Episode 339 — Perception — Co-Founders Jeremy Lasky & Danny Gonzalez
Episode 339 — Perception – Co-Founders Jeremy Lasky & Danny Gonzalez
Perception is an Emmy nominated design lab pioneering the visionary process of Science Fiction Thinking to architect the future. They divide their time equally between the parallel worlds of science-fiction—working with trailblazing filmmakers and science-fact—collaborating with the world’s most innovative technology brands.
Drawing upon their vast experience of conceptualizing and developing future tech for the biggest sci fi blockbusters of the last decade, they’re able to inspire and guide the most cutting edge tech leaders across the globe. Using Science Fiction Prototyping, they create futuristic, forward looking experiences that look and feel as authentic as possible in order to open the minds of corporate leadership and stakeholders to the wondrous potential of what their technology is truly capable of.
The list of titles that Perception has worked on includes: Black Widow, Spider-Man: Far from Home, Black Panther, Thor Ragnarok, Captain America, Iron Man 2, The Avengers, and many more.
In this Podcast, Perception Co-Founders Jeremy Lasky and Danny Gonzalez talk about their growth from a startup (21 years ago) to becoming a frequent collaborator of Marvel, as well as the influence of their concepts on today’s technology.
Perception VFX: http://experienceperception.com/team.html
Perception in the Wall Street Journal: https://www.wsj.com/articles/car-designers-take-cues-from-scifi-flicks-1479301203
[02:43] Perception Co-Founders Danny Gonzalez and Jeremy Lasky Talk About Starting Out
[17:54] Rejection as Part of Growth
[22:18] Jeremy and Danny Remember Starting Perception
[30:16] Perception’s Collaboration with Marvel
[40:19] Finding Inspiration for Futuristic Concepts and Marvel Technology
[47:47] Perception’s Influence on Current Technology
[55:17] The Company’s Creative Process
EPISODE 339 — PERCEPTION — CO-FOUNDERS JEREMY LASKY & Danny Gonzalez
This is Allan McKay. Welcome to Episode 339!
I’m sitting down with the guys at Perception to talk about all the amazing work they have done on: Black Widow, Spider-Man: Far from Home, Black Panther, Captain America, Iron Man 2, The Avengers – and so much more! I’m super excited to Jeremy Lasky and Danny Gonzalez about their work and their starting Perception.
Let’s dive in!
FIRST THINGS FIRST:
[01:10] Have you ever sent in your reel and wondered why you didn’t get the callback or what the reason was you didn’t get the job? Over the past 20 years of working for studios like ILM, Blur Studio, Ubisoft, I’ve built hundreds of teams and hired hundreds of artists — and reviewed thousands of reels! That’s why I decided to write The Ultimate Demo Reel Guide from the perspective of someone who actually does the hiring. You can get this book for free right now at www.allanmckay.com/myreel!
[1:02:40] One of the biggest problems we face as artists is figuring out how much we’re worth. I’ve put together a website. Check it out: www.VFXRates.com! This is a chance for you to put in your level of experience, your discipline, your location — and it will give you an accurate idea what you and everyone else in your discipline should be charging. Check it out: www.VFXRates.com!
INTERVIEW WITH PERCEPTION CO-FOUNDERS JEREMY LASKY & Danny Gonzalez
[02:45] Allan: Thanks so much for taking the time to chat. Do you want to quickly introduce yourself?
Danny: I’m Danny Gonzalez. I’m the Co-Founder of Perception.
Jeremy: And I’m Jeremy Lasky, the other Co-Founder of Perception.
[02:53] Allan: Awesome! I’d love to just chat a little bit about how you got started. I’m always fascinated with this topic just because everyone’s got their own story. So I guess for you, Danny, how did you first break in the film? And did you always see yourself in more of a creative role growing up?
Danny: Yeah. I kind of broke into film or motion graphics when I started at R/GA, where Jeremy and I actually met. We did a lot of commercials, broadcasts. They did film there, too. And that was one of the reasons that I was attracted to that place. But before I got into that, I was a comic book fanatic growing up. I always tried to draw a Wolverine as many times as I could, trying to copy all the comic book poses and things like that.
[03:46] Allan: You and me both!
Danny: My mom probably doesn’t want to hear this right now, but I did a lot of graffiti growing up as well, in places where I shouldn’t have been doing it. I had to get my creative juices out somehow. So between graffiti and DJ-ing at a lot of the clubs in New York City is how I got my kind of creative release. From there, when it came time to go to college, I went to St. John’s in Queens, where I was born and raised. I was supposed to take over my father’s restaurant business, which is why I went to St. John’s. (My father was straight off the boat from Spain.) And he said, “You don’t need to go to any college. I’m going to teach you the ropes. You’re going to go to the same college your sisters went to because I get a discount since you’re the third kid.” So I went there. I was like, okay, my dad will teach me, and then I’ll just have a restaurant for the rest of my life.
