At Digital Kitchen, live action is on an equal plane with editorial, effects and design. Crediting directors for its work is somewhat problematic; neither the reel nor the web even lists directors. About all Matthaeus will say is that, "technically the directors are me and the senior designers, but the responsibility isn't seated in one individual. All of us collaborate on visualizing the shoot, so we can impart the vision to the DP, and then it's about execution, rather than traditional on-set directorial craft."
The Kitchen began humbly, in a 20-foot-square storage space within the offices of Matthaeus' Seattle ad agency, Matthaeus Halverson. After 15 years in the agency world, he sold off his share of the agency (since absorbed into Interpublic) in 1998 to devote all of his attention to electronic cuisine. He expanded to Chicago in 2000, when Don McNeill, formerly an executive producer at O&M/Chicago and now DK's president and executive producer, suggested that the local agency community could provide the critical mass to launch a Chicago studio. He was right, but Chicago agencies provide only about half that studio's work, though it's far more than the Seattle shops have ever been worth. In any case, collaboration is nearly constant between Seattle and Chicago. "Digital Kitchen was the company I was looking for when I was at O&M," says McNeill who typically worked on O&M motion graphics projects with outfits like Imaginary Forces, V12 and the late Pittard Sullivan. Neither man is eager to open in L.A. "There's a certain advantage to operating outside the company town," says Matthaeus. "We do a lot of car work, and we're probably better off staying out of Detroit, too. This way, we don't hear the unwritten rules."
Spots for big-budget clients like Audi, Infiniti, Ford, Toyota, Nike and Reebok may be the bread and butter for now, but the Kitchen's best-known productions lately have been the opening titles for some highly rated HBO series, including the Emmy-winning sequence for Six Feet Under as well as Sex & the City. As the success of HBO seems to point to the future of TV, Matthaeus and McNeill believe the 30-second format is ultimately doomed, to be replaced by what they call Brand Theater - something akin to the BMW Films project - produced with the Kitchen's usual mix of live action, effects and design. So far, they've delivered two productions for Microsoft, including one used by Bill Gates as part of his personal presentation at the Consumer Electronics Show for the SPOT watch. A project for a major national retailer is nearly finished, as well as a piece for Nike, intended for all the techno-jocks, that dramatizes its R&D process. Those have more conventional marketing objectives, but Matthaeus also believes the Six Feet titles to be a slice of Brand Theater. "It's a seamless, evocative work of art that perfectly brands the unique emotional space of the show that follows," he says.