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Interview with Lyon Visuals, Visualization Studio

Published: 18th May 2021

It’s our pleasure to bring to you guys another inspirational interview with Cassandra and Alex Lyon, the Co-Founders of a Visualization studio, Lyon Visuals.

Lyon Visuals is a rapidly growing visualization studio based in New York. It was launched by a couple with a shared vision in 2015, Cassandra and Alex Lyon. Their work can be seen in almost any grocery store aisle across the US and in leading brands' commercial spots! Some of the many brands they’ve worked with are P&G, Oreo & Anheuser-Busch.

Our content creator, Luiza, has hopped on a video call with Cassandra and Alex to hear their story from a business and creative point of view. Get yourself a hot drink, a snack, and enjoy the video!

Please Note: A transcript of the interview is available below the video.

Interview - Text Transcript

Luiza: How did you guys meet? Did you go to the same university? Did you study the same course?

Cassandra Lyon: We did meet in college. I'm originally from New York State and Alex is from Kentucky. We met in Ohio at our art school, Columbus College of Art and Design. I majored in Product Design and Alex majored in Illustration.

Alex Lyon: Traditional drawing and painting, so a bit of a departure to where I'm at now.

Luiza: So how did that lead to 3D? What triggered your interest in 3D? And what made you think, “This is something I want to be involved in.”?

Alex:  Well, we graduated in 2010, so the economy was pretty hard hitting still. I was really just trying to get any kind of creative job I could find. I got an internship as a Graphic Designer, which I'm competent at, but it definitely wasn’t what I’d pictured myself doing. But once I got there the staff realised how useful I would be with retouch because I had so much Photoshop experience from doing illustration - lots of digital painting stuff. So I started out putting clothes on people for mockups for advertising and then I started doing packaging things. Before I knew it I was doing full illustrations of liquor bottles and things like that from scratch, drawing it out by hand and illustrating it. But that's not the kind of thing where they can say, “Great, now show us the back view.” It’s another thirteen hours of painting before you can see that.

Neutrogena
Neutrogena

Luiza: Yes, for sure. How about you, Cassandra? How did you get into 3D and grow that interest?

Cassandra: After school I fell into Community Management - social media marketing for various technology and education companies. Alex had gone freelance after a few years of working as a visualiser with some agencies in New York. It got to the point where I was just helping him manage his clients and I was looking for a shift. And so we decided to join forces and start the studio.

Luiza:  Nice. So it kind of just became this natural hobby really and it was like it was meant to be. Why did you decide to create or launch a creative studio? And whose idea was it?

Alex: I guess it was mine. Working in product or packaging and branding in the city - even a place like New York City - it's a very small market. You get to know a lot of people over just a few years. I was realising that, because I was working in-house for an agency - there were a lot of places that didn't have an in-house person and there weren't very many of us freelancing in the city. So, after a few years with the last agency that I worked for, I decided to strike out on my own and start to offer my services to all the different agencies that we were constantly competing with for work and put myself out there. The need was enough to keep me busy, which you never really know when you first take the job.

X2 Energy Drinks
X2 Energy Drinks

Luiza: How did you guys find that initial experience after graduating - your initial experience getting started in your careers? Did you find it fairly easy or hard?

Cassandra: It was very challenging. I feel that it was easier to transition to a different career than to get started and establish it.

My first job in New York was an internship that I had for about six months. We joke all the time that every job description initially at a lower level says you need three to five years of experience, but no one wants to give you the three to five years of experience to be hired. Yes, it was definitely challenging, [to Alex] and I know more so for you.

Alex: You just want to get your foot in the door anywhere. A lot of times that means doing something really unexpected and trying to use your skillset to answer any problems that you see anyone having. You just want to try and use your creative thinking and your skillset to problem solve and that's really what I feel any art or design school is training you for. But it wasn't until I was working in-house that I met somebody that had years and years of experience working in packaging. And he was like, “This is a job - just creating imagery of this kind of stuff.” That's not the kind of thing you learn in school - you have to get out there into whatever industry you end up in and really learn the ropes and figure out what the niches are, and what the demands are for certain types of work. Before you know it, you're like, “Oh, I had no idea that these kinds of things were needed out there.”

