POV: Interview with Amy Taylor & Charles Nordeen, Light of Day

Jami Oetting
Jami Oetting



hugo-light-of-dayWelcome to The Agency Post. Tell us about yourself.

Amy Taylor, managing director and partner at Light of Day:

I have an expertise in managing technically and creatively advanced animation and digital FX for advertising and entertainment projects.

Previously, I oversaw animation and FX for more than 137 Super Bowl spots and the Beatles music video “Free as a Bird.” In addition, the Fox Sports campaign Alan and Jerome showcased the integration of digital effects into live action. I also managed and oversaw VFX production for General Electric’s $90 million Ecomagination advertising campaign, which included the commercial that featured the African elephant dancing to “Singin’ in the Rain.”

Projects I’ve produced have received many industry awards including Clios, Emmys, One Show Pencils, American Advertising Awards, Cannes Lions, a Grammy and AICP recognition.

Fun fact: I’m a life-long equestrian.

Charles Nordeen, creative director of development and partner:

My official title is creative director of development, but I’m also a director, producer and writer. I run business development and contribute to company-wide planning and workflow strategy. Co-founding Light of Day with friends and colleagues who share the same passionate vision for a more seamless, integrated creative and post-production approach was always a bucket list dream of mine.

I first moved to New York City to study acting and directing at the Atlantic Theater Company following work on the film “The Big Bounce.” During Christmas break in 2004, I directed and acted in “The Crack Down,” my first feature as a director. I then transitioned into sketch comedy for “Late Show with David Letterman,” got an acting gig on FOX’s “Canterbury’s Law” and acted in feature films, including “Prime” (2005) and “The Caller” (2008).

In 2009, I directed the music video “Get Me Up” for Young Love, which led to being asked to direct a commercial for Webster Hall. I’ve also directed major campaigns spots for SunnyD, Spring Water’s V-Blast sports drink, and others.

I’m a native of South Carolina and have been a filmmaker ever since my parents gave me my first video camera as a child. I studied finance at Hawaii Pacific University, a location that allowed me to continue competitive surfing, but I knew my true calling was actually in the film industry.

Tell us about Light of Day. What differentiates you from other creative houses?

Nordeen: We’re a post-production/VFX boutique with many departments, including compositing, which is headed up by creative director Colin Stackpole (our most senior flame artist), color grading, graphic design, motion graphics, CG, online editing and digital intermediates. We’re staffed with the top creatives in the industry.

One thing in particular that was of paramount importance from the start was we wanted to create a team that could finish a project after the edit in its entirety and do it at the highest level through a seamless work flow. With specialists in each department working under the same roof, we're able to spend more time on a project and pay more attention to the details.

Just like with sports teams, if you're working together a lot, you really get to know one another. You know everyone’s strengths and weaknesses, and you learn how to work together best. In the end, it allows us to deliver a much stronger product — a win if it was sports. As an example, take a look at teams like the Miami Heat: they have the top talent in the sport, but it took them a while to win a championship. Even the Yankees don't always win. You can put all the money you want into a team, but it takes time to get to know one another to create a seamless workflow.

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

Taylor: “Zombies” for the New York Lottery. In addition to being a humorous spot, it required a little bit of everything, so that's always a lot of fun. There was an extensive amount of 3D work that had to be done, including making people in 3D using Massive (crowd simulation software) in the background, which then all had to be composited. We used green screen, changed the lighting and basically utilized everything we specialize in here at Light of Day. What makes projects like this particularly exciting and something to be proud of is that we had to internally coordinate all the different elements to produce one cohesive commercial. We were able to showcase the talents from each of our departments and our ability to work as a team.


Nordeen: Definitely the interactive campaign for Hugo Boss. The video artist, Marco Brambilla, is a friend of mine. He is wildly talented and imaginative in the concepts he comes up with. We’ve done other interactive projects, but nothing to this magnitude. We employed more than 300 FX techniques. The entire project was built of composite stills, moving video, CG, etc. — basically everything that encompasses visual effects was used. It was such a behemoth of a project — so creative and cool that for me, it was the most fun.


What does the process look like when conceptualizing a new spot with a large amount of FX?

