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Success and Speculative Design with Territory's Marti Romances

By Adam Korenman

Bringing Blockbusters to Life with Stunning UI Design. Territory's Marti Romances talks about growing into a powerhouse by targeting a specific niche.

Hollywood blockbusters exemplify the fantastical. Whether looking a half-century into the future, into a marvelous cinematic universe, or toward a galaxy far, far away, modern films take us just about anywhere. Marti Romances, the Creative Director and Co-Founder of Territory, is responsible for grounding those magical experiences with incredible UI Design.
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Starting as a Combustion artist at a VFX shop, Marti has had a meteoric rise to Creative Director at one of the hottest Motion Design studios on the planet. Though working in a small area of the VFX industry, Territory has grown to more than 100 hundred artists working across London, New York, and San Francisco. And the work they put out? Well...it's pretty dang slick!
Not satisfied with just inventing imaginary technology, Territory has also worked on the bleeding edge of UI, doing actual product design for watches, car interfaces, and more. In this conversation, Marti discusses how he found his way into the high-end of the industry, and how Territory has managed to grow to such a large scale while working in such a specific niche. Whether you're a solo artist or running a studio, there is something to learn. Now grab a bowl of sugary cereal and crank up that volume: It's time to jam out with Marti Romances.

Show Notes

Artists

Studios

Pieces

Resources

Transcript

Joey Korenman:
Marti from Territory Studio, it's awesome to have you on the podcast, man. Thank you so much for doing this right now.
Marti Romances:
Thanks Joey. It's an honor to be here, to be honest.
Joey Korenman:
You're not the first guest to say that and it's still really weird to hear that. So thank you.
Marti Romances:
It is. I think it's just the School of Motion became that standard now, it became such an important part of what a great community this is and the amount of people that you already interviewed here, it's amazing. Some great friends and some people that I really admire. So for me to be here, it's really an honor.
Joey Korenman:
Oh man. I'm blushing. Thank you. That means a lot coming from you. Well enough about me.
Marti Romances:
Okay.
Joey Korenman:
Let's let's talk about you. And I know when I asked my team, if they had any questions for you, they were all really, really excited that we were having you on the podcast because your body of work is awesome. Territory is really well known for doing amazing stuff for really big projects. But I want to first talk about the history of Marti Romances, one of the best names of any guests that we've had on the podcast too.
Joey Korenman:
And I found something. So whenever I have a guest on, I Google stock the hell out of them and I'd go find everything I can possibly find on Google about you. And I found a quote from you saying you started as a combustion artist.
Marti Romances:
That's true, yeah.
Joey Korenman:
And I thought that was fascinating because for a minute, I was a combustion artist back in, I don't know, probably 2004 or something. And it occurred to me that a lot of people listening probably have no idea what we're talking about. What is combustion? So I thought maybe we could start, just explain what combustion is and how you ended up using that tool.
Marti Romances:
Sure. I mean, combustion is an Autodesk software and it was well known as the little baby brother of Flame, which maybe people in the industry know a bit better. It was a VFX driven software used to use for keying and rotoscoping and whatnot. So that's what combustion was because it was discontinued. I don't know the exact year, but a few years back, I think they decided to only use Flame from that point. But yeah, I started as a combustion artist. That was my first job when I was 19.
Joey Korenman:
It's funny because I learned after effects first and then I used combustion when, I think it was when we had to do something that needed motion tracking and the tracker and aftereffects wasn't very good back then. And so the combustion one I think was sort of taken from Flame, so it was excellent, but the software was so confusing to me since they worked in this totally different way. So did you learn that first or did you learn aftereffects first?
Marti Romances:
Yeah, I learned combustion first. To be honest, my degree was multimedia design and you touch on so many different things in a degree like that. You just even touch for being in the radio, producing TV, even coding, creating all sorts of interactive stuff. And it was a bit of everything, multimedia design and sadly, the only Adobe software that they were teaching us were illustrator and Photoshop. At that point, me and the motion graphics industry didn't collide just yet.
Marti Romances:
And in Spain where I'm from, you have to do your professional placement, either at the middle of your degree or at the end. I decided to do it at the middle and I found this great post production house in Barcelona that they were using combustion and in that case, I started doing all sorts of things that facility by just being the runner, taking the time codes of different things.
Marti Romances:
And I had the opportunity to sit down in the combustion workstations and a great, great mentor I had, Carlos, was showing me how the software worked. And at that point, I didn't know about aftereffects and that's where maybe I started diving more into the visual effects and then I ended up using that to create motion graphics, which is something that at that point, even that facility, when they were creating some motion for the films and for the commercials they were doing, they were doing it in Flame, so Flame and combustion was the way to go for them. It was the Autodesk suite in that case.
Joey Korenman:
Yeah. There was a few places in Boston that operated in a similar manner and it seemed like for a combustion artist, there was kind of two directions you could go in, you could graduate into the world of Flame and really focus more on the visual effects side. Or you could step sideways and get into the motion graphics world and really focus on design and animation.
Joey Korenman:
And it seems like you're mostly on that side now, but you still, it seems like on your portfolio, there's a lot of back and forth. It's almost hard to say where visual effects begins and ends with the work that you've done. So I'm curious if was there ever a time where you were thinking, "I really want to be a Flame artist," and was there a moment when that changed and you decided to go more towards the design?
