In 2013, while attending a creative development meeting in Miami with Carnival Cruise Line, I was presented the opportunity to take on a project that would create a new kind of entertainment experience, where live stage performers would interact with immersive multimedia content on high-resolution LED screens. The ‘Epic Rock’ concept involved mixing a classic rock soundtrack with virtual elements of earth, water, fire and air, and interactive modern dance. Imagine a dancer commanding a virtual body of water with his movements, or 12 dancers throwing virtual fire around the stage. This was all super-specialized CGI work that happened to be outside the capabilities of my artists in Los Angeles at the time, so I found myself in a bit of a conundrum.
If I tried to outsource these tasks to other creative studios that specialized in the work, our budget and schedule would have blown up. To prove the point, I reached out to a few studios that did the kind of work we needed, speaking with one that even specialized in fluid simulations. But, in talking with them, I learned that their work in this area was largely limited to a commercial spot in which 20 frames of red wine was being poured into a glass. In other words, three minutes of seamless content was a scope completely beyond their capabilities.
With this project seemingly unproducible, I weighed my options. Did I risk losing my best client? Did I ask for more time or money, already fully aware that there was no more time or money? The answer to both was no. I knew this was a great project for us, and our client, and I refused to let it go.
After flying back to LA, I went into ‘do-not-disturb’ mode, locking myself in a conference room office and staring at a white wall for what felt like 10 hours straight. Then I started to see it. What if we could search the world for freelance artists who specialized in doing the work we needed? Could these specialized artists create all of the high-level assets we needed? And could we then assemble those assets and create the final product in-house?
As I imagined what it would take to bring it all together, I realized this would require the development of a radical technology to reimagine workflow — automating the most laborious, time-sucking aspects of hybrid work, from connecting the right artists with each task to downloading their final deliverables — and lots of repetitive tasks in between.
Could this be successful, or would it be a massive failure? The only way to find out was to try, so I accepted the challenge from my client, for the budget they could afford, and the schedule they were stuck with. Now I was committed, not even knowing if I could get it done.
In my past, I had developed other creative workflow solutions and knew a thing or two about designing software, so I sketched out the technology roadmap and commissioned a web development company I trusted to build it quickly. At the same time, my team and I searched the world for the specialized artists we needed – a major challenge for us that required off-hour Skype calls with people, many of whom didn't speak our language. To approve a single artist often meant vetting dozens, but we began to create this project’s dream team.
Once our hybrid workflow software was created, it was time to test it. We onboarded those chosen-few artists by giving them a login to our system — a process that began really early in the morning. After that, once our normal workday started, my team and I broke down the project into a list of what we called ‘jobs’, which is another word for ‘asset creation’. The deliverable for each job was an asset or set of assets. Because this project required several hundred assets to be created, we had to create several hundred jobs.
This entailed writing all briefs, gathering all references and assets, and uploading everything into our brand-new system. Each job contained everything a remote artist would need in order to do their work — from brief to assets to links to instructions, right down to how to properly name a file. It even contained a deal memo they could e-sign and get right to work.
Once we were done with this pre-production (all heavy lifting early on in the process by design), the only thing left to do was turn on our new system and see if it worked. That was a scary moment because if this experiment failed, the project would fail. I remember turning the system on as I sat with eyes closed hoping for the best.
Then I heard it — that unmistakable sound of notifications coming in as artists began interacting with our new system. My in-house team then used the system to match the right remote artists with the right jobs, and dozens of artists around the world started working – all at the same time.
Once the assets began pouring in, our in-house team was able to pull it all together and that once-unproducible project not only got done, but also earned our client their highest-ever customer satisfaction, as well as a Live Design award. As a result, we still work with them today.
Hybrid proved to be the better way of doing high-level creative work, at scale, and that’s why it ultimately became our business model.
Robb Wagner is founder & CEO of Stimulated-Inc. (https://stimulated-inc.com/) in El Segundo (Los Angeles), CA.