I am a founding partner of Superfad and the chief creative officer for Superfad Seattle.
I came to Seattle in 1991 as a founding member and design director of The Stranger, an arts and entertainment weekly that has grown into an influential force in Seattle’s culture. In 1995 I was a founding partner of Digital Kitchen, which initiated a new era of expression and experimentation in graphic design for film and television. Finally in 2001, I founded Fad (now Superfad) and have since worked on major campaigns for Sprint, Honda, Sony, Pioneer and Netflix.
Tell us more about Superfad and the type of work you do there.
Superfad is a brand-driven design and live-action production company with offices in Seattle, New York and Los Angeles. I am the managing partner and chief creative officer in the Seattle office.
Informed by a wide array of cultural and intellectual influences, our mission is to see brands in unexpected ways and to express a brand's voice in an undeniably original fashion. Since its founding in 2001, we have produced award-winning work for many of the most respected brands worldwide. Big accounts include Honda, Sony, Target, Adidas and AT&T.
What have been some of your favorite projects to work on? Tell us about the creative process behind the projects.
There are so many projects I’ve really enjoyed working on, so it’s tough to pick favorites. Among the best though are definitely those with a significant level of conceptual development: Sony “Eye Candy” Samsonite “Bull Fight” (check out the behind the scenes) and Sprint’s “Now Network.”
Years ago, when I got into this business, most of our assignments simply involved a stylistic execution of an established concept. I call this level of involvement “skinning,” as in putting a nice skin on an existing idea. There’s nothing wrong with it, and at the time I was excited and honored to get the chance to do it. With the industry evolving, we find we’re being asked more frequently to step in at a much earlier and more conceptual stage in a project’s development. This is especially true with digital work, since the conceptual core of many of these projects hangs on the technology itself.
You recently partnered with DDB Canada/Tribal DDB to create a Facebook app that used data collected from a person’s profile to match car options from autoTRADER. What was the process like using social data in the real-world buying experience?
Leveraging social data is at the core of any Facebook implementation. The protocols and API’s are fairly well-established at this point, especially if the asset is actually “data,” like it is in the AutoTrader app.
Some of our other implementations have involved the use of visual assets. For example, on a recent project for Irish Spring, we implemented a facial-recognition API to isolate and mask faces within a user’s profile pictures. We then used sophisticated object tracking and nuanced compositing techniques from our VFX department to place the profile pictures of users and their friends on live-action actors.
Do you think people feel that apps and programs like this invade their privacy, or are they looking to trade data for quality information?
Every Facebook app we develop requires the user’s permission in order to access the information on his or her profile and in photo albums. The level of information available to marketers is unprecedented, and access to it should absolutely be defined by the user. There’s an interesting cultural conversation that has developed recently where consumers decide who gets to know what about them. Convincing customers to share information with a brand has become a critical part of the design process.
For example, the core functionality of the AutoTrader app is to leverage profile information to deliver a more informed auto purchasing choice. The value proposition (a smarter decision) is one way to trigger participation; another way is the entertainment of the user experience, which is where dynamic visual storytelling and innovative user interface design come into play.
Why should brands be using motion design and VFX to bring digital campaigns to the next level? What are some ways they can integrate the two?
Digital is an extremely exciting tool to enhance storytelling. As bandwidth limitations become less obtrusive, digital clients are demanding a level of finish on par with conventional broadcast commercials and even feature films. Companies like Superfad are able to bring a level of live action direction, editorial, VFX and animation to digital projects that is not possible in the other direction.
Inherent to digital is the concept of “choice,” which can at times be directly contrary to traditional A to B (start at :00 and end at :30) storytelling. Choice can easily get out of control when it comes to finishing many permutations of a story at a level of fit and finish the client is demanding. It’s here that high-level VFX can come to the rescue. For example, when there is a user-driven “choose your own adventure” project, our visual effects artists are able to use sophisticated compositing techniques to provide seamless and dynamic background replacement, which enables us to leverage a smaller-than-broadcast live action budget as much as possible.
What does the process look like for agencies looking to integrate visual and digital projects? What team members need to be involved in a project?
“Integrated” is the key word here. Some agencies have fundamentally embraced the idea and knowledge set of the “integrated producer” who is able to speak multiple languages (broadcast, digital, print, environmental). We love these folks because they tend to better understand the value of a company like Superfad and our ability to leverage the conceptual core and visual assets of a campaign across multiple mediums.
Agencies tend to have copywriter and art director teams that co-develop concepts with their individual strengths. Since we’re not an agency, we use the production company version of this so to speak and call our teams “digital creatives” and “visual creatives.” A digital creative is not necessarily a brilliantly talented visual artist (though some are), and we certainly have art directors who would explode if required to learn C++. However, both are critical in decoding the challenge at hand and developing the conceptual, visual and experiential approach to solving any given problem.
How can digital (social, apps, etc.) enhance the video, VFX and motion graphic work that Superfad does?
This is kind of like “reversing the polarity” on a previous question. I don’t see digital “enhancing” the VFX and motion-graphic work we do in a visual or motion sense. However, the enhanced opportunities that digital deployments bring to the party will undoubtedly revolutionize storytelling, which is at the core of Superfad’s ethos.
Superfad’s work for Sony “Eye Candy” is a breathtaking visual onslaught of imagery and color. Many brands seem to be so focused on getting taglines, selling points and the “why” across in video. How can something like “Eye Candy” still build a brand without resorting to the in-your-face style of advertising?
The Sony “Eye Candy” project wasn’t actually a broadcast commercial with all of the “freight” that comes with a massive media buy or multiple levels of agency and client approvals. This project was meant to do only one thing: show off the visual clarity and color depth of Sony televisions. It was displayed in retail electronics stores like Best Buy around the country (and around the world). Ironically, the lack of taglines and selling points led us to call it “Eye Candy,” because that’s all it was…sweet, sweet, sweet.
Check out the Behind the Scenes.
How has the rise of YouTube and social video apps such as Socialcam and Viddy — where anyone can make a video, upload and share within minutes — made the work that brands produce in video that much more important?
The YouTube and social video revolution has created a “crowd-cloud” of idiosyncratic but mediocre imagery. Historically, only brands could afford to produce video (advertising), but now video in and of itself is not enough. In a nutshell, it simply raises the bar for brands to create even more compelling user experiences, both visually and interactively.
What trends in video production and digital do you find most interesting/exciting?
The economic model for live-action production is changing. More specifically, the money’s not there for the level of robust, live-action shoots seen in years past. This is especially true for digital projects, which have always been the bastard stepchild of production budgets.
Interestingly though, at the same time the traditional paradigm of live-action production is changing, there is also this explosion in technology that allows what I call “DIY filmmaking” to happen. The price point for getting into quality, live-action production, though not quite as luxe, is dropping dramatically. Market forces are bringing amazing technology and support systems that allow the masses to get in on the game.
We find that our clients for digital projects are much more open to this kind of DIY production. In most cases, they have not grown up under the “video village, craft-services, luxury hotel, boon-doggle” model of shooting live action. And we get to have even more control bringing in the tools from the high-end world (e.g. I love me some Technocrane!), when warranted.
One reason you love what you do: I get to stretch my brain in a different direction every few weeks. Every project is a different challenge, a different aesthetic, or a different area of knowledge. I don’t think I could do feature films because my attention span couldn’t handle it. The lifecycle of Superfad’s projects fits my brain’s patience level.
Must-read book: “The Colorist” by Shigenobu Kobayashi.