Marti Romances:
Yeah, to be honest, one of my first steps in that post production facility were definitely towards the visual effects, towards compositing and whatnot. And I really loved it and I was doing a variety of things. Again, combustion at that point for me was the only option. But with my friends, we were doing this short film contest where you get some premises and some tips on a Friday from the judge or from the school at that case. And then you have only 48 hours, which it was the weekend, to produce a short film. And then you have to present it on the Monday morning.
Marti Romances:
And at that point, we were just doing visual effects, quick and dirty, whatever we could do. But it was when I wanted to put a title sequence or a nice treaty title animation there where I started realizing, wait, there are graphical elements that they are required in different parts of a film in this case.
Marti Romances:
And at that point, I always being illustration and design was around in my life. And just I have my eyes on pictorial illustrations that people were starting to do with free hand back in the time. And I think both walls have started to merge. And this is where I realized, wait, motion graphics, that covers both of my passions in one. I wasn't a 100% on the compositing only because I've always been very, very design driven. And I think that was when I realized that there was a good mix between all of the graphic design and the compositing and visual effects.
Marti Romances:
There was motion graphics in the middle. And that was when I just said, wait a minute, that's actually what I really want to do. I started doing motion graphics with combustion because again, it was the only option for me in that company. And when I started doing that in that company, they were also designing DVD menus, which was my next step on what I ended up doing for years and all of this DVD menus that we used to have in the DVDs with the scenes and language selection, all of these different screens that they needed to be animated and have transitions.
Marti Romances:
So in a way, that was my first introduction to proper user interfaces and designing and animating for them. So, yeah.
Joey Korenman:
That's really funny because I remember at my first job out of college, I actually, I made a lot of DVD menus and we were still using, I think it was DVD Studio Pro from Apple and you could get pretty fancy with it. If you knew there was some hacks you could do and you could have these black and white mats that you could overlay and then have a color, so you could have different shapes for the buttons and things. It was really fun actually, and a huge pain in the ass.
Joey Korenman:
So it sounds like you recognize that motion graphics gave you a lot more creativity on the design side than going into like a hard VFX situation. But I'm curious, you were working as a combustion artist and there were Flame artists around, and you must have done just some purely visual effects shots. Are there any that stand out that were just especially gnarly and awful and filled with like hours of Rodo or anything like that?
Marti Romances:
Yeah. Well, there's always at the beginning when you don't have the tools, you have to invent a solution in a way and when you don't have... I remember with some of these short films, we didn't have good cameras, good lights. We didn't have green screen. And all of those things that now, when you work professionally, you then have, and I remember shots where we were doing a short film that we wanted to do things underwater, there was a mess.
Marti Romances:
We were doing things the old way, almost like shooting things through some sort of a little aquarium with water in the middle, in between the shot and the camera, just shooting things and just trying to put these things together. It was so funky. But I think what I think that was when we started realizing that if you don't push it, if you do what everyone is doing, which is the safe thing, then you will end up with this ed rope what everyone else is doing and we wanted to be different and that's why we wanted to push it.
Marti Romances:
We were very, very curious on the things that we were discovering with me and my friends and on what you can do with just quick, simple tricks, even just to having two layers and putting one in overlay in premiere and look at these effects. We could use this for that, so it was almost like reverse engineering. How can we use some of these crazy things that we're discovering in our next short film?
Marti Romances:
So it was always complicated shots at that point at the beginning. Everything is complicated, otherwise if it's easy, probably it means you're not learning something new so there's always good stories about those. And even now after years of doing these things, we still find shots that are like madness. I remember we're now working on Fast and Furious 9, but two years ago we were working on Fast and Furious 8 and Ramsey at that point, which is one of the characters have these Afro hair. And you know where I'm going with that, we had to put some of our UI graphics into those background screens and big panels, and that big Afro hair passing through those screens with the green trying to pick up through each hair, things like that, they're complicated.
Marti Romances:
But I think that's the beauty about our industry that when things get challenging, is when we really, really show our worth and why we do this. We don't complain.
Joey Korenman:
God, I love that answer. That was really awesome. So you were making DVD menus and learning the ropes and working with whatever you had. And now if you go on LinkedIn and you look up Marti, you'll find that he is creative director and co-founder of Territory Studios, San Francisco office, which seems like kind of a big deal. So I'm curious, how did you end up at Territory and then how did you end up co-founding one of their offices?
Marti Romances:
Yeah, it's a good story. So after that post production facility in Barcelona, after four years, the first year as I was finishing my degree and also working full time, which in my opinion was the best thing to do at that age. It's like having the professional experience right there was what really, really allowed me to learn way faster and a lot.
Marti Romances:
Activision offered me a job in the UK. I was 23, my English wasn't very good. And I said, "Well, I'm 23, so why not? Let's go on an adventure and see what happens." So I started with Activision doing motion graphics for their games, Guitar Hero and DJ hero. My dad is a musician. I was really into music and all that stuff. So it was also one of these moments where you see two industries colliding.
Marti Romances:
I've been a gamer all my life. There's a DJ Hero game. I DJ and I like electronic music and all of that. And they want me to do what I love with just motion graphics. So I moved there and I stayed there for a couple of years on a project. And then I also did a project with them on Nintendo. At that point, I realized video games are very long projects and I was coming from a visual effects, sort of a design and post production facility that every month or every week, you had different things to do. Different DVD menus, different styles.
Marti Romances:
So I missed that hectic pace. And I started looking around in London. I remember I got some good interviews and good offers from people like The Mill, MPC and Google. And one day, I met this guy who is one of the founders of Territory, David.
