Comm Arts Interview
Brett Bagenstose is the founder and "Baron of Pixels" at Neo-Pangea and leads the overall creative vision for projects for National Geographic Channel, Snapple, Walmart and Comcast.
In his teens Brett created an irreverent, two-time Cable Ace Award-winning sketch comedy show; teenage tomfoolery matured into a love for moving images in college and his senior thesis became the very first digital film produced at Temple University. Not content screening his collegiate work at international festivals, Brett wrote and directed Townies, which screened across the US. After college, he applied his visual senses to the agency world, helping nourish the 10-person design boutique Refinery until it had grown to 120+ employees.
To focus on immersive and experimental work Brett founded Neo-Pangea, a digital creative boutique obsessed with continually expanding the boundaries of media and conventions in search of new arenas of expression
If you have a degree in what field is it?
Film and media Arts from Temple University. When I was there in the late 1990s the school was just about 100 percent analog. Traditional editing on film and tape were the only classes offered. Only a few of us nerds were using Premiere and AfterEffects on our archaic computers with pirated software. I labored long nights learning FutureSplash (eventually Macromedia Flash) and didn’t open Photoshop until I landed my first job. Back then a few of us were outcasts for shooting and editing digitally; I eventually rejected traditional film and produced dozens of short films that are unbearable to watch. At the time, though, I thought film was archaic and going to slowly phase out of the production process. Now, I consider myself lucky for having experience with celluloid from the beginning of my career. We’re used to being able to shoot endless takes and correct anything in post. The planning, process and patience instilled by shooting film is often forgotten these days.
What’s the best site you've seen lately? What’s so great about it?
It is next to impossible to narrow this down. The top four sites that I visit for inspiration are Commarts, Creativity, the FWA and Motionographer. However, recently I was very impressed with Slavery Footprint. Visually so simple it’s endlessly clever. The topic is really important, but aside from that, half of the website is a form, which could be so plain and boring, but someone breathed some life into the form and the results are playful and intuitive.
If you were to change professions, what would you choose to do?
If I had to reboot my career but stay in the same town, I would probably be working with plants or food. My time away from the computer almost always involves planting things, cooking or planting things to cook. There is something very fulfilling about nurturing a seed into a plant and then harvesting it to nurture you. I also enjoy being able to step away and create something in the real world. Combining flavors in a pan, and then immediately eating it is a gratification you just can't get digitally. If I could reboot anywhere, it’d be near the ocean for sure. I’d love to open an oceanside grill someplace where it never snows.
Design or technology? Which is more important? Why?
I do not see the delineation between creativity and technology. Technology is invented through a creative process. Some of the most creative people I know are developers. They can’t draw for shit, but the way they problem solve and invent is a result of equal parts imagination and lunacy. Sometimes technology interfaces are nice to look at, but other times the most creative aspect of the piece of technology is behind the scenes, wrapped behind a piece of graphic or product design. Hipsters aren’t the only imaginative people in a studio; look to the sweatpants-wearing, burly-bearded developers if you want your mind blown.
From where do your best ideas originate?
Unfortunately I get my best ideas in the shower. I don’t know if it’s some sort of primeval instinct that is triggered by being naked and surrounded by steam, or if it allows me to step away from distractions and focus on only one topic. Either way, most of my best thinking comes with a bar of soap. The worst part is that I have to keep a sopping wet pen and paper in the bathroom in case I have an epiphany during a rinse-repeat.
How do you overcome a creative block?
Sometimes the best way to change your perception of a problem is to change your scenery. Our office has a great deck where we can go outside and sit alone and meditate on problems while basking in the sunlight. We also have a dark, quiet studio to retreat to and focus on challenges. The heavy bag in the basement is usually the victim of problems that won’t resolve, but really, I should install a shower over my desk.
In one word describe how you feel when beginning a new project?
Empathy. I am of course excited about starting a new project, but my brain immediately wants to get inside the problem. Understand why they want to hire us and exactly what it is that they want us to solve. Whether it’s a branding exercise where I need to understand how they and others feel about the current brand or an application where I want to feel what a new visitor expects to experience by using it, empathy is the best word I can think of to describe it.
What well-known site is most desperately in need of a redesign?
Warnerbros.com. It’s all over the place. It’s pretty overwhelming, has multiple paths fighting for attention and the text and images are tiny because they are trying to fit too much into a small space. It could definitely use an overhaul, especially because they’ve got so much content. With a matrix and a little artificial intelligence, they could have a really cool experience that's more usable and streamlined.
Do you have creative outlets other than Web design?
Cooking, gardening and interior design. I’m also into tinkering with old, broken antiques to create fantastically re-imagined devices. I can’t paint or draw anything worth a damn.
What music are you listening to right now?
Harry Belafonte on Pandora.
What product/gadget can you not live without?
My smartphone. I hate that I am addicted to staying connected but, like any addiction, I can’t remove myself from its grasp. I have to consciously tell myself not to look at it.
What’s the strangest thing you’ve bought online?
Oh boy, where to begin. I bid on someone’s soul on eBay, but I didn’t win it. I bought fireworks once and they were shipped in a special hazmat box; the UPS guy was so mad.
What’s your favorite quote?
I’ve never been one to memorize anything directly. I’m an applied learner. However, I was searching for inspirational quotes for a blog post yesterday and really liked this Latin proverb: “The imagination exercises a powerful influence over every act of sense, thought, reason—over every idea.” I almost shortened it and created my own post-modern assembly of it, but it works for this.
Do you have any advice for people just entering the profession?
RUN AWAY! The majority of our team at Neo-Pangea teaches, speaks or runs user groups. We’ve had so many students and interns just coasting through their classes, doing just enough to get by; I’d only ever consider hiring 1 percent of them. They expect to be taught, but don’t search or experiment or, most importantly, know the rules so well that they can break them. Seriously, either apply every moment of your life to being creative and pushing yourself harder or run away.
What's one thing you wish you knew when you started your career?
RUN AWAY! Seriously, I never stop thinking about new projects, obsessing over ways I can improve, or taking on new challenges I can solve. Occasionally, I wonder what it would be like to just turn off and escape (metaphorically or otherwise). That said, I do feel unendingly fortunate to be where I am and to be able to spend every day surrounded by brilliant minds.