This year, we were fortunate enough to have celebrated our tenth year in business as an interactive studio. Looking back on the last decade, there is so much to reflect on – the amazing opportunities, the late nights and weekends, the company parties (and scandalous photos) and of course all the great work we have been a part of.
Behind all of the 100+ projects featured in the portfolio section of our new website are the designers, developers, producers and management team who make them all happen.
And so, as we look back at the past ten years, we thought we’d celebrate all these talented people and let some past and present Firstborners tell our story in their own words.
Smells like team spirit
Firstborn has always been a team-centric place to work. We don’t operate on an assembly line or in silos where a designer hands off to a developer and the producer is merely pushing paper throughout the project.
Our designers work hand-in-hand with our developers from the onset so everyone is on the same page. When we have creative brainstorming sessions everyone contributes - our management staff, art directors, programmers and interns.
"Truth be told, if I were to divulge all of the remarkable stories, projects, and general experiences I had while working at Firstborn you would tell me I was full of shit.
My tenure at Firstborn had it all. Exhilarating projects. Crazy projects. Insane excuses. Monumental achievements. Ridiculous circumstances. Developers going AWOL. Interns lost in Canada. “Did that really happen?” situations. And an incredible number of other instances that continue to bring a smile to my face even to this day.
All in all though, my experience working for this amazing company was about the relationships I forged. I’m happy to say that I still consider the team at Firstborn as close personal friends of mine and I don’t see that changing….ever."
--Jeremy Berg, Executive Producer New York & LA (2002- 2006)
"Each project I've worked on at Firstborn has been so rewarding and joyful. Many of these projects received FWAs such as Corzo, The Sith Sense, Atlantis, Toyota HSD, How Edison Are You? and Firstborn’s latest site, just to name a few.
I’m so grateful to have worked with the talented people at Firstborn. Not only are they talented but they're the hardest working and the most creative people in this industry."
--Gicheol Lee, Senior Flash Developer (2002 – 2007)
"What I remember most fondly were the mellow group lunches. There was always a blizzard of activity in the studio, but everyday around 1pm we’d all cozy up to the large round table with our lunches and talk about work, TV, politics, design, whatever.
A truly relaxing respite from the intensity of the work day. I hope you guys have a table large enough to accommodate your increased numbers!"
--Shannon Darrough, Flash Developer (2002 – 2003)
It takes a planet
Since 1997, we’ve been located in the Film Center Building in the heart of New York City. We also opened an office in Los Angeles in 2005. While many of our people are natives to the USA, we’ve attracted talent from all corners of the globe. Korea, Taiwan, Austria, England, Sweden, Germany, New Jersey, the list goes on and on.
"For me entering the doors to Firstborn was also entering my first job in the web industry. And after I had spent about one and a half years with all the great guys in New York I returned back to Sweden with a lot of work experience and I ton of fun memories.
I must admit that before I came there I wasn't really sure what to expect. But today I can honestly say that I probably couldn't have found a better place to start my career. The guys at Firstborn took my interest of interactive design to the next level. And I'm not sure that I would still be in this business today if it weren't for them. Thanks guys."
--Oscar Asmoarp, Intern and Designer (2003 – 2005)
"To work on "real" projects right from the beginning was just great when I started as an intern. Coming from the Austrian countryside and then working in New York City next to such great designers, programmers and producers was just THE experience. Before working for Firstborn I didn't know what Flash is capable of.
As a designer I never had to worry too much about the complexity of the projects I was working on. I knew that Firstborn's programmers could always make it real and live. A dream job."
--Verena Artinger, Intern and Designer (2004 – 2005)
Movin’ on up
From the start of the company, our founder and President Michael Ferdman, established a culture that allows people to grow within Firstborn. Ryan Thomas, our SVP Executive Director in Los Angeles began his career here as a designer. Dan LaCivita, our SVP Executive Director was originally hired as a Flash developer, moved to producer and now runs our operations and production.
Kevin Arthur went from Producer to VP, Business Development to Executive Vice President It’s a very nurturing atmosphere that has added a very precious intangible ingredient to Firstborn’s success.
"I originally came to Firstborn as a producer. Now, having spent my entire career on the creative side of things, this was something entirely new. At my previous agency I was a Creative Director, so I did have some experience with speaking to clients, and running projects... all I can say is that being a producer at firstborn is no joke. In all my years, I have never met such a highly qualified and polished group of people.
