Alex Gould, who we profiled for Case Study 11 about his documentary An Interview with James Jarvis has put together what looks like another great film and another terrific case design. The Organist tells the story of cinema organist Dave Nicholas, who has played along with motion pictures at the Liverpool Philharmonic Hall Cinema for twenty years, as well as church services for an additional ten years. Here’s the trailer for the film: Continue reading
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; 2001, Star Wars, Alien, Planet of the Apes, or Close Encounters, but so far no one’s taken me up on it.
It’s a little difficult to follow up from our last post, arguably the best Case Study feature we’ve done to date, talking to arctic explorer Ben Saunders (it’s required reading, so just scroll down a bit to check it out — then come back up here when you’re done). So instead of trying to hit you with another lengthy post, we thought we’d try a few miscellaneous links instead.
First up, it was an honor and a privilege to see that Jewelboxing had been picked up for some nice coverage over at Kevin Kelly’s Cool Tools, the widely read and respected journal of all things nifty. Writer Elon Schoenholz had a lot of very nice things to say about our humble little cases, like “they go a long way toward making a small business or project appear bigger, undeniably professional.”
Next, a couple of very quick links. We randomly stumbled across San Francisco-based singer/songwriter Bill Foreman’s album Begging Bowl, which he’s been packaging using Jewelboxing Standard cases. Although the image on his site is just a scan of the cover, we imagine it probably looks like the comp we put together over there on the right. We also really dig Bill’s ongoing, simple, blocks-of-color layouts between his albums.
And last, we also stumbled across this post on a forum for the 3D animation program Kinemac, wherein a user was asking if anyone could assemble a model of our Standard cases within the program. So far, no follow up to the finished product, but we’re guessing it’s for something music-related, judging from some of the other links they’d included. We’d be happy to share with them the models we built in After Effects for our first Jewelboxing commercial, but those were something of a complicated jumble (more like 2.5D).
Thanks to all of those who have posted about Jewelboxing here and there, making it fun to stumble across random, interesting projects. Have your own Jewelboxing case you’d like to have us see and possible show off here on the blog? Send it in! In particularly, we’d like to see something from the attractive people in New York, Idaho Springs, Pasadena, Greensboro, Vestal, Venice, Boston, Los Angeles, Conroe, Saint George, Berwick, Langhorne, Bakersfield, Dallas, Brea, Santa Monica, Rancho Dominguez, Blackstone, Portland, and Denver.
In all of the Case Studies we’ve put together over the years, we’ve talked to a whole slew of remarkable and interesting Jewelboxing users who have worked on some really stellar projects. But however fascinating those previous interview subjects might have been, we’re pretty sure that none to date have ever shared the kinds of experiences our current interviewee has had. Among countless notable achievements, Ben Saunders has explored the arctic, spoken as a guest at a TED Conference, chatted with Al Gore, and fought off a polar bear. In short, he’s a pretty interesting guy to talk to. Fortunately, Ben was very gracious to let us take a few minutes of his valuable time to do just that:
Can you tell us a little about yourself?
I’m a polar explorer (for want of a better job description). I skied solo to the North Pole in 2004, an expedition Reinhold Messner called “ten times as dangerous as Everest”; I’m the third in history to reach the North Pole solo (no one’s done it since), the youngest by more than ten years, and I hold the record for the longest solo Arctic journey by a Briton. I’m 31 and based in London (I like extremes – big cities or complete wilderness!).
What was the draw for you to get out onto steep mountains and the otherworldly Arctic? Something to do with the variety of landscapes in Devon, where you grew up? Or just a desire to get out to where most other people wouldn’t dare?
I suspect it’s a combination of the above. I was lucky enough to spend my childhood in glorious countryside, with a degree of freedom that would seem alien to most kids today. But I think I’m a frustrated astronaut as well — I spent as much time watching Star Wars and geeking out in front of my Acorn Electron as I did climbing trees, riding my bike and hiking through fields.
As a follow-up, where did the idea come from to start skiing in areas like the Arctic? You just randomly picked it? That sort of terrain has always appealed to you? Or you saw that there had only been a very small group to ever attempt certain crossings and you wanted to try and get included on that list and beat some records in the process?
I was enthralled by stories of adventure — on the high seas, at high altitude and at high latitudes — when I grew up. I thought I’d end up being a mountaineer, but the polar regions seemed to hold an even more rarified challenge.
How did you make the move into becoming a professional explorer?
My first polar expedition was in 2001 with Pen Hadow. He was an incredible mentor, and despite not reaching the Pole that year, it was an immense and invaluable learning curve. I never imagined then that this would turn into a full-time career, but the reality of juggling training and fundraising, and organising highly-specialised logistics and gear meant that any sort of sensible job was out of the question from then on. I’ve been professional for eight years now, though for much of that time I was utterly broke.
Can you describe the training processes for your expeditions, climbs, marathons? Anything unique that you’ve come up with that feels like it gets your particularly ready for such extreme tests of endurance?
I do a significant amount of endurance training — mostly running, cycling (on and off-road), roller-skiing and hiking and XC skiing if I can escape London at weekends. There’s some weight training too, heavy Olympic-style stuff. Many outdoorsy types loathe the gym, but I’ve always enjoyed weight training. It’s helpful to have good mental reference points that you can fall back on in the major expeditions — times when you’ve suffered and had to dig deep — so I seek these out when I’m training.
It’s easy to get focused on the exciting parts of your expeditions, but what sort of work goes on behind the scenes in getting all the other million details taken care of, like funding and booking flights and locating equipment, etc.?
It’s like any other business — there’s a stack of mind-numbing admin that goes hand-in-hand with what I do. Despite the job title, much of my time is spent at a desk, in front of a screen and a keyboard, just like most people. I have a full-time assistant, Andy Ward, and he’s a master of juggling the strangest combinations of things — one minute it’s booking flights or hotels for speaking engagements, the next it’s a conference call to the owner of an icebreaker in Australia.
Speaking of equipment, I’m sure what you pack very carefully before hitting the Arctic. Anything interesting in your bag? Items combined to shave off a few pounds?
There’s nothing extraneous, really. I get obsessed by gram-shaving. I spent hours finding the world’s lightest titanium spoon (a titanium spork, actually, shipped over from the US) and I’ll trim labels from clothing and file down or drill out anything I can get my hands on. I did take a small teddy bear, Barnaby, on my solo North Pole speed record attempt last year. He was given to me by a school, he’s pretty lightweight, and he doesn’t complain much.
When you’re out there on the ice, skiing for nine hours per day, what do you think about? Is it complete focus or does the solitude and huge expanse of nothingness let your mind wander a bit?
