An Interview with IdeaRocket’s Chief Astronaut: William GadeaDenise McArthur 03.31.2015
How much do Snow White, a decapitated brother, and the tremendous failure of Webvan.com have to do with the magic behind IdeaRocket? More than you’d expect!
I recently had a chance to chat with William Gadea, the company’s Founder and Creative Director, and was given a peek at the man who put IdeaRocket into orbit.
BLAKE: Since you are in the business of animation, I was wondering what was the first animation, or images from your childhood, that really struck you?
WILL: I can’t remember my own first encounter with animation, but I remember being at my nephew’s. I went to see Snow White with him, and I remember seeing him reacting so viscerally to that movie. You know, hiding underneath the seat because he was so scared. I thought: that’s wonderful! That’s such a great power for a movie to have.
BLAKE: Did examples like that, highlighting the cultural and emotional impact of animation, inspire you to study art in school?
WILL: I’m actually a film school kid, not an art school kid. I went to film school at NYU for live action and always viewed myself more as a writer than anything else. I think the skills you pick up in film school are universal to narratives of any kind; from understanding the production process to understanding storytelling. That said, I think the skills you get from art school are important too. I’m glad to say that IdeaRocket is a place that has fostered both sets of skills.
BLAKE: Outside of animation, who have been some of the biggest influences?
WILL: I had some very inspiring teachers in film school. Mark Dickerman is one of them. I think he’s currently chairing the dramatic writing program there if I’m not mistaken. And there have also been filmmakers that have really moved me and are inspirations from afar. Billy Wilder is a great inspiration, Alfred Hitchcock is a great inspiration. And with people like that, you just gain an appreciation for how hard it is to really make narratives that work because even the greats fail. A lot. I figure the great ones have a batting average of around .400. If you bat .400 then you’re doing extremely well.
BLAKE: Whether it was Wilder, Hitchcock or someone else entirely, was there any specific movie that you remember opening your eyes to the power of film?
WILL: I saw a Fellini film over at the Museum of the Moving Image. I Vitelloni, I think it was called. And it was just amazing to me that there was not a repeated shot in the entire movie. It was going from one shot to a completely different shot to a completely different shot. It seemed like a richer kind of storytelling than the American standard which was basically: get the long shot, then get the close up, and then get the reverse. Or head and shoulders and reverse. The sort of 3-shot thing that is really kind of cliché and is not real visual storytelling. When I saw that movie it just kind of said: you need to raise the bar for yourself. You’ve got to focus more on visual storytelling. Don’t just depend on the written word; you’ve got to push the medium.
BLAKE: After film school, did you set out to become a screenwriter?
WILL: At first, yes, but I felt a little isolated as a screenwriter and realized that I wanted to collaborate with other people. That led me to the theater. In addition to writing, one of the things I did that I’m still proud of was start a playwrights collective: a community of writers and actors and directors that work together. We called ourselves the Tuesday Group. It was a great experience.
BLAKE: While cultivating your creative voice, did you have any kind of “day job?”
WILL: Yes, I was temping. Creating graphic presentations for investment banks. Although I didn’t necessarily realize it at the time, a lot of the business lessons and nuances of corporate culture were seeping into me. Almost subconsciously.
BLAKE: Do any examples come to mind?
WILL: I remember working on a presentation for a company called WebVan. This was during the dot-com bubble and they were supposed to be the next big thing. I was certainly persuaded and remember thinking to myself: Wow, this can’t miss! And obviously it could miss and it did miss. That kind of exercise is good because it makes you realize how little you really know. It gives you some humility.
BLAKE: How did you go from the theater and finance into a life of animation?
WILL: I remember going to a media demonstration and being introduced to a program called After Effects. Although it was extremely rudimentary and much less sophisticated than what we have now, I remember having the thought: Wow, I want to do that for a living. That looks like fun. To be able to control things like scale and size and rotation and color and all these things, it just seemed like such an exciting thing.
BLAKE: How did you go about turning that curiosity into a talent?
WILL: I took a course at NYU in After Effects and then I put together a reel and started sending it around to animation studios. Out of that, I got my first job at a house called “The Ink Tank.” At first, I was learning just the very basics of compositing things. And the aesthetics. How to make things move and how to make them look good when they move. I put together another reel. This time, I wound up getting a job at MTV animation. It was a show that came and went called Spy Groove. It was a great experience, but only lasted about a year.