As producer, I worked on projects for Microsoft, Malibu Rum, JCPenney, Tag Body Spray, among others. While producing I was also double-timing it as a Live Action Director for our growing “Video for Web” department. It was also around this time that I realized we could really use a fulltime director and decided to draft an outline for a position called the “Studio Director.”
The position is similar to an ACD on the agency level, which puts me back in the mix officially, on the creative side, and it also allows me to continue to build out the video department here that can one day become a stand-alone revenue generator for Firstborn."
--Tim Nolan, Studio Director (2006 – present)
"The other day, I was walking though our new office suite that’s currently under construction. Amidst the workmen’s pounding and hammering, I took a look at the walls going up around me and flashed back to 7 years ago when we were all huddled in one small room. It became clear that our new headquarters represent a tangible embodiment of how far we’ve come in the time I’ve been at Firstborn.
I started in 2000 as a producer and have become our Executive Vice President. I’ve seen many people in our company get promoted which is a tribute to the way Michael runs our shop.
Firstborn has always been about people. One of the rewarding aspects of my job has been seeing how our talented creative and technical teams give life to the projects I bring in. I’ve also been fortunate to establish countless relationships with our clients, so many of whom I consider friends."
--Kevin Arthur, Executive Vice President (2000 – present)
Pedal to the metal
Firstborn has never been a company to rest on its laurels. We are continually exploring imaginative and new technologies that provide our clients with exhilarating ideas and solutions. It definitely keeps all of us on our toes.
"And they’re off! When we started doing work for the New York Racing Association, I couldn’t imagine the amount of traffic that would be generated for the site. On the biggest racing day of the year for them, I was amused to see the site traffic spiking every time their URL was mentioned on TV. And when the national coverage would start on NBC, the site traffic blew to over 100 megabits a second.
Talk about white knuckle time."
--Robert Forras, Chief Technology Officer (1997 – present)
"I have produced some very memorable projects at Firstborn: a unique video site for Microsoft, our first Flash 9 site for HP, a sultry game for AXE, a bizarre site about chickens for Perdue and many others but they all pale in comparison to the real "Modern Prometheus" like project that was Fila.
Fila was the quintessential "interactive" project. From interface design to hardware configuration to actually selling shoes it was a true test of our ability to think outside the box and flex our muscles in a very different way. Fila helped Firstborn understand that our talents didn't only live on a computer screen but in every walk of life. We were presented with a challenge that forced us to look at ourselves as an interactive firm and help solidify our identity, at least for ourselves, as a true maverick in the industry."
--Craig Elimeliah, Senior Producer (2005 – 2007)
"Working at Firstborn is full of interesting challenges, but most exciting is the challenge to surpass what you know is possible, to try new approaches and experiment. Spinning out from an idea from a coworker, I was able to develop a technique for displaying 3d volumetric data which we thought wouldn't be possible, and even expand on this idea to add per-face lighting and depth sorting."
--Roger Braunstein, Developer (2004 – 2005)
"Firstborn pretty much defined what I was aspiring to accomplish in this medium years before I even dreamt of coming here. The Yves Saint-Laurent “coming soon” ideas, Firstborn 5 and Eccentris sites made especially strong impressions on me back then.
I remember spending hours going through the portfolio and being in awe of the consistency and attention to detail. I feel very privileged to have joined the team."
--Francis Turmel, Technical Director (2005 – Present)
Smaller (and smarter) really is better
While we’ve grown steadily over the past 10 years, it has never been our intention to expand any larger than a 50 person shop. We can get work done relatively quickly without layers and layers behind every decision. We’re also able to give our clients a level of personalized attention that surpasses their expectations.
"When I was living in LA and in search of a new endeavor in NYC, FB was at the top of my list for many reasons. I knew I wanted to be at a smaller company (coming from a monster of an ad agency) because there’s something very liberating about a smaller shop where the lines of communication aren’t skewed and you have the flexibility to keep aesthetics a priority in your work.
I was definitely in search of a place that had some real ground roots in the business and was still on top of the game. With Firstborn, I could immediately tell that the people here were carefully hand-picked and that it wasn’t about quantity but rather quality.
I think that was the big push that set apart FB over the other companies I interviewed with. In the end, I just wanted to be at a place where there was a balance of good people and great work – and I feel I’ve hit the nail on the head by coming here."