Cassandra: He actually started to teach himself 3D software during one of the major hurricanes that hit New York City.

Luiza: Oh, really?

Alex: Yeah, our office lost power. They had mentioned when I first came there that they wanted me to learn 3D, and I was like, “I'm interested, but I have no experience in it.” So I downloaded the software while I was working from home and after the first few weeks, I was like, “Okay, I can make a yoghurt cup. I hope that's useful!” It just went from there.

Santa Teresa Rum
Santa Teresa Rum

Luiza: Hey, you can make some nice images of a yoghurt! Tell me, what are your key responsibilities at Lyon Visuals?

Cassandra: Well, I run everything that is non-creative. I am all of the internal administrative hats, I wear all of our client-facing hats: financing, marketing and everything on that end of the spectrum.

Alex: And I'm responsible for creating all of the imagery that we produce. I manage the team of contractors that we work with very closely: everything from jumping in on briefing calls to creating the imagery, finalising rounds of edits with client feedback - everything that revolves around creating the product that we hand off to.

Luiza: Sounds great. Tell me more about the studio, who's in your team, and the purpose of the studio and what you guys offer.

Cassandra: So our main core offering is that we work with creative agencies and directly with organisations who produce various levels of marketing assets: on pack visuals, e-com., award assets, case studies, and anything that falls under those spectrums.

We have, as Alex mentioned, a team of contractors. While Alex is our lead visualiser, we have product and lifestyle photographers, we have an amazing animator, we have additional 3D visualisers and retouchers, as well as a product designer that we tap into as needed. Some work with us closer than others - it really just depends on the season and what the specific needs are for the project.

Harpoon Pale Ale
Harpoon Pale Ale

Luiza: What's so unique about New York for a commercial 3D artist?

Alex: I think it's probably just that everything is really at your fingertips. Everything from being able to communicate with such a large range of designers and creative directors and the people that are looking for this kind of visual work. If you are able to network properly, you can pivot from one industry to another because there's so many different places located in just one city. So as long as you're mentally capable of making those pivots and turns in your career, there's really nothing slowing you down, impeding you from making those relationships.

Cassandra:  I do think that we are very fortunate that we're able to work with the agencies and organisations that we do - not just in New York, but across the country and across the world.

There is something to be said where we were at times having things couriered over to us to have a sample or vice versa. It's really easy to just go stop by the client's office to review something. We moved out of the city - about an hour and a half north - a few years ago, but it was actually a really seamless transition. If anything, our clients were really excited that if we had a photoshoot there was a reason to leave Manhattan, to check out some nice wooded-areas north of the city. It definitely has a lot of pros.

Luiza: New York sounds like a great place. I definitely want to go one day and visit for sure.

Cassandra: Definitely. It's pretty awesome.

Alex: We've been out for a few years, but we still miss it every day.

GODIVA Chocolate
GODIVA Chocolate

Luiza: Tell me about your experience as co-founders of a creative studio. So initially, how was that kind of experience? Did you have any challenges? Do you still face any challenges? And if so, are they any different compared to the challenges at the start?

Cassandra: I think for me personally, I was entering a new industry and I had no idea fully what I was entering into. A lot of our friends are amazing package designers in the field and I spent a lot of time with them. I understood the generic ins and outs of the process. But for me, it was a really big learning experience, the first year that we started everything.

Alex: Having gone from a Graphic Designer to a half-retoucher, to a Production Artist and then fully into visualisation, I felt I was just creating flashcards to quiz her on different industry terms and things. She was coming in totally green to this space, where all of her management and marketing experience would obviously come into play.

For me, it was learning how to be independently disciplined enough to function outside of the structure of an office. You’re having to create those routines and make sure that you're completing the right amount of work every single day. It just takes a lot of discipline to maintain that kind of creative workflow and produce the same quality every day that you're working without somebody standing over you telling you that you need to do this or that.

