Off Balance: A Conversation with Beyoncé's Creative Director, Todd Tourso

As an audience member, it’s often easy to perceive celebrities as being out of this world based on

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As an audience member, it’s often easy to perceive celebrities as being out of this world based on their near-flawless appearances and superhuman performances. If you are unfamiliar with how entertainment industry operates, you will not realize that it is in actuality a team of behind-the-scenes professionals who is responsible for creating that impression. While we understand that there are many DIY, “one-man-band” artists to exist out there, most who have reached a mainstream-levels of recognition will need some sort of aid to excel or retain media relevance. Here, you will meet Todd Tourso, Beyoncé’s creative director, who we identify as one of these experts. Tourso takes responsibility for most of the songstress’ artistic direction, whether it’d for be her live performances or for her albums — including her recently-dropped platinum edition of her self-titled release. While Bey is undoubtedly one of the most talented and charming artists ever — and Tourso confirms this in the interview — it was his work that truly helped communicate this to consumers. Tune in below as we discuss with him on his creative processes, design perspectives and his relationship and work flow with Bey.

In the past you’ve been able to spread your time and talents across a few creative outlets such as Flaunt and your own clothing line, now that you’re working so closely with an artist that’s at the status Beyoncé is are you still able to facilitate any other projects on the side?

Yes, definitely. I force myself to stay busy and take on other projects to keep the juices flowing and maintain my bearings with the rest of the world. Beyoncé’s project has been so intense though, that it definitely has caused me to re-evaluate how I spend my time off, and I’m much more choosey about the other projects I take on.

How does this experience (of working with a single artist) differ from your previous projects? How do you find your creative balance?

For me unfortunately the best work comes from being off balance. I’ve spent my career being completely overly indulgently obsessed with a project and then moving on to something else. It’s exciting for me to work with a single artist over a period of time because then I can effect their brand instead of just one project. I like being multi-disciplinary, and this is a way for me to work on show’s but also the merch and the poster…and album packaging but also the videos and the website. And hopefully bring a level of cohesion that makes the whole greater than the sum of it’s parts. I think when you start to tie all of these things together it can feel more like a movement than an album cycle.

One of the things that was really special about the self-titled album is that it captured this breakthrough in Beyoncé’s personal perspective. What was it like working with her during this sort of self-actualization period, and helping her get that vision out?

Working on the videos for that album…being in different cities every day and shooting 3-5 times a week was one of the most insane and amazing times of my life. It goes back to the balance (or un-balance) thing I was speaking on earlier…Our entire team was completely consumed by this project and lived in a creative vacuum for six months. It was like art school on steroids. We would kick around the craziest ideas on one day and literally be in a different country shooting it 3 days later and in another country sitting with it in an editing bay 2 days after that. Beyoncé was really just the fearless leader the entire time. Throughout this process, daily she would shoot for 10 hours, then do a 2 hour show, then go to the studio until 4 or 5 in the morning, then wake up at 7am and do it again. And on top of this schedule she’s completely involved in every creative decision along the way and completely happy and excited and fun the entire time. It was just a really inspiring and contagious energy to be around.

What sort of process do you go through when creating a set and a show? Does the process become easier with experience or more difficult as you aim to push the boundaries?

I think for every artist and every project the process is a little different. But for me it always has to start with the music. I think it get’s easier over time just because you get used to the pressure and you’ve been there before so you trust in the creative process and know that everything is going to be ok. But with everything we do we try to completely re-conceptualize it and do something that’s totally new or never been done before, and that way of thinking will always open up a million new problems and hurdles along the way. Especially in terms of tours or performances where there’s just so many more variables from weight to trucking to safety. It’s important to have an amazing team of problem solvers that are down for the cause because it really is a fight and it really takes an army.

How does a background in graphic design and illustration prepare you for a career based on visuals?

The principles of graphic design to me are just the fundamentals of visual communication…composition, proportion, contrast, a-symmetrical balance, rhythm, tension, etc…These ideas can be applied to everything from editing a video to making clothing. More than this though, art school specifically taught me about the importance of process, critique, and collaboration which is everything.

What’s the most bizarre idea you’ve come up with that Beyonce’s agreed to work with?

You might be surprised actually…she is insanely creative and pretty much up for anything if the concept is right and the idea has purpose. There’s no ego…the best idea always wins.

How do you tackle the times where you feel you may be out of your depth, or are faced with new challenges that you’re unfamiliar with?

To be honest with you I don’t usually feel that way and try to not act or work from fear as much as possible. I think of that Steve Jobs quote where he says, “Everything you call life was made by someone just as smart as you are.” You just have to trust that you’re there for a reason, the dots will connect, there is a solution, and you’re going to find it. I also believe firmly that you have to do it for the fun of the process instead of the finished product.

Can you describe what that initial feeling was like when you found out you were going to work with Beyonce? And following that, what were the mental steps you took to prepare you for it?

I remember taking the meeting thinking there was no way I was going to be a good fit for her and I would never get the job, but that it would be cool to tell my mother I met Beyoncé. But then we totally clicked…I hit the ground running and the rest is kind of a blur.

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Robin Harper

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