I'm Rob Sheridan, artist/photographer/geek who's been working with Nine Inch Nails for the past 11 years. I got requests on Twitter from Reddit users to do an AMA here, so I thought I'd try it out.

Comments: 617 • Responses: 29  • Date: 

nirvdrum150 karma

Not much of a question, but just wanted to say that it's really cool that you and the band have embraced things like reddit, Twitter, etc. and engaged with the audience. 10 years ago I never would have imagined interacting with any of you and yet these days I've found myself joking with you and the folks at NIN hotline. And helping out the RITC guys with just simple answers to queries about shows is incredibly cool.

So, I guess I'm thanking you for not being a dickhead, as odd as that sounds. It's much appreciated and seems to have made being a NIN fan a much more communal thing than I'd ever imagined.

rob-sheridan141 karma

You're welcome! NIN has one of the most awesomely supportive fan bases out there, and ever since I was a teenager the internet's been a huge part of that. Artists embracing the internet lead to fans embracing the artists, and everyone wins. It's always just seemed like common sense to us!

AquariusSabotage120 karma

Holy shit no way! I'm a huge NIN fan and a fan of your art with them so thank you for doing this! I remember a year ago you tweeting something about you working on the new "The Fragile" reissue, how is that coming along? Can we expect it to be similar to the Pretty Hate Machine reissue? (Which looks awesome by the way)

rob-sheridan135 karma

We are still working on "The Fragile." It's hit a number of delays, but it's still on our plate. We've gone back and forth with A+R on the prototype for the package, but we still don't have it right yet. It will not be similar at all to PHM - it will be much cooler.

rob-sheridan83 karma

Okay, since Trent just spilled it in his NY Times interview, I'll add here that Alan Moulder has been working on a 5.1 mix of The Fragile for the deluxe edition, which is of course going to be amazing.

xxcrunxtrrxx108 karma

Best/worst experience on the road with nin?

rob-sheridan149 karma

There are so many of both... I'll have to get back to you on the best, there are quite a few highlights. I've gotten to do some really amazing things, see all kinds of landmarks and go on all kinds of adventures. It's pretty much been a dream come true. But all that traveling is exhausting, so there are plenty of stories of fatigue and injury and stomach flus, or planes that seemed about to crash or cramped buses with no A/C in the middle of European summer... Worst experience? Getting a bottle smashed into my face in Tokyo and getting stitched up in a Japanese emergency room at 5am with no one speaking a word of English - then subsequently looking like a bandaged monster for the next couple weeks - that wasn't one of the highlights, really.

wtfmanquestionmark48 karma

Damn. What happened that lead to a bottle getting smashed into your face?

rob-sheridan100 karma

Some guy was just really wasted and looking for a fight. It was unprovoked! And he ran off immediately. It all happened so fast, I didn't quite realize what had gone down until I put my hand up to my face and saw all the blood...

danklimuk65 karma

What do YOU know about the Tapeworm project? ;)

rob-sheridan194 karma

I know it's time to let it go!

hudsonshell57 karma

Whose idea was it for the thermal color changing cd disk ink for *Year Zero because that my friend was brilliant! I had a lot of fun showing friends that.

Anyway, thank you for all of your work, NIN is truly an artistic vision that holds up today just as it did when I started listening all those years ago.

rob-sheridan89 karma

At the time, when we'd do album packages with Interscope we'd work with a woman named Gretchen Anderson who helped us realize whatever the vision was for the albums. She would create mockups for us, send us paper samples, that type of thing. So with Year Zero we explained to her how we wanted to hide clues in the package, and asked if she'd come across anything unusual in the packaging world that might lend itself to hidden messages. She happen to have just seen a sample of the thermal ink, and thought it would be perfect, so she sent us a sample - and of course, we had to use it.

And thanks for the kind words!

T3hKaiser56 karma

Kirk or Picard?

rob-sheridan113 karma

It's a tough one, but I think I'm more of a Picard guy. It's mostly a generational thing though, I grew up on TNG.

w0lrah48 karma

First the obvious one, what is your favorite NIN album/song/whatever?

Second, more geeky one, what gadgets have become indispensable to you when on the road over the years and why?

My first concert ever was LITS at the Q in Cleveland back in '08 and it was amazing. As a long time NIN fan I couldn't imagine a better first experience.

rob-sheridan78 karma

NIN album: Either TDS or The Fragile, because of what they meant to my life at the time. My favorite NIN songs these days are the ones they hardly ever play live - because I'm not tired of hearing them!