Cassandra: They always say that the first three to five years are the hardest for any business and that definitely is true. I think you're battling with gaining awareness and establishing yourself. It ebbs and flows - there's a lot of clients that for one year they'll be our main focus and then the next year you're waiting impatiently for that other client. We're always hustling to gain more awareness and to continue to establish ourselves - not only within the advertising and packaging industry but also more directly client-side. It’s definitely a lot of learning moments that I feel only now we're starting to really gain a whole level set and understanding over.

Alex: That's something that she's definitely helped me realise: you can't become complacent at all if you want the business to continue to grow. When you're as close into a project as I tend to get - just focusing on the work itself that needs to get completed - it's so easy to start to rely very heavily on a single client relationship and lose sight of where the bigger picture is headed. The needs of one client from one year to the next completely shifts and they might not have that work, but then someone else does and so you're always out there looking for something.

Wild Turkey Whiskey
Wild Turkey Whiskey

Luiza: That sounds great. So what does the workflow at Lyon Visuals look like? How do you guys communicate, especially during today's times, taking into consideration today’s life situation? How do you manage to communicate with your clients and other team members?

Cassandra: Actually, in the last year nothing has really shifted for us. We joke that we were social distancing before it was cool to do so. Starting out, we had rented an office in the city and then we quickly just transitioned into our apartment. Even with bringing on contractors - unless they're needed on site, or within our home for a photoshoot, or on set for a photoshoot - everything has always been communicated via email or through Slack. The same with our clients. Typically they'll reach out to us if they are in need of something, we’ll go through a briefing conversation, estimates and discussing a price, and then all of the assets are handed over to me and they get passed over to Alex and then it's either that Alex will start to work on that project or he will brief and supply all of the needed assets to one of our contractors.

Before COVID, we were actually able to start to seamlessly have virtual photoshoots with our clients. And it’s proven just as successful going into 2020 and 2021 - our clients are really pleased with it. It's really difficult to take the time out to go to a shoot - you’re out of the office all day. We're able to have a live feed on our camera and we have planned check-ins throughout the day.

Alex: It’s shoot tethered and we screen share the photoshoot - so if they want us to rotate something or cut a light with a highlight or something like that, we can do that live which was a good transition.

We've only done it once for a project with 3D, because it was a very sensitive chocolate pour that needed a lot of finessing. So that was the only project that we've done a live feed of the actual 3D process.

Luiza: Virtual photoshoot - that sounds awesome. You seem like you guys are a hundred years ahead of everyone else. I’m glad it’s really working out for you.

Cassandra: To be honest, I was waiting for something. We've been very fortunate with our clients and the projects and I think just based on the needs of people in general - our clients clients and our direct clients - just ended up being the main products that were being put out during 2020: snacks, liquor, dairy.

Cadbury x Oreo Chocolate
Cadbury x Oreo Chocolate

Luiza: They look very delicious! So let's talk about your tools for 3D. What 3D software do you guys use: renderers and any other tools or plugins?

Alex: Primarily we work within Modo and then I use the onboard renderer for Modo. We use HDR Light Studio and then Photoshop. I think the only time we really use something like Illustrator is just in processing client’s files. But yeah, everything primarily shifts between those three main products.

Luiza: Is there a reason why you're using Modo? Is that the first 3D software that you learned? Is that why?

Alex: Yeah, because I taught myself. It was a software that I could afford at the time and there's a lot of really good resources out there that I was able to view - because I didn't know how far into it I was going to get until I knew I was able to use it in my daily workflow. They've always been a very responsive company, so I've been very happy with them thus far. The improvements that they've made over the last few years have been great. I do intend to branch out, but you’ve got to find the time to really dig into a new software.

Luiza: So what would be your next piece of kit that you would learn?

Alex: 3ds Max is the industry standard that I would like to adopt as well. I don't know if I could give up Modo’s modelling tools, but definitely there's a tonne that 3ds Max has to offer - that’d be very useful.