On solo expeditions, part of you has to be focussed the whole time as there’s a lot to juggle — navigation, looking out for polar bears, judging ice and weather conditions, timing breaks for food and rehydration, etc. — but part of your mind is free to wander, particularly after the first week or so and you start to get into a routine. I found the quality of my memory improved dramatically in that kind of isolation. We’re all subject to constant stimulus and demands nowadays — email, phone calls, meetings, Twitter, RSS feeds, Facebook status updates, social events — and being removed from all that is remarkably liberating.
Since you’ve done a lot of solo expeditions around the Arctic, after looking at the great photos and the video you have on your site, a thought came to mind: who shot those? Some of them look like you were holding the camera but others look like maybe a photographer flew in to grab a couple of quick snapshots?
There’s certainly no one flying in! The best photos were mostly taken by a great friend, Martin Hartley. Usually we’ll spend a day or two taking hi-res sponsor and media shots somewhere in the high Arctic before I’m actually dropped to start my expedition, and he’s usually on the ski-plane or helicopter that takes me out to the start point. I’m obsessive about saving weight, so there’s no way I’d take a digital SLR on an unsupported expedition. But I do take a small digital compact and many of the photos on my site are my own.
You mention that your first time out in 2001, attempting to ski from Russia to the North Pole, you and your expedition partner survived a polar bear attack. Any advice on how one does that?
You have to stand your ground and convince the bear that you’re bigger and scarier than it is. We had a Russian shotgun, but it jammed five times before my teammate fired a shot into the air to scare it away.
Besides your harrowing adventures, you also spend some of your time as a motivational speaker, talking to schools and companies across the world. How do you apply what you’ve been through out there in the dangerous wild to students or people who spend most of their time in climate-controlled, polar bear-free offices?
I’m lucky enough to be doing professionally what I dreamt of doing when I was a kid, so I talk about the importance of dreaming big, of perseverance, dedication, dealing with failure, ignoring nay-sayers and doubters, and of making the most of the 650,000 hours that make up the average lifetime. I’m certainly not encouraging people to go out and buy skis and a sled and do anything daft like me, but I think that we all have our own North Poles — and if my story is about anything, it’s about pursuing what you’re passionate about to the best of your ability.
You’ve written pieces in books for Lonely Planet and Worldchanging and have listed on your site that your own book is due out this year. Anything you can tell us about that?
Not much, other than that it won’t be out until next year now (2010). Watch my site!
We were really happy to find that you’re using Jewelboxing to package your speaking showreel. It’s a collection of your talks? Or the promo video you have up?
We used Jewelboxing for a new speaking showreel (it’ll be up on the site soon). The problem is that it’s been far too popular! Everyone we’ve given a copy to has been blown away by the quality of the packaging and has asked us to send more. Andy (my assistant and expedition Operations Director) is becoming a dab hand at printing and folding.
When you’re back home and not right in the thick of a project, or you just need a few minutes to yourself, what do like to do to relax? Or does your relaxation involve just slightly-less-tiring training?
You’ve said that you have three major expeditions coming up over the next three years. Can you give us a sneak peek at what you have planned? Anything else coming up that you’re excited about?
Yes, three huge projects. Solo and unsupported speed record attempts on both Poles in December this year (South) and March next year (North). Only one person in history, the Norwegian Borge Ousland, has reached both Poles solo, so I could be the second. And then in 2011-12 will be arguably the most ambitious polar expedition in a century: the Scott Antarctic Expedition. It’s the first return journey to the South Pole on foot and, at 1,800 miles and four months, the longest unsupported polar journey in history.
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.
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.
While all of our Case Study subjects have crafted some truly incredible pieces of work, from motion graphics to documentary films to new typefaces, nearly all of it was created in a stationary position and in front of computers. But that trend ends here, as we recently got the chance to talk to Tony Hernandez, lifelong circus performer and creator of Hephaestus: A Greek Mythology Circus Tale, a remarkable piece of theater that blends circus acts with a solid script — the Wall Street Journal said it was “explosive, dangerous and dazzling” and Variety said in its review “it’s a pretty rare show that feels successfully directed at both family crowds and hipsters.” Tony has also used Jewelboxing to help promote the show and we’re thrilled to be included in what’s sure to be a meteoric rise to the top.
Can you tell us a little about yourself and how you got involved in the theatrical circus world?
I was born and raised in the circus, literally. Actually my family was touring with the circus when my mother was pregnant with me and we were on our way to our home in Sarasota, FL when she couldn’t hold me in anymore, so I was born in Dubuque, Iowa. I then grew up with my family traveling the world and learning the family business, which meant becoming an acrobat and a juggler. By age 6, I was the little star in the family act. I was featured on Captain Kangaroo, Kids World, and other children’s programs (you can actually find the Capt. Kangaroo one on YouTube). After we finished a 5 year run with Ringling Bros., I was 17 and bored. I knew I wanted something else in my life, so I left the the road to go to a community college. After a year of that, I knew it wasn’t for me, so I moved to Chicago where my sister had a circus school. I taught for a while and fell in love with the city. The first day I was here in ’96, I went to a friend of my sister’s house where they were having a reading of a movie called Since You Been Gone. It was the whole ensemble of Lookingglass Theatre Company including a then VERY popular David Schwimmer of the TV show Friends. I got to know Lookingglass very well and they kind of took me in like family and eventually made me a member of the company. Since then I have done a dozen productions with them as an actor, director, writer, choreographer, and producer.
You’re from the Hernandez Troupe and your wife Lijana is from the world famous Wallenda family — hoping that it’s more interesting than “oh, just at a bar after work one night,” how did you two meet one another?
Lijana and I met when she was seven and I was nine. Our families worked together in a circus one year, but our parents knew each other before we were born…ew this sounds like a planned wedding — it was not, I assure you. Anyways, we started dating years later and her parents were, like, “Well, if you’re gonna date our daughter, you need to learn to walk the highwire.” So I did (they weren’t gonna scare me away that easily). We got married in our twenties and I stole her away and brought her to Chicago. We do still work with her family once in awhile. In 2001, we went to Japan with her family and broke a Guinness world record with an eight person pyramid on the highwire. Yeah, never a dull moment in that family!
I’d wager that most people don’t have any idea of how someone gets into the circus world other than how they’ve been informed by movies and books and the idea that you have to run away from home at ten years old and ride the rails with a traveling circus. Is it something someone who doesn’t have a family background in the circus can pick up?