Marti Romances:
And he said, "Look, we're not big. We cannot afford probably the salary that they're paying you, but we're just creating something here. We started something, it's very small, but we're looking for an art director and you have experience in games, in films and commercials, we would like to offer you a job." And at that point I said, "Do you go with big offers? And that's it and like big name companies, or you tried with these guys?" And I realized that if I tried with these guys that were starting, I probably could have a bigger voice and a bigger say, rather than these big companies where you pretty much are going to be another cock in the engine.
Marti Romances:
The machinery is already running, they just need more people because they have certain scales versus the small studio that's just getting started and figuring things out. And I think that's why I decided, well, let's join these guys. And it was amazing to see how we were growing the company in London from a few of us to just five years after, we were over 35 people. The company was growing, we were moving into a new office. And at that point, I was heading the creative.
Marti Romances:
David, which is the founder. And so David and Nick, as the original founders, they were both moved more into executive and CEO, managerial positions. Me at the beginning with an art director position, growing up to the creative director, I learned a lot and I just learned how to create teams. We were a little family. It was when we had some opportunities to go in the West Coast to work on some rapid prototyping exercises that we were doing with several big corporates, that we realized that we should be in the West Coast.
Marti Romances:
Most of our clients were already in the West coast. Actually our first client was EA. And then they were in Venice, in Marina Del Ray, LA, and all of the work that we'd done at that point for films was also coming from LA. So it was almost like we knew that this was going to happen one day and we just decided to try it out.
Marti Romances:
So I moved to San Francisco and lots of people say, "Why San Francisco and not LA?" And I can just elaborate a little bit more on that. But at that point, I moved here where I am now four years after, I moved here myself. And just started the company from scratch. No clients, no talent, no location, no nothing. But we already have done so much work in London that we started to have a portfolio.
Marti Romances:
We started to have a name and that point is where, as you start a company and you become part of the company because you're helping them grow, now I'm part of the board with Nick and David. I'm a co-founder, which is like the three of us managing now, a company that is global and that has over 120 people world-wide. So it's just fascinating and this year is our 10th anniversary. So it's fascinating to see how nine years back when I joined them, we were just like that little team, attack team doing a bit of everything.
Marti Romances:
And now we have a global company also with a style, with a voice, something that it's very difficult to create and maintain at the same time, just to have your own style and do something that you can own. I think that's how it happened. That's how the progression...
Marti Romances:
Lots of hard work, of course. But I really enjoy looking back at the trajectory that I took from when I was 19, you start as a runner and you keep progressing just because people see some opportunities and see some talent. And when I was at Activision, I ended up just heading on as an art director on that Nintendo project. I didn't want to, I was an artist. I was just leading the motion graphics team, but you become an art director because the rest of the team are looking at your screen.
Marti Romances:
Then the heads of the studio say, "Well, you are already driving the creative, the vision on that." So it's not that you ask or do you have to ask to be promoted. In my case, it's always been other people telling me, "I think you should now be in this position because people are looking at you as a reference." And the same happened with Territory as an art director, going to creative director, going to the co-founder, just being part of the board and everything.
Marti Romances:
It just happens by osmosis. It happens naturally and organically, and I think that's how it should be for everyone.
Joey Korenman:
Wow. There's a lot of things I want to pull apart here. Let's start with the last thing you were talking about. So I think that's a really fascinating way of describing the process of progressing through your career. I don't know if I've ever heard anyone explain it that way, but I definitely agree with it, but I think there's a part that I want to ask you about.
Joey Korenman:
When you're a junior artist and you're just a sponge trying to learn everything you can, and you keep finding yourselves in these situations where you realize, well, I need to make a decision here. I'm going to step up and make that decision. And then I'm going to show everyone what I did and it was a good decision.
Joey Korenman:
And so then the next time a project comes in, they let you have a little more responsibility. And those types of situations keep happening until all of a sudden you're a co-founder of a big studio, but that doesn't happen to everyone. And there's something about what you did to get where you are that I would like to try and extract it.
Joey Korenman:
If we can sort of peel apart the onion a little bit and figure it out. I've run a studio too. And I know that sometimes artists come in and you can tell that some have this leadership thing that it's really hard to put your finger on what that is, but they have it and some people don't. And they don't want to be leaders and they don't want to run big teams.
Joey Korenman:
So were you aware as this was happening to you as your career was progressing, that you were sticking your neck out and trying to lead and taking chances or did it just seem natural to you, like I'm just doing what I should be doing? Was this a conscious thing? Did you direct it?
Marti Romances:
No, not at all. It's funny how it's only now when I look back and even when I talk with my mom and my mom's like, "Do you remember when you were doing this as a kid, you were always the one just with the marching orders." But myself, I've never intended to become a director or anything like that. I just kept doing what I liked. And I guess, again, by nature, that influence of other people in the room and just people are looking at you and they're asking, "How should I do it?" And then that's where you naturally start becoming that sort of a director.
Marti Romances:
And especially when you are running a business like I do now, you need to understand that if you want to scale a business as well, you will never scale a business that is focused on one person. So you have to be able to start just stepping up to the point where you're now not the cook, you're the chef. And you're telling all of these super good cooks what to do with each of the ingredients.
Marti Romances:
So I always liked that idea. And even when I do things as an artist, because I'm still hands on and whatnot, I still see things with the same process. We need to get there. I think it's now when I look back, when I look at those short films, for example that we were doing on a weekend and I look back and it's like, it's true. I was also the one saying, "We should do this and you should be doing that, now let's get ready and let's shoot this."