Luiza: I did notice that the 3D software that 3D artists tend to use is the first software that they learn. There's always something about… it’s this first love, it’s where the hobby started. So yeah, I can understand that.

Alex: It's funny you say that because really I'm Photoshop first. Just because of how I started everything out, there's so much of how I've used Modo... they have a whole layer tree structure that is very reminiscent of groups and layers in Photoshop that made me feel so comfortable when I first started working. I’m sure there's so many habits that I formed in Photoshop that I’ve carried over into my 3D workflow. I'm sure someone else would be like, “Why are you doing it this way?”

Kahlua Rum & Coffee Liqueur
Kahlua Rum & Coffee Liqueur

Luiza: So speaking of HDR Light Studio, I'm glad you guys are using it. I'm glad it's working out for you guys. But I am curious to find out, how did you hear about HDR Light Studio and when was the first time that you heard about it? What caused that decision to try it in the first place?

Alex: Using Modo for the first couple of years, I only used the lights that they had built in or I created a polygon and added a luminous setting and was just makeshift-making my own lights that way for a while. It's just a very time-consuming process and you can only get so realistic. When I got to the point where I really wanted to invest in improving that side of things HDR Light Studio was a no brainer. The amount that you get standard with the software: just the whole catalogue of lights, how realistic they look, the reflections, being able to set the resolution for your HDR output - for any size render your reflections are going to look sharp and real. And it's very quick to use - you’re not grabbing and using handles to shift and move things around, you can just click and drag from one side of a set to another.

Voss Water
Voss Water
Alex Lyon talking about HDR Light Studio

Luiza: That's great. So I'm curious to know, does HDR Light Studio help you learn lighting better? Does it help you learn the art of lighting?

Alex: I would say that it definitely does. The way you're able to layer things, you're able to create a very complex scene in a pretty short amount of time. Especially with the latest update of being able to group things together and save multiple versions out all within one file to test things - even that has already been really adopted into the workflow. I would say that, coming from a painting background, I'm used to just creating the light that I need. Actually having to manually light something was something that I had to get used to. HDR Light Studio has definitely made it a much easier transition to really push yourself within a 3D space.

Luiza: I’m pleased, that’s great to hear. If you had to choose a few of your favourite features of HDR Light Studio, what would they be?

Alex: Probably just being able to scale infinitely. There's a lot of little details: like the wrinkles and certain soft-boxes, and the fact that I can bring in the ones that are my favourite and scale them to be whatever size I want. Especially because we work with products that are so small a lot of the time, you have to keep that in mind when you're lighting something - you can't use a bunch of lights that in real life would be so large that they'd have to be so far away from your product. You go through the process of modelling everything to scale, texturing to scale, you have to keep in mind when you're lighting that everything would, in real life, be closer. So all my lights should be a little bit larger than they might necessarily import in at. I feel that that flexibility is probably one that I lean on the most, being able to do that.

Luiza: With you guys working from home and remotely, did you make use of the portable lighting feature? Sending lighting files, like lighting designs, to other clients and team members - was that quite handy for you guys?

Alex: Yes, it definitely was. It’s only been in the last couple of years that we've had additional 3D people besides myself. Being able to exchange lighting setups - because I might only have the time in my week to do the modelling and the texturing. You might throw some placeholder lights on there - that's what you've been looking at it with so you want to share that with someone even if they're gonna start from scratch. Being able to have that transition and then whatever they have. If we have to divide a series of renders between a couple different machines everybody's on the same page. You can't beat that kind of flexibility long distance.

Luiza: Have you tried lighting with HDR Light Studio, Cassandra?

Cassandra: Oh no. Learning programmes, I am the first to say, is not my forte. That was proven in college when I took the same modelling software course three times. It's just not a skillset that I currently have.

