Case Study 16: Setbuild Project

With our Jewelboxing Case Studies, we like to find a subject that either has an impressive body of work or are putting together something we find really interesting. We’ve been incredibly fortunate thus far to have found both, operating together, with all of our Case Study subjects. And with Alex Kent and the Setbuild Project, we continue that tradition in our sixteenth conversation about impressive and interesting things. Let’s get going.

Can you tell us about yourself?

I’m Alex Kent. I’m 29 and the lead tutor for the 1st Year of the undergraduate course BA(hons) Contemporary Photographic Practice at the University for the Creative Arts in the southeast of England. Outside of this, I work with professional and fine-art photographers on-set and in post-production.

What is the Setbuild Project?

The Setbuild Project is a studio photography project that I run annually. It was first set up in 2002 by my predecessor, Jonathan Simms, and it has run every year since then (I took over three years ago). The premise of the project is this: Working in groups, students are tasked with choosing a scene from a publicly released feature film, then recreate that scene as a still photographic image in the studio. Practically, this means recreating the set, lighting, costumes, props, and every other element of the original. Conceptually, this requires the students to decipher which elements of the scene create the narrative and emotional tension. Their ability to define and reproduce these is key to making the photographic image hold the drama of the original.

Over the years, the project has evolved and improved, and each year the scale and ambition of the students’ builds take on bigger challenges. The Setbuild Project has elevated from good to amazing by the incredible support that we have. Each year we work with professional set designers and constructors, DRS Construction, who guide the students through the practical elements of designing and building the sets. We also have very generous support from Arri Lighting GB and CirroLite, who loan us industry leading lighting equipment, and Hasselblad, whose phenomenal H-series digital cameras we use.

Can you describe the process for us, what’s involved with each project?

The project begins each year in late February. Students form production teams of four or five members and start to choose a film. We’re always looking for scenes that will give the right balance of challenges and excitement, yet will still be possible for the students to produce.

Once the teams have settled on a scene, they have approximately ten weeks of pre-production time, in which they must plan every element of the shot. This involves making mockups of the set and lighting, finding all props and costumes, casting actors, testing special effects. Then in May, we build and shoot everything. Each team gets one week in a studio to build, light, shoot, and strike (break and tidy) the set.

Last year we had eleven teams total; four teams working at once, spread across three studios for three weeks! The production weeks are pretty intense; our studios aren’t enormous and having twenty people working eight ’til eight for their five production days can get pretty frantic.

The visual translation of the scenes, from moving a cinema-aspect image into a still camera-aspect, is a big challenge for the students. The final images should not simply be a facsimile of a freeze frame from the film, but should be the scene captured and portrayed in a single photographic image. When the project was first run, it was shot on 5″x4″ large format standard cameras, which as anyone who has used one knows, are pretty unforgiving. Film that size retains a huge amount of detail and enforces a level of rigour in the quality of the production. At the University, we have recently established a productive relationship with the Hasselblad camera company, with their support the last two years the students have been able to use the H-series medium format digital cameras for this project. We’re now able to take advantage of the instant-feedback and tethered shooting, remote control capabilities of digital cameras, without loosing any of the rigour that the large-format cameras enforced.

Are the students who enroll in the program interested in becoming filmmakers and photographers, or do they lean more toward the technical, wanting to become set designers or cinematographers?

It’s a spread. This is actually one of the biggest challenges that I and the other tutors face in planning and running the course. We have around 60 students in the each year and whilst the majority come from art foundation courses in the UK, around a quarter of the group are from elsewhere in Europe or the world. The switch to digital in photography has fragmented the process of learning how photography works. Some students will have worked almost entirely with traditional film processing and printing, whereas others may have never picked up a film camera, but will be fluent in Photoshop and digital manipulation. When recruiting, we are interested more in ideas and creative thinking than technical dexterity.

As graduates our students go on to many different professions, mostly in the worlds of professional photography and fine-art, but also in filmmaking and publishing.

Since each group is filled with several students, how is the scene/film they’ll be working on chosen? Seems like it would be difficult to reach a consensus.

This can be a problem! Hopefully students form teams around similar thematic and stylistic tastes, but this doesn’t always happen. The choice comes down to finding a balance between a shot which will work well as a ‘still’ and is challenging enough for everyone to get their teeth into. It’s very important to get the balance of elements right. Scenes that are prop or costume heavy are very hard to do, as finding all the exact props can take a phenomenal amount of work (more than anyone expects). Shots which rely too much on the face of a famous actor in the center of the frame are rather hard as well (we obviously don’t have the budget to call Keanu’s agent).

The students are primarily interested in photography rather than prop gathering or set decoration, so we tend to bias towards images where the atmosphere is created by the lighting and cinematography (Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner), rather than lavish set design (Sophia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette).

Once the teams have come up with a short list of two or three scenes, we test build each of them in the studio to get a better idea of the scale and complexity of the build (at this point we also establish detailed floor plans and elevations, camera position, lens choice, approximate light positions).

The students are not given a budget for the sets, but we provide the technical resources they will need; camera, lighting, grip equipment, and we provide basic building materials; wooden ‘flats’, timber, tools (as much as possible these are reused, set to set). Anything and everything that is specific for the scene the students must source themselves. We encourage students to find creative solutions to problems rather than spending money. This is the focus of the ten week pre-production period, locating and negotiating the loan of props and costumes. Anything that cannot be found will end up being made by the students. Planning and sticking to a budget is part of the project, and most of the sets complete for under $200.

After a group has chosen a scene to recreate, do they ever reach a point where they think they’ve taken on a selection that’s perhaps a bit too complicated (or even too simple)? Or do you help them along the way, making sure it’s a good mix of approachable and challenging?

We have some very enthusiastic students. From the ’09 project, there were points in both the Pan’s Labyrinth and Sweeney Todd sets where I began to doubt that it was possible to make it all happen in time.

Pan’s Labyrinth was uncharted territory. We’d never attempted a naturalistic scene before. Instead of walls to build and props to find, there are roots and mud. It was also very hard to establish any scale or geometry for the set, as the original is a almost a static frame. The pre-production weeks went by and it was very hard to come up with even a plan of the space which everyone agreed with. Even once the set was underway in the studio, it was extremely hard to visualise how the elements came together, it wasn’t until the students started to light it that it began to take shape and come to life.

Sweeney Todd was also an incredible project. The room itself is quite large and tall, with a huge window looking out to a view over Dickensian London. The distance to the camera is quite far, so right at the planning stage there were doubts whether it could be built in our studios. We’ve never attempted painting backdrops before and suddenly we were taking on a shot where the backpainting is in the centre of the frame. To compound both of those, the scene itself is very bright, so there’s nowhere to hide! Every period prop had to be found, the detail of all the wooden mouldings reproduced, and the elaborate dress that Lucy is wearing had to be found. This project was incredibly ambitious in every aspect. The team really rose to the challenge. Their dedication and attention to detail was amazing and it all paid off in a spectacular final image.

We’ve been running this project for a few years now and we’ve completed a total of ninety sets. Each year the students want to up the ante, challenge the limits and do something that’s never done before. Last year, a new undergraduate course entitled Creative Arts for Theatre & Film began at the same campus as the photography school. Given the remit of that course, it seemed a natural fit that we’d work together on the Setbuild Project. The skills and focus of the two courses really complimented each other and opened a lot of new possibilities. One of these was bringing the skills for large scale painted backdrops. The Batmanset was a product of this, a relatively simple set in front of a stretched canvas backplate. As it turned out, I rather underestimated the scale of the backplate. Our original estimate of 3m x 3.5m became 4m by 4.5m. Then we eventually built a 4.5m x 5m wooden frame, stretched a canvas over it, and found it was the absolute minimum size we could possibly get away with.

Do the students themselves appear as the actors in the scenes? Or do they have to also hunt around for someone who looks similar to the original performer from the film they’re recreating? And along with that, who handles all of the wardrobe and prop design? It’s all remarkably accurate.

The teams’ members are not allowed to be in their own shots, as there is quite enough for them to do without trying do to the acting as well! The teams have to do their own casting. This is a really big challenge when choosing a shot in the first place. Many scenes are made iconic or emotionally powerful by the performances they contain.

Many of the actors in our shots are ‘street cast’; our students simply approach people they find and try to talk them into it. Other times, actors are found through online and offline stage and model communities. Casting can be incredibly tough and there are plenty of times when the planned models drop out at the last minute. As we can’t pay we’re always at the mercy of people’s availability from work and so on. A couple of times we have approached a few of the original actors, but sadly haven’t yet managed to convince any to come along (we made a concerted effort to get Simon Pegg for the Hot Fuzz shot last year, but unfortunately it didn’t suit his schedule, as I understand he was shooting the forthcoming Paul at the time). This remains a stretch goal of the project for me.

A few times students have actors cast from the outset and choose a scene around their actor. One of the early shots from The Crow was a case in point, the students knew someone who did an excellent Brandon Lee impersonation, they chose a shot which played to that, and the result is fantastic.

Wardrobe and props, we find or make! Finding accurate props takes a lot of work. eBay can be immensely useful, but as we’re trying not to spend money, it can be easier to negotiate a loan or trade if the item can be found in real life. If items can’t be found, or are unreasonably expensive, the students will build it. We have support each year from professional set and prop makers who work with the students showing them how to carve polystyrene, cast paster, vacuum form plastic, and create paint and surface effects. It’s all made slightly easier that anything we make only has to look good from one point of view!

Why did you require the teams to keep production diaries and offer live studio cameras of the sets as they’re being constructed?

Since the inception of the project we’ve required students to keep a ‘log’ of their progress, so tutors are able to get insight into the students understanding of their own progress.

Five years ago, we decided to make the project exist online as well as in the studio. We setup the website and it seemed like a natural progression to run online production blogs for each team. They serve several purposes, but primarily they become a communication tool between the teams’ internal workings and the outside world. As much of the project naturally takes place outside of the photography school, the blogs become an informal way that all the tutors and staff that are involved can contribute to each team’s development. Also, many students from the 2nd and 3rd years of the BA (and even graduates) are very excited about the project and want to be involved; the blog becomes an public communication channel with the teams.

We run the webcams in the studio because they make exciting viewing! The builds can look amazing and the students are all to eager to tell everyone they know “look what we’re doing!”

Do you get a sense, once the projects are all finished, at how the students feel about the process? Surprised at how much work goes into it or all the more energized to enter the industry?

I think (and hope) for most students that there’s a sense of elation. Eleven weeks might seem like a long time, but once it gets going, the project passes really fast, and the final production week is intense and exhausting for everyone. We make a big show out of the end of project reviews, cutting together clips of the original films, stop-frame animation from the studio webcams so everyone gets to see the story that the other teams have been working through. This is a celebration of the work that the students have put into the project, culminating in the unveiling of large scale photographic prints of the shots.

One of my favourite aspects of this project is that it shows students that they can make incredible images which look as good or better than the Hollywood original. And they’ve done it on no budget, with a crew of five. I think it’s a really empowering project.

Any trick of the trade that’s always surprising to the students? Something that makes everyone stop and say “I didn’t know that’s how that was done?”

Everyone is always amazed at the versatility of polystyrene. Last year we were donated a lorry load of pre-used polystyrene rocks, which were entirely convincing to until you realised you could lift them with one hand.

Any particular favorites from over the years? Projects that blew you away?

Both the shots we’ve done from Sin City have been outstanding and both for very different reasons.

The Sin City shot from 2008 season was a technical tour de force. They chose to make a shot which takes place in a cavernous warehouse space, yet create it in a single story photo studio. The entire top half of the frame, the roof of the warehouse, was made as a ‘foreground miniature’; a 2m wide cardboard model. To make the illusion work in the final shot, the aperture of the camera has to be set so that there is sufficient depth of field to get the roof in focus. Once this aperture is set, it then defines the level of lighting required in every other part of the frame. It was an incredible technical challenge which was realized amazingly well.

The 2006 Sin City also had some excellent creative problem solving. This project was shot on 5″x4″ large format sheet film cameras and students had to present the negative as it came out of the camera alongside the final retouched image (now they are required to submit the camera RAW file direct from the camera along with the retouched final). There is always a challenge of how perfect you can colour and tonality of the shot in the studio before you take it into Photoshop. For this particular shot, as is the style of Sin City, the contrast is extremely high. Even with all the lighting in the correct places it is very hard to create the correct contrast (notably the contrast is much lower on Bruce Willis’s face than the rest of the frame). In the end the students hit on a solution, they reversed the photographers adage of “painting with light” and simply painted with paint. Where they needed shadow on the cell bars, they painted the bars black, where they needed light, they painted white! It was a gloriously simple solution to a complex problem, and since the scene only needs to look perfect with one set of lights from one camera position, it worked flawlessly.

The ’07 In The Mood For Love is also a shot which I like very much; it’s one where the team struggled against huge problems during their production and whilst the final shot doesn’t stand up to close scrutiny, it manages to capture a lot of the emotion of the original scene. The performances of the actors and the subtly of lighting make the shot excellent, when it could have very well not been completed at all.

After they’re done with this course, what are the students on to next and do they build upon what they’ve learned in Setbuild?

The Setbuild Project is the last tightly defined project we set the students, once they move into the second year of the course they’re much more free to choose the style and form of photographic work they want to pursue. Whilst not everyone wants to return to the studio to build sets straight away, the idea of constructing the photographic frame and paying attention to every element of final image follows through into whatever work they make.

In the third year of the course, the students produce their final project a number of people return to creating worlds in the studio.

We got to talking because you’d mentioned using Jewelboxing for this year’s Setbuild. What were you using the cases for?

The Setbuild Project is made possible by the generous support of a number of companies and as a small token of our appreciation to all of the individuals at each of these companies who work over and above to make the project happen, we produce a project review film and mail it out to all of the. To make this extra special, we distribute it in the excellent Jewelboxing King cases.

Any big plans for next year’s series of projects?

I’m hoping we’ll get to collaborate with the Film and Theatre course again next year. Right now it’s in discussion, as the total number of students involved in the project would be over a hundred.