Gadgets: The huge advances in portability from the time I started touring to the last year of touring have just been insane. Tiny portable hard drives, flash drives, smartphones - there's so much tech now that makes it easy to do almost anything while on the road. We would be working on the live visuals for the show on a laptop in the tour bus, then in hotel rooms, then backstage, and it allowed us to continue evolving the show without the huge suite of hardware it would have once taken. So, no device specifically, just the rapid increase in portability in recent years.

LITS: Thanks! That tour was easily one of my proudest moments.

ChiXiStigma32 karma

How does one even go about trying to plan and execute something as huge as the LITS show? I was lucky enough to see it three times and every time I noticed little details that I had missed the previous time. My jaw was on the floor from beginning to end. I've seen every major American NIN show since 1995 and LITS blew everything else away. I had only planned on seeing it once, but it was an almost transcendent experience being there that I had to see it again. How do you design something like that, both artistically and logistically?

Also, thank you for doing this.

rob-sheridan61 karma

It takes a lot of work by a lot of people, and a lot of experimentation.

The way we normally work is we talk to the lighting designer - in that case Roy Bennett - and give him an idea of the type of show we're hoping to put on. He goes into his back of hardware tricks and comes back to us with some ideas for set designs. He usually takes us to some warehouse of a lighting company where they have all their newest types of screens and lights on display and we can look at them in person. Depending on what everyone responds to (and what the budget allows), we all agree on a final design for the set and what types of hardware we'll have to play with. Roy is a genius, and it all starts with him.

From that point, Trent and I can start looking at the set design and dreaming up interesting things we can do with it. It's easier once we know the capabilities - and restrictions - of the hardware. We come up with ideas and I start building graphics, but nothing substantial really happens until we start production rehearsals and get the stage set up and can see it in person. Once we start throwing patterns up on the screen and seeing what works and what doesn't work, it usually changes everything - we realize some of our ideas aren't going to work at all, and also come up with a ton of new ideas based on what looks cool on the screen.

From there it's a ton of experimentation, and we gradually start to attach visual ideas to specific songs, do a lot of polishing and refining, spend a lot of late nights working, and it barely seems to come together in time. In fact, it's usually a mess the first time we run through a whole show, and we've never started a tour feeling like it's ready. The best shows to see on a tour like LITS are ones towards the end of the tour, when we've had those couple months of actually running it to get everything fixed, polished, and implement some new ideas.

[deleted]18 karma


rob-sheridan44 karma

There always seemed to be SOMETHING that went wrong. Even if it was just a tiny thing that no one would've noticed except the band/crew. I spent a lot of time on that tour just watching, biting my nails saying "please work please work please work..."

pushingreality37 karma

Can you elaborate at all on your involvement with the Year Zero TV series? Specifically, are you working with the show as an advisor or are you actually providing artistic content for the series, or a combination of both...?

P.S. - Thanks for all the amazing work you've done, both on your own and with NIN!

rob-sheridan61 karma

I can't say much on this, but Trent and I are heavily involved in the show, and have spent a ton of time fleshing out the world, coming up with characters and storylines and all sorts of other materials and tools for the writers to work with. But like I said in one of the other comments, it's moving at a maddeningly slow pace, and there are still a million things that could go wrong, so please don't hold your breath until you hear some concrete details announced.

vizzee30 karma

in one sentence, any advice for a graphic design student currently studying who'd like to pursue a career similar to yours? (ie design for music, multi-disciplanary project outcomes)

rob-sheridan62 karma

People ask me this a lot, but I'm a really bad person to ask, because my career - both how it got started and where it's gone since - is incredibly unusual. I didn't even finish school, and didn't go through the normal process of trying to find jobs or ever having to work freelance. I got really lucky to get this job, and even luckier that it's lasted so long and has allowed me to branch out into so many disciplines. So I can give general advice - like make really cool stuff and make sure people see it, and don't stop creating, ever, even if it's just personal projects or fan art. Whatever, just keep making things and putting them out there. But as for specific career advice? I wouldn't know where to begin.

veras12626 karma


rob-sheridan29 karma

I think I've seen the demonbaby question three times now. It's probably gone for good, unfortunately. I had a lot of fun with it, but I don't really know if it's who I am anymore, or if it's the type of thing I want to devote time to. I think I want to channel the downtime I used to spend on demonbaby into more art and creative endeavors. Although, I do really miss writing, so you never know.

