wholly Guacamole entailed? Roses? Thorns? 

Mostly roses, actually! The folks at BBDO San Francisco were amazing to work with. The characters for WG were going to be the face of the brand, which was a really incredible opportunity. We made sure to make them fun and memorable. So I think drawing these guys out with character designer and college bud Adrian Navarro, and working with the incredible animators – was the best part for me.

Below: Wholly Guacamole | The Gang

You’re a doodler. Can you share some of those with us? Do you find that it informs your work?

Above: Matthew’s Sketches

Sad to say, but I haven’t found much time for personal work lately :(. I spend most of my time doing really bad doodles quickly, and having better doodlers doodle them well. I’m proud to say though, that a lot of the work I get to direct at The Mill is a reflection of me as an artist. So the Wholly Guacamole’s, The Dairy Queen Miracle Treat Day’s, Visa, etc – they are all personal.

Talk us through your approach to illustration and character animation? 

Oh gosh. That’s a good one. It’s a bit chaotic, to be honest. I try to hone in on what’s important, and usually that’s the ideas – what am I trying to communicate? What’s the story? Beyond that, I trust my instincts, try to make it pretty, and just grind away at it. Something has to stick.


What have you learned about yourself and the way you work during this period of lockdown?

I talk a lot. Like, WAY too much. Pretty loudly too, it turns out. I’m working in my basement at home, and my eavesdropping wife hipped me to that pretty quickly. Thanks, Anna. I’m self conscious now. I just love this work, and I love the passionate, talented artists across so many disciplines I’m fortunate to work with. I always want to make sure my direction is clear, but just as important, I want to have fun with the team!  We all got into this business to make great work, trust one another, and have a good time along the way. I’m trying my best to do just that.

Mill Director Matthew Darnall

Find out more about Matthew’s work on his Creator profile or Instagram @darnydoodles.