Marti Romances:
I wasn't conscious about what was happening back then. I didn't know that meant to be a director in a film or something like that. And I think it's just like, it's more because I don't know, you've seen all the things and you know what works. You have to have seen and experienced everything to be in that position because you have the experience in a way, you've been there before, you know what works and what doesn't. And of course there's always like a taste, right.
Marti Romances:
And there's always someone who will have different tastes, but taste is also something that you craft yourself. And I see a lot with clients, they show me. It's like, "Well, look at these things." Yeah, but we all know that this thing was done five years ago following a tutorial or something and to the client, that looks amazing. But you know better because you have a comparison, you have an element of it to compare it with, because you've been soaking up so much, which is how I always describe as straining your eye.
Marti Romances:
We always started with the same blank canvas if we haven't seen anything. If I look at what I thought was amazing five years ago, probably I will cringe now because I was like, no, I know better now. And I think it's this evolution that puts you also in the position to be able to direct. And as I was saying, I've never requested to be anything. It just happened. And I embraced it and I enjoyed every single step on that journey, which I think it is not done yet.
Marti Romances:
I continue to learn. When I started the office here by myself, I grew up a lot these last four years and growing an office, growing a studio, another family, the same thing that we did in London, you learn other things in other ways, but the passion for design, motion graphics and visual effects is still the common denominator. It's what drives you. I don't know if that answers the question, but it's not that I followed steps knowing what I was going to do or where I was going, it just happened.
Joey Korenman:
Yeah, was there ever moments of imposter syndrome, where you were put in charge of something and secretly you're thinking, "Why the hell did they put me in charge of this?" But you just buried that and went ahead or did you never really feel that?
Marti Romances:
No, I think I had. I think I've been very lucky to the people that I work with in all of these different jobs that I had. That I had never been told ... I mean, I've been told how we should approach it. But they always very much respected my opinion on where I think it should go. And I think we all sometimes get told what to do, how to do it. But I've always challenged it and I always try to do things my way. And I think that's always been the case. I don't know, it's a tricky one.
Joey Korenman:
Yeah. Well, it's interesting. I wanted to ask you because a lot of times when I meet people who are leading teams, running studios, things like that. There's a personality trait that's common amongst leaders in our industry and in any industry. And I'm always trying to pull that out so people can look at it and identify that.
Joey Korenman:
So I also wanted to ask you and you mentioned it briefly. That Territory decided to open a studio on the west coast and you're working with Feature Films, which are based in Los Angeles primarily. And you've got EA based in LA, but you're in San Francisco.
Marti Romances:
Yeah.
Joey Korenman:
Now I don't know if it's still this way, but I think for awhile at least, it was more expensive than Los Angeles.
Marti Romances:
It is, yeah.
Joey Korenman:
Yeah. Why be in San Francisco?
Marti Romances:
Well, it's a good question. I think I got that question quite a lot. I think there were a couple of factors. The main one was, we started working with these sort of a rapid prototyping company here. That they were the ones inviting us to San Francisco because they were the ones also inviting these different sort of ... I wouldn't say corporations. But big brands to rapid prototype and [inaudible 00:02:02], trying to find what's the next thing. What's the next thing for Nike, where they should pivot? What's the next thing for ... another one was like Caterpillar or Cisco?
Marti Romances:
And were doing this week or bi-week interaction with these clients where we ideate very quick. And as creators, we were helping on creating these ideas. Not to a final prototype, but just creating something that looks like, this is how it will look. Which is what we do with the films. Like this technology, this designs. They don't function, they're showing how it should look or how it could look. So we're doing the same, but just by showing quickly in a week or two, like how this new app that Nike is maybe ideated around, could work and could look like. And we really enjoy that.
Marti Romances:
And we saw that there was an opportunity in the Bay area for us to leveraging our design into these type of engagements, that they are not so much in the film and whatnot. At the same time when we decided where to put it, like at that point I was the co founder moving here. So I was a bit biased by the fact that my sister has been living in Berkeley, in the Bay area, for years at that point. I've been visiting San Francisco since I was 17 years old, just to see my nieces grow and everything. So I had an attachment to the city itself.
Marti Romances:
I come from Barcelona, it's a small city. I moved to London where I spent eight years. Which is another big city, but it's like a dense city. And to me, LA, which I visited a lot because of work and all of the films that we do. And the amount of times that we had to go there on set or on post productions and director meetings. It's always been like very, very much like missing that neighborhood style of living. And I love LA. I love going there. But I couldn't see myself living there.
Marti Romances:
And at the same time when I was looking at it from a more strategic point of view on the business and what we do. I felt like ... well, LA is a very saturated market. Let's start with that. It's difficult to stand out. It's not that's what we want to do, we don't want to just necessarily stand out. But we know that if we start in San Francisco and we grow to what we want to grow. Which is what we have in London and we have our boys and people know about us. It will be a bit easier to stand out because there are less studios like us in there. So it's a strategic point of view that I thought it was going to be good. But at the same time, you look at our work on everything that we do for the films and for TVs and even video games. It's very, tech-related. It's always like very futuristic, visualizations is things that trying to imagine what's going to happen in the few years. With holographic technology and all of that.
