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The Orphanage, 6 Questions

by Ami Kealoha in Culture on 06 September 2005

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I know I've got California on the line when Orphanage cofounder Scott Stewart and founding member Dav Rauch volunteer their astrological signs (Cancer and Taurus, respectively) within minutes into the conversation. At the crossroads of design and technology, San Francisco was a natural birthplace for the Emmy-nominated effects company where Rauch (pictured, right) continues to design and direct in their Presidio Park offices (soon to be the home of George Lucas' headquarters as well). Stewart (pictured, left), a producer, writer, and director, focuses more on live action production at their sister outpost in Hollywood. Also known for their Magic Bullet software that lends a film look to video, keep an eye out for more visual stunners in the team's upcoming Dr. Pepper and X-box commercials. Here Rauch and Stewart fill us in on the virtues of working with talented people, the DV revolution, and learning to surf. Welcome to part VI of our lead-up to the Semi-Permanent design conference.

How did you get here? Scott: I grew up in San Francisco.

Dav: And I grew up in Southern California. We swapped. I come from a surfing background and he's coming into surfing. Have you stood up?

Scott: I have, when I went out to Malibu. Three years ago we opened our LA office. It was important for all aspects, the effects services side and the original production side, to have a presence in LA. In the beginning, six years ago, there were just two of us in a studio apartment in San Francisco. Now we have like 160 people.

We were a group of artists at Industrial Light and Magic, George Lucas' effects company, doing the summer blockbusters and at same time busy making our own shorts and stuff. We were pioneering the use of desktops to do high-end work. It gave us the idea that we could go off on our own and have a very modest version of what we were doing at Lucas.

Dav: I got to know Scott through some side projects. I was freelancing, doing more editorial design in San Francisco. We came to be friends and then when the company got started I hopped on board.

Scott: It was part of the spirit of what we were trying to do, taking friends who were talented and charting out the company around ideas what we wanted to do. Dav was someone that we saw had an amazing, amazing design sensibility and they way he used the tools was different.

Scott: When we first started, because the scene was burgeoning, we were sharing our first office with RES magazine and the RES film festival. We had half and they had the other half of a one-room space. It was '99 or 2002, at the beginning of what we felt to be really big sea change in the movie business. People were making movies released in theaters with consumer video cameras they bought at Good Guys. It was exciting and very strong in San Francisco.

Dav: Because the effects industry has a strong hold here, it starts to attract lots of talented people. It's strong because it's small. In LA everything everywhere is film. Here, [in San Francisco], it's not quite like that. It's a little tighter. It's incestuous in a certain way. It's really small, but it's great because there're so many people up here who are really doing it right. The Bay Area is really eccentric, so is LA, and so is New York. The industry is full of a lot of weirdoes. As they get smarter they get weirder as well.

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What are you doing now? Scott: We just finished working on Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire and Aeon Flux with Charlize Theron. We did visual effects, digital environments, and effects animation.

Griffin and Phoenix, a romantic comedy with Amanda Peet and Dermot Mulroney, is in pre-production and starts shooting in New York this fall. It's an Orphanage/Blumhouse production and it's co–financed by Gold Circle, which did My Big Fat Greek Wedding and White Noise. It's our first feature of note. There's also some slated to go late in the year and early next year.

Dav: Just yesterday I finished a commercial for Fox Sports, which featured a blooming football. Before that was Trippin', [MTV's eco-travel show with Cameron Diaz,] which was a really fun project. I'm constantly looking for opportunities to get out of computers, to get my hands a little bit dirty. I pitched it as a stop motion piece, which means no redoes. Once it's shot, it's shot. It got out of control just a little bit.

Scott: For us [HD] is great. We love film, but it's about getting your vision on screen in the best way you can. Most recently, we did The Adventures of Shark Boy & Lava Girl in 3-D (pictured, below right). We did 600 plus visual effects for Sin City (pictured, above left), literally a third of the movie. Robert Rodriguez likes the elasticity of the medium and we definitely share a lot of that, sort of creatively speaking, in terms of how we make our pictures. But we use both. The last commercial I shot was with Super 35. It depends on the aesthetic.

Dav: Scott's right. In the end it's all about the story. We love anything that makes it cheaper to make films and get them out there.

What are your current obsessions? Dav: I've been working on my house.

Scott: He's never not working on his house.

Dav: I tried to hire an architect, but it wasn't working. So I used tools we use for visual effects and I gave it to the engineer and now they're building it before my eyes. I'm starting to work with a friend, Sarah Jane Lapp, on a cell animation piece. For years we've kind of been punching ideas around.

Otherwise, I'm involved in this organization, Design Films, which combines two favorites, design and film. We have a new program that we're touring, Typography 2005, which looks at the typography in titles. We tour one to two programs per year.

Scott: What did you think of the titles in Napoleon Dynamite?

Dav: Those are the best kind, the ones you can do with ingredients from your kitchen. I love those. I also loved the ones in Hollow Man; they're really simple and have kind of stuck in my brain. Office Killer has been on my brain recently too. I loved Panic Room's titles as a kind of homage to North by Northwest.

Scott: I’m listening to Sufjan Stevens and the new Fruit Bats. I just finished reading Dave McCullough's 1776, which is amazing. Now I’m reading his book on John Adams. I'm obsessed. There’s reason why his books are all best sellers. It's like a good fiction story, but you know it's true.

What's next? Scott: We have a new and exciting business that we’re going to be announcing in October. It's related and complimentary to the business now. It extends the brand into a new area. It's on the original production side and we're very excited, but that's all I can really say about it right now. Dav: One thing we haven't been involved in at all is the video game thing. It scares me. With video games and film, the trains are about to collide and it will be really interesting to see how it unfolds.

Scott: Video games are an area that we weren't really interested in, but they're becoming so sophisticated that movies don’t need to be dumbed down for video games to run them. There's so much synergy that it's almost inevitable.

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Any advice? Dav: I think that this is so dumb, but I think that it's best to do what you love doing. That’s how The Orphanage was born, from really wanting to do what we love with people who do it well and, of course, wanting to make a living too.

Scott: That’s true. I don’t think I'd be able to say it any better. It has to be process-oriented rather that focusing on accolades or results in the end. You have to b a marathon runner and not a sprinter. You have to love what you do. It's important to set pretty lofty goals and try to meet them.

During the talk in New York [at Semi-Permanent] we'll be talking about creative aspects, challenges, the stuff we've done. I’ll be talking about building a business from two people to hundreds. There're a lot of pitfalls along the way. The best advice is just to surround yourself with people who are better than you, who know more that you do.

Dav: And try not to be intimidated along the way.

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