But interestingly enough, I needed a couple of credits to graduate. At St. John’s, there was no motion graphics or any type of design courses. They did have this editing class, in which we actually edited old M*A*S*H episodes. Basically, they offered this special effects class. I took it because I needed the credits to graduate, and I loved it. I did stop motion. We learned a little bit of everything. It was a blast! One of the other reasons why I took it is because it was on Friday nights at [6:00], and we’d go to 9:00 p.m.. And it was perfect because my gigs at DJ-ing started at, like, [10:00] or 11:00 p.m.
And then after that, at the time, I was dating somebody who is now my wife. She actually knew somebody whose son worked at R/GA. And then that’s how I ended up getting the job at R/GA. I worked freelance at a couple of places, but nothing was like R/GA, and that ultimately became my University of visual effects.
[06:13] Allan: Jeremy, same for you. What was your background leading up to breaking the film?
Jeremy: How far back do you want me to go? I grew up in a very creative household. My dad was an art teacher in Brooklyn. I grew up in Coney Island, and my dad taught high school art for 30 years. My mom was also very creative. She was into interior design, and they both went to Pratt Institute. That’s where they met. So I grew up drawing and doing artistic things pretty much as early as I can remember. So as a kid, I used to sit in on my dad’s classes. He did a Saturday morning workshop. And I would draw with his high school students at, like, 8, 9, 10 years old, learning perspective and figure drawing. I was lucky to have those types of opportunities and exposures. And everybody used to say to me, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” They always ask a young kid, and I knew I loved drawing. But you can’t grow up and just draw. So back then, everybody said “Well, you either teach art or you become an architect.” There were not really many other things well known. But all I knew was I wanted to draw. So I guess I’d be an architect because I did not want to teach like my dad. I know he always wished that he could have done more, even though I feel like he was very successful. But it kind of pushed me away from teaching.
So when I got time to apply to college, I applied to all the best architecture schools: Cornell, Carnegie Mellon, Rice. I made all of them, but I ended up going to Carnegie Mellon. They gave me the best deal. To be honest, they gave me an amazing scholarship, so that made the decision for me. But when I got there, I was unsure of it. I was unsure of the decision. Everybody around me seemed completely dedicated and focused and committed to being an architect. And at this point, if you weren’t 100% in, then you shouldn’t be there. I mean, architecture schools are that intense. You’re living and breathing in your studio 24/7. There’s no life for an architecture student, a five year program in most schools.
And even some people along the way have told me, “Maybe this isn’t for you.” I was there and I knew that I wasn’t 100%. So I started considering graphic design. The school had a great program in graphic design. I skipped over my whole high school career, so I don’t want to get too deep into it. But during high school, I got really involved in computers and desktop publishing. I got a Mac when I was 13 with my Bar Mitzvah money. But I just loved that computer! I learned matte paint and Mac Draw and SuperPaint, and then eventually PageMaker. I got so into it!
In high school I was using the Mac to do school flyers. I did a magazine for the school and PageMaker, and then later QuarkXPress; and I was doing logos for local businesses. So all that was kind of going on on the side. But in the meantime, I have made this decision to go into architecture school as a kid, and I kind of never veered from that. So then cut back to Carnegie Mellon: I don’t want to be an architect anymore. I really should’ve listened to this graphic design voice that was building in my head the last few years!
I was able to transfer into the program there at CMU, although I had to start over as a freshman. So my first year at CMU, I was an architect. My second year, I was a graphic design major, but I was in a classroom filled with recent high school graduates. So I never really fit in with the other kids in my class because they were always a year younger than me. And the next few years I basically was bouncing around different classes with different levels of students, from freshmen to juniors to seniors to sophomores. I was all over the place because I really wanted to complete the program in 3 years. It took a lot of convincing and meetings to show [the faculty] that I could actually satisfy the major if I overload myself with all these other electives.
I did an independent study with a professor who had an archive of title sequences. There were all these VHS tapes he had in a drawer, and he showed me the great work of Saul Bass. He showed me this archive he had of all the great James Bond title sequences, To Kill a Mockingbird title sequence, which is one of the classics and many others. And it sort of opened my eyes to this possibility of marrying graphic design with filmmaking. And the other tape that he showed me was a company in New York called R/GA. And the first thing that opened that reel was the Superman titles from 1978, in which they invented a whole new technology of optical printing to achieve the effect of the flying letters. And it was amazing! It’s one of my favorite title sequences ever, even 40-some years later. So something kind of went off in my head when I saw all these title sequences and especially the R/GA one. Of course, all their work spans the 80s and 90s with Alien and Untouchables, and True Lies and all these incredible sequences. And I thought, “Man, I think I want to go in that direction.” What’s really interesting and unique about graphic design is that with typography and composition and layout, you marry that with motion and filmmaking, and camera angles, and framing, and depth. And that was it!
