Monday, January 5, 2009

Hidden Wisdom

Q: Introduce us to yourself and your company.
Vicky Tamaru, Co-Founder and Executive Producer of Plexipixel, Inc.—creators of “unexpectedly sticky brandplay”tm. I founded the company in 2001 with my now husband Matt Tamaru who was one of the first animators to use Flash professionally.

Q: Interactive Producers come from all walks of life, they are a hybrid of talents, tell us about your background and how you got interested in digital production?
Let’s see… My father’s a Graphic Designer and my mother a school teacher. I had a passion for art from a very young age—one of my favorite childhood toys was a Mickey Mouse light desk given to me by Santa himself. My parents knew first-hand how difficult it was to pursue art in Hawaii so they encouraged me to focus on more scholastic endeavors. I spent my summers tasked by my mom with book reports and working on math skills.

As a child in the 80’s, I was fascinated by technology and spent time when I could at arcades or hanging out with my Uncle and Aunt who lived with us. My Uncle was an early adopter of the home computer in the early 80’s. He let me use his Apple IIe to play games or chat with others via an 8-baud modem on a 4-line network called Saimin created by a local geek. My father soon after converted his craft from paste-up to digital so I also had access to programs like Aldus Pagemaker from the mid 80’s.

It wasn’t until I graduated from college in the 90’s that I realized how much of a leg-up I had in technology. I had stints working as a low-level Graphic Designer and assisted with network administration until I was contacted by a recruiter to contract at Microsoft. I had the most amazing manager who mentored me and taught me my initial skills as a Producer, coordinating content for both print and on-line. I stayed with that team for three years until I met Matt at a local scooter rally; we both had ’74 150 Super Vespa scooters.

Matt had been at a Flash studio and was instrumental in building their team and the studio’s web and broadcast animation process using Flash. He and his team animated the web series “Zombie College” (which was directed by the producer of “Futurama”) and creating other really cool cutting-edge stuff like games and sites for Spongebob (before the TV show was even released), Disney, CocaCola and other amazing clients. I was hired on at the studio as a Producer and when the dotcom bubble 6 months later, I was laid off.

Soon after, Matt and I started Plexipixel.

Q: How do you stay on top of emerging technologies and keep your team informed and motivated?
I’m constantly reading newsletters and blogs like “Cold Hard Flash”, “TechFlash”, “TrendSpotting”, and “FWA”. Plexipixel is a specialized vendor for Microsoft and has worked with pivotal teams within Microsoft like the Silverlight Team so it’s our job to keep updated with Microsoft technologies. I’m also on several committees for Digipen and the Casual Games Association and attend conferences like Casual Connect and LOGIN. Because of my background, I’m comfortable with networking in cyber- as well as meat-space.

One of the best things about interactive design is that inspiration can come from almost anything: movies, video games, TV shows, art shows, life in general… We hire people who are naturally passionate about creativity and technology so keeping them motivated and informed is easy. The studio also encourages communication and helps facilitate sharing through the studio environment, mixers and training sessions.

Q: What does your ideal client/project look like?
Our ideal client is one that works with us as an extension of their team and allows us to help them navigate the world of interactive. Some of our favorite things to say, as corny as they might sound, are:
• “We look beyond the RFP” – meaning we don’t like to take things at face value and we’ll ask the tough questions to make sure that the execution meets the goals.
• “We’re successful when our clients are successful” – we think long-term with our relationships and our projects.

Oh yeah, and client who has a healthy enough budget to experiment is pretty darn cool, too.

Q: How do you educate your clients and set realistic expectations for a project?
You can do your very best at the outset of the project to set milestones and lock features but anyone who does creative, custom interactive work knows it’s a constant tug-of-war between technology, human-nature, trust, and luck of the draw.

Do your best with due diligence and process by creating code libraries, knowledge base, and procedures. But the fact of the matter is that technology is ever-changing—new versions of languages, app, and platforms are released all the time. Bugs creep up when you least expect it and computers crash just to piss you off. Then you get hit with those times when your team has a bad day and can’t see a solution that’s right in front of them.

It all comes down to your kick-ass team, your relationship with your client and communication. Your client first needs to know that their goals are your goals and that you’ve got their back so that when things go a little side-ways they know the team’s going to do their best to resolve the issue. Communication both before and during the project has to be clear, immediate and honest. When the project is done, post-mortems with the client are also super helpful to learn from the experience and reinforce trust.

Q: What was the best project you have ever worked on?
We helped concept and executed a two-player Windows Live Messenger game for a world-wide shoe conglomerate. The game was to be localized and released in the UK, France, Germany, Spain and Mexico—all huge football countries. Creating good game play is an iterative process, something you think it’s going to be fun sometimes falls flat. We had to tweak the original game concept so that football fans would buy its authenticity but still be fun to play.

The basis of the game was a real-time virtual penalty shootout that you would play against your buddy on Messenger. In real life, penalty shootouts are based on stats to predict how the ball needs to be kicked or saved and then a whole lot of luck and speed. We decided to make some changes to introduce a little bit of skill.

We were also challenged by working on the Messenger platform because it’s such a light-weight application with such wide-usage that we had no control over the connection speed of the users—one user could be on a high-speed connection and play against a buddy on dial-up. We had to make sure that the connection speed did not impact the game play too drastically.

Finally, we knew that this game had to be an extension of our client’s existing ad campaign. Even though it wasn’t a strict requirement, we wanted to make sure that the user experience and the design reinforced what already existed and what was still to come.

Needless to say, the game was a huge hit and was considered by Microsoft one of their top five online games worldwide garnering over 13 million plays in 5 weeks and is currently being used as a case study for Microsoft Advertising.

Q: How many projects are you comfortable producing at one given time?

I get to oversee all of the projects in the studio as well as operations, financial, marketing, business development and account management. I rely on my Producers to take care of the details of the projects but Matt and I work closely with each project team on bringing vision, maintaining quality, sourcing talent, and helping push the boundaries of what’s possible.

Q: What does your dream production team look like?
I love working with people who are not only talented, visionary and curious, but who are also conscientious. I don’t like working with lone-wolf rock-stars who think only of themselves and are oblivious to the big-picture or long-term vision.

Q: How do you ensure that your client's best interests are met?
We ask questions before we start the project to make sure that we’re all on the same page and we have the same goals. If we see something being requested that doesn’t make complete sense to us, we try to get as much clarity as possible and sometimes ask difficult questions like “what is your actual goal and is this going to help you meet your goal?” Then we pull our internal project team together for a launch meeting so that the information we have from our client is communicated across all team-players. Our Producers work in conjunction with our Directors to make sure that we meet and try to exceed our client’s requests.

Q: What is your vision of what the next phase of our industry is going to look like?
I don’t have a crystal ball, but I do have wishes. I hope that we can create more and better standards for the technology and the channels available to us. Primarily, I’d love for us to be able to concentrate more on the strategy and creativity and less on figuring out which is the best shade of dark to shoot in.

Q: Please share a snippet of wisdom that you would like to impart on our readers.
“Here’s some simple advice: Always be yourself. Never take yourself too seriously. And beware of advice from experts, pigs and members of Parliament.”
– Kermit the Frog

No comments:

Post a Comment