Absolutely, anyone who has a desire and a good work ethic can train and run away to join the circus at any age. It’s called cleaning elephant poop. Just kidding. Actually, like I said, my sister has a circus school here in Chicago called The Actors Gymnasium. And anyone, at any age, can train there. Some people go to just train because it’s a great workout — it works muscles you don’t even know you have. Others take classes with the goals of joining a circus or Cirque Du Soleil. Still others are actors trying to learn how to act from the neck down.
Can you tell us about your latest show, Hephaestus?
Hephaestus: A Greek Mythology Circus Tale (its full title) is adapted from the myth of Hephaestus. It is the tale of the infant hurled from Mount Olympus by his mother, Hera, when he was a baby because she was embarrassed by his ugliness and his disfigurement (my wife Lijana plays Hera,and I play Hephaestus). He crashes to the earth, fully grown, but has his legs rendered useless on impact. Hephaestus survives and teaches himself the art of the blacksmith, crafting magnificent works of iron and metal. In time, his abilities allow him to bring his silver statues to life to aid him in his forge. When his skills are perfected, Hephaestus begins the journey to Mt. Olympus to claim his throne as the God of the Forge. Along the way he meets fantastic humans and gods, all portrayed by world-class circus artists and athletes, including members of the Wallenda family, Cirque du Soleil, Blue Man Group, and others. At the end of the show, we do a Wallenda trademark pyramid on the highwire where Hephaestus and Ares (God of War) carry Hera, perched on her throne, across the highwire. Our story is narrated by a 10 year old girl who is reading herself to sleep and trying to drown out the sounds of her feuding parents. We see her imagination come to life.
Were you interested in mythology before writing the show or were you looking for something that you felt would fit well with mixing in your circus talents and this story seemed to help blend the two?
Well it’s actually a little bit of both. I did always like mythology — my mom would read Greek myths with me as a child. But I was actually looking for a story to mix with circus, partly because I was frustrated with Cirque Du Soleil’s vague story lines. And at Lookingglass we do rich story lines with little circus, so I wanted to pull everything closer to the middle. It was Lookingglass’s artistic director, David Catlin who brought the story of Hephaestus to my attention. I did a little research and found that it was as if it was written for me. It had everything I wanted to do, with the freedom of taking some liberties because it’s a myth. I wanted to use amazing circus artistry, elements of dance, live percussive drumming, but I didn’t want to use all those elements just for the sake of doing them; it had to fit the story. I was very cautious not to be like those other shows that leave you feeling like you missed the point.
When you come up with an idea like this, how do you go about assembling it and making plans for what will go on when and where? And how do you go about rehearsing?
Well luckily I am a member of an AMAZING collaborative theatre company at Lookingglass. I wrote the very first draft of the play and then I passed it to a few ensemble members, including Heidi Stillman who would end up being my co-director and co-writer. A handful of us picked at it for a while, including David Catlin, Kerry Catlin, John Musial, myself and Heidi. Catlin decided to put Hephaestus in Lookingglass’ Glassworks program, which gave us a little bit of money and allowed us to have workshops, readings, and get the story up on its feet.
The show features former members of Cirque Du Soleil and the Blue Man Group — how did you approach them to come join the show? And what’s a cast party or a casual summer barbecue like with that crowd?
Growing up in the circus, my “little black book of performers,” like Phil Smith of Lookingglass likes to call it, has grown quite a bit. I am fortunate to have met and performed with some amazing artists. And if I didn’t know them, I knew someone who did, it seemed. For instance, when I wrote the part about Aphrodite being a beautiful handbalancing/ contortionist I wrote it with this amazing women in mind named Olga Pikhienko (who had become a star at Cirque Du Soeil). It was kind of like writing a part in a movie with someone like Natalie Portman in mind, while you kind of know it’s not very realistic that she’ll do it. But I asked her and to my surprise she said yes. And on the Blue Man side, one of my best friends, Jonathan Taylor, who is a Blue Man, and helped me design the drumming side of things, and actually took a break from Blue Man to be in the first incarnation of Hephaestus. So luckily all my old friends and family were just eager to support my vision.
As far as cast parties go, I’m sorry to report that they are pretty mellow. Well there was this one time after a show that we all went to my friend Billy Dec’s club called Rockit Bar & Grill and we had our own roped off corner. Olga was doing handstands on the pool table and the whole club was cheering…ok, so we can get a little crazy.
Now that you’ve performed at the Village Theatre in Detroit and the famous Lookingglass Theatre here in Chicago, what’s the next step for the show? Long term goals for it?
We have been very fortunate with the success of the show and have had great reviews. Now we are trying to find a theatre space to have an open run somewhere, something like Blue Man where we run until audiences stop coming (which they never will because the show rocks!). We are also talking about a tour as well. Long term goal would have the show sitting somewhere running, while another version of the show is touring. We are currently shopping the show around to producers in New York City and other big cities, including Chicago, of course. You can look for the show to hopefully happen here later this year, or maybe early 2010.
You’re using Jewelboxing to package promotional materials for the show. Why Jewelboxing and any notes on your experience with using it?
Well, like our production, we feel like Jewelboxes are different than anything else out there, and they really make you stand out in a crowd. On the design end of things, at the moment I’m a little bit of a one man show, meaning I took all the photos you see on and in the case, designed the images, designed the box with a friend Mark Stevens (a designer who actually told me about you guys), and even designed and edited the DVD. So it’s been very helpful that the Jewelboxing templates make it easy and it’s great how simple it is to snap it all together. It really is a great design. Actually, they are printing as we speak!
As an aside, did you and your wife see the documentary about Philippe Petit, Man on Wire? If so, what did you think about it? Any of that rebellious streak in you?
We did! We saw it in NYC on opening night. It’s truly a great piece of art that moves you and isn’t that what great art is supposed to do? Lijana also bought the DVD for me for Christmas and I have already watched it like 5 more times. I just love how passionate he is about what he does. I do have a very rebellious streak, but whenever possible I enjoy getting paid for my daredevilry, not put in jail. I do love that about him and respect him very much.
Lastly, what’s next for you, or how would you like 2009 to pan out?
I am working on a project with Redmoon Theatre of Chicago and if all goes as planned, you will hear about it. I am also writing a few new things, one is a screenplay, and the other is a play that hopefully will make it’s way through the Glassworks and onto the Lookingglass stage. Also, Lijana and I are going to be performing in Tampa at the Superbowl on February 1st with my company Silverguy Entertainment (we specialize in special events), which should be fun. I also have some other big projects lining up for this year, but it’s probably a little too early to talk about them just yet…
A quick post to show off some new Jewelboxing work by Stephen Coles. You likely know him from his work as the editor of Typographica and The Mid-Century Modernist, and you might remember when we we had the good fortune to sit down and talk with him about his work as Type Director at FontShop in Case Study #10. This time around, he put together a personal project in order to help him cope with Sweden. We know that sentence doesn’t make a whole ton of sense as we put it, so we’ll let Stephen fill in the context:
“My last few months in Stockholm were filled with bitterness and angst, fueled by self-imposed isolation and 4 hours of sunlight per day. The only cure was a cathartic mix CD full of aggressive music.”
“The art is a page ripped from a book I found at a Stockholm bar called The Library. Just discovered tonight that the dude is a Swedish boxer named Ingemar Johansson who won the World Heavyweight Championship in 1955. Fitting that the guy shares my middle name. He looks like I felt at the time.”
Thanks much to Stephen for once again impressing us with his work and here’s to hoping there’s plenty of sunlight in Weehawken, Shanghai, Peoria, Pittsburgh, Barrie, Philadelphia, Indianapolis, Swindon, Grand Rapids, New York, Lower Langford, Sonoma, London, and Omaha.
You can’t legitimately claim to have a working knowledge of the designer toy world without knowing who James Jarvis is. Certainly one of the pioneers within the recent boom in “the soft vinyl revolution,” his work has helped to inspire hundreds of other designers looking to break into this unique form of design. Director and illustrator Alex Gould was one person who received such inspiration from Jarvis, but also decided to return the favor by creating a documentary about the toy designing icon, appropriately entitled An Interview with James Jarvis. An extremely talented illustrator, designer, and filmmaker in his own right, we got a chance to talk to Alex about himself, his documentary, and what it was like to document Jarvis:
Can you tell us about yourself? Your background?
Born in North Wales. I’m a filmmaker and photographer. I studied Multimedia Arts in University. Currently living in Liverpool.
How would you describe your work?
My work is, as I see it, a way of moving forward with directing films, every project I’ve worked on is connected in small details, the thinking, how it is put together and the end vision. All add to enhancing my skills as a director, be it through the medium of film, photography, illustration, or design.
What’s the origin of the name Ika Zcha?
Ah, it has something to do with watching a lot of Takashi Kitano films as a teenager…
Can you tell us about An Interview with James Jarvis?
The film looks at his drawing and the thought processes that go into his work. This spans across the two comics that he published through Silas and then Amos as well as his commercial & personal illustration work. It also has a short interview with Aiden Onn the owner of Playlounge a vinyl toy shop in London, that gives a perspective on the toys he produces under Amos and who buys them. It’s mainly aimed at fans of his work and illustrators.
How did the project come about? Did you know Jarvis? A longtime fan and decided to make a film about him?
I was already a huge fan of his work, however this film started out with a personal obsession I have about Hergé the creator of Tintin. I had been planning what to do for my dissertation and wanted to get in touch with James Jarvis to ask a few questions about the influence of Hergé on his work. Initially I asked one of my tutors who knew Jarvis to break the ice, about me contacting him. I then e-mailed James a rough outline of the questions I wanted to ask him and he responded positively to the line of questioning and me coming to London to film him.
What was the production like? You’ve said on the site that you spent two days with Jarvis at his office? Were you always by his side, asking questions, or did you get the questions you were after and then try to disappear as much as possible and try to capture things as they played out normally?
The production was filmed during a slightly quieter than usual period for James, so the office was not too hectic. I was trying to avoid being obtrusive, but I was very curious and fascinated so there were a lot of questions I asked even when the camera was off. The first day lasted longer than planned originally it was only an hour or two but it stretched into the majority of the day. On the second day of filming the office was busier so our time was slightly less than the day before. My approach was filming all the questions that I had in a straight interview, then work in a much more flexible approach around the office and ask ad-hoc questions and film it as it happened, it was good combining these two methods as when it came to edit the film there was a nice variety of shots and situations to edit with.
Specific details about the production? What you shot it on, how much footage you had at the end of those two days, how long it took to edit?
It was shot on HDV. After the two days filming I had just under four hours of raw footage. With so much footage to choose from editing took a lot longer than usual, it was around a month to pull together the final cut, then another couple of days colouring it in Magic Bullet suite.
Did you have a background in filmmaking or did you decide that you absolutely had to make a film about James Jarvis, picked up a camera, and went with it?
I already had a background in filmmaking. With any film I make the story or person has to be something I’m fascinated in. Being a big fan of his work and not really finding the answers to questions that I had in other interviews, it seemed natural to go out there and make a film about him and ask those questions.
Has the film played at festivals, or design/illustration events, etc? What was your plan with the film after it was completed?
I had initially wanted to push it for television channels, I put up an online version of it that James Jarvis put on his blog and subsequently streetwear blogs like Hypebeast put it up, more recently Kanye West put a post about James Jarvis on his blog along with my film, which was a bit weird. I’d like to see the film play in a few documentary festivals and definitely some illustration events.
What was Jarvis’ reaction to the film?
James thought that the film worked well, he especially enjoyed the speeded up section with him drawing out an A4 illustration especially to camera.
I think that the time spent filming the interview was the most important part for James as it was a rare chance to look retrospectively at all his previous work. As a professional illustrator he is constantly moving forward and doing new work it was a chance to stop and look back over the work and think about it in more detail.
You’re a very talented illustrator yourself. Do you see Jarvis as a big influence?
Ha ha. I’d say I was mediocre at best. Yes definitely, especially after meeting and talking to him about the level of thinking that goes into each illustration, listening to his advice and the fact that someone as talented as James Jarvis would say yes to me coming to where he works asking loads of questions and filming him was an incredible experience.
Any other illustrators you greatly admire? If so, any plans to make films about them and start a series?
I’m a big fan of Chris Ware, Charles Burns, Daniel Clowes, and Gary Panter. I love TADO’s work it’s been on my mind to do a series of shorts on talented illustrators, but I’m currently working on other projects at the moment.
You packaged the film using one of our Jewelboxing King cases and they’re just fantastic. Any details on the process of putting it all together?
I had already bookmarked the Jewelboxing site a few months before I had started filming looking for some high quality packaging that had the right finish and looked professional. Initially I was more concerned with the typeface for the cover, whilst filming in Amos offices I’d taken a lot of photographs in the breaks between filming, these were used full bleed throughout the packaging, the type was slightly transparent allowing the lines of the drawings to show through.
What’s next for you?
Currently I’m writing a feature film. In pre-production for a short film about a local organist who plays whilst a cinema screen rises out of the floor and another short film about the darker side of dog walking. Also start shooting a music video in a few weeks time for an interesting band.