My senior year, I made my dream list of companies that I wanted to work for. The number one company on that list was Saul Bass’s company. I got a rejection letter back from him within a couple of weeks, which I still have – and I treasure it. He’s such a legend and an icon! And then our R/GA. But I didn’t actually apply there right away. I had a whole list of graphic design studios in New York that I wanted to build up some confidence with first. At that time, there were no websites. I’m not sending links out in an email. It was actually a box I made with my work printed and mounted, and it was a whole thing. And I would walk around New York for the first few weeks out of College, door to door. I knocked on the doors of all these incredible graphic design firms that I idolized as a student and dropped off my book. And if there was interest, they would call you back and talk to you about what opportunities are available; and if there was no interest, you come back the next day and you pick it up. And I did that over and over and over again in the summer of ‘95 in like. And I was waiting on this R/GA thing. And finally I kind of got to this point where I had so many rejections and doors in my face that I figured, “Alright! I’m going to give R/GA a shot. If that doesn’t pan out, maybe it’s just bad timing.”
So I get to R/GA, and I walk in there with my portfolio and the receptionist asks me, “Did they call you to bring in your book?” And I had no idea what she was talking about. But I said, “Yeah, they did.” I just didn’t care anymore. And so she took it. Little did I know that R/GA had put an ad in the New York Times jobs section. That’s where people went for work. This was the old days, guys. They got a flurry of resumes. I was never called. I didn’t send in my resume but they liked my portfolio enough. I had an interview the next day, and I was hired a week or two late. And that’s where I met Danny, and I spent 5.5 years there doing some incredible work, learning everything on the job. At R/GA, I learned how to make everything move and how to make everything come to life; and I got to collaborate with Danny and his team on making things work in a broadcast setting for television. All this stuff was so foreign to me, but we both learned it there. We got better and better at it. We did a ton of commercials, a lot of broadcast work, and a couple of films.
[17:54] Allan: What are your thoughts on whether going through the dance of applying and getting rejected 100 times was a bit of a superpower, where you become desensitized to the rejection? You’re willing to just essentially do whatever it takes to get the job, rather than trying to do what you had been doing, which might not have been as effective.
Jeremy: These are the things that just make you grow and they toughen you up, especially at a young age. It certainly shaped me. [19:11] I’m no stranger to rejection and hearing the word no and getting doors slammed in my face. It doesn’t phase me. It rolls right off me, because that’s part of the process. That’s part of the road to success. If you just went from college to getting hired and everything worked out great – something’s wrong with that. I do believe in paying your dues for sure. All those formative years were really helpful in building the person I became, and building character. And it certainly helped when it came time to launch Perception because that’s the biggest risk I ever took in my life and took the most guts. And also it took the most amount of willingness to accept rejection. And we still hear no, it never stops. You never graduate to a point where everything is always a green light. And it’s something we’re both very used to. It’s part of it.
Danny: I think it’s also something that our parents instilled in us. Also being native New Yorkers – Jeremy being from Coney Island and me being from Queens – there’s already an intensity and a passion for the two of us. I thought I was intense, but when I met Jeremy, I was like, “Wow, this guy is really intense!” So the two of us together make like a very, very combustible mixture when it comes to people saying no. Onto the next one! It’s just not nonstop.
[20:56] Allan: A lot of people tend to be so afraid they’re going to get a no, that they never want to put themselves in the situation. They’re too afraid to try in the first place. And that’s the one thing that’s always stuck with me: You want to get to a no as quickly as you can while negotiating. It’s not necessarily that a hard no means the conversation is over. You have to talk about what it is that both parties want. If anything, it really kind of helps fast forward the conversation a little bit.
Jeremy: When it comes down to just being able to make a decision based on whatever answer anybody gives you – whether it’s a yes or a no – at least, you’re onto the next step. Boom! If it’s a no, the next step is to find somebody who says yes. If it’s a yes, then okay! Now I’ve got to figure out how I’m going to do whatever it is. In the 20 years of having Perception, we’ve made some pretty bad decisions. But we’ve also made some great decisions! You learn from the bad ones just to make the good decisions that much better.
[22:18] Allan: When did you see the writing on the wall that you wanted to go off and do your own thing? And was there a really clear plan [because] you saw a hole in the market that you guys wanted to fill? What was your initial drive for that?
Jeremy: We were both pretty happy at R/GA. For the most part, we both felt pretty honored to be there. It was such a special place, and it was a tiny place compared to the size they are now. But we were kind of part of this select group, this kind of elite company, and we were doing the most amazing work. No one else in New York was doing this type of work at the time! So if they hadn’t closed the division that the two of us were working in, we might not have started Perception. It was one of those things that was the motivation and really lit the fire. And I tell this to people all the time. If I ever talk to anyone who’s just recently been laid off or lost their job for whatever reason, oftentimes, you don’t know it at that moment, but it is the best thing that ever happens to you. And in my case, it was the motivation to start Perception.
