Electric Art: master illusionists

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A mere glance at Electric Art’s website demonstrates the extraordinary talent and skills that they have to offer. Providing creative retouching and 3D artwork for companies such as Yahoo, Sony, Qantas, Canon, Microsoft and Mercedes, among many others, they have become famous in their field, going so far as to carve their own niche in the industry. The field of creative retouching, says managing director Jonathon Eadie, was practically non-existent before they coined the phrase.

In its 17 years of operation, the internationally acclaimed studio has reached new heights, with steady demand for their work nationally and internationally. However, its origins were far more humble, founded simply as an arena for Eadie to pursue his design ambitions.

“It’s really quite simple,” says Eadie. “All I was ever any good at was drawing pictures. It makes perfect sense that I’ve ended up here, given the only thing I ever felt I was very strong at was this subject.”

Forgoing his university degree, Eadie opted for a more hands-on approach and founded Electric Art in 1993, based on sheer faith and ambition.

“I entered the big end of town in a design sense with very little experience and not knowing anyone,” he recalls. “Knowing what I know now, I wouldn’t do it. It was far too crazy.

“I borrowed money to start with as the equipment was so expensive back then. It cost me close to $700,000 just to start up, but I had such belief in the company.”

A friendly partnership

The gamble paid off. The business was netted several high-profile clients in its formative years. However, the major growth of the company was not until Eadie convinced Bruce Bigelow to join the business as creative director. The two had met years earlier, through shared networks and, later, a shared studio workspace.

“Bruce has always been more talented than me,” says Eadie. “We drifted apart when I started Electric Art, but, after a couple of years, I just knew he was the right man for the job.”

Eadie pinpoints two events that propelled the company’s significant growth and success. The first was simplifying the brand.

“Strategic planning is all about brand strategy,” he says. “I started to look at the Electric Art brand and we were too broad. We got rid of some of the incidentals, the distractions from the business … we stripped them away and we rebranded the company with creative retouching.”

The second, he says, was Bigelow’s insistence that they move into the area of 3D production. “With retouching you can only go so high, but 3D means you can actually create any picture without the need for photography,” he says. Essentially, they could create whatever their imagination desired, which formed the basis of the company’s motto, ‘Play God’.

Teamwork and technology

The pair has always approached work with a ‘the sky’s the limit’ mentality. “We started to focus on the hardest jobs in town,” explains Eadie. “The great thing about the hardest jobs in town is that they’re the most fun. As soon as you start to crack these hard-earned jobs, more come and words spreads.”

Hard work though it may be, Eadie and Bigelow have fostered a relaxed work culture, where humour is inextricably linked to creativity. Take the giraffe climbing up a tree – the advertisement created for the Wellington Zoo – for example.

“Everything we do is ridiculous,” he says. “It’s a silly idea and it makes me giggle. First of all, you have to have that stupid idea.”

Of course, the increasing capabilities of technology have played their part in Electric Art’s success and the company’s embrace of new techniques and products helps to facilitate this.

“The ability to do stuff you couldn’t do is just happening at an exponential rate. The ability to mimic reality or create the unreal is becoming increasingly easy,” says Bigelow. “We’ve made cities! We’ve done it all.”

He notes that technology isn’t the sole asset in the company’s work; rather, it’s the team as a collective.

“There are plenty of people who are technically proficient but there’s people who have an eye and are proficient and can solve a problem. It’s important to remember the technology is just a tool and always will be,” he says.

Lights and fire

Bigelow and Eadie agree that the strength of a business is only as strong as the passion of its people. Luckily, this is something which they are in no short supply of. “You’ve got to love what you do,” says Bigelow. “If you lose a love of what you do, then you may as well stop what you are doing.”

“There are very few rules; the only rule is that you have to really want to do this and then work as hard as you like,” agrees Eadie. “I tell my children, all you’ve really got to concentrate on is finding the thing that you really like to do and if you do, you’ll excel at it.”

With such an impressive body of work, the team’s efforts have been recognised by the industry. In 2008 and 2009, they won 28 awards for work produced for a range of clients, the most notable of which was the ‘Welcome Snoop’ campaign for MTV, in addition to three awards in 2010.

“We’ve got a storeroom full of awards,” says Bigelow proudly.

Continuing their love for the ridiculously absurd, Eadie concludes that animation will be the next big thing in the future.

“Street posters will start moving. The girl will wink on the side of the bus. It’s a still image so it needs to come from our end. The giraffe will have to climb!” 


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