Whilst I am always eager to push the project, there is a danger that it becomes so big, so all engulfing, that it prevents the students from working on their other projects. The student have two other projects running alongside the Setbuild.

In terms of films and scenes, it’s always hard to get away from the last 15 years of Hollywood, largely due to the demographic of the students, but that’s always something we try to push. Obviously the project suits certain type of films and certain types of scenes, but there appears to me theres a rich seem of science fiction movies which we’ve yet to take on. It’s become a bit of a running joke, each year I suggest people should do; 2001Star WarsAlienPlanet of the Apes, or Close Encounters, but so far no one’s taken me up on it.

Case Study 14: EveryBaby

We get a little weak in the knees every time we run across someone using Jewelboxing for some form of entrepreneurial outlet. Maybe it’s because it reminds us a little of ourselves from way back when, launching a new company and hoping people would like what we were offering. So maybe it’s a little like that movie Pay It Forward but not nearly as schmaltzy and definitely without that kid from The Sixth Sense. Whatever the case, we were fortunate to get to talk to Jennifer Diaz, founder of the design firm Force Nine, about her recent foray into the great unknown that is a product launch, a sort of “build your own baby book” collection of forms for season scrapbookers and the uninitiated alike called EveryBaby. We were so enjoying talking to Jennifer and the uniqueness of her product that we thought “Hey, we should do a Case Study about this!” and thus, here we are.

1. Can you tell us a about yourself?

I went to design school in the early 1980s, when everything was still done by hand. I was always drawn to the history of art and design as well and my master’s thesis, in modern art history, was a comparison of several early twentieth-century graphic designers. I worked for a short time at the Getty Trust in Los Angeles, where I lived with an illuminated manuscripts scholar, grew to love artists’ books, learned basic bookbinding skills, and began writing for Print and other design magazines. All of this is relevant to the EveryBaby book project in one way or another.

2. What’s the EveryBaby Memory Book Pages project?

EveryBaby pages are PDF-formatted components for building customized memory books. What is unique about the EveryBaby system is that you print only the pages that you select, in the quantities that you need, on your choice of paper. You can then bind the pages in any number of ways, along with additional photographs, documents and other memorabilia.

3. What inspired you to create it? Making books for your own children? Some other product out there that you thought just wasn’t quite doing everything?

I started seriously thinking about creating a flexible baby book system when my sister adopted her then nearly 2-year old son. Around the same time, her gay neighbors adopted two children, a never-married sister had a child, and a friend became pregnant through a sperm bank. I was also doing pro-bono design work for a group dedicated to kids with cerebral palsy, who each had their own individualized lists of developmental milestones. Nearly all of the baby books available were hopelessly inadequate for all of these families, and it occurred to me that it was almost insulting to expect these parents to slice up traditional books.

I also had my own daughter eight years ago and settled on a baby book with little John Lennon animal drawings. The pages were so shiny that I had to use a Sharpie to fill in the data and there never seemed to be space for the type of information that I wanted to record, such as details of her many music classes, mysterious allergic reactions, and four years of preschool.

4. Did you design all of the 160 PDFs the package comes with? How long did that take you?

The entire process took about seven years, which has actually turned out to be a good thing. By shelving the project for months at a time, I was able to re-imagine it several times. Initially, I had planned to offset print and package the pages by chapter and sell them to retail shops via the big NY trade shows, with a start-up cost of about $16,000. It took some time (years, in fact) to realize that I would still not be addressing the fundamental issue, which is the ability to choose one page at a time while assembling a book. While I was endlessly contemplating all of this, the PDF file format became more mainstream and Etsy was launched, leading me to develop a much more comprehensive and economical product than I could have conceived of seven years earlier.

I chose many of the actual page design elements fairly early in the process, however, including Engraver�s Bold, Aldus, Bickham Script and Lo-Type for text, plus an assortment of dingbats and ornaments for borders. I probably ran 20 laser and inkjet-printer tests on the dashed lines alone.

5. Did you have some sort of system developed for how you thought each form should be organized? It’s a ton of information to keep track of, so it seems like you’d need to think out the flow of each page, to make it accessible.

During the first few years, I worked on the text in Word. This enabled me to really focus on grouping information into pages that could be opted out of as a unit. I didn’t even begin designing the chapters until I had locked in the precise contents of each page. The most difficult section was probably the “firsts,” which are usually just a long laundry list in conventional baby books. I separated them into logical, Montessori-ish classifications, such as Practical Life, Communication, Fine Motor Skills, etc., and left room for anecdotes and lists where appropriate. When I finally started laying out the pages in InDesign, it was fairly easy going, but I still continued to edit. During the final phase, I hired a professional copy-editor/proofreader to read through the entire collection of pages.

6. Speaking as someone who has absolutely no experience with this, once a person has the disc and they’ve been printing their pages and putting everything together, do you have any recommendations on how to assemble a great baby book?

The best, and least stressful, approach is to assemble several books. For example, the pregnancy, birth and adoption sections have a finite timeframe, so they can be printed, completed and bound first. The “All About You” section will take many years to compile and should therefore have a dedicated box for the storage of calendars, notes, and scraps of information. Alternately, a four-page birthday party section can be filled in during the party and added to a birthdays-only book. At an early age, kids can take over filling out their own pages for the school memory book — and in case of disaster, the pages can be reprinted. The family tree and parents� sections are probably the lowest priority for overwhelmed parents, but can be an easy weekend project at any point over the years, and are easily duplicated for each child�s individual book. Finally, as the overriding goal of any memory book is a long shelf life, I highly recommend the museum-quality storage boxes, sleeves and binders available from Light Impressions.

7. Although I’ve gotten better over the years after countless moves and getting tired of hauling boxes around, I come from a long line of hoarders of stuff that holds sentimental value. So for people like me, do you think having something more organized and guided like your printable sheets will help? Any advice on what’s good to keep and what’s best to just toss?

I think all artists and creative people are hoarders. The trick is to hoard in a semi-organized fashion and then allow the passage of time to dictate what can be tossed. One of my most memorable experiences at the Getty was getting a first look at boxes of Jan Tschichold’s personal papers, which had just been purchased but not yet catalogued. Despite all his rules about the organization of the page, Tschichold’s personal files were a fantastic mess of personal letters, sketches and printed ephemera from virtually every significant designer. He clearly saved everything, but items were fairly well sorted into folders and boxes. The Getty staff took his efforts one step further by slipping things into archival sleeves and entering critical dates and information into accessible databases. This is essentially what parents do when assembling memory books. It’s an organic process – and the EveryBaby pages give you a framework in which to document that process.

8. In an age where a lot of the memories you keep are now online, from photos to home movies, there’s something very comforting about printing things, filling them out with a pen, attaching photos, etc. What is it about getting to work with these bits and pieces of memory by hand?

