Case Study 6: twothousandstrong

We here at Jewelboxing have long been fans of twothousandstrong, a terrific motion graphics/production company based out of Venice, California. There’s a mighty good chance that you’ve seen their work multiple times, from their identity packages for the Independent Film Channel, to an entire show package for Nickelodeon’s Kid’s Choice Awards, to commercials for everyone from ESPN to Showtime. Their work is drop dead gorgeous, lighting quick, and the kind of stuff that makes you want to get up and start learning animation. We got the opportunity to talk with Craig Tozzi, founder of twothousandstrong, about its history, their work, and moving from Venice to Venice:

1. Can you tell us a bit about the company and its history?

I started 2000strong in 1996 in New York with my brother Steve. At the start, it was simply the two of us designing, with myself doing editorial, composites and the occasional music score. The kinds of work we did then is similar to the work the company does now – although obviously the toolset has changed.  Steve left the company in 2001 and we’ve since set up shop in Venice, CA, where I’ve lived since 1999.

By the way, the company name changed from “2000strong” to “twothousandstrong” at the turn of the century, primarily since the name has nothing to to with the millennium, although a lot of people evidently thought that it did. The name doesn’t mean anything, in fact.

2. You do everything from motion graphics to traditional film work.  Is there a favorite to work on?  Does everybody get excited when one particular kind of project is put in front of you?

I’ve always felt the more complicated, the more logistically complex – the better. It’s the challenge –  pushing yourself to do something different than you’ve done before – whether that be in a creative or technical context that keeps it interesting and fun.  Personally, I’m split between two very different disciplines  – i love directing live action, but I’m also very enamored with the more technical nature of 3D software + programming. That’s just me – other designers here have their own strengths and interests.

As for favorite jobs – it’s not so much the job as it is the client. You need a client that trusts you and respects your input – it’s a dialogue that goes both ways. Without that, you’re doomed, no matter how good of a designer you are.  The end result may be great, but it won’t be very fun at all.

3. On your site, when you select individual projects, it’s refreshing to see detailed explanations of how you put the piece together. And you really get into it, down to even the technical details. In a business of “wow, how’d they do that?!” was it a thought-over decision to include these “man-behind-the-curtain” details, or just something you felt like talking about out of interest?

We only really try to do that when something needs explaining – a different technique or production pipeline from the norm etc.  Motion graphics is maturing to a degree, thus the tools that get used are typically the same from project to project.  The creative is far more interesting than the toolset anyway. We do like to keep the dialogue on our website more conversational, even a bit snarky. You can’t really take all of this stuff too seriously!

4. Following that, I’d guess that a lot of people don’t realize that there are a lot of organic elements put into building motion graphics. You actually have to go out, away from a computer, to shoot and build and whatever else, and then come back. Is there a favorite part of that process for twothousandstrong?  The planning, the gathering or the later compilation?

Depends on the project, and the designer. I’ve always been intrigued by natural elements + unpredicability, whether real or virtual.  This doesn’t always show itself in the company’s work however – a fair amount of our work doesn’t include any natural elements whatsoever.  It’s more about what works within the client’s and the project’s context – that drives the process more than anything else.

5. What are some of the more “unique” projects you’ve work on?

Two very different examples: 1 – i directed a game cinematic this year for EA Games’ Need For Speed franchise that had a screen raster of nine HD screens laid end-to-end that was eventually displayed on a mammoth 360 degree screen. I worked with a lot of really talented people at the Mill / New York to do it, and camped there for nearly two months while we animated the equivalent of 27,000 HD frames to create a 3D car-chase that was projected around the viewer – as if they were standing in the middle of all the action.  2 – I directed a series of vignettes and a PSA for the TLC network that followed a designer from Trading Spaces as he remodeled a community room at a Ronald McDonald House in Michigan.  The resulting spots had virtually no graphic design in them, but were very satisfying to create.

In fact, we’re doing another series of spots like that later this year.

6. It seems like I’ve been seeing your identity packages on IFC for a few years now.  And you’ve said you’ve had a long relationship with EA.  When you have clients for that long, does it become a more open exchange, with you pitching as many ideas as they are, instead of a one-off job for a client with an already detailed plan?

It doesn’t really work like that – it’s more of a trust type of thing. One of my clients I’ve been working with for over 10 years  and he always has a very strong sense of what he’s looking for, but he lets me change and push beyond his recommendations if i want; that’s a great relationship, as we both respect each others opinions.  With EA / Arnson Communications, Showtime, IFC and other clients we’ve had relationships with over the years, the common trait has been professionalism. Basically, they’ve got their shit together and are confident about what they’re doing, and that’s reflected in their relationship with us.  It’s always a joy to work like that.

7. Any particular favorites that you’ve put together?

It’s impossible to pick a favorite, as I tend to forget what we finished just 3 weeks ago!

8. Last year, for your reel, you used Jewelboxing and it was packaged in that terrific shiny red mylar bag.  Anything like that up your collective sleeves this year?

We changed the color!  We’ve got a few limited edition things we’re doing, but they’re secret for now!

9. You’re moving to new offices soon.  Still in Venice?

As long as we’re in Los Angeles, we’ll be in Venice. I’m allergic to commuting.

10.  On a personal, embarrassing front, a couple of years back, after seeing your work with Ruben Fleischer on the DJ Format music video, “The Hit Song,” I told myself, “That’s it. I want to learn After Effects.” So I took a camera out, got a friend involved, and spent a few days making this impossibly stupid animation, heavily influenced by your work. Since then, I’ve figured out what I’m doing a little more, but it was your video that started the process.

That’s cool!  A lot of people really liked that piece; i always felt it needed another two weeks to cook, but deadlines are deadlines. It’s really fun for what it is.

11.  Lastly, what’s next?  Any new projects to be on the look-out for?

We intentionally had a pretty chill summer since we had planned to completely rework our offices – literally moving everything and wiring from scratch.  We’ve just finished all that and are finally setting into our normal production mode, so stay tuned!