Marti Romances:
And to me, that was just screaming for Bay area, Silicon Valley, where the new tech, with the boom of innovation is happening. So they were enough boxes being ticked at that point in San Francisco versus LA. And that's how I just decided like, "Okay, well, I think I would like to live here. I think there's also an opportunity for our business here." And that's why. I don't know if it justifies the move. And don't get me wrong, we still have lots of people right now based in LA. After these years, we have like five people in LA. And it's fine. They're more into the executive producers, PR and different key elements that we know that they are very, very useful to us to have there on the ground. But our headquarter for the US at the moment is in San Francisco.
Joey Korenman:
That's really interesting. I love how it was sort of a combo of lifestyle choices and you wanting to be near family. And also looking ahead and thinking, right now, at the time when you moved there, you had all of this business that was based in LA. But looking around kind of reading the tea leaves, you thought in five years, that's going to be an advantage to be in San Francisco. And that's really cool. It's a neat story.
Marti Romances:
Yeah. I mean, it's the same time zone as well. So I'm flying to LA just for a meeting and back the same day very, very often.
Joey Korenman:
Yeah. Well, that's excellent. So I wanted to ask you about something. So just to everyone listening to this, we're recording this on April 2nd and we are right in the middle of the quarantine because of COVID-19. While I try typically not to make these episodes tied to one moment in time, I thought it would just be nuts not to ask you about this. You are a co founder of a company that has over a hundred employees.
Joey Korenman:
And I've heard different things from different people in the industry. Some studios and some artists are busier than ever because productions are actually shutting down. Because that requires people to be close together, physically. And everything's moving to animation and post-production. But then I've heard from studios and artists that have not worked in two weeks and they are not booked. And they're starting to freak out a little bit. So if you're comfortable talking about it, Marti, how has this affected you and your studio and your employees?
Marti Romances:
Sure. First of all, I mean, it affects us, as I was saying at the beginning of this call. I think it affects us, but I feel very, very grateful. We all feel very grateful that what we do is something that we can do with a machine. That we can be confined in a space with a workstation, a server, whatever it is. There's lots of people, sadly, they don't have this opportunity. They don't have this option.
Joey Korenman:
Right.
Marti Romances:
They have to either go to work or lose their jobs. And it's very sad times what's happening. But we all have to adapt. And that's what we did as a company as well. Both London and San Francisco office, they're like all of our office had to move to a remote situation.
Marti Romances:
And the main challenge has been how we can ensure that security is key. We all had to do and we cannot thank enough our IT teams and admin teams to the great, great tasks they had to put on these last weeks. To make sure that we still have been operating as if we were on the studio. The workstations at the studio are the same. We did not move those. The server, the security, the cameras, everything is the same. The only thing we're doing is we're not sitting in that seat. We just controlling that machine from each one's home.
Marti Romances:
And think we adapted very well in that aspect. Especially for me, which I'm like very much ... like I love just being around the room and picking up things on people's screens and quickly just changing things. Picking things up, shaving things before they become a bigger issue. Now is a bit of a more of an anxiety game here because I'm waiting for them to send me the screenshot or the export. And we maybe pick things up a bit later and it all goes a bit slower. But we continue functioning at the same capacity.
Joey Korenman:
Got it. For you and for the team, I hope everything's sort of gets back to normal as soon as possible. I'll try to ask this in a sensitive way. But Territory having over a hundred employees, I mean, that's an enormous overhead. Every company has different principles that they go by in terms of how they run their finances and how much debt they keep and stuff like that. So how have you been able to sort of manage the scale of Territory in a way with work being just turned off? In some instances, you can still make payroll and sleep at night.
Marti Romances:
Yeah. Yeah. I know. I think the industry that we are on, it's a very on demand industry. We will live not project by project, but we can just stay sane by the projects that come through the door. We don't have sometimes in our visibility to know what's going to happen in five months. We don't have that. And I think that's always something that is a bit fragile in a way. But I have to say, we have a very, very amazing finance team and a very amazing ... like, I think from the board with Nick, as our CEO. And David as our executive head, as well. Like even myself as that creative overarching at the studios.
Marti Romances:
It's like, you have to find what will happen in the worst case scenario. And at the point of this recording ... and I touch that this is insane. Like we did not have to do any layoffs or anything. But there are always like solutions, I think, as a family just to embrace this together. And that starts with what we've seen in other companies. I have friends who have been laid off and it's very sad. But they are also friends that they just going together against it. And the sense saying like, "Well, we are all sacrificing something. We are all maybe working ... because there's less work. Maybe we agreed on working four days a week, rather than five. Pro-rate our salaries. Or we all taking a cut or we are all not doing any bonuses this year." Whatever it is.
Marti Romances:
I think as a collective, Territory has always been very, very good as a family. And we all understand that everyone will need to put something. And from the top, we do what we can. I think we will do whatever is necessary for not laying off anyone. At the same time is what I was saying, is an on demand business. And if at some point we started seeing that there's not enough projects to sustain all of this, it's tricky. In the same way that we could scale up and grow because we have more projects. We need to retract if there are less, less project every time.
Marti Romances:
And again, so far we've seen things balancing out and we are hoping that we'll continue to be busy. Fingers crossed that will be the case. But I think as all companies, we're embracing this as a family. And we all understand the severity of the effects that this could cause on industries like ours.
Joey Korenman:
Yeah. Well, one thing I wanted to call out because I thought it was really smart is just being proactive. And talking to your clients about ways that, I mean, frankly, you can save them money. Because I think a lot of our industries clients are also hemorrhaging money right now. And if there's a way that they can get the same effectiveness of an ad, but it's animated instead of requiring a two day live action shoot.