Most early art, even on cave walls and papyrus, was associated with personal memories. Illuminated manuscripts were basically scrapbooks, with groups of unrelated pages bound together, family members painted into biblical scenes, and personal notes scribbled in the margins. There’s a tactile component to the process of assembling memorablilia that is an essential part of the human experience. Technology is not only at odds with this experience, but even worse, can pose a real threat to it. In fact, I’ll bet 10 Syquest cartridges that the technology on which your digital photos and videos are now stored will be obsolete within 20 years. With hand-compiled memory books, there is the potential to create something more enduring than a web gallery.

9. You’d mentioned earlier your choice to sell EveryBaby on Etsy. Why did you decide to go that specific route? Possible other options for the future?

Etsy is a great marketplace for anything made by hand. It’s an online craft fair – with some of the awfulness that craft fairs can inspire – but at the same time, it’s a high-end gallery of beautiful art objects. As a seller, I can’t imagine a marketplace that would better target the full range of alternative families, while also allowing me to shirk the responsibility of building my own web site. Like many artisans who launch on Etsy, I hope to evolve into selling on my own site or in retail shops, such as the Paper Source.

10. Why did you choose Jewelboxing as your packaging? And can you tell us a little about the your design for the case?

I chose Jewelboxing because I wanted a case that would be durable and elegant enough to be presented as a gift. The EveryBaby cases were designed to look like hand-bound books, with kraft paper covers, bookcloth spines, and endpapers patterned with Hoefler ornaments. The Jewelboxing inserts allow space for a huge amount of information on the back, and I used all sides of the booklet for instructions and an extensive table of contents. I will also add loose beads, baby bracelets and birthday candles to the spines as little surprise gifts for buyers.

11. What’s next for you? For the EveryBaby project?

As part of a self-imposed hiatus from client-directed projects, I’m going to spend the summer creating hand-bound binders, clipboards and folders to sell alongside the EveryBaby disks.

Case Study 13: John Caserta

A lot of times when we’re hunting around on the internet for Jewelboxing projects we can talk about, we stumble across a real gem. Other times, not only do we stumble, but we fall head over heels for. Such was the case with John Caserta’s packaging work for artist Tim Hyde. We loved it right off the bat, but as soon as we started looking at the rest of John’s work, we were bowled over and that voice kicked in: “This has to be a Case Study.” Fortunately, John, an information designer, teacher, and the founder of The Design Office in Providence, Rhode Island, was up for talking, which resulted in this great interview:

Can you tell us about yourself?

Might be best to refer you to my bio online. I don’t have (m)any memorable hobbies and interests like spelunking, sky diving or the like. I’m from North Carolina…and do love my pulled pork. I am a citizen of Italy, have lived there on occasion, and spent some time overseas in Cambodia. Married, dog, baby on the way. I was hooked into design and photography by my aunt. An odd lady who was an architectural photographer in the 40s and 50s and gave me a Pentax K1000 when I turned 15. She gave me her old Apple IIc in 1982 or so. I learned BASIC and had a lot of fun printing patterns on my Imagewriter. It took me until 1991 to buy my own Mac Classic. She willed me a bunch of her great old cameras when she died five years ago.

What’s The Design Office?

The Design Office was realized when I decided to move my practice outside a room in my home in 2007. Rent in Providence is relatively cheap and I found a gorgeous space downtown that I thought other designers would like. It’s a great place to be all day long. There are four spots and we do have four people working here. It’s part organization, part collective. Everyone pays dues to help the organization pay for itself and to give out mini-grants to designers who need a bit of help. I use The D.O. as the imprint for my larger (and collaborative) projects and products. We discuss, share, and create uncommissioned works under the name, too.

With the Rhode Island School of Design right there, are most of the people who use the space students, faculty, etc? Anyone from outside the school?

The other three folks are not affiliated with RISD. One went to Brown a few years back. The other came up from New York recently. The other is from Boston, but has lived here for years. I meet with students here, graduate students also work with/for me. Faculty do come by. It’s a block and a half from the department.

What led you to created the space? Was there a specific lack of resources in town? Or you wanted someplace to exist outside of the school?

It wasn’t so much that there was a lack of resources, but that I was accumulating equipment (and methods) that could easily serve others. The best example is when I bought a 24″ Epson 7800 printer for a project. I kept asking photographers to come use it…but it was at my house. Now, folks can come in for a few hours, or days, and complete a body of work.

Now I have an incentive to invest in additional resources: binding systems, rototrim, guillotine, books, digital equipment.

How do you make the Office function financially, with things like rent and keeping the lights turned on? Commissions, grants, donations, or through your store?

The Office is financially a break-even situation. I have resisted moving it to a non-profit, and resisted making it too revenue focused also. I have considered expansion to accommodate folks who want community and equipment more than a permanent workspace. This would bring in more money, but it’s more risk. I suppose I like as much of my time to go toward making work, so I’m skeptical of decisions that would take me away from that.

Since the mission is to support freelance designers, I’ve kept the dues very low. They’ll likely go up to allow for additional investments, project funds, and mini-grants. All utilities and toner and paper come out of the dues. Always plenty of money for those essentials.

We create products to fund the Office as well. Obama t-shirts, COFFEE/TEA mugs, etc. The products are also part of our work.

I also use the Office as a write-off for my design business (which I market under my own name).

I do apply for grants and they are a big part of how I see projects getting done.

I solicit galleries to sponsor projects. For instance, the parking lot painting project. It requires a site and it makes sense that a gallery would promote it like they might any installation. I’ve worked with three galleries, but we have not been able to get it produced, yet.

Any projects that have been created at The Design Office that you’re particularly proud of or enamored by?

Hobo 2010 is really resonating with a lot of people. It’s playful, funny, and revealing. It’s about design, observation, and community, among other things. It’s a call for photographs of the typeface Hobo in use.

There are quite a few conceptual projects on our group projects page. I am excited about all of them, and believe they will all get done in time. They require the right people, sites and/or funds.

Our most recent project: Letterboxes, is a nice combination of visual research (academic) and functional design. It has a mass appeal. It was a bear to produce (we had a custom box die made)…and we only made a couple hundred to start.

Back to you personally, you’ve been working in information design online since that early period in the mid-to-late 90s when the public at large was first really finding out about the internet. What are some of the biggest changes you’ve seen since then, within information design?

Information design feels very techy and cold to me now. Data-rich web visualizations are treated with too much authority. It’s easy to be seduced into thinking that there must be truth in the presentation of quantitative data.

Information comes from somewhere in the service of someone. The presentation of such should be more honest about that. The computer’s voice is more prominent than the author’s. What this means is that there is a certain faux-objectivity that the information carries.

Information design often relies on symbols — however it can just as easily rely on video, photographs, voice. This is when the honesty and humanity comes in.

For me, it was always about play. Allow the viewer to venture into the information and discover the complexity of a situation. There was certainly a great deal of naivete in the pre-Flash 5 visualization work.

I designed a touch screen kiosk displaying the information of all U.S. soldiers buried overseas. Four of these 15″ screen were installed next to each other at the Normandy American Visitor’s Center. Instead of listing the results in a chart (label: result), or using visualization techniques (when the soldier died relative to others), we created a sentence from the data. It effectively made a miniature obituary from the database. This felt appropriate given the delivery and subject matter of the project. Additionally, the only color that appeared on the screen was the background color. The background color shifted slightly with each touch of the screen. Noticeable only after about ten touches, the hues represented each soldier listed in the database. A simple tip of the hat for each of them. It also kept the information in black and white: often all that’s needed for information design.