I didn't study video. I always enjoyed playing with video, but my family could never afford a video camera, so I relied on brief moments I'd spend with borrowed camcorders here and there. But I didn't really start studying video until I started working with NIN, and taught myself as much as I could. The nice thing is that moving from one visual arts medium to another really isn't all that difficult - a new set of tools to learn, but the basics of expression and the mechanics of composition and aesthetics always carry over.

trill1322 karma

As a more major band, how did the experience of releasing an album differ from when the band was on a label vs as an independent? Nobody likes to talk about this now, but what were some benefits to working under the label structure? Also were there any differences touring as a signed band vs independent?

rob-sheridan39 karma

There are definitely pros and cons. Getting to do exactly what we want is the biggest pro. You don't have to convince anyone or ask for permission when you want to release or promote an album in really unconventional ways. You don't have lawyers and accountants weighing in on artistic decisions. You don't have to explain to someone why you want to use the more expensive paper in the CD package, or why the deluxe book needs to be coated in a special fabric from Japan. It's incredibly freeing.

On the other hand, as Trent has pointed out in some interviews recently, there's absolutely an advantage to having the big marketing muscle of a label. Labels can help push bands into a more mainstream spotlight, and we noticed that when we released stuff independently it was a lot harder to get attention outside of our existing fanbase.

As for touring, there's been no difference - the label never had anything to do with the tours, so nothing has changed there.

L0PE20 karma

Any new details on the Year Zero TV show? i am DYING for more info. YZ was one of the most original concpet albums in years. the ARG and way certain tracks were released was GENIUS.

rob-sheridan29 karma

It's moving forward at a frustratingly slow pace. But it is moving forward. It's one of the most exciting projects I've been involved with, and the potential is huge, so I hope the pace really starts to pick up, because we're all dying for it to come together. I wish I could say more than that!

alexacastro18 karma

Would you warn yourself from 11 years ago about anything if you could? What's the artistic collaboration, is it really intense and thought-out, or do you guys brainstorm together and riff off each other, or is it left entirely up to you?

rob-sheridan29 karma

I don't think I'd warn myself about anything. It's been a decade of surprises, and I don't think I'd want to change any of it, good or bad.

With the artistic collaboration (I assume you mean with Trent), it's a lot of brainstorming and back-and-forth. We riff off each other very well, and I think my ability to understand what Trent's looking for so well and and not only translate it but improve upon it - and vice versa - is the biggest reason I've kept working with him for so long. Creatively it all just works. It's been really fun discovering that all over again in creating the world of Year Zero - the brainstorming sessions on that have been incredibly fun and fruitful.

AuntieSocial82 karma

I don't think I'd warn myself about anything.

Except maybe to duck that bottle in Tokyo?

rob-sheridan74 karma


mnelson22017 karma

out of the rotating musicians touring with NINE INCH NAILS (meaning playing as NINE INCH NAILS), which one would you say was your "favorite"? Who was the craziest? Who was your favorite opening act?

rob-sheridan54 karma

Pretty tough to name a favorite, there've been so many fun and talented people. I've probably stayed closest with Alessandro, I really like him a lot and see him regularly. The craziest? Probably Josh. Not crazy like party crazy, just consistently hilarious and entertaining. Definitely Jeordie when it came to partying. I still see him from time to time, he's a lot of fun. Opening act? Probably Bauhaus, simply because Peter Murphy was so incredibly entertaining to have around on the road.

FernandoDante16 karma

I remember one day, back in 2008 (I think), nin.com posted an announcement claiming they needed a new graphic designer for their website/artwork/photography, asking people to send in their resumes. Then it was quickly taken down. What was that all about?

rob-sheridan23 karma

If I recall, we were looking for someone to help out with mostly web stuff, and take care of some of the technical and day-to-day things that I was either too busy for or wasn't very good at (I'm not much for writing code, so we were looking for someone who had more knowledge in that department). We ended up hiring someone we knew and had worked with before, which is why we took it down.

nickrivers16 karma

What is your history with computers? You always have use a mac computer? Windows? what was your first and actual computer?

rob-sheridan31 karma

I was always into computers when we got to use them in school growing up, but we didn't have one at my house for a long time. Finally a friend gave us his old computer - it was a 286, I think - and I became obsessed. I spent as much time as possible tinkering, doing art (Windows Paint!), playing games (I spent a whole summer attempting to re-draw every sprite and texture in Doom), etc. Stuck with Windows through college until I joined up with NIN, and they converted me to Mac.

alexmads15 karma

What's your favorite/most versatile lens that consistently produces the best images for event photography?

rob-sheridan22 karma

My favorite lens for events like concerts is the 70-200mm. A great range, and 2.7 aperture which helps a lot in the low lighting of many live shows.

kingofthehillpeople15 karma

were you in involved with the social network soundtrack?

rob-sheridan25 karma

Not musically. Just in the artwork for the soundtrack album.

