News Column

Life’s a Beach for Entertainment Hybrid Specialists Motion Theory

May 2001

By Andrea Siedsma, HISPANIC BUSINESS magazine

In an 80-year-old red, white, and blue beach house in Venice, California, two young Hispanic entrepreneurs are prying open the door to Hollywood with a blend of tech-savvy and artistry.

Meet Javier Jimenez, 32, and Mathew Cullen, 24, co-founders of Motion Theory, a graphic design and production studio that combines motion graphics, computer animation, Web-site design and programming, film and digital video shooting, and editing and post-production work.

In little over a year, Motion Theory has racked up an impressive list of clients, including Fox Family Channel, Walt Disney Studios, DirecTV, Nike, Saatchi & Saatchi, and Toyota. Motion Theory’s Web documentary for Nike on cyclist Lance Armstrong netted a Silver Award from the Society of Publication Designers.

“It wasn’t too long ago that Web sites were completely separate from films,” says Mr. Jimenez, Motion Theory’s executive producer. “Now if you go to a Web site and there’s no QuickTime, it’s boring. Before, graphics were separate from commercials. Now you see them married throughout a piece.”

Technological advancements and the acceptance of new media in recent years have catapulted companies like Motion Theory into the thick of the entertainment industry. More are certain to join the fray, says Diego Londono, associate director of marketing and online entertainment for Fox Latin America in Los Angeles.

“With the number of layoffs that have occurred in the past six months, you’re finding a lot of freelance graphic artists and programmers who understand media and are starting their own companies,” he says.

At once more advanced and less expensive, computer technology is leveling the playing field for a new generation of entertainment entrepreneurs, agrees Michael Bryce, associate creative director for the advertising agency Deutsch Inc. in Marina Del Rey, California, which hired Motion Theory last year to do a commercial campaign for DirecTV.

“They were a refreshing choice because they’re new, they’re hungry, and they’re really flexible,” he recalls. “What’s great about Motion Theory is they can hire freelancers to help them do whatever they need to do to finish the job. They can customize themselves to whatever the assignment is. That’s the future of this business.”

Mr. Bryce expects technology like motion graphics to become more widely used in the tradition-bound entertainment industry as companies and advertising agencies search for new ways to reach consumers.

“I think five or 10 years ago there wasn’t the multitude of choices that people have now,” he says. “The time we have to get people’s attention is milliseconds. You need to dazzle them with creative energy or with complete clarity.”

Creative energy is what led Mr. Cullen to launch Motion Theory. In late 1999, he approached Mr. Jimenez, whom he’d met through industry work, about a partnership. For Mr. Cullen, who has been in the graphics and film industries since the age of 18, the idea couldn’t miss. He envisioned combining his experience with that of Mr. Jimenez, a UCLA graduate who has been doing film production and graphic design since the early 1990s.

“I told him it was going to happen with or without him. I needed him, but I was passionate about making it happen,” says Mr. Cullen, Motion Theory’s creative director. The firm’s name is intended as a tribute to his late father, a mathematician. “When you’re passionate about something, you don’t care how you’re going to get there. You just know you’re going to get there.”

Shortly thereafter, the duo came across a deep blue 1920s beach house – complete with white and red trim, wooden floors, an enclosed porch, and a white picket fence – a couple blocks from one of California’s most famous beaches. While Messrs. Cullen and Jimenez didn’t shop at the finest stores in Beverly Hills for posh decorations, they did make a point of buying stylish furniture for clients to lounge in. They also went to considerable expense for elaborate business cards. Image is everything in the entertainment business, notes Mr. Jimenez.

“We knew what we needed and found the most economical ways of getting it. If that included going on eBay or mail-ordering from strange and far places, then we did that,” says Mr. Jimenez, gesturing toward the framed movie posters – one dating from the early 1920s – that grace Motion Theory’s walls.

Less than a month after setting up shop, Mr. Jimenez and Mr. Cullen scored their first deal, a commercial for DirecTV. Jobs began to trickle in after that. While Motion Theory works on everything from Web sites to film and television, the company mainly focuses on the lucrative TV commercial market.

Smaller firms such as Motion Theory are well positioned to increase ad revenue for traditional media companies, says Mr. Londono. “Through linking different mediums, you’re capturing eyeballs on different mediums,” he explains. “One of the things we’re attempting to do is sell across our medium and entice our advertisers to look beyond the television.”

“You want to make that connection with what you see,” says Mr. Cullen, whose brother, Joseph Salas, heads up operations for Motion Theory. “In our field, we’re in a unique position to help shape the way people see things. It’s a way to breathe life into something that’s old and make it new. I think you’ll see a lot more of this in the future. There’s a merging of design, art, architecture, and filmmaking that is opening up new ways of seeing things around us. We want to be there as it emerges.”

Many long hours later, the team is enjoying breakout success. Privately held Motion Theory expects revenue to increase 50 percent this year and has added 300 square feet of office space to accommodate more employees and equipment. It may double its staff in the next year or so, though Mr. Cullen worries about the company getting too big. Motion Theory employs eight and has a steady roster of contractors.

“We’re always drilling ourselves into the ground,” says Mr. Cullen, who will complete his graphic arts degree at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles this month. “But no matter how much you succeed in something, you want to push a little harder. Every single day the bar is raised a little higher. We want to be the ones who raise it higher still.

“One of the reasons I’m so passionate about this field is that technology has allowed us to do new things. Computers really are our generation. [We] feel comfortable expressing ourselves with that technology.”

Although motion graphics are becoming more widely used and accepted, they are not fully appreciated, says Carm Goode, professor of design at Loyola Marymount.

“Now when I look at the evening sports show, the motion graphics are so elaborate. People see the value of it. But it’s so new and so young that even the experts overlook it,” says Mr. Goode, an animator in the 1960s.

In fact, only a handful of universities nationwide even offer classes on the subject. “There isn’t a curriculum out there for this field, so I had to teach myself everything,” Mr. Cullen says.

According to Mr. Goode, Loyola Marymount will launch a motion graphics class next year. “Any school that is responsible will have to offer a class like this,” he says.

As for Motion Theory’s prospects, Mr. Goode says that the firm’s future looks bright, but it’s likely to face stiffer competition as the field becomes more crowded. Motion Theory currently has about 10 competitors nationwide.

“There are always going to be young newcomers who have the idea that they will change the industry,” Mr. Jimenez says. “We realize we were probably like that in the beginning. Everyone says that they’re different and that they work hard. That’s nothing original. But we would like to change the way [the industry] thinks of companies like ours.”

Change is already in the air. Even industry giants that don’t use motion graphics, such as Pixar Animation Studios in Emeryville, California, are fascinated with the technology.

“The cool thing about smaller companies bringing something to the table is that the technology has advanced so much, they can be competitors in this business and still be small,” says Katherine Sarafian, director of marketing for Pixar, which specializes in feature films and computer animation. “It opens up the party to a broader cross section of artists and technicians.”

It’s a party Mr. Jimenez, who originally studied to be a teacher, never thought he’d be invited to. While at UCLA, he student-taught at a grammar school on campus, which led him to a nanny job for celebrity parents. That’s when he got his first taste of the entertainment business.

“I didn’t think I’d ever get into this industry,” he says. “It is hard to get your foot in the door. But it’s true that once you do get your foot in, it is entirely up to you to make the rest happen.”

Source: HISPANIC BUSINESS magazine

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