When do you think that information design functions at its best?

Professor Lev Manovich wrote in The Language of New Media(end of Web 1.0 in 2001) that database and narrative are ‘natural enemies.’ The former categorizes information well, but does not offer an order, and the latter is order from seemingly unconnected information.

Information design can side with either of the above. And I believe best when narrative (subjectivity and authorship) is foregrounded. Because more and more information is held within a database or will be disseminated through a database, most projects take on the look of database. The data is displayed either spatially, or color-coded, or what have you. This often brings attention to the quantity of information, and not what it could tell us if edited or organized more carefully.

Take the example of a book of photographs that I assigned my students to edit. There are 8 students who each photographed 20 images over 3 months in 5 cities. There was no specific directive; it was an editing exercise.

What I saw was the database’s influence on the editing process. The students ordered the book by either location, student, color, time, f-stop, or other pre-existing categories. They perceived the photographs as data objects, with their meta data as content. When the meta-date is the order, the narrative becomes random, a bi-product of how and where the data was acquired. However the project lies not in the quantifiable information (where, when, who…), but the student’s ability to weave together the pieces into an unexpected story. These are the projects we remember and that is something a database cannot do.

A lot of your early background was working with big outlets, like the New York Times, the Tribune, and NBC. In your bio, you’ve said in you still have a stable of clients, but you’re also doing all of this work with The Design Office and your role at RISD, so are your normal days split up more toward these creative or academic pursuits or split fairly evenly? Any goals to make either/or your primary focus?

I see my life split into thirds: RISD (teaching, advising), The Design Office (art/design making), and client work. I’d like the first two to generate the last. “I like how you think” is a great thing to hear. And ideally after that, “I have a great project for you.”

Providence life really affords a more self-driven creative life. Less overhead than bigger cities and fewer dramatic clients. I primarily work with Brown University and with a three-person company that generates automated graphics for large media companies (that I am part-owner of).

We first landed on your site after seeing your work for artist Tim Hyde and the Max Protetch Gallery. Can you tell us about Tim and his work?

Tim is an old friend from San Francisco. He moved back to New York to attend the graduate program in art at Columbia. He produced a rich body of photography work there. Max Protetch pulled him in right away as one of their artists and he has gone on to produce video and installation works with them. I love how he sees and how he thinks. His work is sincere…very human. That is a really rare trait in the Chelsea art scene. He has a solo show coming up at the Philadelphia Art Museum.

The cases you put together for both his videos are just beautiful. Can you tell us anything about designing them?

I started the project by looking for a solid and authoritative DVD case. I felt it was important that the case itself was substantial when art dealers, collectors and museums buy Tim’s videos. It needed the weight of a $10,000 purchase (or however much they are). So when The Museum of Modern Art purchases one of Tim’s videos, they are handed this case. In fact, the buyer receives two disks (in one case). One is for exhibit, the other for archiving.

I used Trade Gothic condensed because it matched the proportions of the disk. His Bus Passengers piece really works well opened up because the video is a series of portraits where you often see one person in front of the other.

It’s always a pleasure to design work for something I believe in and love.

What’s next for you? Any big projects you have coming up or something with The Design Office?

We just finished a prototype for a kids toy. Cardboard boxes with geometric shapes that assemble into giant letterforms. And there is a typeface with it. We’re looking for someone to produce it.

I suppose I am working on other projects that are not on the website. Because my wife and I are expecting a baby in May, I have been thinking of graphic toys: puzzles, blocks, books, mobiles and the like. That is how the cardboard boxes came to life. It is not clear how many of these will simply be for the home, but hopefully the better ones we can document as prototypes.

There are several other products that we could start work on soon, but I’d like to see some of the group projects get completed. There’s quite a bit on our site that you see is ‘in progress.’ All of those projects need some pushing.

And finally, how is it having John Maeda as your new boss at RISD?

It hasn’t made a huge impact on our department quite yet. Unfortunately he has been bogged down in the financial crisis. His belief in conversation and innovation is beginning to take hold — initially through blogs and large flatpanel info screens.

There are many of us who are quite excited about how some of the Media Lab models might penetrate the culture here — particularly a more research oriented approach.

What Better Place for a Dragon Than In Your Civic?

Although Bryan and Dawson here at Jewelboxing HQ are scooter buffs, our motorized vehicle fandom doesn’t go too far beyond that. But that’s not to say we don’t really appreciate the whole car culture, with weekends spent buffing and polishing, regularly going to shows, and hunting for new items for souping up purposes. Quite the contrary (just replace “car” with “design stuff” and we’re pretty much the same group of people). And who couldn’t appreciate someone like Taylor Scheinuk, who not only writes about fully decked out Hondas, but was so in love with his own Civic, that he wanted the packaging he holds his music collection in to not diminish the pride he has in his car. And, so, like he said in a recent letter to us: “Enter Jewelboxing.” Here’s from Taylor:

“I own a 2006 Honda Civic LX 4-dr, which comes with an MP3 disc-reader standard. It’s all integrated and such into the dash, therefore I don’t want to touch it but I want all my music. Enter Jewelboxing. For a year or so I just had my discs in dingy slimline cases and I labeled them with, gasp, sharpie. I ran across your product online after I started doing direct-print discs with my (old) printer. I ordered a 30 pack of Standards and got to work. I had the color scheme in my head from the beginning (I’m a big fan of earthen, so brown and tan were in, in, in) and a piece of artwork a friend drew for me of the character from my book series. Some hunting around MSN Search Images got me the other bits I needed and I got to work.”

“Anyway, in the books, the main character eventually acquires a 2008 JDM Mugen Civic Type-R. That’s the vehicle featured all over the case.”

“I also did a mix disc as my aunt’s Christmas present this year and did a case too. I don’t have it with me right now but its excellent. Actually, I think that it may be better than my ‘Dragons in a Civic’ discs.”

“BTW: The reason why it’s ‘dragons‘ plural is b/c I’m drawing my own cover art with all the characters in it, its just taking a while.”

Here’s to hoping the rides are just as sweet in Butler, Providence, New York, Phoenix, Chicago, San Francisco, Pasadena, Highland Park, Washington DC, Huntersville, Boston, Atlanta, Norwich, Fallbrook, Paris, Minneapolis, Calgary, Madison, Savannah, New Rochelle, Columbus and Brooklyn.

Case Study 10: FontShop

With the release of the documentary Helvetica last year came not just a fine film, but the chance for thousands of people to have that rare opportunity to share their love of typography together, out in public no less, and to even drag a few friends along in an attempt to finally prove why type is so interesting. Stephen Coles of FontShop and Typographica (and everywhere else on the web), was one person who needed no convincing. Likely a fan of typography since birth, he lives and breathes x-heights and descenders. We were very fortunate to get the chance to talk with him about the release of FontShop’s newFontStars 2007: Best Type of the Year collection, which was beautifully packaged in Jewelboxing Standard cases.

