This Friday I was able to visit Flickerlab in new York City which is a media design and production company concerned with 'storytelling for people and planet'.
A Brief History of the USA' in 'Bowling for Columbine'. [image courtesy of Flickerlab]
I was attracted by the outstanding philosophy of Flickerlab and my interest in a company working at the cutting edge of latest media technology to create environmentally and socially responsible content for digital media. During my visit I was interested in the Flickerlab working routine (under the aspect of digital craftsmanship); their current projects and future endeavors as well as motivating forces.
Flickerlab is headed by Harold Moss and Tammy Walters which set up the company in 2000 and merged with the Danish animation company Gonzoft in 2009 creating Flickerlab, LLC.
Flickerlab's services include design of interactive media, technology development, media production and content creation. Their clients encompass the BBC, Michael Moore, Hooked on Phonics, Cartoon Network, Comedy Central, Greenpeace, MTV, or, The United Federation of Teachers, amongst others.
Repower America. [image courtesy of Flickerlab]
The Wildlife Present: Climate Cartoons' for TV2, Denmark. [image courtesy of Flickerlab]
I was talking to Harold Moss of Flickerlab to find out more about how Flickerlab is supporting environmental and social change on several levels.
Firstly, Flickerlab is using the medium itself (ebooks, internet, film etc) to create content which is powerful enough to change perspectives in people's minds. Interesting here is the future potential of ebooks which may be an unprecedented opportunity for providing high quality education for mass audiences.
Secondly, in their own practice the company aims to be as sustainable as possible. So when it comes to production, Flickerlab is emphasizing green industry principles and 'cradle to cradle' design with their business partners. In their own office, electricity is entirely coming from New York's renewable share. Moreover, the consumption of hardware and office supplies is dedicated towards a minimal use of resources.
Thirdly, Harold Moss emphasized that it is important to act as a change agent in every aspect of what you're doing, not necessarily only during your work life.
I agree on that: We can't greenwash in our practices and still live a life like the most resource wasteful consumers. It is about working with and cultivating a new understanding.
During our talk I was interested in the importance of craftsmanship in the practice of Flickerlab a question which stemmed from reading Richard Sennett's 'The Craftsman'. Sennett argues that the 'abuse' of digital tools (his example is CAD as used in architectural design) can create a situation of separated hand and head in which the head is suffering in the sense that it is not any more informed by a creative and learning hand.
So how does a digital animation laboratory answer to this challenge? My visit showed that modern tools are going beyond what Sennett described in his book. There is not necessarily a divide between the hand and the head any more. The drawing pads Flickerlab associates are working on are digital drawing boards and screens at the same time. So the head and the hand are connected again. For sure the tactile sense is a different one and you can erase indefinite iterations but this enhanced interface can be seen almost as new form of paper.
In this aspect it is as well interesting to state that Flickerlab's 'Go Real-time Animation System' employs the human hand to create animations (such as 'The Nelly Nut Show') in real time with a two-hand game controller (see images below).
An interesting aspect came up during the conversation with Harold Moss. There may be other means than drawing for establishing the creative relationship between head and hand. Inside the Flickerlab are some devices which make that possible. Toys are located on the main meeting table (image) or books used to represent the concepts for ebooks.
We were as well talking about how to maintain a good working environment (something of deep interest for a company concerned with social and environmental change) for successfully producing creative solutions(products). Seen as a workshop, the leaders of any creative work environment (working under the regime of deadlines) have to balance the 'conflict between autonomy and authority' as Richard Sennett put it in 'The Craftsman'. This role of the guiding authority may be in the case of Flickerlab represented by the creative director (Harold Moss).
For Flickerlab it is firstly important to work with people who bring in their own strong vision and talent (this is not a guide for your cover letter!). They then try to find out what is in the heads and minds of collaborators and associates to leave certain autonomy open. It was noted by Harold Moss that usually some kind of common language is developing with collaborators Flickerlab worked the most with.
So it is important to sensibly cultivate a climate in your workshop in which people feel free to author, not left alone, can be guided, include their skills and surely also credit for their work. I felt that Flickerlab a very attractive workplace as there is a very professional but fair and relaxed atmosphere.
Inspiration for the environmentally and socially conscious practice of Flickerlab stems as well from two books.
'Cradle to Cradle Design: Remaking the Way We Make Things' by William McDonough and Michael Braungart is a book held up by Flickerlab and a frequently gifted present for business partners and friends.
'Blessed Unrest' by Paul Hawken is a book portraying the worldwide movement for social and environmental change.
Tek Jansen' produced for 'The Colbert Report' [image courtesy of Flickerlab]
You can visit Flickerlab's you tube channel for examples of their work. Warning: Including explicitly hilarious material!
I wish the whole team of Flickerlab a very bright and interesting future and the best luck for their upcoming endeavors.