It was one of those times where I was very comfortable. And in a way, we called it the golden handcuffs. It was a great situation, obviously, a steady paycheck. [When] you start a company, what you don’t get – is a steady paycheck. So to go from that and then just on your own, I don’t know if that’s something I ever would have done. I wanted to try something else, and I always had an entrepreneurial spirit to me. And in college, I ended up minoring in business because somewhere in the back of my head, I thought, “Maybe someday, I’ll try to start my own thing, or run my own business, or run my own design studio.” But then when I got the job at R/GA. But, yeah, things shifted, and that kind of opened the door to taking that risk.
Danny: The company was small, but everybody that was working there was so super talented. To be able to have a job there as a VFX artist or an art director, a creative director, it was an honor. There are so many talented people in that building alone, let alone across the planet, that could come to New York and work there! But, man! Here I am. I’m walking into [one] room and working on the next Super Bowl commercial. And then I walked out and I just did a cool 3D commercial for a cell phone campaign, or something like that.
Jeremy: What’s interesting about that is that we knew at the time how special it was, but I don’t know if we really understood the power it had until we started Perception. Our opening line – our elevator pitch, if you will, to potential clients or anybody who’d pick up the phone – was: “We’re from R/GA.” And that alone would sometimes actually get them to talk to me or Danny and not hang up, which is an amazing superpower. That really means something, especially in the agency world in New York at that time. It was the cream of the crop.
Danny: There were a lot of people that left R/GA, whether it was because they closed down or even before that started their own company. They were very creative, very talented. But I think it just came down to R/GA deciding to go in a different direction, and we saw the writing on the wall when they said that. But when we decided [to] start Perception, it wasn’t that easy. I mean, I was still part-time at R/GA. I had my first child on the way. I went home and [I was] like, “Hey, hon, I’m going to start this company with Jeremy.” She’s, like, “The guy from Coney Island?” And I’m like, “Yeah, you remember that guy, right?” She’s like, “All right, just make sure it works out because we got a kid coming.” And we had a lot of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for a couple of months, but it ended up turning out alright.
But basically, we had no money. So we had to start this studio called Perception with a Mac laptop. And we rented a little space in a photo retouching studio. The person who owned that was an ex R/GA person.And they gave us the initial money to buy all the machines and the desks, and all that stuff to get us started. And we realized that all these programs, like After Effects and Final Cut were just coming out. And all these things were now making the desktop so powerful that Jeremy and I decided we could do this stuff on the desktop. Coming from R/GA, we worked on Inferno and Flames, Soft Image. It was out of control, this type of technology that R/GA was pumping! And here we are trying to take on the world with a Mac laptop and an Aqua 3G. That’s what we did. And then we would just buy another Mac and then another Mac.
[29:16] Allan: So it’s a lot cheaper than a bunch of SGI’s running Flame or even Soft Image. Once you guys got that momentum with Perception, when did you guys first get on the radar of Marvel?
Danny: I don’t know if we were on their radar, but Marvel was number one on our client hit list. I grew up a Marvel fan. Jeremy is also a Marvel fan, and we just said we’re going to have this client hit list. We’ll try to get as many as we can on this list, and we just kept attacking Marvel, just kept gunning them and gunning them. But at the time, they weren’t really making movies. There were superhero movies coming out like the first, I guess first Spider-Man, X-Men.
[30:20] Allan: I used to hang out with Ang Lee’s son in New York, a long time ago. It’s kind of interesting to see a lot of those films.
Jeremy: Yeah, but our birth coincided with the birth of blockbuster Marvel movies. Up until that point, Marvel fans really didn’t have a cinematic outlet. It was 12 different Batman movies and horrible Superman reboots. And that was it. We’d always think, “Who’d play Professor X in a movie? And who would play Tony Stark in a movie?” That’s what Marvel fans used to talk about. There was a Captain America movie that came out at some point in the ‘90s. It was a Fantastic Four. It certainly didn’t have the budget or the talent behind the camera. These days, it’s a whole other level. So when those films came out, Spider-Man and X-Men, and the Ang Lee movie was in pre-production when Perception started. It was like, “Man, we got to work on one of these title sequences for these movies!” And I know Spider-Man 2 was on the way. And the title sequences for X-Men and Spider-Man were really good. They were done by a company we knew well: really slick, really cool, dazzling, dynamic title sequences! And I thought, “Man, what a dream would that be to get to work on the next Marvel movie title sequence and The Hulk.” Are you kidding me? That’s it for me.
Danny: In case you didn’t know, Jeremy’s favorite character is the Hulk and my favorite character is Wolverine, just in case. But that led to the very first project we got from Marvel after, like, banging on the door and just calling them saying, “Hey, we got some ideas. We got some ideas.” They finally gave us an opportunity. Actually, we went to Marvel to present some ideas for the first Iron Man. And they were like, “Listen, we don’t run these productions. We don’t make the decisions at the time.” But I would hope that we left a Mark. We met with [a Producer] named Jeremy Latcham who, to this day, is a Perception friend. And we owed him a lot for taking a chance on us because he’s the one that introduced us to the team for Iron Man 2, and that changed Perception’s life.
The first Marvel project we got to work on was Hulk Vs. [Wolverine]. And it was just like, what? That’s crazy! Those are our two favorite characters. And here we are. And it’s Wolverine jumping on the Hulk. That’s great! And it was a dream come true until they told us, “Here’s the budget. You got a week.” It was going to take forever to render this HD series. It’s two minutes and we’re going to have to build some 3D. And we didn’t have the time. I think it was literally maybe 2 weeks, a little bit more. But back then, that wasn’t that much time.
So we had to come up with some very clever ways. And this, I think, was part of our upbringing at R/GA. We’re going to shoot some of it. And then we’d build the rest in 3 days because we didn’t have the time. So a lot of it was practical. And we did a lot of color correction. We did a lot of visual effects to make it look 3D, or whatever it was that we needed to do. And it came out great. They had this huge animated DVD division, and that was a title sequence for one of those. And then they loved it so much that they were like, “Hey, you want to do another one? And then another one?” We did a bunch until finally we got this call, “Hey, we’re doing this big wall where Tony Stark introduces his dad at the Stark Expo. And it’s kind of like a broadcast piece.”
And we were known as, like, the broadcast company of doing commercials and network graphics packages. And we were like, “Hell, yeah, we’ll do it!” So when we did it, we came up with a bunch of different designs. We had to design a Stark Expo logo, which was awesome. And then after we delivered that, we were like, “We’re going to send a test of what we think this phone should look like and send it to them.”
Jeremy: We sent this test, which we did on the weekend of this clear glass phone. And we were all really excited about it because we put a lot into it. We designed it, we put sound design into it; we got all these cool effects to make it as believable and slick as possible. And I thought, “Man, as soon as I hit send, the phone is going to ring, and Marvel is going to call us and just get ready.” So I hit send on this thing, and we never heard back from them that day. That week, that month, and then months went by, we never heard back. And then one morning, months later, I woke up to an email which had a bid package waiting for us that they wanted us to take a look at. And I got all kinds of instructions on how to access the materials and very secure top secret file transfers. And in that package, we’re all these incredible scenes with Tony and his workshop, scenes that involved a lot of J.A.R.V.I.S. design scenes in the courtroom with the phone.
There were a ton of different scenes that they wanted us to bid out. So the phone did get their attention. It just took a few months because they were extremely busy people. We went through that process of bidding and this is the very first time we ever put a budget together for a feature film. Certainly one of that caliber and that level. So that was also an experience in figuring out, how do we do this and what do these things cost? What’s the budget on something like this? We called a few people just for advice. What kind of, like, ballpark are we talking about?
Danny: You also got to remember that there’s these two guys that are Marvel fanatics. They send us all these clips, and we’re looking at them to create a bid to tell them how much we think it’s going to be to do. How much will we pay you to let us work on that?
Jeremy: Yeah, but I’m watching it like, “Wait, what?” And then, we just wasted an hour talking about this. We really have to get this bid out. So we’re watching it as fans because we’re getting different clips. They didn’t send us the whole movie. So we kind of like, “We don’t know what’s going on, but this is cool as hell right now just to be able to watch it.” It was like being on a rollercoaster and getting that thrill of when your stomach [drops] as soon as you hit that first drop. And then we had to get back to work and come up with numbers in the budget for this thing.
[38:17] Allan: When you’re initially sending off that pitch for the phone, did that feel like a different type of job than any other job? In other words, you send something in [and say,] “Let’s see what happens.” Was this a little bit like, why hasn’t she called? What did I say wrong? Have I blown it?
Jeremy: Yeah. I think that was definitely some disappointment initially because we put so much into it. But more than anything, this was 7 years of hard work and the rejections [we went through] to get to this point where we did the Stark Expo! But it was a long, long time coming, and we just didn’t want that to be it. We didn’t want it to be our one shot or one run with Marvel. We did this amazing piece in the movie. It’s there forever. And that’s pretty awesome! But we wanted this just to be the beginning. And we wanted there to be more opportunities. We really wanted to show them what we could do. They knew we could do this logo animation. They knew us as a great broadcast design studio. And until that point, that’s all we really had on our reel. But we were capable of so much more.
And that was what that phone test was. Over the many years, we had already been running Perception. Sometimes to win a new client or to win a project that’s a little bit outside of what your portfolio is, you kind of have to show them you can do what they want or what they’re looking for. We didn’t have car commercials on our reel; but if we wanted to do a car commercial, maybe we need to do a little car thing that we send to an agency doing car stuff. They want to see what they’re looking for. There’s an old expression. You get what you got. And as a design studio, you’re just going to get the work that you show the work you’ve already done. And our attempts at the phone was to show them that we had a lot more capabilities than you might see on our reel or on our website. And we could do so much more for you! Give us a chance.
[40:39] Allan: Knowing that Iron Man is a big passion for you guys, how did it all go? While you’re working on that, where did you typically find inspiration and references? Where did you get inspired?
Jeremy: These films are all based on the story and the script, and the acting. We had these scenes of Robert doing his improvisational work on set in his lab, and we’re really just trying to support that as much as possible, really trying to tell the story of what he’s doing with these holograms, and what he’s doing with his hands. And how can we really push that story forward and support the dialogue and the script – and not take away from it? We don’t want to distract the audience from what he’s saying, because these are important moments in the film, especially when he’s trying to solve his Palladium poisoning issue that’s running through his body. There’s a scene where he’s staring at himself in the mirror, in his room, and there’s all kinds of medical data showing the level of Palladium he’s at, which is pretty critical at the time. So that type of stuff, it’s like that’s a key piece of storytelling that we’re telling solely with graphics. There’s no dialogue there. He’s looking at his reflection. He doesn’t look well. And there’s all kinds of information that we design that has to tell and convey that to the audience. So really, I think the number one place the inspiration comes from is the story and is the scene.
What are we trying to do with this scene? And then it comes down to who the character is: who is Tony Stark? What’s the level of his technological sophistication? So that was a huge jumping off point for this film. And obviously, each movie, they want to go beyond what they’ve already done. So what can we take from that? And how can we push it further? There’s also a lot of shared inspiration from different vendors. We didn’t do the whole movie, not by long shot. There were a lot of vendors on that film, so there’s a lot of shared assets, a lot of concept art, a lot of materials that the studio is giving us to play off of. I mean, there’s no shortage of things to get inspired by and figuring out the palettes and the colors. So all that stuff just feeds us.
Danny: We used to use this place that nobody probably ever heard of called “the bookstore” to get inspired. Jeremy and I would sit there a lot. (This is before Iron Man 2.) When we used to get inspiration for projects, we’d go to Barnes and Noble. We’d sit there and sketch stuff that we saw in books. We’d open up architecture books, automotive books. I mean, everything would inspire us to come up with different ideas or transitional moments for a certain piece, whatever it was.
The first time we went out to LA and met with the team at Marvel, and we spoke with them. They’re obviously a talented team. And they [told us], “We don’t want this thing to be too futuristic. Too unbelievable. We want it to be 5-10 years down the line, not 25 years.” So there was always this [direction]: You guys go as far as you can, and then we’re going to kind of direct you how to pull back, or make it a little bit more simple. Now, we know the kind of recipe that they’re looking for. We definitely have a passion, probably more than any other company for the actual characters, because we are the superfans. I always wonder if we actually record ourselves when we get a clip or something from Marvel – and then send it to them. They’d be like, “Man, these guys are just fanatics!” We get all excited. It’s like unwrapping a gift on Christmas morning.
Jeremy: The knowledge of the character from the comics! And we always get inspiration from books. We always go back to them. And Marvel Studios obviously takes a lot of inspiration from the source material. And there’s so much great stuff in there, and that definitely feeds us and inspires us. But again, it’s all going to come back to who this character is. And Tony Stark, knowing his personality, the technology that we create for him had to really be an extension of that. And he’s a little bit (maybe not a little bit) over the top. He’s flashy, right? He shows off a bit. So his technology is going to reflect that, too. A boring Unix terminal for him wouldn’t make sense. That’s not him. It’s something that’s beyond that. And they told us that he’s the modern day digital DaVinci. Think of him as that. So there was a level of artistry that we wanted to convey in his tech that almost felt impressionistic and painterly. It’s his imagination unleashed, and this is like his playground.
So all of these things are really part and parcel to what we created for him and what a lot of other vendors created for him as well. And it just supported who he was. And technology is such a huge part of these characters in all their movies. And it has to be the right tech for the right character. And it has to match just like the dialogue has to match them. And just like their wardrobe has to match them. All these things are so carefully considered, and that’s what brings these characters to life. And that’s what makes them so believable.
[47:47] Allan: In terms of Iron Man 2, how was that received? And how did that change? What’s the trajectory of where you guys were going? Obviously, that’s kind of like one of those dream jobs. From there, what happened?
Danny: Well, everybody always says it’s like, it must be a dream to work on these Marvel projects. It’s like, yes, it’s a dream come true, but it’s a lot of work. It’s a lot of hard work! I mean, there are deadlines that you cannot miss. There’s a huge stress factor to it sometimes. On Iron Man 2, there might have been a time where Jeremy and I stayed at the studio for a week. So there’s that. But as far as being able to be part of a movie like that – and being able to work with a team like Marvel – and then the movie just came out, it did really well! What was even better was the fact that Marvel told us that we did a great job. So we were honored in that regard. And then what we weren’t expecting is that then all of a sudden, all of his technology was getting reviewed by these tech blogs.