Marti Romances:
Exactly.
Joey Korenman:
They may not be thinking at that level. But as a vendor, you might be able to suggest that.
Marti Romances:
Yeah.
Joey Korenman:
So, all right. So let's talk about some of the work that Territory is known for. And then I want to get into some of the more ... you actually, I think ... I don't know if you invented this term. But it was something you said in an article, speculative design. And I've never heard that term before and I want to get into that.
Joey Korenman:
But let's start with the sexy, fake UI stuff that is all over Territory's real and you're real. And it's just amazing. And you've worked on some huge movies. How did you and the studio find yourselves at the forefront of this? Because I mean, you've worked on ... it seems like every movie over the 10 years then it's had fake UI in it almost.
Marti Romances:
Pretty much all of these started because at the point where David was ... they were starting the office, they were starting this video. But at the same time, David was still freelancing. And I remember that he was then invited to go on and work for Prometheus, the film. Generating all of those graphics. And when they finished that project and the studios started and Territory was ... we were all doing motion graphics. We were coming from different industries. I was coming from the games at that point, with Activision and Nintendo, the commercials and films from Barcelona. Nick was coming from advertising. David was coming from advertising and films. The common denominator, as I was saying, was motion graphics.
Marti Romances:
And when we were looking what happened with Prometheus and all of that. We started to realize that there was a graphical element other than the title sequence needed in some of these films. But we also understood that how niche was that. Of course, you need that one because it's Prometheus, but how many more Prometheus you're going to have in the world? But what we just realized is like how much we were enjoying covering this narrative with graphics. And as a graphics and design driven studio and team, we thought that this kind of project, at least they were the ones that personally were more rewarding to us. We were having lots of fun with them.
Marti Romances:
And I think the most important part of them was that we didn't have to just think about this functionality. We were trying to invent something that did not exist. And the only thing that we wanted to make sure it's there, was like visually attractive and that was responding a brief. And in this case was like, usually on that sort of a Sci-Fi realm of design. And we really enjoy that. We really enjoyed having that freedom of designing something that doesn't need to function and that doesn't exist. And I think at that point is when we were saying like, "Should we grab this little niche? And to try to be better and very good at it."
Marti Romances:
And I think that's something that I keep seeing in the industry with different people. You see people that they're very, very good at that little thing. They're the best. I remember one of my friends was ... it's weird, but it was like a 3D modeler. And he ended up being the best 3D modeler of feet, like foot and toenails and all of these things were just weird. But then he was a one modeling Sandra Bullock's feet in Gravity. And it's like, how is it possible that someone grabbed that niche and becomes the best at it. And I think that's kind of the opportunity, when you take something and you try to be the best at it.
Marti Romances:
And I think that's what we did at that point. And we started seeing that he was working. That more and more people were seeing our work and they were knocking on our doors. Like, "By the way, I have this other film and I have this other thing." And they were all in having that common denominator is like, these are graphics in films that need to cover a narrative. And at the point that Marvel knocked the door for us to start working on ... the first one was Captain America, the Winter Soldier. We were like, "Whoa, okay. This is something. We have something here." And we've pretty much embraced it. And we went for it.
Marti Romances:
And I think that became our signature, like this is what we really love doing. And at the moment, is what we were the best at. And I think that also triggered lots of other industries, which we can discuss. Which is like the video games industry, like also need graphics. And all sorts of other industries need the same sort of styles. And especially now with VR, AR, all of these things starting to become ... like the holographic displays and everything. Starting to become something part of our lives. And from there you go into automotive and whatnot, it's just expanded.
Marti Romances:
But the main core is still there. We're still doing all of these graphics for all sorts of TV shows and film. Especially now with TV, kind of having this resurgence from Netflix and the new models. It's weird. But we corner that market and we just stay there. We try to just continue to be better at it every day.
Joey Korenman:
Yeah. I mean, it's such good advice. There's this really awful cliche term that I've heard. It's really like a marketing kind of cliche and it's, the riches are in the niches. I feel gross saying it. But I mean, that's what you realize is that this is a small niche within a niche. But it's actually not that small. It's big enough where one company can support a team of over a hundred people just doing this. So that's really cool.
Joey Korenman:
Now, I talked with John from Perception and they do similar stuff too. And one of the things I was asking them about was what is the sales process like to get these gigs? I mean, because the way you just described it made it sound like somehow you got Prometheus. And then that just sort of was the first domino. And then everything else just came because people saw that and word of mouth and all of that. But was there any outbound sales effort? Did you have an EP calling people working on these films and trying to get you a real screening? Was there more of a process to get this kind of work?
Marti Romances:
I think at the beginning was more natural, peoples have seen or people ... that production designer talked with this other production designer. Or this production designer now jumped into a different film with Warner and now Warner knows about you. It's an industry that everyone is moving, directors, producers, like everyone moves from studio to studio. And if you do a good job and you're a nice person to work with. Or you have a nice team to work with, just people know about you and then they will call you again. Or they will call you for the first time because they heard that you did that and it was good. And they can see, it's very plausible. It's something that you can show and you can see it.
Marti Romances:
And as soon as you start populating your website with some of these projects, more will come up. And that is what I would say. If you put only wedding pictures on your website, people will call you for wedding pictures. I think that's where we decided to establish where we want it to go. And 10 years after, of course you have lots of like outbound as well happening. Some of these executive producers tactically position in different places and what not. But at the beginning it was more organic growth.