It’s definitely been awesome to see. One of our photographers is in the process of learning 3D. He's amazing with light, as a photographer, and it’s been really interesting for me to see the seamlessness of how he's able to pick up lighting software. We’ll touch base with him at some point, just because of the complexity of what it is we need to light. It's the seamlessness of assets within the programme that have been really great.

Alex: It's been really interesting to work through that with him because I can send him a 3D model and he has the software installed, and whereas I'm looking at it going, “Okay, I want a highlight that looks like this…”, he’s saying, “I know what equipment I would need to light it in real life. Where's this? Where's the soft-box that’s this size? Can I change the fabric on the front? Can I put colour gels in front of this? How many kinos can I put in this scene?” And I'm sitting there going, “Listen, I don't know. Poke around!” There's been a few instances where he's been describing a very specific type of umbrella and I'm like, “No, I definitely do think they have that!” Because he knows - obviously - the physical representation of the digital assets you guys have created, he's definitely lit things with stuff that I hadn't even tried using before, because he knows exactly how it works in the real world. That's been a really interesting benefit and a new way of working and looking at the software that just from my own background I didn't have.

Penfolds St Henri Shiraz Wine
Penfolds St Henri Shiraz Wine

Luiza: That's very interesting. Some of our customers even describe HDR Light Studio as a virtual photography studio. A lot of 3D artists aim to replicate reality, to make it as realistic as possible. Obviously not in certain situations like sci fi and made-up things. A lot of the time I notice that they do aim for realism.

Alex: We have had clients that have difficulty wrapping their heads around the full-use capabilities of 3D, especially if they have a long standing relationship with photographers. They know how that industry works and a lot of times they're apprehensive about our ability to recreate that. Keeping ourselves bound to reality a lot of times is what the client is looking for. Obviously you could light something in such a way that it would take such a large photo studio to have enough pieces, or you'd have to do it in multiple shots and composite them together because light stands don't allow you to stick that many things in one spot… you can only cut something so many times with a black card. But yeah, it's surprising, as much capability and range and flexibility that you have with HDR Light Studio, a lot of times the client’s imagination almost tampers down the full capability. But you're able to answer either situation, which is great.

Cassandra: We're always excited with the projects that we get, but there's definitely really crazy briefs where no matter what it comes down to the lighting and texture of the model. It's something that's super high glossy that isn’t normally a high gloss… It's fun to see how Alex or any of our other contractors are playing within the programme and enhancing those materials based on the lighting and making it feel real, even if it is a very abstract shape.

Luiza: Do you have a favourite type of project to work on?

Alex: I really enjoy beverage projects in general. Liquor bottles just give you so much fun to play with the materials and the applications. It's an upscale market so they spend a lot of money perfecting their packaging and then you get to recreate that - which is always a lot of fun. Even when you're talking about something like a beer or a soft drink, covering something in ice and condensation and then getting to light a shiny object like that. Sometimes it's the most challenging, but you're also just like, “Yeah, I nailed it!” when you get through it all. I'd say those are probably the projects I look most forward to.

Cassandra: While I'm not doing it, my favourites always tend to be when the task is to blend a photograph (whether it's ours or not) with a 3D model. I am always blown away at the skillset of our team, and especially Alex. In the last year especially there's been some real challenging requests from our clients: a lot of times product graphics have been finalised, it's gone to photoshoot, and then something changes or legal gets back and says, “No that's wrong, we have to switch it.” Even to Alex's point about condensation and ice chips on a beverage - he had to exactly match lighting (with the use of HDR Light Studio) to ensure that this can that was covered in condensation matched the lighting of the other cans in the photograph.

Kick-Start Coffee
Kick-Start Coffee

Luiza: That sounds challenging.

Alex:  It's difficult mostly because in instances like that where a project circles back around and there's an emergency, you don’t have the opportunity to communicate with the photographer. You don't know what the lighting setup was - so you kind of just have to backwards-engineer it and test things and figure out. Even if you cut a light you might have light bleeding around that reflects on one certain part of the can. Even if it's creating more objects in your 3D space to block the light, or stand in the way and cast a shadow, you have to problem solve all of that which can get pretty tricky.