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.
We’re always excited when we get in samples of people’s work who have used Jewelboxing, but from time to time, something shows up that just goes above and beyond. That’s when we put together a Case Study, a special feature where we interview the creator of said “something special.” This time, we were fortunate enough to get a chance to talk with Andrew Staffordabout his fantastic Making Sense of Marcel Duchamp. Without further delay, let’s get right into it:
There doesn’t seem to be a commercial or institutional sponsor for Making Sense of Marcel Duchamp. Was it a commissioned work? Or an interest you had in Duchamp’s work that led to building the project? The “why” is a mystery.
How could I resist? Sometimes you have an idea, sometimes the idea has you. From its conception it seemed like a dream project, with a compelling unity of subject and media, content and form; and for me personally, a convergence of interests in Duchamp, information design, clear thinking, and plain language. Duchamp wanted people to participate in his art, what better way to demonstrate that than via user interactivity? The Large Glass is a diagram of a dynamic process, like a Rube Goldberg contraption, what better way to demonstrate that process than by animating it? I made it because I felt it would be an interesting and above all useful way to explore the ideas underlying Duchamp’s art. Plus, I thought it would be a lot of fun.
Was it? A lot of fun to make?
Sure, except when it was driving me crazy. Fortunately for my sanity, whenever I got tired of struggling with a Flash movie, I could give it a rest and go back to wrestling with the text. One thing’s for sure, it was never boring.
What was the hardest part?
Flash had a pretty steep learning curve. You know what, that wasn’t the hardest part, though. Let’s come back to that question later.
What was your research process in developing Understanding Duchamp?
The research process was an ordinary, time-tested one: look, read, ask, listen, think. You know the drill.
Was there something in particular that stands out that was just invaluable?
Not one thing, lots of things. If it was a flashback sequence it would have to start long ago with my friend Kate handing me a copy of Marcel Duchamp [d’Harnoncourt & McShine, 1973], saying “I think you’ll like this”… pilgrimages to MOMA, Tate Modern, the Philadelphia Museum of Art… Calvin Tomkins’ Duchamp: A Biography, which I cannot praise highly enough… a revelatory vision of The Large Glass in motion at the Weisman Art Museum… learning how to replicate the 3 Standard Stoppages… invaluable endless discussions with friends and colleagues… especially with my friend Nick Meriwether, who bravely volunteered to show me how to finish the text. That’s some of the highlights, anyway.
Did you learn anything new?
Lots. One thing that I got out of it was an appreciation of how some of Duchamp’s art invites physical interaction, and some of it invites personal interpretation, but both are pursuing the same objective: the participation of the observer, enticing lookers out of a passive mode into active engagement.
What was your design process?
I hope this doesn’t sound evasive or inarticulate, but it just evolved, stepwise, more or less organically. I don’t have a professional background in design, or to put it nicely my design education has been self-directed. For me, the design process is empirical and iterative, proceeding by trial-and-error and inevitably including more than a few false starts and cul-de-sacs along the way.
So was designing the website the hardest part?
There was always a way to go forward, at least one way, even if sometimes it meant backtracking later. For the most part, design decisions were guided by simply trying to do what the content demanded.
What about deciding on a structure? From the beginning did you decide that it had to be a timeline? What drew you to that instead of say, writing an essay or a book about Duchamp, or blocking it out in sections (i.e. 1. His Life, 2. His Art, 3. His Legacy)?
I tried out different ideas and didn’t settle on a timeline until the content was more than halfway done. What attracted me to the idea of a timeline was that the navigation device itself IS useful information: first, the numerous multiple miniatures, and second, their chronology. Each of the miniatures is repeated, larger, at the start of each chapter, which keeps people oriented as they click deeper into the content.
Beyond just the nuts and bolts of it, the timeline structure also seems like the best way of capturing Duchamp, since a lot of his work revolves around time, like with The Large Glass, where A leads to B leads to C and so on. Was that also a factor in the decision?
Not consciously, but I’m sure you’re right. Another reason it works is because Duchamp was not inclined to repeat himself, he kept pushing the envelope, so his output grew more diverse over time: paintings, objects, installations, machines. Obviously a row of stamp-sized canvases would be a lot less interesting to look at than spinning bicycle wheels and rotating optical disks.
There’s that famous essay by Walter Benjamin, The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, where he says that a piece of art loses its aura or mystique because it’s being reproduced again and again and becomes so familiar. Duchamp seemed to be commenting on that, in some degree, with his famous L.H.O.O.Q., some twenty years before Benjamin sat down to write about it. Do you have any thoughts about that?
Francis Naumann wrote a book, lovely to look at and not overly academic, that gave special attention to the conjunction of Duchamp’s art and Benjamin’s ideas. Did you know Duchamp and Benjamin met once? In spring of 1938, at a left bank café. Nothing of consequence came of it: Duchamp proudly showed Benjamin a small, hand-colored reproduction of Nude Descending a Staircase. In his diary Benjamin called it “breathtakingly beautiful.”
That demystifying of art that Benjamin talked about, is what you’re doing here similar to that? By reproducing and explaining in detail, not just on discs but for everyone with a web connection?
I hope so.
Your case, recreating Duchamp’s Large Glass on the very cover, is without a doubt one of the most impressive things we’ve ever seen done with Jewelboxing. Can you tell us a little about the process of creating it?
I wanted to make a small number of copies of Making Sense of Marcel Duchamp on CD, as gifts. When I ordered my first Jewelboxing 20-pack, I didn’t have any preconceived ideas for the case’s design. But in retrospect it seems so obvious, doesn’t it: The Large Glass meets Understanding Duchamp meets Jewelboxing equals this, how could it be otherwise? It’s such a sweet match-up of content and package, how could I resist? Trouble was, first, I couldn’t imagine how to make it; and second, when I did imagine how to make it, I didn’t know how to screenprint; and third, after I learned how to screenprint, I had to find a pigment and a substrate that would work together.
So, was making the cases the hardest part?
No, it took practice and plenty of experimentation, but it wasn’t the hardest part.
I wanted to ask about the slipcover you made to hold the case. Were those printed by you and if so, can you tell us a little about that?
The material was a basic cotton 120 lb. folio vellum, trimmed to 8.5″ wide to fit through my Epson 260. Make a template with cutting and creasing guides. Design as necessary. Print, score, cut, wrap, glue. Punch a semicircular notch at top. Spray the finished piece with a fixative.
So, what was the hardest part?
The hardest part turned out to be the task I thought I would be best at: writing the text.
