Surround yourself with as much art as possible. Let it seep into everything you do. Let it change the way you think, and the way you use technology.
Will Hyde, Managing Partner: I have always been driven by a passion for art and an obsession with technology, so it was natural that visual design became the medium of persuasion I embraced, and it has directed my career from that point forward. In 1995, I started Digital Kitchen, and helped usher in a new generation of expression for the moving image. In 2001, Geraint Owen and I started Fad (it only became Superfad after opening an L.A. office). Focused primarily on advertising, we have evolved from a small motion-graphics studio to a full commercial production company. In that time, I have evolved as well, from a type-driven graphic designer to a live action director obsessed with stylized cinematography. I am now super-excited to see the design and visual effects engine that Superfad initially built for film and television, being leveraged to create engaging digital content, with a level of production quality seen for the last twelve years in our commercial work.
Chris Volckmann, Executive Producer: I started out making music videos and independent films in California and then New York. Live action led to design which led to VFX and then back again. In 2008, my mind required that, after nearly eight years, I leave New York behind and return to the West Coast. Superfad presented a unique opportunity to utilize all facets of my experience and challenge myself in new ways, all while raising a family in Seattle and avoiding New York and Los Angeles. Let’s just say I haven’t looked back since.
Beck Henderer-Peña, Head of Digital Production: Growing up, I moved pretty often, bouncing around between New York, Germany, the US Virgin Islands, and Hawaii. This varied and eclectic upbringing helped me develop a comfort with new people and situations, and an ability to see things from more than one perspective. Computers became important early in my life, starting with a Commodore 64, and the digital world has been close to my heart ever since. I'm a lifelong generalist, with more interests at one time than are ever good for me, but almost all of them focus around being fascinated by how things work. Following that curiosity, my career in media production has been as varied and my upbringing, spanning sound engineering, video game development, music producing and supervision, and web development. I found a home with Superfad's newly emerging digital department, and I'm excited and honored to be a part of Superfad's continuing evolution.
What do you do for inspiration?
WILL: We make it a point to take inspiration from sources not directly related to what we do. We are also passionate about infusing as much art into what we do as we possibly can. We think of design as a tactical implementation of art.
If you weren't working on the internet what would you be doing?
WILL: Well, working “on the internet” has been a relatively new development for Superfad. Our core business has always been digital storytelling through the moving image: broadcast and television commercials. I guess I’d say we’d still be making TV commercials, but maybe without so much of a promising future.
What do you do when you get stuck?
CHRIS: I rely heavily on the people here at Superfad. We have such a wide variety of artists and opinions and backgrounds here. When I get stuck, all I really need to do is sit down with the team. We’ve created an environment where ideas can flow from anywhere, whether its an animator, creative director, developer, producer, or whomever. We depend on that open flow of ideas. Just sitting down with all those creative minds gets me unstuck and inspired almost immediately.
If there are any pivotal experiences/decisions you could point to that helped shape your career, what would they be?
CHRIS: We jumped into live action earlier than a lot of other design companies, and as the fad -- pun intended -- of motion graphics began to fade away, and advertising continued to live with traditional storytelling, we were well positioned to sort of roll with that shift. I think the same effect happened with interactive work. It was something we just wanted to do, and we dove in head-first. We didn’t miss a beat as we moved forward. So we’re not catching up to trends, we’re already there.
How many projects does your company juggle at any one time?
CHRIS: Well, with offices in Seattle, New York, and L.A., we actually have a lot of bandwidth. At any time, we’re working on up to 30 different projects of varying sizes. We’re fortunate to have a huge pool of talent that enables us to take on a variety of projects with different types of creative goals.
In terms of software, is there anything new you have been playing with lately or that has impressed you?
BECK: Not a specific piece of software so much as the growing ease with which we can write things ourselves or get through open source forums and modify existing material for our purposes. Up until recently, software was something that was very closed and restrictive. Now, there’s a lower point of entry and you can more easily develop something original to use for a specific purpose on a specific project. That allows us to more confidently dive into anything, knowing that if the perfect tool doesn’t exist, we can probably make it ourselves.
Has winning FWA awards helped you in any way?
CHRIS: In January, we won the FWA “Mobile of the Day” for Jimmy John’s Sandwich Cannon. That’s our first FWA win. It’s fantastic, because the win brings real credibility to our digital interactive capabilities. Even though we’ve been around for more than a decade, our move into digital is a relatively recent endeavor. Winning an award like this really establishes us as a unique partner for interactive projects. It really validates what we’re doing here, and we’re very grateful.
Are there things you do OUTSIDE of work to ensure that you are in the right mindset to be creative and/or successful in whatever you are doing?