Luiza: Would you guys say you specialise in products, packaging, beverages? Or are you all-round players?

Alex: I like to think that we're capable of being all around players, but we do tend to live in this space more often than not. We've had opportunities to stretch our legs with some product shots, but at the same time a lot of product design agencies are very capable of doing beautiful renderings themselves. We always get excited when we get to step outside of the space as well.

Cassandra: As much as it is the structures and the packaging, we've had a lot of opportunities to work with and provide our clients with 3D food. That always has its own special challenges because those are very real elements, sometimes from brands that are very iconic in their patterning or shape. And so it's pressure in a completely different way, but I think we've now been really spreading our wings and really providing some amazing hyperreal 3D food.

Luiza: Awesome. Can you think of a crazy project that you did? Did you meet a crazy deadline?

Cassandra: All the time!

Alex: It’s probably hard to narrow down!

Cassandra: We can be brought in from concept all the way through to production. There's a benefit to having either an individual on staff or hiring us, or someone like us, to do that. But a lot of times it's either a last minute request for concepts or pitches, or something's going to print in two weeks and it’s a very large ask.

Even if it's a smaller ask, we're brought in a lot later sometimes than we would expect. Things change on a hairpin-turn sometimes and you never know what the client is going to need or what their legal team is going to say.

Alex:  We've definitely had our challenges with that sort of thing. You always want to say, “Pull us in as early as possible,” and sometimes it isn't possible for them, for their timeline. I think one of our greatest benefits that we like to share with clients is that you can start a ‘photoshoot process’ with us before your products have gone to production. You can dual-timeline two different aspects of a project, because we're able to take the design files and create it before production is completed.

Cassandra: I'd say the craziest timeline we ever had to meet was for a very large beer brand.  We'd been working on the packaging visuals and other assets for months and their design agency came to us - I believe on a Friday - with the request of thirteen full-size billboard renderings in seven days.

Michel et Augustin Shortbread Cookies
Michel et Augustin Shortbread Cookies

Luiza: Really? That sounds crazy!

Cassandra: Clearly we pushed back, because with the render time alone that’s just not possible. It was a crazy deadline for everyone involved. It was definitely a moment where I was on the phone or texting constantly with our client at very odd hours of the evening. Alex and the team were working very diligently, but that was probably the most insane turnaround that we've had to perform. I think it ended up being fourteen days - we did it in two straight weeks.

Luiza: That’s actually still quite impressive, with the render times and everything. Did you guys sleep?

Cassandra: Not really!

Alex: It was just eye-drops and coffee.

Cassandra: And the crazy thing was after they came out, we didn't even live in an area where we could see the billboards. So it may have been six months later, when we were at a conference, and I just started freaking out and made us pull over…

Luiza: I would do that as well. Did you guys take pictures next to it?

Alex: It was the whole side of a building. “This is incredible!” But of course then you’re like, “Well now that I’m looking at it this large, did I miss something?”

Bevel Razor
Bevel Razor

Luiza: I can't imagine how stressful that was. How did you deal with that stress and lack of sleep?

Alex: The resolution that they were requesting was the hardest part because you can only render so fast across so many machines. The images were so large... Yes, you can split an image down the middle and render it on two machines, but then the compositing process adds so much more time on the backend it's just not practical a lot of times.

So we had to get really creative, using some of the assets that were high res. enough that we already had created. There were certain bits that were photo-composited in so that saved some time. At the end of the day, it was just working around the clock to get them handed off. And then transferring online files that size had its own obstacles too once you’ve hit the end of the deadline...

Cassandra: That was the most stressful moment I think we've had since leaving New York, because I would have just hand-delivered it at that point no matter what time of day it was completed. We were preparing at one point for me to just drive down and drop off this hard drive at their office, because it just wasn’t uploading. Compressing files causes issues sometimes, batch sending… It was a learning process. We really learned what our limits were. But it was definitely a really awesome challenge and we're fortunate to do so much work with that team, so it's definitely been fun.