Back then, everybody was still kind of reading magazines and things like that. But these tech blogs were getting a little bit more influential in the technology world. And they were reviewing all the technology of Tony Stark. And we were like, hey, that’s Tony’s phone that we designed. Or this is the smart mirror, whatever it was. And all these technology companies like Microsoft and all these big, huge global companies were calling us and saying, “We want you to design our next product as if it was built by Tony Stark.”
And then that started the trajectory of where currently Perception lives in this world of technology, where we’re designing automotive interfaces for next Gen automobiles that are coming out, whether electric or Supercars. We’ve done a ton in the cybersecurity world. We’ve done a bunch of work for Samsung, Microsoft, IBM, Intel. So those are the two realms that perception plays in. It’s the science fiction movie of Marvel. And we do a lot of other movies. But Marvel seems to be the favorites of the group of movies that we work on, and then the technology part of them.
[51:00] Allan: Jeremy, do you want to talk a little bit about Black Panther and your contributions there?
Jeremy: So that was definitely one of the highlights for us. I mean, they’re all incredible experiences, but what was really unique about Black Panther was that we got involved before they even started shooting the film. I got an email from the executive producer asking to be a part of it. And, of course, those are the kinds of emails I dream about! So we got on the phone and they wanted to start talking to us about the technology of Wakanda and sort of brainstorm and consult with us on what kind of really unique technological properties we can bring to Vibranium Wakanda, this incredibly advanced civilization.
Everybody knows the story by now. They have this amazing element Vibranium. But what is it capable of? What are the scientific laws that guide it? What can we create to give it a sort of boundaries and a realm of possibilities that would feel believable and authentic, and not feel magical? So one of the things that we were told was that there’s a lot of sound properties to it. It’s sound based. We were told that they use Vibranium in their weapons. They use Vibranium as communication devices. They use Vibranium, obviously, to create his suit. They use it in their clothing. They use it for transportation. They use it for everything, including medicine. It’s got all these amazing properties.
But how do we create this technological world without making it feel magical? So that led to a whole phase of researching different advanced technologies, and certainly ones within the world of sound and tactics and sound waves. That might be a jumping off point for a lot of these technological challenges that we had to solve for the movie. We discovered some amazing tests being done at the University of Tokyo, where they were using sound waves to levitate styrofoam particles, which was a really big inspiration for us. We, as Marvel fans, had only heard of or seen Vibranium at that point in Captain America. We knew Vibranium as his shield was the most indestructible material nothing could penetrate. It was unbreakable. It kind of had some sound properties. When Thor’s hammer hits him and the first Avengers, it reverberates.
But other than that, we saw Vibranium again in Ultron when he got a Vibranium suit made for himself. The Black Panther made his first appearance in Civil War. So we saw the suit there, but it was pretty much a blank canvas is what I’m getting at. And the only other directive that we got from Marvel is like, “Until this point, we had seen Tony Stark’s technology. That was the top of the food chain.” So how do we go beyond Tony Stark and the people in Wakanda? Their technology is light years ahead of his. That’s all kinds of stuff to unpack! All kinds of stuff to figure out. They do have holograms, but it shouldn’t look like Tony Stark’s holograms. So we came up with this idea of using the Vibranium and the sand particles and levitating it to create all these really amazing holographic forms.
The sound properties were really interesting when we were researching cymatics, which, of course, is when you take a platter and you run sound through it or sound waves or play music. And the sand creates some really beautiful geometry and shapes. That idea, and certainly in the title sequence at the end. But there were so many things that we played with in this film that helped inform all of that technology design.
[55:17] Allan: That’s great! If you guys could pick any project in particular, the bird’s-eye view of start to finish, what is that process? Do you guys want to walk through one particular process that comes to mind?
Danny: Sure. I mean, just to continue on the Black Panther project. So in the beginning, they reached out with an email saying, “Hey, can you guys help us with this?”
- We put together a huge technology audit deck that we thought of as a color palette. There were all these different types of technology that some of our clients might be using technology in the future. That was interesting.
- Then there was the research that we found. So we told them, “Let’s just go on this exploratory phase that’ll take, I don’t know, 2 months.
- [Then we] come up with a budget for that, they approve it.We tell them, like, just leave us alone for two weeks. Let us come up with all these different ideas.
- And then together as a team, we can all collaborate and figure out. Okay, that’s a great idea. I should point out, though, that the team Marvel put together this huge Wakandan Bible. That was really the start off point for us to know the guidelines. And I mean, it was just basically the style guide for everything. So we riff off that as far as colors and things like that. So then that two month process was done, then sometimes we would do quick tests.