What made it so difficult?
The challenge was to explain the essential ideas behind Duchamp’s art in precise, plain language without glossing over the hard questions it raises. The first difficulty was editorial, deciding what could be left out without diminishing the substance of those ideas. The second difficulty was compositional, finding clear, simple language to explain those ideas within the design-dictated constraint of a mere 100 words per panel. It’s safe to say that I underestimated the challenge of fitting such large ideas into such small containers. The final result was highly compressed prose, which I hope nonetheless reads like everyday language. Overall the text and visuals evolved in tandem, each informing the other, which I hope lends the whole thing an organic unity.
I don’t know if this question enters your head or not, but I assume that it must, once you get far enough down the line: do you think this would be something Marcel Duchamp would have appreciated? That he would have enjoyed reading through and participating in?
I like to think so. All we can be sure of is that he would have responded with detached bemusement. It was his usual response to… well, everything in the world, including his own iconoclastic imagination.
It’s been a little while since our last Case Study feature. In the interim, we’ve had lots of samples come t
hrough our doors, and all of them were fantastic and many have been featured here on the site, but we’ve always felt that the Case Studies should be something extra special, getting to know companies or individuals who are using Jewelboxing in direct relation to their business on a regular basis. What’s more, we’d set some really high standards with our previous talks with groups like Impactist, Eyeball NYC, and WOXY. It was when we started talking to Alex Krawitz, an Executive Producer over at Bigstar, the absurdly talented New York-based motion graphics firm, that we knew we had the focus of our next feature. Alex was kind enough to lend us some of his time in between massive projects for major clients, and we were fortunate to get the scoop on the company, their process, and the industry in general:
1. Can you give us the general rundown on Bigstar?
Yeah — we are a small creative motion graphic design and production firm based out of NYC. We specialize in broadcast and commercial work and sometimes do industrial, experience design and music video work.
2. I’m always curious how firms like Bigstar get started. How do you go from day one to now doing promos for HBO and major national spots? Making spec work or shorts for film fests? Did everyone bring their clients over from freelance or other firms? Or did you assemble a team of people and then said to potential clients, “Here we are!”?
Our creative director, Josh Norton, had been a freelance animator and designer in NYC for several years before we started Bigstar. It was one of those things that took form over the past two years in a very gradual way. The company quite literally started out in Josh’s apartment and what we would do is take Josh’s freelance clients and bill them through the Bigstar entity and let all of his clients know that we had started a new company. It wasn’t before long that we grew out of Josh’s apartment and rented a small room at a larger edit facility. Eventually, through word of mouth, client referrals and working our asses off, we were able to establish a small but solid client list. One room at the edit facility turned into two. And in July of ’05, we moved into our new office space that allows us to take on much bigger and more high profile work.
3. Your new ’06 reel features the Daft Punk song “Robot Rock.” How do you wind up picking a music track that you think will work well with the new material you want to show off? Someone hears a song and says, “That’s it! That’s the track to edit a montage to!”? And, along those same lines, is there a go-to person at Bigstar who is the king of putting together the new reel?
That’s kind of a funny question because I think that we had about 14 tracks that we considered “final” for our latest reel before we went with Daft Punk. We would get right up to the point where we would think it was complete and then Josh would want to switch the song again. The latest reel took us a long time to prepare with the music selection, which work to show, packaging etc. I think that you are always your own toughest critic.
4. A lot of your projects have a terrific mix of film, 2D, and 3D in them. What’s your process like, from designing the backgrounds to filming actors to taking everything into the computer and bringing it all together?
In our work you do see a lot of mixing of elements and that has kind of become the bstar calling card. For our most recent project, we had elements coming from many different sources. We were in the studio shooting HD effects and live action. Those were being combined with CG and 2d animation, as well as textural scanning and photography that we took all over the city. All of these elements were then brought in and assembled by all of the animators and editors. The end result is a richer more finished aesthetic that gives the viewer a unique visual experience.
5. Any particular favorites Bigstar has put together? Or any really interesting methods you used to assemble a piece?
I think that our favorites change from day-to-day and project to project. We’re pretty into the “Road to Rucker Park” piece at the moment.
6. To help keep everyone around the studio sane and happy, a lot of firms, including we here at Jewelboxing, get involved in personal projects, making things just for the fun of it. Does that go on at Bigstar? Anything you’d like to share?
Unfortunately it is very hard for us to do work outside of our client jobs as they take almost all of our time. But we do, once in a while, get a chance to work on fun stuff. We have a music video that we will begin working on soon that should be really great.
7. Over the weekend, a friend and I got to talking about how there are these motion graphics staples that people not in the industry have become hyper-familiar with. Like the still photos cut out and made into 3D, which you see in almost every documentary anymore. Or flowers being unmasked, so it looks like they’re growing. Bigstar seems to be able to buck those trends and come up with ideas that are unique and far more organic. How do you manage to keep things fresh, which must be particularly difficult when you’re working with clients who are prone to say things like, “I saw the coolest thing last night — it was this still photo that was also kinda in 3D!”?
The motion design industry grows together. There are shared trends and techniques that create breakthroughs pushing us and every firm to a higher level of expression. However, once an idea or look reaches a saturated level exposure it is our job as a firm to have already seen the “trend” coming, by staying close to the industry and informed beyond the average individual. We are interested in being proactive. We strive to push the tools and talents around us and initiate a pure creative approach to each project using new techniques not reacting to popular trends.
8. Nearly every week at AdAge they’ve got a story about how tv spots are going the way of the Dodo and that the future of advertising is all in mobile content and the internet. Do you follow that thinking at all? Additionally, have you thought about, or been approached for, Bigstar handling such projects, ones that will never appear on anything larger than 320×240?
More and more our clients ask us to prep finals for both on air and web. I would say that that is becoming a pretty regular occurrence.
9. What did you use Jewelboxing for? And why did you decide to use the system?
We chose Jewelboxes for our reel packaging because of its professional quality look and the level of customization that we can achieve. When one of our clients or potential clients receive our reel we want them to feel like they have received something special and unique. We tried other options and Jewelboxing looked the best, by far.
10. What’s next for Bigstar? Any projects you can talk about?
We are just wrapping up our first channel launch package and were recently awarded a PSA for the Partnership for a Drug Free America that is going to be great. Stay tuned…
Last Summer, we received this package from the amazing motion graphics firm, Impactist, which included their beautiful, Jewelboxing-packaged reel and some additional promo material. It was so impressive, such a love at first sight type of thing, that we knew we had to do something more involved with our post about their work on the blog. And so the Jewelboxing Case Study was born. We put together a batch of questions for the Impactist’s talented co-founder Daniel Ewing, largely about the firm’s creative process, their side projects, how they got started, and some info about why they decided to go with our System to package their reel. It was a great experience and turned out to be a terrific read. And we wanted more.
