We thought it might be useful to document the process of starting an online business from scratch.
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Like with our last Case Study, Rafael Macho, you'd be hard pressed to have missed the work created by Heavenspot Studios. You've seen their work in feature films, in print ads, on television, and everywhere in between. Currently, they're working on such cool projects as designing a teaser site for the "Tenacious D" feature and doing design work for the doc we're all anxious to see here at the studio, "The Aristocrats." Did we mention that they're also Jewelboxing users? We were honored that Chevon Hicks, founder of Heavenspot, gave us a few minutes of his valuable time to talk shop. Here's what transpired:
Can you fill us in on what Heavenspot is?
Heavenspot is a boutique creative agency. We are creative in the traditional sense of graphic design, art direction, illustration, etc., and we also take a creative approach to the technology we employ. It's a company with a system that allows creativity yet demands staunch professionalism. We believe both are needed to deliver a consistent product.
What's your role and history there?
I'm the owner of the company and creative director. Heavenspot started as my portfolio website. The trip from apartment to office building was very organic. Like many designers, I started off doing everything myself. As more and more work came in, I eventually got some programming help, design help, and so on. After running the business for five years, I finally hired a producer, so that I could get back to doing what I love - being creative. Parts of the company are running themselves now, so I'm personally less involved in the daily tedium, which is actually a huge benefit to my clientle - happier creatives produce better work.
From your bio, it looks like you started out really young in the industry. How have you seen it change?
Ha ha! Yeah, I started reading AdWeek when I was sixteen, sixteen years ago. The main thing I've noticed is that you can do a lot more with far fewer people. It was as if an agency's greatness was dependent upon it's staff size. Nowadays, nobody wants to work with a bloated company, especially in the interactive world. I'm actively aware of this not happening to my own company, while at the same time, a certain amount of growth is always necessary.
The clients and jobs Heavenspot has been involved with reads like a dream list for most designers. How did you get to the point where you were landing these great gigs?
Most of our work has come through word of mouth, and we've really tried to make the most of the flagship projects that have come our way. The size of the company has also allowed us to take on jobs too big for the guy in his bedroom, but too small for a major post production facility. Thanks to the Mac, we're able to do 2k film animation on the same machine we build movie websites on.
You seem to do it all, from print to music to games. There have to be times when you're busy and jumping around from format to format. How do you keep it all going along smoothly?
The great thing about being a creative shop is that we can apply our creativity to anything. There might be some new technical stuff to learn, but the process of sitting with the client, taking copious notes, research and development, are always constant.
Along with that, do you have a favorite form to work with? Print? Motion? Etc.?
Motion is the direction we've been moving in for the past couple of years. Film is the most powerful medium, and influences all other media because it creates an experience. Since the web is the cornerstone of our business, it's nice to see the advances in flash video because soon, we'll be able to do everything we want to do creatively in the same medium - the web. Like movies, we now have a real chance to affect people on a visceral level with a website or rich media banner ad.
Throughout most of the work on your site, there's something of a cohesion there. I want to say it's that Heavenspot has a certain "look" that it uses. Do you have a name for this style? Any ideas why you're drawn toward it?
The style is called vector realism. It's more of a description than the name of a movement, but as a name it certainly conveys a sense of the science behind the work. My personal influences tend to come from pop art and graffiti, not only in look, but also approach. I'm drawn to this imagery because it has both organic and mechanical aspects to it. At normal size, objects seem hyper-realistic, while if one were to zoom in, you'd see a splattering of vector shapes that look like the abstract expressionism of Pollack or deKooning. Few things rival the emotional impression of a photograph, which is why the vector style is so highly marketable, it's like the best of both worlds - illustration and photography. The added advantage lies in our ability to twist the photograph's reality a bit, or find some character nuance that wasn't readily apparent in the photograph.
What are a few of your favorite projects you've been involved with at Heavenspot?
On the "Harold and Kumar" project for New Line Cinema, we created an animated dream sequence for the film, built the website (which included games and secret rollovers), and created the online advertising campaign. It was nice to live and breathe a project for nearly a year and create consistent branding for the film which carried over from production to DVD. My other favorite pet project is the illustration work for Atomica magazine. This is one part of the business that I keep completely to myself, and it nurtures the fine artist in me.
What project are you using Jewelboxing for? And why did you chose to work with it?
We are currently using Jewelboxing for several projects, but our first, which came to your attention, was for commercial director Mike Maguire. After years of being a hyper successful commercial director, Maguire wanted to get back into the agency side of advertising and wanted an interactive DVD he could send to creative directors. I'd wanted to use Jewelboxing for years, but the right client hadn't come along - or should I say, none of my previous clients wanted to pay for designer cd packaging! We are using Jewelboxes for all of internal marketing projects including our DVD reel, and a company presentation which we leave behind at meetings.
Where would you like to see Heavenspot go in the distant future?
I'd like to see us become an agency / production company with a much bigger emphasis on television and film. At the same time, I'd like the core interactive business to grow, so when convergence happens, we'll be ready with both ends of the plug. Can the two businesses become one? You bet, in fact it's already happening.
What do we have to look forward to coming up from Heavenspot?
Hopefully more work from our A-list clients, and several original content projects we're developing including destination/community websites and some HD programming.