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and about FontShop?

Design legends Erik Spiekermann and Neville Brody founded FontShop in 1990, when the digital fonts were just starting to replace older technologies as the standard for typography. Other retailers have cropped up since then, but FontShop has always set themselves apart with their European aesthetic and rebellious attitude. I was honored when the company invited me in 2004 to join their San Francisco office. As a designer and writer, I have a hand in a lot of the visual and textual image of FontShop.com.

What about your other world, outside of FontShop, at Typographica. How did that get started? And do you do anything other than think and write about type?

My partner in bloggery, Joshua Lurie-Terrell, founded Typographica in 2002 as a sort of informal lounge in which to chat about type. Since then, it’s become more of a venue for long articles about new fonts and typography.

I also think and write about furniture of the ’60s at The Mid-Century Modernist

Before we get too far into this, and in the interest of helping even just one reader so they use the right definitions, what’s the difference between a typeface and a font?

Over the years, the two terms have become confused, but I’m on a crusade to reverse that. My main ammo will be this concise clarification by the astute type designer Mark Simonson: “The physical embodiment of letters, numbers, symbols, etc. is a font. When referring to the design of the collection (the way it looks) you call it a typeface.”

Part of your bio says, “Stephen is currently dating Motter Fermina after breaking off a long and passionate affair with FF Strada.” We found it funny to see someone else talking about type in that way because we do that same thing around here all the time. So what is it about typography that you think makes you/us swoon?

I’ve always been fascinated about the details of everyday life that escape the active attention or conscious scrutiny of the general public. This is type. Its subtle power influences everyone and they rarely realize it.

This is likely a touchy subject in your business, but because FontShop deals primarily in an all-electronic medium, how do you go about dealing with illegal file sharing? Theft seems like it deals in levels of respect, in some degree, so while someone might not feel any guilt, say downloading a Matchbox 20 album, they’ll still go out and spend money on the new Radiohead, because they respect them more. So lengthy tangent aside, is that something that FontShop tries to stay on top of by being helpful and knowledgeable and, in general, but perhaps most importantly, just coming across as a cool company that people want to support?

You will never stop piracy. But those who actually use fonts professionally soon realize that the advice and tech support that comes with a license is as valuable as the fonts themselves. Our expertise is worth the price of the font.

Of course, we also find that designers buy fonts because they respect the work of their colleagues. They believe type designers should be paid for their efforts just like they expect to be paid.

Can you tell us about the FontStars 2007: Best Type of the Year collection? How did you go about picking your favorites of the year?

Like a mediocre album, most font collections tend to have a couple of hits stuffed in with a bunch of duds. We found that even though the price-per-font is lower, designers don’t spring for these compilations because they simply won’t use most of the fonts on the CD. FontStars is unique in that every typeface is new and they aren’t limited to a single foundry. This gave us a lot more flexibility to choose the best new stuff. We made sure it was versatile and practical by throwing in more than one style of each text face and a broad range of display goodies that will meet most needs.

In short, we started by asking ourselves what new fonts we would most likely want to see in our font menu at the beginning of any project.

If you’re at liberty to say without hurting any feelings, were there any that you left out that just didn’t quite make the cut?

There were a lot of great releases last year. Our regret is that we couldn’t include more, but we wanted to keep the price down so it wasn’t out of the reach of smaller studios.

Any font that you’re particularly fond of in the collection? Have you used it for something recently and, if so, what for?

Buxom, old-timey scripts are huge right now, and I don’t think anyone has captured that era of retro jersey and cookie tin lettering as well as Leslie Cabarga with his Casey. It even comes with a set of the underline swashes that were so common in baseball logos of yore.

You’ve packaged FontStars in a Jewelboxing Standard case. Why did you decide to package it using Jewelboxing?

Being a font seller, we’re accustomed to digital goods. We never have to deal with inventory or storage. Using Jewelboxing cases allows us to produce each CD as its sold without sacrificing our professional image.

Any comments you have about the process of putting the cases together, from the design to their assembly?

Separating the perforations on a finished print is just so damn satisfying.

Finally, what’s in store in the world of typography for 2008?

I hope to see OpenType finally take over as the majority format for this year’s font sales. It’s like graduating to CDs from cassette tapes — it’s that much better than TrueType and PostScript.

Intensely Painful, Heartbreaking, and Filled With Wonder

  • We’ve determined that Fall must be the season of the filmmaker. We’ve recently heard from a number of people using Jewelboxing to package their films, from the short, tiny budgeted two minutes pieces to the ones with craft service tables to rival some of the best restaurants in town. One filmmaker we heard from was the talented David Frank Gomes, about his very moving film, Awake. Here’s the story:Almost 10 years ago, my producing partner and accidentally stumbled across a suicide victim. We called the coroner to find out about him and we were told there would be a wake. We decided to go. We wanted to find about a young man who had left this world too early.From that experience came the idea for a film which became aWake. We finally completed it this year. Since we made the movie for 17 grand, it took a long time, and there were long periods where it looked like it might never be finished. The fascinating thing about indie filmmaking is that you are forced to learn to do everything yourself. The process is both intensely painful and heartbreaking, and satisfying and filled with wonder.

    After so many years, I wanted to send out the film in something that was special, not cheap and loveless. Cynicism is built into all low quality products, and my film deserved a little more love than I could find in Vancouver. One day I happened across a directors reel at a large commercial production house in Vancouver. You know the place, where buckets of money are thrown at everything, and it’s perfect, on time and gorgeous. They were using Jewelboxing and the moment I saw the DVD case, I thought “Wow, that is beautiful!” It was unlike any other case I had seen. I did a little research and ended up on the Jewelboxing site. It was more than we could really afford (I don’t consider them expensive, but the indie pocket book is small, and expenses are infinite), but we splurged anyway.

  • Now I must apologize. I am not a designer so I fall back on my one standard principle of design, which is low-fi, handmade with love. I am pleased to announce the system they have is practically foolproof, and very easy to work with. All the pain has been taken out of the process, and my few dealings with them have been fabulous. When a box arrived broken, it was replaced immediately. The service is as good as the product.In my estimation, anything can be made better and they have made the best cases I have ever seen, and provide a simple and user friendly system for making beautiful packaging yourself. I rest my case.Here’s hoping the labors of love are coming together as well as Awake in Chicago, Lowell, St. Paul, Seattle, New York, Mexico City, London, Loveland, Pacific Palisades, Outremont, Jacksonville, Brooklyn, Olympia, Frederick, Georgetown, Morganville, Hastings, Jersey City, Atlanta, Bonita Springs, Waukesha, Washington DC, Portland, New Albany, Sun Valley, Corona, and Huntsville.