So since then, we’ve had the chance to talk with Chris Glass, of the famous, defy-all-odds, internet radio station, Woxy.com, about packaging souvenir discs for the bands who stop by to play live sets at their studio. We’ve interviewed Rafael Macho, a freelance motion graphics designer whose international broadcast and film work you’ve definitely seen and have been repeatedly blown away by. A couple of months later, we talked with Chevon Hicks, founder of the really cool shop, Heavenspot Studios, creator of interactive sites for big films like the upcoming “Tenacious D” feature and little indies like the site for “The Aristocrats.” For Case Study 5, we had the pleasure of interviewing Limore Shur, the Creative Director and Owner of the awe-inspiring, motion graphics firm EyeballNYC. Later, we spent time with Craig Tozzi, founder of another motion graphics agency we’re all big, big fans of: Venice-based twothousandstrong. And for our latest, we had a fantastc discussion with Ernesto Rinaldi, the founder and head honcho at the Florida-based design firm, 451, which specializes in amazing work for both North and South American audiences.
All in all, it’s been an amazing series of features and we’re all set to keep them coming. In the interim, if you or your firm happen to have something you think might make a terrific interview, drop us a line. We’re always thrilled to see what kinds of interesting things people are doing with the System.
We’re also always thrilled when we hear from the people in Littlestown, San Francisco, New York, Los Angeles, Hollywood, Boston, Venice, San Jose, Brighton, Edmonton, Sheridan, Minneapolis, Victorville, Santa Cruz, Redhill, Seattle, Forest Park, Chicago, Frisco, Winnipeg, Toronto, Portland, Burbank, Hoboken, Elmont, London, Mountain View, Riverside, Lombard, Honolulu, Boulder, Helsinki, Salinas, and Covington.
It’s always amazing to see what people wind up doing with Jewelboxing. We’ve seen users put pieces of wood in the case spine, things carved into the cover, and everything you can imagine in between. When we got in a sample of 451’s new design portfolio, that’s when we knew we’d seen one of the best off-the-beaten-path uses ever. Inside a beautifully designed, single color sleeve you find a gorgeous booklet, featuring some of the highlights of 451’s work (if you want to get to it right away). The Jewelboxing case features the same, less-is-more aesthetic, with nothing but the most fitting word imaginable, “Simple,” on the cover. And if you haven’t fallen in love with 451 by this point, once you pop the CD in and use the fantastic interface, we can almost guarantee you’d be utterly smitten. It’s a thing of beauty, their work, so we decided it was only fitting to have our next Case Study be about them. And as luck would have it, we were fortunate enough to be able to talk a bit with Ernesto Rinaldi, 451’s founder and head honcho:
1. Can you tell us a little about your company?
I’ve always been attracted to design+technology, way back before the Internet was around. I bought my first Mac in 1985 and from then on I started using it as a tool for design. I had a small graphic design shop in Argentina, and when the web came down there the possibility of mixing both design and technology blew my mind. I remember as soon as I logged on the web and started flirting with HTML turning back to my partner and telling him “I want to make a living out of this…”
So I started designing and creating websites for my own as a hobby (I was still a full time graphic designer and I was art directing 2 magazines). At that time I was working for a local branch of a Fortune 500 company, and they were starting to get into the online world. I showed them what I was doing and I got my first serious interactive project. From then on it didn’t stop. I got a job in California for some time, but later I decided to pursue my own company, and that’s how it all started. 451 was already the name I had chosen to do business, although I was not operating as 451 because nobody knew us under that name.
2. What kind of projects do you work on? Any favorites?
We do all kinds of interactive projects. For some reason we usually end up doing a lot of corporate stuff and big media projects like newspapers, magazines, etc. But from time to time we take fun projects where we can relax and not only think about “how will it work, will people understand it…” and do other fun things.
While in California working for RDG I got to work on the design of Apple’s original Final Cut application interface, back in 1998. Still today I can’t help stopping by any Apple store to check the application (which now is at version 5 and still using most of the original interface)… Designing mass accessed websites are always a favorite. Knowing that millons look and use what you do everyday makes you feel good, no matter what the project is.
3. What drew you into creating content and designing for the web, as opposed to other mediums like print or film?
We started out as print, and then moved to web. Being so far away from the first world (Argentina), the web was the first chance we had down there to show the work we did worldwide and how creative we could be… And also it was the perfect mix of technolgy and creativity.
4. You have some of the biggest clients in the business. What’s the process of designing a site for an organization as large as places like Visa or Volkswagen? Do you come in with many concepts to pitch, or do they assume that you’ll just create something wonderful based on your terrific body of work?
Years ago I never thought experience would be so important. You always think creativity is all, and maybe my background beign an architect helped me realize creativity and design are just part of the creative process. There are many other parts that build up a job (be print, interactive, movie, etc.) so when you work for somebody as large as Visa or VW, they not only look for creative talent in the aesthetic sense, but also in all the other aspects. When you work on a project for them they expect the project to be successful. Large websites (like a newspaper, that publishes hundreds of pages daily, and recieves millons of users every single day) require you to take into account things that are also related to design but not to creativity; you have to research and plan even before starting to choose a color, so that’s where you start making a difference by having experience on your side.
5. You relate your company name to Ray Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451” by quoting the main concept of the book, that paper burns at this temperature. It’s a brilliant idea related to web content, but in Bradbury’s work, the burning of paper, or books, is a bad thing and an allegory for a dystopian society. Were you concerned at all about the negative connotations, or do you feel that there is something that Bradbury could never have foreseen, that books would gradually disappear, but they’d be replaced in a positive way by internet content? Or, alternately, am I just reading too much into all of this?
The funny part is that most people don’t even have an idea about the meaning of the number. When we go to meetings sometimes they ask us about the name, and they believe it’s because of our phone number (which, BTW was a pain to get it from BellSouth…). There are 2 main reasons to use the name. First, the novel shows a future where everything is controlled by the computer, and that’s probably what moved me to think about the name, and also the temperature that burns paper. Not everybody has read the book or even seen the movie, so when we explain the meaning of our name we just focus on the burning of paper and it’s enough… Also, since we work in different countries and cultures (I’m native in Spanish), being named with a number is easy to pronounce in any language.
