1st Avenue Machine

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In a bit of clever marketing for itself, CG boutique 1st Avenue Machine made a self-titled short featuring robots in its local stomping grounds, New York's East Village. It may seem like a no-brainer idea, but the point of the film is that the streamlined machines (like the one at left) don't really exist-the integration of real life and computer animation appears so natural. But for the film's director, Arvind Palep-who worked freelance for studios including director Darren Aronofsky's VFX company Amoeba Proteus, and who admits to hiding a sketchbook filled with robot drawings under his math homework as a kid-the decision to break out on his own was the no-brainer. "I was at a point where I couldn't take the big studio environment anymore," says Palep. "I had all these ideas in my head and I had all this freedom at Amoeba. I really had a great chance to express myself there and I could make creative decisions, so it gave me a good sense of being an animation director. I fell in love with that position."

So despite alluring offers from ILM, the young animator decided to team up with Serge Patzak, a producer he met at Amoeba, and the two formed 1st Avenue Machine, where they hope to create work that pushes the boundaries of computer graphics and its integration with live action. "The thing that is exciting for me in working with Arv is that it's not your typical animation company," says Patzak. "That's not what we wanted to create. It's not the typical CG company because his work doesn't look like CG. It's extremely organic and believable. It's going to places visually that were really unavailable a few years ago."

Patzak uses the term "organic" literally in the case of visually stunning and photo-real IDs for Nickelodeon, which feature mold-like growths on the sides of trees that morph into the network's logo. Though robots and plant life are seemingly contradictory aesthetics, they both come from Palep's interest in science and demonstrate versatility. "I was always into science fiction as a kid," Palep says. "But I was never a hardcore geek about it. I was more into the way that things worked. I was more into reading Wired and Discover. I wanted a general Idea of what's going on in science, andthat's what gets my imagination going. Technology and biology and artificial intelligence provoke me visually. I don't want to be all about that in my work, but it's a driving influence in some of my recent projects."

Palep, 25, and Patzak, 26, don't mind being labeled as young and ambitious, but often try to look older in client meetings. Patzak, who grew up in Austria, notes, "It's really a catch-22 in this country. Either you're too young or too old." Either way, they are enthusiastic about the advertising field. "We're excited about the innovation in the commercial world," says Patzak, "and the pressure of selling a product is also the pressure of doing something fresh and exciting. We're excited to be a part of that."

"We've been at various crossroads where we could have gone easier on ourselves," says Palep. "But we'd rather go big or go home."