So if you go to our website (and I’ll do a shameless plug right now: www.experienceperception.com), you can go to the Black Panther case study. It’s all in there. Basically, we went and bought, like, two bags of sand at Home Depot, put in a flat file, and we were moving our hands around just to see how it would react. So we’d be able to mimic those properties in Houdini. And when we’re building the sand simulator. And then the same with the lighting so we could see how the light kind of breaks through. But it doesn’t go all the way through. So we’d do those tests. We’d record our own hands just to show, sometimes motions, sometimes just fill frames. Then they would go off to shoot the movie, which took a little bit. And then they would come back and say, “Okay, here are all the different scenes we have.
Once they gave us all those shots, we started doing all the shots. There’s Shuri’s lab and all her user interfaces; the car seat that she’s sitting on to drive the virtual car that Black Panther is holding onto the top of, all that stuff. I mean, we would plot it out, do the scenes, send them off, make any changes necessary, get them back. And then after that, it was, “We’d love to do a title sequence using those assets.” We actually came up with the ideas and did all the layout and the timing and everything for the prologue. And then another company had to build it because that would have killed our team doing that and the rest of the movie, and the title sequence at the end. But to this day, the title sequence is awesome. It’s one of my favorites! And again, it utilizes the sound and that you could see some of it goes to the beat that’d be coordinated. And it’s just the choreography between the two is so cool. And it just all came from the research that we did.
[1:01:26] Allan: You guys were nominated for an Emmy for best title design or main title design. I’m curious, what is next for you guys? What is the future for the company?
Jeremy: We just want to keep doing what we’re doing. Keep doing great work. Keep growing. This is year 20 for us, actually. So we’re going into year 21 now – which is amazing! We can finally drink. Congratulations to me and Danny! We’re so grateful to be around this long, and to be growing this much, and to continue doing great work. And to have the most talented and amazing people that work with us and build this company right alongside us. And I don’t get into the prediction game. I don’t have a crystal ball. Don’t start doing that stuff! So we just want to keep doing what we’re doing.
[1:02:32] Allan: I appreciate both of you for taking the time to chat. It’s been really awesome.
Jeremy: Yeah. It’s a pleasure. Thanks for having us!
Danny: Yeah. Thanks for having us on!
What’d you think? I hope you enjoyed this Episode. I want to thank both Danny and Jeremy for taking their time to chat. I’d love to have them back on the Podcast!
Please take a second to share this Episode with others.
Next week, I’ll be back with Andrew Orloff, the CEO of Zoic. Until then –
Upload The Productive Artist e-book.
Let's Be Friends
“If only there was more time in the day”
“How do you find the time to get so much done”
“I would learn a new skill.. if I had the time”
For many of us, finding time and energy to do more is one of the hardest things we have. Time is finite and we can either be pro-active with our time, or reactive. Meaning – we are constantly running around, jumping from one thing to another, and never really feeling in control.
Allan specifically wrote this guide, after the thousands of responses he received to his contributions on productivity on his Podcast, as well as articles he’s written on the subject, and interviews he’s given.
Allan has interviewed the New York Times Best Selling Authors David Allen (Getting Things Done) and Laura Vanderkam as well as dozens of other experts on the subject – as well as applying many of his best practices.
So how does someone who runs a studio, manages multiple teams, works in production, shoots, runs a hit Podcast, writes articles, multiple courses and a mentorship and more, manage their day?
Find out, and how YOU can apply this to your work and personal life. Grab the guide (It’s FREE).
Whether you’re in games, film or design this guide is focused on giving you the answers and knowledge to confidently seek out the set-up and hardware you need to get the speed and reliability to create the most jaw-dropping visuals you can create. Without being bogged down by slow hardware, or investing in the wrong areas that ‘cost a fortune’ and don’t really make much of an impact on speed and stability.
Allan goes through how to start TODAY applying many unique approaches to building a successful career, and taking control of your year so far.
Gain access to the free guide, videos and other resources now.
From learning to front load your pay raise, to hosting networking events and positioning you as an authority. Allan goes through many tactics and ways to take control, and make this your BEST YEAR YET!
How much should I charge?
If I ask too much, will I scare them off?
What are the key things that I’m doing wrong?
Money, negotiating, probably two words that build the most tension just at the thought of, other than public speaking.
This guide was designed for Artists – whether you’re a Designer, Illustrator, Matte Painter, Animator, FX, whatever! We all need to get hired for productions, and we all need to get what we’re worth.
But, most of are afraid of missing the mark, and scaring away our employers. Or, just not sure how to even start the conversation. Worse, we’re not sure what we’re actually worth, or we just plain don’t want to be in a tense back and forth negotiation.
Realistically – a good negotiator never needs to haggle, they never have a moment of tension, they never are in an uncomfortable situation. It’s actually very seamless, easy and kind of fun. But, it does require understanding many of the fundamentals that this guide covers in-depth. Negotiating your worth the wrong way can cost you tens of thousands of dollars per year, and it’s the most critical thing we all shouldn’t ignore.
Get the guide now, and never leave money on the table again!