Taylor: In the beginning, projects aren’t always formally boarded out yet. There may be a formation of a script or something similar, so we spend lot of time with the agencies and directors before shooting even begins to figure out the specifics of what is needed to bring the idea to life. Then we look at the scope of the project and break it down to create a timeline and organize the job based on what needs to be done when and how long it’ll take each department to complete their work on the spot.

From start to finish, it could take up to two months for something that's full of CGI. Other times we’ll have to squeeze three or four weeks of work into just two weeks, so it really varies. “Zombies,” for example, took four weeks, but that was a big job with all hands on deck. Especially when we’re using all our departments, it’s helpful to have everyone in-house because the client doesn't have to worry about each element that goes into the post-production work for a spot. If we think something would look 10 times better in 3D for example, we can just go ahead and do it, and we can make adjustments accordingly within each department.

Taylor, Light of Day has partnered with many agencies, leading the VFX and CG for many nationally recognized TV spots. What is the key to creating a successful and trusting relationship with an agency?

First of all, it takes time. To develop a relationship, jobs need to be successfully completed on time, and more or less on budget. If it’s not on budget, we talk to the client about it as soon as possible, so nothing is ever a surprise. We’re establishing a higher level of trust in doing that.

It’s also important to keep the client involved, and that includes delivering the bad news along with the good news. As the artists, we know what works best, and sometimes we’ll tell clients things like, "You know what, you guys? You should just shoot this all in camera. I can do it for you, but it’s going to cost you a lot of money." In that case, we’re basically talking ourselves out of a job, but we know that being open with them goes a long way, and they’ll come back with other jobs for us.

As a boutique, we pride ourselves on establishing long-lasting relationships with agencies including BBDO and Digitas. It’s when clients know you’re being completely honest with them, using high-level talent to produce the best work possible and providing a level of service the bigger companies simply can’t, that will keep them coming back for years.

Nordeen: Your work in the post-production company includes providing creative direction, writing, strategy, new business development and even live action shooting. How do you juggle these responsibilities? What do you love most?

To be honest, juggling all of it just fits my personality. The way I see it, there are only so many hours in the day, and with a million and one things to do, it’s ultimately about prioritizing and focusing on the task at hand to knock it out as quickly and efficiently as possible. It’s unproductive to stress over and dwell on what’s not getting done, so I just roll it over to the next day, prioritize it and finish up then.

And what do I love most out of all those things? I love all of it. As intense as post-work can be, it's like a dream to come to work and literally create art everyday. We’re an entire office of brains just focusing on creation. Whether I'm talking with our FX guys about how to best approach a live-action shoot I’m directing, on the phone with new business or just developing some sort of new pipeline or structure within the company, it’s awesome to constantly be in a creative think tank all day long.

How is 3D and FX evolving in the digital space? Has it become more mainstream?

Taylor: 3D is opening up and becoming more available to people who couldn't afford flames, the top 3D programs, render farms, etc. It’s great that almost anyone has access to the tools, but professionals are also noticing a decrease in quality. When agencies want a high-quality project, they’re still going to seek out the companies that have the top software, renderers and compositing. 3D and FX have always been used, but it seems like it’s only being talked about more because it’s become more accessible and people are more aware of it.

When it comes to online advertising in particular, we’re looking at something that didn't exist before now. It’s a huge moneymaker, and we’re finding that the American public is much more receptive and accepting of ads everywhere — that’s a cultural change.

Nordeen: Everything shot professionally is touched by VFX now. It didn’t used to be like that. Of course, what you shoot is what you get, but nowadays there’s the option to go in and relight scenes with a color grader, change the look, composite, add CG and just clean up the film in general. Visual effects make the impossible possible.

Take a look at some of the top billers and see what makes money — whether it’s animated films, adventure films or war films, I guarantee you they all have VFX work. VFX has integrated itself as a vital element to films, commercials, TV shows and video production, and it has only just begun.

Many post-production houses outsource most of the work. How has bringing a team together in one office helped to fuel your growth?