Sdsarver14 karma

Have you done any other album covers besides Nails? Which is your personal favorite cover?

rob-sheridan29 karma

I've worked pretty much exclusively for NIN - aside from doing small favors for other bands here and there. I might be doing the package for someone pretty cool in the near future, which would be my first true foray into art direction for a non-NIN-related artist. But it's not confirmed yet so I don't want to say anything.

Favorite album covers? I love all the Pink Floyd stuff, a lot of the 4AD stuff, Joy Division's Unknown Pleasures, I've always loved Peter Gabriel's old album covers, and some of Bowie's.

amplificated13 karma


I've been a big fan of NIN, and while I haven't exactly followed you or your work, I've always really liked NIN's visual style and eminence amongst musicians utilising technology with music. Some questions:

  • Aside from Nine Inch Nails and HTDA, is there anything else you're working on with Trent at the moment that you can talk about?
  • Is much happening with How to Destroy Angels currently?
  • Do you feel you have to step out of your comfort zone when designing art for HTDA? As you've mentioned in this thread, basically all of the work you've done for 11 years is for NIN - so in other words, are you finding it hard at all to differentiate work done for another group? To be honest with you, I think the HTDA art has a similar feel to the work you've done with NIN - The Slip in particular. I like it, but yes... for some reason I'm rewording the question for a third time now... do you worry about different aspects of your work overlapping? I know it makes it even harder when you're working with the same people!
  • The last I read, the big companies you attempted to market your game idea to decided against making it - has anything happened regarding your idea since? i.e., approached an indie developer you could contract, or are you prepared to shed any details on the idea yet?

Thanks for your time!

rob-sheridan22 karma

  • We're working on a couple other things, but nothing I can say too much about.
  • Yes.
  • Part of the reason we reached out to Mark Weaver to do the artwork for HTDA is that we wanted something that felt visually distinct from NIN. I put together a pile of interesting art and visuals that I felt might work, and Weaver's stuff was among it. Everyone in the band really responded to Weaver's stuff, so instead of me trying to rip off his style, we just reached out to him directly and talked to him about what we were looking for. After some back and forth, he nailed it. So, I'm sure my influence inevitably bled into the design and feel of the EP, but having a different artist create the images really helped keep it from feeling too NIN.
  • I would still really love to make a video game. I know Trent would too, but his priorities aren't really there right now. I'm hoping we can collaborate with an indie dev at some point and do something small but awesome. Making games is something I really want to do in the future.

BuffetScientist10 karma

You ever collaborate with Saul Williams?

rob-sheridan26 karma

I worked with Saul on the Niggy Tardust digital release - I took photos of his paintings and put the booklet together. He's a great guy.

grifta679 karma

What was your favorite moment from the Wave Goodbye tour?

And although I know you can't really answer this part (maybe a Trent-style vague hint...), but what are the plans for releasing those shows? We've seen HD-quality footage of a couple songs teased on nin.com, so all things point to a release at some point. Will it be each show seperately? One overall recap of the tour? Any rough release date idea?

rob-sheridan25 karma

Probably seeing the band play at the Bowery Ballroom, one of my favorite NYC venues where I saw a lot of great bands when I lived there. It was just cool to see a band like NIN play at a tiny place like that. The energy was incredible.

RE: The footage from those shows. All I can say now is that you'll be seeing more of it.

_tom____7 karma

I like the broken robot girl work. Are you creating more (than the two versions that have been released)?

rob-sheridan11 karma

We have shot two others, but are waiting until we can shoot a couple more before we release all of the rest of them. It's mostly my fault for letting that project drag on for too long, but I really love the results we're getting.

zmann3 karma

Your personal artwork is pretty cool - I had "Presents opening children" as my desktop for 6 months one time.

Assuming you're going to continue working with Trent, what else are you up to with your own work? Any gallery shows or cool upcoming projects you can tell us about?

rob-sheridan10 karma

Thanks. I'd like to do some gallery shows this year, I just need to crack down and do some more disciplined work - I want to focus on a series of related works that would be more suited to a show. Hopefully this will be the year I get that done. I also might illustrate a book for a friend's company that's making interactive iPad books geared towards children. It would be a lot of fun, if I can find time for it.