--Wes Adams, Producer (2007 – present)
"To me, Firstborn always represented the best in what was capable through interactive design. Everything they did was always so thoroughly considered. From design to animation to video to programming, the work was always a seamlessly integrated and fully engaging experience. That level of work was something that I always aspired to."
--Michael Janiak, Art Director, (2007 – present)
"From the perspective of someone here almost 8 years, what comes to mind for me is having seen many talented people come to Firstborn and grow. Not only do they grow as individuals but they also further the company as a whole with new ideas, talents and capabilities. I’m proud to be a part of a place that fosters amazing talent and continues to push the envelope of design and interactive.
There’s certainly a charge when you work on big name projects or work with well known people. For example, our getting the tape of Madonna’s Music song as separate tracks to work with in the Music Mixer was a milestone in the “cool department.” Or sitting next to John Varvatos showing him our take on his new fragrance’s website design.
Many of our projects are great and award winning but a lot of the Firstborn spirit comes from our staff and how we work together. There is the family aspect to the company that I don’t see at many shops."
--Ryan Thomas, SVP, Executive Director, Los Angeles (2000 – present)
"While working in some of the top creative ad agencies, I was consistently impressed by the caliber of work coming out of Firstborn and jumped at an opportunity to work together on a project. Well, once I had a taste of working with Firstborn on a project, I wanted to keep on working with them on every project, so I relocated to Los Angeles and joined the company and I continue to be impressed by the incredible talent here every day."
--Tom Walker, Executive Director, Los Angeles (2007 – present)
While the past ten years have been amazing, looking forward to the future has never been more exciting. We are moving in to a new space in February still in the Film Center Building but with extra space for a full green screen studio, more offices and HUGE windows that span the entire floor.
We have made some amazing hires this past year – Mathieu Badimon and Zeh Fernando will be helping lead our Flash team along with Francis Turmel. From the left coast, Firstborn is fortunate to have hired Tom Walker whose vast experience has already paid dividends. With Joonyong Park as Creative Director leading our increasingly talented design team, things have never looked brighter.
As we move into the next few years, we see ourselves continuing to expand the types of interactive campaigns we develop whether it’s creating our own live action video content for the web, developing outdoor installations or leveraging our design talent to build previously unimagined and compelling applications.
"I joined Firstborn right when Eccentris and Blue London were launched and remember looking at these amazing pieces and knowing there wasn’t one other company I wanted to be a part of. Giving up a nice comfy job in CT, I embarked on a 4-hour daily commute to be a Flash Developer with this amazing team.
I remember waking up at 6 AM already obsessing about how I was going to code an animated sequence or not being able to sleep at night because I thought I had come up with an awesome idea for a navigation system. To me, that’s what it’s all about - the passion and the teamwork. I think we treat everyone here very well, whether it’s buying plane tickets for our interns to go home for the holidays, surprise bonuses, or just going out for drinks once in a while.
But I think the real payment is the work we produce. I need something to be proud of at the end of the day – something to show for those late nights and weekends. And I think everyone else here feels the same way.
Someone once told me that if you hate your job and work across the street from your home, it will be the longest commute of your life. How true that is. Work is a place where you are the majority of your existence – if it isn’t somewhere that is making you happy, smarter and energized you are literally throwing away a huge part of your life. It’s a lot of hard work and dedication, but I wouldn’t trade the last 4+ years of my life here at Firstborn for anything."
--Dan LaCivita, SVP, Executive Director (2003 – present)
"I have learned so much over the last ten years but one thing has always been crystal clear: the most important part of our company is the talented, imaginative and dedicated people we have been fortunate to hire.
Clearly there is no chicken and egg here...the talent brings the projects. My philosophy is simple and it hasn’t changed; whether managing 5 people early on or closer to 40 now, my goal has always been to treat every person here with respect and give them the opportunity to shine.
At Firstborn we believe in giving people autonomy and a sense of ownership of their work. We hold people accountable and as a result the culture here is one of excellence. It is what our clients expect of us and what each of us expect of ourselves.
We are, and always will be, more than any one person and that will continue to serve us well going forward. Reading the excerpts from past and present Fborner's gives me more pleasure than any award we have received."
--Michael Ferdman, Founder/Managing Director
Firstborn is an independently owned design and technology studio with headquarters in New York City and Los Angeles. We are designers, producers, developers, and technologists who share a passion for translating a great idea into an engaging, intelligent and innovative user experience.