Taylor: Outsourcing is completely valid. It really just depends on what the job is. Generally, we don’t do it because you sort of have to just cross your fingers and hope for the best. Keeping it in-house makes it easier to stay a part of the project throughout its entirety. I know everyone who is working on it, what they are doing, and I can check in on a regular basis. It’s also easier to catch any problems early on and find a solution immediately. If you don’t find out about any unforeseen issues until the day before it’s due, there’s going to be a mad scramble to get it fixed.

We demonstrate a level of vigilance and dedication toward each job that makes the client feel like they're getting a top-notch project and everyone working on it is committed. It keeps clients coming back because they know they're getting that sort of focus on their projects.

Nordeen: To add on to what Amy said, it’s just like with any sport, any business, any charity, any family — there is a fine-tuned ebb and flow in how they can work together to produce the best work possible. The better you know one another, the better the work; that’s just the way the world works, and it's the way humans work.

What trends in advertising and production do you find most interesting/exciting?

Taylor: There’s a lot of new technology coming up that’s very interesting — stereoscopic 3D, interactive websites, etc. It’s fascinating and educational to watch the companies that are creating interactive websites full time. They’re not compositing or meddling in FX, but following what they’re doing helps us advise our clients better since we know what sort of things are adaptable for the web experience. We’ve already had many clients say, "Well, you're creating all the artwork. Can you just please put it on the site?" By being able to do this, we’re building a level of trust that leads into other areas.

The industry is obviously evolving, and the programs we use are constantly changing and being updated, so that definitely keeps it an exciting industry to be in. Luckily for us, it’s not work when you love what you do. It’s more of a hobby, so we're constantly reading and researching to stay up to date.

Nordeen: Branded content — advertising through entertainment — is an interesting trend growing in popularity. At least many of the commercials we’ve been working on seem to have more of a narrative to them. It’s human nature to love stories. We have been sitting around the campfire telling stories for thousands of years, and that's generally how we remember history and remember who we are as humans.

For the most part, commercials were based purely on psychology and our instinctual need to consume. But the most powerful campaigns that I have seen — even broadcast commercials — are those that share a story. Companies like GE produce great commercials that, most of the time, are just about their company, who they are and how they make their products. You get to watch somebody put together an engine part, see a worker just climbing up in there and putting bolts together and checking stuff out. To me, that's far more fascinating. That's a story.

Narratives are going to be huge in advertising, especially now that the industry has platforms like the Internet, mobile phones, taxi cabs, kiosks, billboards, etc. They are going to be what it's all about in the future for sure. Humans love stories. That's been proven — just look at the film industry.

One reason you love what you do:

Taylor: The excitement of it and the art. People always scoff at art in advertising, and I do too sometimes, but I get to be involved in the process of basically making something out of nothing. All of these different people have to come together to support an idea and then make something tangible in the end.

Particularly with the bigger projects, there’s a certain level of excitement and intensity present. When you spend a lot of time on a job, the stakes are high, and you’re pushing the barriers of what can technically be done. It feels like winning a race and crossing the finish line at the end — you’re proud of yourself, proud of the team, proud of the final product. You look back at the commercial and remember all the hard work that went into it.

Nordeen: There is nothing more gratifying than being able to dive into the part of my brain that conceptualizes something from nothing and then creates it and brings it to life. I get to be an inventor every single day. For me, that is everything.


Taylor: The magazine Cinefex served as my mentor. I remember seeing it on a magazine stand when I was younger and having to persuade my parents to buy it for me. It’s changed quite a bit over the years, but in the beginning, it was really a magazine for the industry, and experts would give amazingly detailed views of what and how things were shot. It spoke to the top people in the movie industry, but ever since I was young, I was always fascinated by it and learned an incredible amount from it.

Nordeen: I would definitely have to say Amy. She knows the advertising business inside and out. When it comes to VFX in particular, she has such a deep understanding of it, and she can foresee any perspective problems, making them easy to resolve before it becomes a serious issue. She is instinctual, but everything she does is carefully thought out, even if it’s in a matter of seconds.

She has taught me a lot, so in addition to being an incredible business partner, I’m also grateful to have such a plethora of knowledge to tap into all the time whenever I have questions.

Must-read book:

Taylor: “Narcissus and Goldmund,” by Hermann Hesse.

Nordeen: “Steve Jobs,” by Albert Isaacson.

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