Jewelboxing Helps Get ‘Porn’ Into Churches

Very often, we’ll get a sample in from a Jewelboxing user with something totally unique. But what we found when we opened an envelope sent into us by Rob Supan, of Ohio-based Gate Creative, the other day really took us back a bit. But instead of us ruining the surprise of what it was, here’s the whole rundown of the project by Rob (who also, it sounds, was initially a little shocked):

 

“The guys atXXXchurch.compresented us with a project: They had a DVD of one of their first PornSundays held at the Peoples Church in Nashville that needed a better packaging solution than the trigger case they were shipping it in. Now, if you’re not familiar with XXXchurch or if you’re hearing the term PornSunday for the first time you think, “This has to be a joke, right?!” It’s not. Craig Gross and Mike Foster put the ministry together four years ago and positioned it as ‘The #1 Christian Porn Site’, but it’s not what you think. It’s an ANTI porn ministry that encourages accountability to those who struggle with porn. And while they’ve had a great deal of success spreading the word at adult expos, porn shows, and the seedier corners of the internet, taking the message to a church on Sunday morning is another story. Seems churches don’t like discussing topics like porn from the pulpit, so we worked with XXXchurch to put together National PornSunday, a nation-wide effort to take the XXXchurch message to churches across the country. But in order to be taken seriously by the nation’s pastors, the packaging of the marketing materials had to have a good bit more polish to the presentation than the made-in-the-basement approach of the existing DVD.”

“As soon as Craig handed me the disk, I knew that I had my first large scale Jewelboxing opportunity. We comped up a sample knowing that as soon as the guys saw it they’d be sold. The case really sold itself. I just got to look like a genius for putting it in front of them. The before and after pictures illustrate the huge improvement. The quantity they ordered presented a small challenge, though… too large a number to produce on the office ink jet, but too small a number to send to a commercial printer. The solution was to use a local printer who could run the templates on a Xerox Digital Color 2060. I was hesitant at first, but after doing a few test runs we were able to nail it. Then came the assembly. We all got together one evening, had a great meal, and then spent the rest of the night perfing, folding, and inserting until they were completed. My kids loved it! The 10-year-old handled the tray inserts, the 2-year-old stacked (and frequently unstacked) the cases, while the 4 and 5-year-old collected the scraps and produced their own projects… Now along with 100s of great looking DVDs, we have a killer set of PornSunday woven placemats!”

“The DVD has gone from being a cheap throw-in to a great marketable product and has helped to position the ministry as one of the leading voices in the area of online accountability. And National PornSunday… It was a huge success with over 100 churches across the county and overseas all participating in a one day event to becoming the strength and hope for thousands struggling with this dirty little secret.”

So certainly one of the more unique projects we’ve seen Jewelboxing put to use for. Though we have high expectations for everyone in Knutsford, London, Lachine, Saint Charles, Paco de Arcos, Washington DC, Portland, Grimsby, Livonia, Charlotte, Austin, Missoula, New York, San Diego, South Haven, Dallas, Brownsburg, Brooklyn, Pasadena, Tucson, Colorado Springs, Bath, Winnepeg, Yucca Valley, Carson, Cupertino, Ashland, Gretna, Toronto, Bradford, Ottawa, Cherry Hill, Cambridge, Chicago, and Greenwood Village.

Case Study 3: Rafael Macho

We can absolutely guarantee that you’ve seen the work of director/designer Rafael Macho’s at least once in your life. Probably dozens of times. From his instantly recognizable, beautiful and effective series of spots for Janus to movie openers, Rafael has done it all. We were thrilled when he sent us over a letter about his using Jewelboxing for his newest reels, and even more so when we got to throw a few questions his way.

1) To get everyone up to speed on who you are and what you do: who are you and what do you do?

I am a storyteller using directing, installation, motion graphics, writing, illustration, typography, etc. Today I am pushing the directing side, shooting short films, installations and commercials. I really like to work with a crew. May I add that I also like to create soundtracks? Or is this confusing?

2) What have been some of your favorite projects to work on?

Last year I was asked by Sedgwick Rd./McCann-Erickson in Seattle to create an installation for their annual creative meeting. I worked with a company named Fad and created an installation made of 6 chandeliers composed of 6 TV tubes with 3 video feeds hanging over the diner table. For 30 minutes, each chandelier would turn on and off and interact and tease the people, slicing their tender steak with questions such as, “How is the food tonight? Not too bad, huh?”.

The deconstructed story was this: what would happened to “the First Man” if he would enter our society of consumerism? The First Man (which actually was a very hairy gorilla) got teased by some beauty and ends up signing a contract with Microsoft, Nike, and some other sponsors. Some people were really surprised, either loving it or upset! I laughed a lot that night. I think people will remember that bizarre night.

 

3) What are your influences and/or other designers you admire?

 

I have this awful exercise to do: try to describe one job that the Attikhas done and name the client… On a more respectful note I must say that I admire the company Motion Theory. They keep pushing the envelope over and over. I love what David Lynch or the Quay brothers did in their short films. Why is no one exploring their dark side?

4) Motion graphics, it seems, is like a huge, nearly overwhelming blender of disciplines. It’s not enough to just be a great designer anymore, but now you’ve got to make all of these designs move and fly around. Yet it also seems like you’ve got a lot more control than ever before. Any thoughts on that? Or, perhaps better phrased, how do you approach these projects?

I always start any new job with my Moleskine sketchbook. I love paper. I refuse to jump on the computer. I like to do some research and learn how other people have approached a similar project before.

I think the future of motion graphics is looking great: we can now do almost whatever we want to do. But I wish people will try to cultivate difference and avoid trends and develop personality. The idea that Mc Donald’s or Burger King are the only places to go to eat freaks me out.

5) You’ve worked with a lot of the big names in motion graphics, such as Imaginary Forces. Any top favorite projects of theirs?

A lot of companies change when they pass from a small-medium size to a giant one. As the money goes up, the level of creativity doesn’t necessary follow the same path.

I am very thankful from what I’ve learned from these companies. I was there at the best time for Imaginary Forces and Kyle Cooper was a great mentor. But as I am trying to develop a more personal voice. It is sometimes difficult to grow in such companies. Starting new companies are exciting, more risqué.

6) What are you sending out right now that you’re using Jewelboxing for?

I compiled my latest work and some classics like those Janus commercials that I did for Imaginary Forces. I also decided to show some personal works that are not only about motion graphics, but photography and film. I don’t believe anymore in montage, because they’re clueless and just eye-candy, and you don’t really know who did what. If I am choosing to hire a designer, I will look for ideas and concepts first.

7) Why Jewelboxing?

The first time I had one of those cases, it caught my attention. It looks different! I started to see more and more Jewelboxing, and every time I saw one of those, I want to check the content of the DVD. If a designer can not design a proper package for his reel, then I’ll pass.

8) Finally, what’s it like to be a Macho, possibly one of the coolest last names we’ve ever heard?

Ah-ah-ah!! I will tell a little story: when I was 14 years old, there was a girl who I liked very much. But she thought that people called me ‘Macho’ because I was a real Don Juan. When I had the chance to tell her that it was only my real last name, she suddenly understood why people called me ‘Macho’! She became more friendly with me after that.

Today, I still have the same last name. The great news is that people remember that name. The bad news is that I keep trying to grow a mustache and those bling-blings on my hairy chest…so noisy!