Marti Romances:
And I think right now after all of these ten years, it changed a lot. Because I think we are now in the middle of ... we're not just with films and games and all of these fictional. We also just very, very heavy on real products, real experiences and prototypes. And we're in the middle of these two big groups. And we have to be in the middle with both. And that's because the films and all that fictional ... it allows us to stay fresh, to keep reinventing ourselves, to think outside of the box. To disrupt, allows us to disrupt because we are not thinking in the functionality first. We're not in that team that's being seeing the same product for 50 years and cannot see any other ways to do it.
Marti Romances:
We are the ones who are bringing these fresh ideas because every film that we do, every game that we do requires different things. That it requires to reinvent ourselves. We just answering a brief from the director and they want new stuff that no one has ever seen. It's our playground as designers. But then that keeps us very, very relevant to the product and prototypes and experiences. Because they want that. They want someone who is constantly reinventing. They want someone that injects that fresh new idea that has been thinking outside of the box.
Marti Romances:
But at the same time, these products and all of these new tech that needs our real designs for real tech. Allows us to be very, very close to the new technologies that are coming out. Very, very relevant, we know what's the latest in tech. And that gives us a bit of a more accurate, let's say, way to speculate on what's coming next. If someone is telling us, "Hey, you need to work on this NASA of the future. Like we need for the Martian or Ad Astra." Like we know exactly what's the latest on tech. So we have more points of reference to understand where the line is going and what are the steps that this will flow in the next five or 10 years. Because we are already working on prototypes for these next five and 10 years for also automotive.
Marti Romances:
So if we have to then design a film with a car for 2030, we're going to be more and more relevant. We're going to know exactly what we're talking about. Because we also doing the cars that are coming on 2023, 2024, 2025. Nowaday, become both very, very important to our ethos. And they're 50% and 50%, and we are right in the middle. And that's kind of what defines Territory now. But yeah, it started mainly with the films and all of this super fictional. Which is sales probably.
Joey Korenman:
Yeah. Okay. So yeah, I definitely want to get into the speculative design stuff because you just answered one of the questions I was going to ask you about. Which is why are car companies coming to a studio that does amazing work? But it's for movies. But I wanted to find out a little bit more about the process of working on these gigantic films. And everyone, we're going to link in the show notes to Territory's website and Marti's website and every gigantic tent pole sci-fi movie of the last decade is basically on there. But there's a really wide range of films too. You've got the biggest film ever, you've got the Avengers Infinity War and Endgame. You've got The Martian, Guardians of The Galaxy, The Force Awakens, Blade Runner 2049. But you've also got Mile 22, apparently, according I think on your IMDB it says you worked on Zoolander 2, which I thought was great. So you've worked on the biggest movies ever with gigantic directors and enormous nine-figure budgets. And then you've worked on smaller films. And I'm curious, is there a difference? Does it matter if you're doing The Force Awakens for JJ Abrams versus Mile 22 for Mark Wahlberg or something like that?
Marti Romances:
I think each project is different and that's what we love about it. For us the most important part is that we serve the director. It's whatever the director vision is, it is what we want to make sure that it gets translated into our visuals, right? We're telling the stories with our graphics. It's not that they're just there for... They're always there for a reason. They're always there to cover narrative. Most of the people don't understand that some of these cuts end up being super long and you have to sacrifice some stuff. But at the same time to have two of the big actors or actresses talking for five minutes on how they're going to go from A to B, it costs a lot of money and takes a lot of time in that cut.
Marti Romances:
But if I show you a map with an A and a B and a line in between, in a second, your brain will get that, so that's how we help these directors and these productions. We read the script, we identify where they could tell stories with a graphic and we use design for it and technology, right? And each film, even if they have different styles, they actually follow the same process. What do you need to tell that story? Everyone in the film production is working towards the same target. It's like, let's make this film amazing. Let's make sure that our director vision gets translated to the big screen. No matter if it's Avengers Endgame, where you are in Atlanta with like an amazing team of concept artists and like all of the Marvel Universe and all of the Marvel Studios people who we work with so closely versus when you are in way smaller film, the aim is the same.
Marti Romances:
Let's make sure that the director vision is translated and let's make sure that we cover these graphics in the best way possible. We cover this narrative with the design. We tell the story, and I think that's kind of the common denominator on all of them, no matter what style they need. Sometimes we need more realistic style, sometimes we need styles that they need to look at the future, but not futuristic, something that is plausible. Something that could happen in five years, 10 years, like Mile 22 or The Martian and things that you can see it working. And then you actually see the pendulum effect on those because you then get NASA that looked at The Martian say like, "Well, we never put design first because for us, the most important part is that no one dies up there and you know, it's all function, function, function. We don't think about design." But then you show them how design could help readability, legibility, how it can help the user experience and they get it and then they all of a sudden like value that design.
Marti Romances:
Or the same thing with Mile 22 and seeing like military operations in a way that are, like it's a different style, but it's still like plausible versus the things that need to come from another galaxy, like Guardians of The Galaxy. Like people say like, "Yeah, but this is not working." This is UI, it shouldn't work for you. These guys come from another galaxy. If I design something that you understand, I won't be answering this director brief. So this needs to be something abstract that comes more from an alien tech. You shouldn't understand. Or people that says, "Oh, these Ironman things that you create, it's impossible to read, this will never be the real UI." Like, no, because it's not for you. It's for Jarvis, which is an AI that can read and digest data 10,000 million times faster than you do as a human, right.