6. The web seems to be a lot more functional place now that it’s been adopted by the public at large and has long since shed its previous semi-alien, subculture-based past. Because you started so early, in 1995, what has that been like, going from a time when people were relatively unfamiliar with the internet, to now, a time when everyone uses it and even the mom and pop restaurant on the corner has a website?
Well, I remember talking to my ISP in Argentina in 1995. We had this conversation and he told me about a website where I could find everything. I walked 3 blocks back to my office and when I got there I forgot the name… it was Yahoo!! So at that time nobody knew anything about the web. I remember checking a website and finding that we could tweak the code and change the background color of the page! That was amazing then…
My first account with Network Solutions was ER125, which meant that ony 125 persons had made a registration with my initials. When I tried to register 451.com I was not allowed because by that time they didn’t accept numbers only, so I started out with f451.com and then got 451.com.
7. What do you feel the future holds for the internet? Are you excited by any trends you see developing?
I like what is doing and how fast it’s growing in terms of usability and design. You can do on the web what you want, generating completely innovative experiences for users, and that’s exciting. Flash is doing a very good job helping use and understand navigation and usability. In general, the technology is catching up with what designers have in mind and is letting them (us) do what we want, not being crippled by the technology itself.
8. You do a lot of work in Latin America. Was that a decision early on, to get involved in that market or something that just showed up and has been growing ever since? What is the landscape for the web in that part of the world?
Being native in Spanish probably helps us get jobs. We started out down in Argentina, so that also helped us get big clients that the Latin market recognizes. We’ve been mainly a “word of mouth” company, our friends are from Latin America and we end up getting more jobs there.
9. Why did you choose Jewelboxing to send out your work?
We wanted to show the best of our work, and we believe every single piece of what you do talks about the company. We didn’t want to use regular CD boxes, and we thought it would be a good idea to use Jewelboxing. We used the original paper that comes with the pack to print and die cut our own set of booklet and covers.
10. The packaging you’ve used, quite possibly one of the best we’ve ever seen come through our doors, includes a beautiful Jewelboxing case design and fantastic booklet, all held together with a thick box-like sleeve. Can you tell us a little about the packaging design process and some info about where you had the packaging produced?
Thanks! We thought that we wanted to have both things tied together. We did a CD-Rom some time ago and it didn’t work as we had planned because when you hand it out in a meeting nobody stops the meeting to pop in the CD on their computers. So they take out the booklet and once they see what you do they get into the cd.
We printed the book and the box in Colombia, and the internal parts of the jewelbox here in Miami. For some reason we didn’t use the correct paper thickness for the internal pieces (we’ll get it right the next time), so they are somewhat thinner than the ones that come with the Jewelboxes (which btw are great).
11. Lastly, what does the future hold for 451? And any exciting projects near release that you can talk about?
We only delivered less than 5% of the cds and cases we did and we had an overwhelming response. We are afraid to send out the others… We are always working on new projects and every single one is exciting for us (well, not 100% but 90%!!) We are redesigning the Public Radio and TV for Miami (WLRN) and that’s really a very exciting project for us. Others we can’t talk about will appear on our website as soon as we are allowed to let the world know what we are doing…
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!
Part of the joy of Jewelboxing is that we have some of the coolest clients around. Being the design-junkies we are, we’ll get an order in from a company we so admire, it’s sort of like an avid “US Weekly” reader running into George Clooney on the street and having him say, “Hey, I like your work.” That’s the way we feel about our long-time client EyeballNYC. Not only are they making some of the greatest spots and identities for virtually everyone (you’ve seen them), they’re also an incredibly nice batch of people. So, with all of that, it goes without saying that we were honored when we got the chance to talk with Limore Shur, EyeballNYC’s Creative Director and Owner:
1. Can you tell us a bit about EyeballNYC? And your role in the company?
EyeballNYC is a cool little company. We like to come to work everyday and design the world the way we like to see it. Each new project allows us to find a new and challenging way to communicate our clients message. I credit much of our success to the desire to constantly evolve and grow as designers and as a company. It is always difficult to describe what we do with words. One has to see what we do in order really understand what this company is about.
For the past 13 years we have been witness to and participated in the growth of a new industry. This is a rare opportunity for most new companies. Unlike many internet companies that were supported by a slow build up, a boom and lots of support from existing industries, our industry has been a very quiet and organic development. Having survived the ups and downs of any new industry, Eyeball has found its stride. Continue reading
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.
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!
We got to talking to Jewelboxing user, Chris Glass, a few weeks back. He’d told us about all of the projects both he and his creative counterparts were working on and using Jewelboxing for. Everything we were shown added up to a sheer cavalcade of cool. Ultimately, something needed to be chosen to be highlighted. It was decided that his work with Woxy.com was perhaps the best to show off. That said, here’s a brief interview with Chris:
So what is Woxy.com?
Woxy is an independent and alternative Internet radio station based in Cincinnati, Ohio. It’s a small outfit of DJs and a geek who all love music and weren’t satisfied with what corporate radio stations considered rock and roll.
After the traditional station’s airwaves were bought out in 2004, we generated enough interest to keep the streams going online.
How did these CDs come into play?
We started these Lounge Act sessions in our new studio last year. It’s a much better space for live recordings.
As bands would pack up their gear, we’d burn a disc for the them to take on the road. The acoustics of the space and running everything through the board sounded great, so we thought we’d make the package fit the production values.
Response from the bands has been phenomenal.
What kind of bands?
We like alternative music, and there’s been a surge of independent stuff (thanks Internet) coming to the surface — stuff you wont find on the dial, or MTV. In the past few months we’ve had: The Fiery Furnaces, Ben Lee, The Kills, Sondre Lerche, The National, The Golden Republic, Low, Of Montreal, David Lowery and Johnny Hickman (of Cracker and Camper Van Beethoven), Jem, Dirty on Purpose, and Palomar. Some shots taken during a session with Fiery Furnaces here.
What inspired the Lounge Act package design?
Our new digs. The package is a series of snapshots of things you’d find when you walk in the studio: cords, headphones, CDs, wood, knobs, some retro couches, amps and more cords.
A requirement was that we needed these to be super easy to produce. So we created blank areas on the insert and back cover to write in band names and track listings on the spot. Some additional case shots here.
We’ve been using your stuff for personal projects quite a while, and everyone loves them. When you’ve got one of your cases in hand, you know you are holding something unique — and that pretty much sums up the station, our philosophy and spirit of music we play.
We also liked that you can use every bit of the package to be creative, and the templates are much better than the ones you get from other kits. Word templates don’t cut it.
Oh, and they don’t break as easy as standard jewel cases.
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.