Luiza: Being a freelancer, having your own creative studio and working for someone - those are two different things. Once you own that creative studio it's not just about the art, it's about the business itself and learning how to run that business.

Alex: File handoffs in particular... It's one of those things that it's so easy, because you want to create the biggest, most beautiful high resolution image you can. But a lot of times teams aren't prepared for it or they don't need it. You don't want to over-deliver and make the process of handing these assets out to their teams more challenging. It's just something you always have to keep in mind and reserve. We could go huge with this - but do we need to?

B&B Bottle
B&B Bottle

Luiza: About that crazy deadline, crazy project. Did you at any point think, “We can't do this, we’re just not going to make it!” - or - did you think, “We will get through this, it's going to be hard, it's going to be stressful, but once we get that sent, we'll have some chill time.”?

Cassandra: I think it was both!

Alex: It was the initial thought of, “This is impossible. Are they crazy?”, but it had to happen and it wasn't going to happen without us. We had to get onboard. The last thing you want to do is leave a client in the lurch. Their team was as much all-hands-on-deck as we were. It was crunch time for everyone involved.

Cassandra: And it's also a brand - not just the agency that we worked with at that moment - but that brand we've worked on with that agency at this point for almost six years. So I think it's something where it's not just a standard project with a crazy deadline, we are very invested in this brand. It was one of our first projects when we officially launched the studio, so it's definitely a project of love as much as it is a standard project.

Luiza: It must be a nice memory then although it was stressful. Like you say, I can see how this project was awesome to do. And you guys made it, so congrats. I'm glad it worked out.

Alex: We’re out at the other end. We survived.

Luiza: It’s really nice to get a business point of view from you guys. I think people will love that as well.

Cassandra: We try to keep up on all of the talented individuals that are out there, but it's definitely something where I know that we are a unique situation - that it is just a studio that focuses on what we focus on. We're always trying to speak to our clients and listen to our clients in terms of what their needs are, which is why we're trying to expand our offerings as much as we can.

Alex: I'm a freelancer at heart. If I could stay in my cave and sit on my computer, I would, and be happy to do so. But if you combine a freelancer with someone who knows how to market and network and really push the envelope of who you're going to communicate with, it grows a business.

Eventually you have to consider, do you want to pump the brakes and back off? Or do you just want to keep moving forward? And that’s when you have to decide to grow or not.

Forth CBD
Forth CBD

Luiza: For sure. Are you guys allowed to talk about your current projects? What projects are you working on?

Cassandra At the moment, no.

Luiza: That's a shame!

Cassandra:  The unfortunate thing is all of our really awesome, crazy projects are the ones that no-one really ever gets to see. We've gotten to work with some amazing brands, both large and small. Actually, we’re just finishing up one that is now on the market… One of our largest clients has rebranded the vegan grocery line Follow Your Heart and so all of their e-commerce visuals and visuals on their website are all of our visuals.  It’s been about a six month process - we are still finishing them up, but we’re in the homestretch.

In the last year we’ve gotten the opportunity to work with a client representing Neutrogena. Early last year we got to work with Taco Bell, which was a lot of fun… Unfortunately, I can list - but I can’t!

Alex: We’re working with a supplement company now…

Cassandra: I think the biggest challenge for us is identifying where the growing industries are and how we can best target and pivot to either get in front of the right agencies or directly in front of the clients themselves. That’s been a really fun challenge. We’ve been pushing hard for pharmaceuticals and skin-care as much as we have for CBD based products, and we have an opportunity at all ends of the spectrum to have those conversations and start working on some projects.

Alex: Every time though that you want to bridge into a new area, anyone who creates visuals is tired of hearing, “But can you do this?” 

And it’s like, “That is quite adjacent to what I just showed you. I promise I can, I really mean it - this jar is just like the other five jars. I’ll do my best.”

Cassandra: My favourite is: “I know that you’ve done all these beer brands and they look great, but can you do my soda can?”