BLAKE: In your opinion, what was it that did not work about Spy Groove? And what were your big takeaways from that aspect?
WILL: I think the main lesson was that the economics need to work. It was almost like a show they couldn’t afford to let become a hit because the production costs were really going overboard. And that’s true of any animation. There’s always the danger of cost overrun. That business side of it has to be taken care of for everything else to work.
BLAKE: And so where did you go from there? What was next for you?
WILL: I made my own short, based on a play I had written. It was about two brothers and one of them doesn’t have a head. And the one that does have a head is trying to find a date for his less fortunate brother.
WILL: And so it’s gritty realism as you might imagine…
BLAKE: Was this short animated film well-received?
WILL: At first, no. Not at all. It was being rejected by no-name festivals. But then, the number one festival in the world—Annecy—they accepted it. And then, all of the sudden, all these other festivals started accepting it too. So, it’s funny how it happens. But I guess that’s how it works.
BLAKE: Since ups and downs are inherently part of the business, what advice would you give to a young animator to deal with rejection?
WILL: Keep moving. If you keep moving, you’re not going to stake too much in any particular piece. When I see artists and their work I’m always heartened and excited when they have personal work to show. Particularly if it’s personal work they worked on after they finished school. Because there’s just no way that you’re going to get really good unless you do a lot of work. And unless you practice. And you’re not going to practice unless you have the passion for it.
BLAKE: After your short and Spy Groove, what kind of animation work came next?
WILL: I worked in children’s television after that. Different places. I worked at WordWorld. I worked at Crank Yankers. I worked at Animation Collective on shows like Speed Racer:The Next Generation and Kappa Mikey. Eventually, there came a time when I felt the need to hang up my own shingle and work independently.
BLAKE: What was the name of your new venture?
WILL: That was Homebaked Films.
BLAKE: And what was the company’s initial vision?
WILL: I don’t think there was an initial vision. We did different little things. I remember making a short film about Madonna for a pilot that had been ordered by A&E. But I don’t think at the time I had a niche to work in. And that’s problematic. So I started collaborating with some of the artists that are in the studio today and just kind of digging into this specialty which was the Explainer Video.
BLAKE: Since Explainer Videos are a relatively new concept, what was the state of these films like back then?
WILL: At the time (and even now to some extent), it wasn’t treated as a high production quality kind of thing. The videos were very simplistic, done with puppet animation. To me, the value of explaining what you do and why you do it critical. So I felt like I could really make an impact in this area. In terms of technique, one of the things that set us apart from the very beginning was we used a more time-intensive process that delivered results that just looked better. And that commitment to quality is something we still adhere to on a daily basis.
BLAKE: When did you go from Homebaked Films to IdeaRocket?
WILL: Towards the end of 2011, we started the rebranding process. And it was just because, frankly, our work wasn’t home-baked any more. So we needed a name that sort of reflected what we do and what we hope to do for our clients: which is take their message and relay it an audience of their choosing in an exciting and compelling manner.
BLAKE: Having now found your specialty and establishing a strong reputation, where do you see IdeaRocket going in the coming years.
WILL: I can tell you very specifically, in 10 years, where I hope to be. This will be the first time that we really talk about it publicly but I’m excited to lay it out. The plan is basically that, over the next ten years, I’d like to give 1/3 of the company to our employees. And then when I retire (in about 10-15 years), the vision is to have the employees purchase the remaining 2/3 so that eventually IdeaRocket becomes a completely employee-owned company. In the creative services industry, I think it’s it’s talent that really makes a company and I just think it needs to be rewarded. I think it’s one of the things that makes IdeaRocket different and it’s certainly one of the things that excites me. And when this comes to pass, I’d like to leave the employees an enterprise-size company. Meaning a company with around 50 employees and it would be nice if it was a little bit more geographically distributed; some offices in other cities or other countries. And I’d like us to be broadening our services to more techniques and perhaps even live action in an effort to continue serving companies big and small.
BLAKE: My last question is about after that happens. Once the torch has been passed, what does a fantasy retirement look like for you? On a beach in the middle of nowhere?
WILL: To tell you the truth, I do love to travel. But I’d kind of like to write the blog for IdeaRocket, frankly. I think it would be neat to continue thinking about the business and continue speaking to customers and speaking to employees. So I’d still like to have a leadership role here, but just be a more hands off leader. I guess, in a way, my highest aspiration is to be dispensable.
BLAKE: That’s a good goal.
WILL: That’s what I hope for…
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