Marketing employees open own computer-generated motion graphics business

June 8, 2009

The entryway decor of The Basement Design and Motion would have earned a previous occupant of the former Fort Benjamin Harrison offices a Section 8 psych exam.

A painting of a skull-like creature with jagged-edge jaw hovers in a psychedelic backdrop of a basement.

"I like the idea of these little basement dwellers," said Artistic Director Brian Phillips, noting that basement workshops are where many hone their craft.

The 1-1/2-year-old company hopes to grab a share of the market for computer-generated motion graphics for Web and television. The Basement has already produced work for big names such as Kentucky Fried Chicken and Roche Diagnostics.

Phillips and The Basement's other two principals started the firm after leaving Carmel-based Media Sauce, a marketing and advertising company specializing in storytelling using animation and video.

Unlike their previous employer, they typically work for the advertising and public relations firms that represent end users.

The strategy eliminates the distraction of having to maintain a client relationship, allowing the 11-person firm to focus on its computer-generated work, said Jacob Leffler, president of The Basement.

Much of the firm's work is based on a sophisticated application of Adobe Flash. Digital media, such as Internet Protocol TV, or IPTV, increasingly is the feed for digital signs or mobile video devices. Whatever the protocol of the future, it's clear that TV and computer are merging.

"As this continues to melt together, we feel we're well-positioned to take advantage of that," Leffler said.

"Very few companies have skill in interactive and computer-generated motion graphics. We have both," said Kelli McLemore, another principal of The Basement.

It would appear to be a smart capability, despite what was a rough early start for Flash.

A few years ago, Flash-based animations were cursed for their time to load and for otherwise aggravating a Web visit. Part of the problem was relatively low broadband penetration, which delayed loading time. But broadband is more prevalent, video compression techniques are better, and users' computers more capable of handling video, said Michael Bloxham, director of insight and research at the Center for Media Design at Ball State University.

"The Web is becoming more tele-visual in nature," he said. "It's becoming more the norm. People, whether they know it or not, almost expect it. "

At the same time, the television is now digital and more interactive, whether it's the digital video recorder or the Blu-ray disc player that can pull up supplemental content on a show or movie.

Besides mastering the technology, what also wins business is creativity. Inspiration here includes a bookcase of toy robots. Just beyond, employees who look like they were abducted from a college computer lab are busy at work on Flash animation projects.

Perhaps the biggest break was an online video game The Basement produced for a Kentucky Fried Chicken "Guitar Hero" promotion. It allows visitors to steer a rock star over a throng of adoring fans (www. surfthecrowds.com). For the KFC job, the agency worked with Louisville-based ad firm Creative Alliance.

The Basement is to collect an award for the work from the American Advertising Federation at its national "Addy" awards June 6.

Other notable jobs included designing an interactive patient Web site for Transitions Optical, maker of self-darkening eyeglass lenses. Working for Indianapolis Internet marketing firm Brandwidth, The Basement's animation builds a pair of eyeglasses based on how visitors answer questions (www. eyeglassesguide.com).

More recognizable locally is a television commercial The Basement created for ad agency Publicis, which represents Conner Prairie. The animation shows a butterfly gliding across a prairie, with historical characters coming to life.

Approaching its second anniversary, The Basement reports revenue of just under $1 million.

Phillips, who sits on an advisory board of the Indiana University School of Informatics, said one of his next goals is to create a short film. It would help polish The Basement's production expertise and, he hopes, establish some wider national credibility.

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