 “I can. I think I can manage that!”

Alex: It’s always a difficult challenge at first, but you have to focus on those relationships to further branch out.

Luiza: If you had to give a 3D artist advice for improving their renders, or just for growing as a 3D artist, what would you tell them?

Alex: Growing as a 3D artist I would say you have to make sure that you’re not cutting corners on any leg of the process. Anything from having good clean modelling habits to making sure you’re not making textures that are too low resolution for the size of your final render. Make sure that you’re taking the time to light things properly and explore the different ways that you could light something. Looking at collecting references of other things that are out there so that you are not deciding a light setup or an environment in a bubble. Obviously there are other amazing 3D artists out there, and there are amazing photographers out there that are probably doing something you haven’t thought of necessarily.

Cassandra: I think that’s a large part of our weekly check-ins with our contractors. We’re always keeping tabs, we follow as many 3D artists and photographers as we can find and really just try to be on top of what the trends are within our industry and also what other people are doing. You can only be as good as what you are educating yourself with. We have Pinterest boards just full of material reference - not only for Alex but also for our contractors to reference as needed. We use it often, we’re constantly updating it. It’s always a learning moment and a learning experience.

Alex: There’s nothing more humbling than going into your own files five years later and being like, “Who did this? This is a travesty! Oh, that’s right, I did it!”

AF Packshot
AF Packshot

Luiza: What are your goals for this year? Both as a business and for growing as a 3D artist, standing out from other creative studios as well?

Cassandra: We’re fortunate to work with the clients and agencies that we have. I think our biggest goal is to go more directly client-side and make it as balanced as possible, as 50/50 as we can. It’s more for the lead times on projects potentially shifting and the need to bring on contractors more full-time.

Our goal is to keep expanding but not overstretch ourselves as much as possible. Branching off into new exciting industries… Structures are only inherently so different, but art direction is always fun and getting to work with creative individuals is always great.

Alex: For me, going more client-side and building out more of those types of relationships. I’m always excited to jump in and work on a project that maybe I haven’t gotten to work on in a while as far as what the focus of the project is - the type of product.

Anything that’s really organic is always a really fun challenge to do. We’re used to always seeing pretty-pretty pictures but you still have to make it as real as possible. It’s always easier to go really realistic and then back off and perfect things after the fact, than have those little nuances missing. That’s always something that we’re constantly pushing with.

Being harder on myself about learning those other softwares... You don’t want to leave your own education behind, especially when you’re working with a team and helping them learn as well - it’s so easy to put yourself at the bottom of the list. They’re not going to be able to adopt something that you don’t understand, so you always have to be pushing for your own education to stay up on what’s new.

Luiza: Are you always on the hunt for new clients? How do you get new clients? How do you draw them in?

Cassandra: I have discovered, with years of Googling and testing, there are some programmes that are free and paid-for where you can figure out - with the help of Linkedin - what the email sequence is for an organisation. I reach out, I build in-email visual banners that are associated with either their business directly or the industry that they’re in, to showcase what we’ve done in the past and that we can actually do whatever it is that they are representing and I try to get a conversation started that way.

What’s very interesting, just from the agency side of things: things move so quickly and people shift roles and go to different organisations all the time. We’ve been very fortunate that most of the time they take us with them. We have a very high retention rate with our clients and I think that is partly because we work very hard to build really strong relationships with them. Not just the consistency of our work, but also that they can rely on us. I’m on a texting basis, depending on the project and the client, with a large amount of our clients. I want us to be the individuals in the studio that they rely on. I also want to ensure that, should they leave that agency, that we’re foremost in the top of their mind.

Luiza: That’s been so awesome guys. Talking to you has been so much fun. I’m glad things are working out really great for you and that you are growing both as a business and as artists. I wish you guys all the best. Thank you for your time!

Alex and Cassandra: Thank you so much.

This entry was posted in Customer Stories, MODO and tagged 3D Artist, Behance, CGI, Inspirational, Interview, Product Visualization.