CHRIS: There’s something outside of work?
What was the last digital effort you saw (or were a part of) that used social media in a way that really made sense. Why?
CHRIS: Perhaps I shouldn’t say this, but I find there’s a growing tendency to overcomplicate social media and its role in interactive experiences. Social media is still most effective when it’s used as a basic tool. I think what everybody was most impressed with recently was what Oreo did during the Super Bowl. It wasn’t anything particularly groundbreaking, it wasn’t tying a bunch of social media platforms together. It was just a timely, well-written tweet. The creative team was so nimble and that simple tweet lead to so many impressions and just said so much about the brand as a voice, it is a great example of why we don’t have to complicate social media. When brands use social media on the same terms as a day-to-day user, that’s when they are connecting to their audience on a more fundamental level.
The web is getting out of the web. Do you find that thinking in digital solutions alone hinders you? Do you feel the urge to solve the problem using all mediums necessary?
BECK: We didn’t start as a digital company, so “using all mediums necessary” just comes naturally to us. We have never thought solely in terms of digital solutions. We tell stories in artistic ways that have specific purpose. Whatever the project is, whatever the assignment is, we force ourselves to think first about the problem at hand, about how we are going to help solve communication issues and strengthen the relationships the brand is having with its consumers. When we think about that first, the technology, the visuals, the story are all just the pillars that support that solution. We use the best tools to help tell that story. Oftentimes it is tempting to approach the problem from the reverse end, but you’re not really doing the brand justice at that point. You’re creating something for the purposes of how, as opposed to why.
What are your views on design/graphic school. Do you think someone can get into the field without educational experience in a school environment?
WILL: Well, I have a liberal arts degree in rhetoric. I have no training in graphic design or anything like that, so I’m definitely a believer that you can do whatever you want to do. One of the things that has always been true in the history of our company is that you learn more in three months on the job than in three years of school.
How difficult do you find employing the right people in a world where everyone calls themselves a web designer?
CHRIS: If we’re hiring the right person, we can teach them what we need them to do. But they need the right mindset to be successful here. What someone calls themselves doesn’t really impact the way that we view them.
What would be your ultimate vehicle to travel in?
CHRIS: A ’72 Stepside Silverado, preferably primer gray.
When your company was just getting started, what did you find was most effective for getting new clients?
WILL: Geraint Owen and I founded Superfad in New York in 2001. We really grew as a company by being excited, passionate, and very collaborative on every job, no matter how sexy it was. By doing that, we built up trust with our clients that made them much more likely to come back to us. We were never the types to take a job, disappear for a month, and then show the results. We saw tremendous value in the process of working with the agency and client, all towards building a solution that was most effective and efficient. That enthusiasm and passion has always been valued by our clients and has lead to bigger and better things.
How do you keep your finger on the pulse of the latest web trends?
CHRIS: We read the internets.
There must be a project that you have always dreamed of doing, what is it?
WILL: I do love cars, so I’m always interested in doing more car work. I am really passionate about fashion and stylized studio photography. As a filmmaker first, photography and the visual image has always been what has stimulated me to create unexpected visuals, and as a geek, I’m really into the technology of photography. Whenever I have an opportunity to explore a new way of sculpting light in a very stylized way, it’s very interesting to me.
What does the future hold for your company, or you as a person?
1. WILL: What really influences us is art. We want to try at every juncture to integrate and surround ourselves with as much art as possible. Art is what it is about. If we could all be fine artists, we would be, but we also know this is a business. We like to say we do art with purpose, meaning that we bring as much artistic sentiment, individual expression, conceptual foundation, and so on to make a project the most affecting and effective that it can be. I guess we hope that the future of Superfad is one where we are paid as well as possible to do projects that are as artistic as possible. That’s kind of what we do now.
What are you excited about learning next and is there a long term challenge you are considering tackling?
CHRIS: It is such a competitive landscape out there that a lot of the work is starting to bleed together and feel very similar. There is a significant challenge for everyone, just trying to keep your head above water in that muddled landscape. Companies like ours really need to shift the focus from just selling our reel to selling our process. The final result is obviously still hugely important, but the unique process we employ to help agencies and clients to get where they need to is becoming increasingly important. Superfad’s unique process is what ultimately separates us from our competitors, and helps us change consumer’s behavior through design. If all you’re offering are your latest successful projects, then you’re only as good as your latest project. We believe we’re much, much better than that. We’re never satisfied and always looking forward.
Any parting shots or pearls of wisdom?
WILL: Surround yourself with as much art as possible. Let it seep into everything you do. Let it change the way you think, and the way you use technology.