Sunday, February 24, 2008

Big Spaceship: All Fun and Games

By Elise Malmberg

At Brooklyn-based digital creative agency Big Spaceship, it really is all fun and games — and if the occasional eye gets poked out, there’s no extra charge.

The agency specializes in unique interactive campaigns for clients like Sony, Nike, Coca-Cola, and Ford. They’ve produced broadcast and motion graphics projects for Target and Krispy Kreme, and created memorable websites and online games for such films as Grindhouse, The Bourne Ultimatum, Charlie & the Chocolate Factory, Spider-Man 3, and Casino Royale. From first-person shooters to talking suitcases, the Big Spaceship universe is unpredictable, entertaining, and compulsively clickable.

“We’ve earned a reputation for innovation, so we get to do incredibly fun stuff for great brands,” says Big Spaceship CEO Michael Lebowitz. “We’re not a traditional graphic design company — we’re always thinking about new ways to engage with people.”

In their all-Mac studios, Big Spaceship devotes as much attention to fine-tuning the technology behind their creations as designing the interfaces that lure audiences in. Their arsenal of applications ranges from Adobe Creative Suite 3 and Final Cut Studio to custom programming environments.

But these tools always take a supporting role, Lebowitz says. “We never start with technology. When we speak to new clients, we always begin with, ‘What’s the story we’re trying to tell?’ We don’t talk about users — we talk about people. And people like to participate in conversations, and learn, and be told stories, and be entertained. That becomes the DNA of what we eventually produce.”

We Have Liftoff
When Lebowitz co-founded Big Spaceship in 2000, he knew exactly what not to do. “I worked at a mid-sized interactive agency during the bubble era,” he says. “While everybody else was jumping jobs every three months, I decided to stay in one place for three years and just watch. And eventually I said, ‘Hey, I can do this!’”

The fledgling agency set up shop in the spare bedroom of a Brooklyn apartment, and Lebowitz soon found himself bidding for a Miramax contract against his 70-person former company. After three projects with Miramax, including websites for the romantic comedies Bridget Jones’s Diary and Serendipity, the rest of the industry began to take notice. Contracts with Sony and Paramount Pictures followed, and the studio began to grow, relocating to its current headquarters in Brooklyn’s DUMBO neighborhood.
The agency now employs close to 50. “We’ve got four core disciplines: production, strategy, design, and engineering,” says Lebowitz. “Design is the largest team, because for us, design isn’t just traditional layouts and graphic design — it subsumes the entire visual side of what we do.”

Big Spaceship is known for its top-notch Flash content, but Flash has become more of a delivery platform than a development tool, Lebowitz says. “We work very, very closely with Adobe, and we have a primarily CS3 workflow. But these days we work equally in After Effects and Flash. Even the coding is done in outside applications — which is becoming more the norm, though when we started it was a unique workflow. We were one of the pioneers in the use of video as a design layer.”

In addition to essential software like CS3 and Final Cut Studio, the designers draw from an eclectic bag of tricks to achieve the effects they need — including a healthy share of digital photography and digital video. The agency also has a small green-screen studio onsite.

“Other than that, it’s pretty freeform,” Lebowitz says. “The other day I walked into the studio and there were three guys sitting on the floor with paints and mat board, painting hand-drawn letters and scanning them in. I like having a space that allows people to get dirty, where things aren’t just happening onscreen.”

30 Days of Play
Sometimes the fun and games don’t start until someone’s eye gets poked out. Case in point: Big Spaceship’s website and online multiplayer game for the 2007 vampire thriller 30 Days of Night, based on a graphic novel by writer Steve Niles and artist Ben Templesmith. The project has been nominated for a 2008 SXSW Web Award in the Film/TV category.

“One challenge with films is that there’s always something that should not be revealed,” says Lebowitz. “So we focused on giving people the sense of what the film would be like: When you’re in this town [Barrow, Alaska, where the film takes place], things can come at you at any moment, and it’s dark 24 hours a day for 30 days.”

No comments: