.

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.

question Please give us a brief bio of yourselves.

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.

In a more general way, we try to adopt a inspirational philosophy of “failing forward.” You know, you do something for the first time, and screw it up badly, but maybe you do it in a really interesting way. That’s inspiring. You keep trying until you get it right, and you move on. On a personal level, I just try not to get bored, which can happen all too easily. It important to always be trying something new.

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.

BECK: Some companies started with the internet, and have tried to grow into producing video. We’ve always produced video, and for the last couple of years or so, we’ve been pushing into the digital realm.

  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.

WILL: So much has happened during Superfad’s lifespan. There has been an enormous amount of upheaval and change, and that’s mostly been fine for us. Our inclination has always been to keep evolving, so watching the industry evolve so quickly has been exciting for the most part. Part of our core fabric as a company is to jump in before we’re really sure what we’re doing. It’s always a risk, but generates excitement, it generates a little bit of inspiring fear. Great stuff doesn’t come out of complacency or comfort.

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.

CHRIS: For a long time, interactive was more challenging because we were kind of pigeonholed by what the technology would allow us to do. We sometimes weren’t able to accomplish the visual standard that we hold ourselves to. Now, the world is our oyster. We almost can’t keep up with what’s possible. Certainly, the stigma that you’ve got to dumb down your visuals to make an interactive experience is gone. Every day, something comes out or some new technology presents itself that allows us to make things better and better.

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?

BECK: I try to do something that forces me to do take my mind off everything else in the world. That’s usually sailing.

WILL: I try to do as much with my hands as possible. I’m driven to make stuff, but I try to do more practical things, as opposed to sitting in front of a computer screen. When I work with wood, it’s completely engrossing. We are blessed with the incredible opportunity to be creative and artistic and stimulated and not bored with what we do every day, but it can be a relief to do something that requires more of your hands and perhaps less of your mind.

CHRIS: I agree with Will. I try to always have something going on that is completely personal and selfish from a creative standpoint, whether it’s art or cooking or working on my house. It’s important, because the rest of our time we’re giving all of creativity to someone else.

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.

WILL: As far as “the web getting out of the web,” I’ve been really excited about using the interactivity that digital provides to control actual physical experiences. Using interfaces like Arduino to control remote control cars or perform physical tasks in installation work. Just having that interface where someone can input text to control the route of a car or something like that…breaking out of the digital into the physical. That’s really exciting to us.


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.

That said, the foundational components of conceptual thinking that you get at a good school prepare you well for perhaps a later Creative Director sort of role. In the business, it’s your thoughts that become the asset, not necessarily your code or your Photoshop work. Having those as a foundation is why I always strongly recommend having a liberal arts degree. The technical component is that you have to have chops to get in the door, but part of my philosophy as a business owner is to grow people. So I like having bright minds that may not be as far along from a technical standpoint, but I know that within a few months they’ll be up to speed.

BECK: Lots of people who work here did not go to school for what they now do. Going to school and learning things is great, and like Will said, any educational foundation that you have helps you as a writer and a thinker and all that kind of stuff. But going to school for design isn’t necessarily something that you have to do to be a designer. You have to have passion for what you’re doing. If you’re not passionate about design, going design school doesn’t mean you’re going to get a job or be successful.

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.

WILL: I haven’t looked at a standard resume in years. We’re most concerned with the work that you’ve done or can do. It doesn’t really matter what you call yourself.


What would be your ultimate vehicle to travel in?

CHRIS: A ’72 Stepside Silverado, preferably primer gray.

BECK: A Gunboat. It’s a type of sailboat.

WILL: I love cars, but I can’t pick just one. I’d settle for a jetpack.

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.

WILL: And FWA!

CHRIS: Honestly though, I think keeping our finger on that pulse is unavoidable. We live it, we see it every day.

BECK: The latest trends are just everywhere. Phones, screens, web pages, everywhere.

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.

CHRIS: I started out in live action and in narrative storytelling and film, and I’ve been really passionate about the idea of bringing filmmaking and narrative into interactive experiences, both on the web and off. Just an extra layer of involvement that you can offer the viewer to draw them into the story, that’s really exciting 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.

BECK: Superfad is also ideally positioned to leverage 3D technology in the digital space. We have a core backbone of high-end VFX artists with long histories of successful broadcast and film-based work, and they are chomping at the bit to move into digital. It’s just a question of making that transition as effectively as possible.

CHRIS: And we’re already working on that. We’ve definitely been doing it on our recent web-based and mobile applications. As a company, we’re also intrigued and compelled by things like physical computing, installations, environmental design, and all the interactive possibilities that come with that. With our proven type of visual storytelling, further leveraging 3D and visual effects and live action into those types of environments is very exciting for us.

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.


Links

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L to R: Chris Volckmann, Will Hyde, Beck Henderer-Peña
L to R: Chris Volckmann, Will Hyde, Beck Henderer-Peña



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