Case Study 1: Impactist

Everyone loves getting packages in the mail. We’re no exception. From cool new techie toys to books and posters we’ve ordered from all over the place, it’s great to pop open something we’ve been anxiously awaiting. However, it’s even better when we get a great surprise in the mail, like the package we recently received from Daniel Elwing of the terrific motion graphics and production firm, Impactist. So impressed were we with the content, complete with their amazing reel beautifully packaged with Jewelboxing, to the gritty paper bag-textured insert with printed company info, we knew we had to do something special. Daniel was game, and we were eager, so we put together the following Q & A session. We hope you’ll enjoy their work as much as we have

Can you tell me a bit about your company?

Impactist is the collaborative work between myself and Kelly Meador. We are a motion graphic design and production studio located in Portland, Oregon. The company was born out of the desire to create an environment that allowed for freedom of thought and creativity. No longer would the emphasis be on following a trend, but instead to create new images out of new ideas. Both Kelly and I have worked in the business for several years, independently, and have subsequently formed Impactist, thus pooling our experience and creative backgrounds.

What clients do you work with currently and have worked with in the past?

Obviously, Nike has been a major client for us. They have provided many great projects and opportunities for experimentation. Over the years our clients have been quite varied, from music videos to work for global leaders in microprocessor technology. Since the creation of Impactist is still relatively new, we’re always looking to expand our client base and engage in new collaborative work.

It seems like a lot of the coolest designers, at one time or another, wind up working with Nike. How are they as a client? A lot of freedom in the design process?

Nike is such a large, global company that working with them has been great considering their reach. We’ve created content for distribution here within the u.s. and also globally. Projects for Niketowns around the world, World Cup Soccer, the olympics, and various special events. The unique venues where their media is shown affect our design just as much as the concept itself. From the three story video wall in Niketown New York, custom projections and environmental displays, to your standard 4:3 monitor. Depending upon the project, the amount of freedom we have been given can fluctuate. Though, initially we try to conceive without limits then work with the client to determine how far we want to push things forward.

What is Robots on Strike?

It’s the online home to some of the non-commercial work we’ve created. Motion, still, and audio work. We asked ourselves, “What would robots do if they weren’t working on the assembly line?” We would guess that they’d pick up a camera and start shooting immediately. When we’re not working on projects for Impactist, you’ll find us working away on our own stuff, be it motion, photography, or sound design.

Your work seems to have both a new, futuristic feel to it, but also, given the textures and imagery you use, and some of the subject you’ve covered, firmly grounded in the past. Does that have something to do with the sort of inherent collage-ness that motion graphics seems to have?

It’s easy to get wrapped up in the tools that allow us to work in our business, but with the workflow being so dependent on digital technology, it’s a joy to work with and incorporate more analog methods along the way. The past really inspires and influences our work. We grew up within families that valued the archiving of moments by means of photography and endless reels of super8 footage. We believe it’s most important to utilize the tools of today without disregarding those processes of the past which can be reinterpreted and combined to create something new.

What kind of influences do you draw from to create these pieces?

We both come from a background rooted in fine arts and design, so naturally those early teachings will always be with us. We’re also fortunate to be in the Northwest. Geographically, Oregon is such a diverse place that you can drive an hour in any direction and be in a completely different climate and visual environment which we are sure has greatly affected our design and direction within our work. Also, music and sound design are big influences as well, since there are such strong similarities between motion design and music in regards to rhythm and tone. Some people need to work in silence, whereas we need the stereo to be playing tracks on consistent rotation.

What made you choose Jewelboxing?

Being a company that creates visual communications and experiences, it was important to use a system for our promotional materials that echoed this. The Jewelboxing cases basically granted us freedom from other existing systems that are simply boring and uninspiring. These cases came along at just the right time for us. Beta cassettes were formally the kings of reel distribution, but dvd’s have taken over and they need a great place to live! We chose to house ours in the ultra stylish and ultra cool Jewelboxing cases.

Did you find the system easy to work with?

Interestingly enough, we believe the system works so well because it does exactly what it’s supposed to. It simply works! Other cases either look low quality or are low quality. The construction is soft or the insert system is messy. The Jewelboxing cases are sturdy and are so clean. Even if you weren’t inclined to use the insert system and only place a single, solitary cd or dvd within the transparent case, it would still come out looking more refined and sophisticated than previously available cases.

How did the idea to put a piece of wood in the spine come about?

Without being overly dramatic, the simple answer would be that we are users of all technology, old and new. One minute we could be creating everything within the computer, the next we could be fashioning real world elements out of concrete and hardwoods to be photographed or filmed. Thus, the inclusion of the small piece of cherry wood. You couldn’t do that with other cases.

Of those who have seen your new reel, what have the reactions been?

The response to both the content and the packaging has been outstanding. You can’t view the contents of the disc without a player, so the initial physical presentation has to be right on. We try to hold ourselves to a high standard, so likewise the delivery system needs to reflect that as well.

How will you be using the paper bag-textured, record-sized poster, included with your reel?

The included inserts serve to compliment the reel design and also provide additional information about ourselves. Forgive us, but we just love that paper stock!

What do you see for Impactist’s future?

Naturally, we’d like to expand and grow, but not necessarily in size. Every project brings a new set of creative problems to be solved. In that respect, we look to continue to develop and create new images and experiences. There has been such an explosion in the way that content is being delivered these days via television, in the theaters, and on the web that we are anticipating great things for both ourselves and the industry itself. And with our varied backgrounds and experience, we are fortunate to find ourselves operating during this exciting moment in the timeline of motion design.

Danke

I’m going to be out of town for a couple days and have already fallen woefully behind in listing the places where we find nice people using our nice product, so here’s a list. Also, if you’d rather win a Jewelboxing system than buy one, you’d better add your name to our mailing list. (see the bottom of the home page) we’ll be sending out a CP/Jewelboxing Infrequent Mailingnext week and there will be a new contest in it, along with some other semi-interesting things.

Thnaks to Kaleva, Alviso, NYC, Williamsville, Sydney, Minneapolis, Franklin, Atlanta, Crystal Lake, Toronto, Billings, Columbus, Bloomfield, Vancouver, Burbank, Rumson, Scarborough, Pittsford, Largo, Remscheid, LA, Tokyo, Sumter, Rocky Hill, New Haven, Pittsburgh, Plano, Winter Park, Victoria, Santa Monica, Boca Raton, Milpitas, Norman, Baldwin Harbor and Grand Rapids.

Places in the Heart

Bob Phillips won the Photoforums ‘Summer Fun’ contest and a Jewelboxing 40pack with this shot from Fort Myers. There’s a new contest up at PF now so get snapping.

Off on a road trip with the family in a couple days so I better make a serious effort to catch up on our list of cities where “the smart people live.” Here goes nothing. Santa Monica, Hamburg, Dubai, Babylon, Sebastopol, Somerset, Provo, Compton, Olathe, Portland, North Yorkshire, Virginia Beach, Glendale, Orlando, Chicago, Raleigh, North Canton, Rochester, Brookeville, Philadelphia, Bountiful, Roseville, Eureka, NYC, San Francisco, Austin, Napa, Minneapolis, Penticton, Rockwall, Brooklyn, Seattle, Athens, Alexandria, Dallas, Pacific Palisades and Fresno.