At first, Meagan Cignoli’s seems like a fairly straightforward American success story: Young woman moves to the big city; stumbles across an explosively popular short-video-format social app; receives overwhelming demand from brands wanting a piece of her stop-motion-making magic. Right, so maybe Cignoli’s come-up — ignited by her Vine presence during the app’s infancy — is a touch modernized from traditional proverbs. But as far as that old-timey American Dream construct goes, it’s about time for an update.
Inspired by the updated-Americana theme of the Coach 1941 fall collection, we’re exploring what American authenticity looks like in 2016. And Cignoli, the founder of creative production agency Visual Country, is a study in seeking oneself in the context of the so-called land of opportunity. Powered by an aspirational yet inviting lifestyle aesthetic, Cignoli’s brand is the product of her own self-evolution, a process she credits New York with nourishing. Read on for the creative director’s take on making it as a do-it-her-way, East Coast entrepreneur.
How she unexpectedly began spinning social gold
I started making videos on Vine when it started in early 2013. I couldn’t really make anything beautiful, so I kept trying all these different things. I ran into stop motion by accident and figured out how to do it myself. Then I started making these clean, product-driven videos of a Popsicle melting or using a backdrop, taking my photography skills and making things into still lifes. Within a couple of weeks, we were hitting the popular channel and the first major company [wanting to work with us] called. That first campaign won 30 different advertising awards and a Cannes Lion.
Her POV on two national values: innovation and competition
Stop motion has been around for a long time, but it hasn’t been in style for that long. For years we’d been seeing so much overly produced video in commercials. I think this kind of DIY, made-by-hand, imperfect style was very eye-catching because you weren’t expecting it. The stop motion that existed before was very much driven by men and this sort of cartoon effect. I was putting a spin on it that was clean and more product heavy, giving it an art direction that wasn’t there before. You’re seeing that everywhere now, but before, I really couldn’t find things that were like mine.
Why defining her own version of success has been key
Growing up in the suburbs on Long Island, I really wanted to get out of there and live in the city and be around artists. I grew up middle class, and my dad used to say, ‘You better marry rich.’ I was like, absolutely not. But I had so many years of self-doubt. It would seem like I was successful as a photographer because I was getting really cool opportunities, but I wasn’t making a lot of money and I wasn’t that happy. So I’m really proud of myself, because there were so many low, fearful moments where I was like, I know I can do better than this.
On taking all the roads less traveled
I did fashion design at FIT, then fine art, then I did Spanish in Cuba for a year before I started studying French. I finally realized I always loved photography, and then four years ago I thought, I don’t know if this is right for me; I’m going to follow whatever’s pulling me at the moment. And it pulled me into making little videos for Vine, which is how my business began. I’m so grateful for all of that confusion because I got a lot of a visual artist’s look at the world before moving into what I do now. I think that’s the beauty of your 20s and even 30s: trying all those things then putting them together.
Her feelings about cashing in on her creativity
My parents are very into politics and what companies are doing and what their factories are like, so I do think about who I should work with and sometimes will turn things down because of that. It’s easy to look at what I do from a capitalist point of view, but I just want to make art. I really love advertising and making videos, so I think to myself: This brand is allowing me to put my spin on it and do something creative. We create commercials, billboards, in-store displays, banners, pre-roll and social media ads. I’m grateful that I get to do it all.
Why no other scene is as dynamic as New York’s
Today we needed a red toothbrush, a dinosaur, and a pair of white satin magician gloves. We have people that just shop for props on a daily basis so they have to run out to get stuff within an hour. You can get things done so fast and find almost anything here with all the prop houses and stores and creative people. Everything’s at your fingertips. I love to go anywhere where tourists are, because they’re so happy and excited to be here. I love Times Square and all the advertising and the flashiness of it. None of my friends can understand why I like that.