Marti Romances:
So we always try to answer the things and we're very thoughtful on our process for every one of those. So I think that is answering the director brief, that is answering what the director vision is. But at the same time, sometimes we need to think that my mom will go to the theater, will look at that and she also needs to understand what's happening. So you have to then start showing these graphics, telling a story in a way that everyone can understand. So this is kind of the things that we juggling with and these things you can only get to know all of these little things and get to know what's better with the experience of keep doing more and more and more.
Marti Romances:
And after 10 years, I think some of the clients just like already tell us, like you know what you're doing with this, because you have been doing it for 10 years and you showed us before how you tackle these things. So they let us go and they let us go on our way and I think that's very rewarding as well when you see like directors and big, big names telling you, you are the best at this. You know how to do it so I don't want to direct you. You direct your team in the way that you think is going to be best for this IP. And I think that's the best place to be.
Joey Korenman:
Yeah, I bet and I wanted to ask you also about the process of working with such large teams. I mean, especially if you're working on something like an Iron Man movie or an Avengers movie. I've heard from other studios that do this kind of work that often your delivering essentially elements to their compositing team if they're using digital domain or ILM or something like that. So does Territory actually get to work on the final composites? When we started, you were telling a story about working on Fast and the Furious 9 and a character has a big afro and walks in front of the green screen and it's a very challenging key to pull. So are you and the team actually doing those final comps or are you just delivering plates that get composited by someone else?
Marti Romances:
It's different for each project. At the beginning when we were a graphic shop where we were doing graphics and motion graphics that we were then handling to the frame source MPC is [inaudible 00:54:49] of the world. But now as we evolved, especially in the last four years, we are also the ones doing all the visual effects on that. We're compositing our own graphics, we are also just working on final comps. If you look at Pacific Rim, Ready Player One and all of this, we were embedded also into other vendor pipelines like ILM and then while doing all of these things. We've been working in some project I cannot talk about yet, but yes, we evolved of being also like a VFX facility in that way.
Marti Romances:
But I think it's still a common denominator as well as that we design things. It's very simple to, well it's not simple, but everyone knows how a tree in the middle of the road looks like, right? And we can do that too. But the thing is, no one knows how this device that these guys are using will look like, and someone needs to create it and design it and think about it. So we are that team of people that create, design these elements. And also of course works on how to apply them into the footage and everything else. So we became now not only the graphics guys, like a visual effects facility with both capabilities.
Joey Korenman:
What kind of artists are you looking for to come in and work on this kind of stuff? Because I think a lot of people listening, some of the projects you're describing, they sound like dream projects. You're inventing something that doesn't exist. You're going to composite it over some A-list actor's face and it's going to be seen by millions of people in a movie theater. And it seems like a really challenging combination of skills to find in one artist. So are you looking for specialists that you can then build a team around? Are you looking for generalists or are you looking for really like unicorns, designer animator, who's good at everything and can handle whatever you throw at them?
Marti Romances:
I think it's a good question. I think it really depends, but in my opinion, having people, generalists that do, or at least they know about a bit of everything is super important for us because they're the people that will be able to pick up whatever it is, right? But at the same time, we know that there are certain styles, there are certain things that need the designer that is very, very, [just openly 00:57:16] just like been creating that style for years. It will get to the result way faster than a generalist. So sometimes we do tap into specialists. In our team we always try to hire people that, they know how to design, they know how to animate, and they know a bit about 2D, 3D. But each one of those will be a bit better at something and it will always be the one being called at that. You have motion graphic artists that are a bit more focused on 3D, that doesn't mean they will never touch After Effects or Illustrator, they can do it.
Marti Romances:
And I think that's the thing, like just a generalist to a point, but always kind of trying to see what the strengths of these artists are. And of course we tap sometimes into contractors because we want something very, very specific. You know, how we want this very specific particle effect or water simulation. These people are people that we cannot afford to have them as a full time or [hired 00:58:15] as an overhead, because we don't do this every day, right? We won't be able to maintain like a whole year of work just doing this particle simulation because it's not, at least not yet, what we do every day. So it really depends on the project. I think, as full timers, yes we really like to have everyone having an understanding on everything, even if they are more focused on one. As freelancers that come in and out, those are maybe the ones that are more, [inaudible 00:58:44] just focused on one expertise.
Joey Korenman:
That's really interesting. It kind of reminded me of what you were saying about Territory's strategy of niching down and saying, let's be the best in the world at this very narrow thing. UIs for movies and there are artists out there, I mean, people listening might think, okay, is it possible to just be the Xparticles person that gets called in, sort of like the hired gun? And I think the answer is yes. I think there's actually enough work to go around. I remember it when I was running my studio every once in a while, we'd have to hire a fluid sim person and there's like three of them and they're always booked and it's a niche and they charge a lot too.
Marti Romances:
Yeah. Look, the most important part is that you do what you love. That's what I always say to everyone. If you love particle animations and simulation, then do that. Let's be honest, like there's lots of people in this world that sadly cannot be working everyday on what they love. Working every day, doing something that you have fun with, is priceless. It's what we always should aim for. So if you love doing particle simulations or liquid simulation, then just do that. Eventually you will become better at it. And eventually your website will have so many of these projects, the people will be calling you to do what you really love. Every time that I talk with new artists that I never heard of or people that maybe still want to use as a freelance or as a full timer. I always ask them the same, like look, I want to make sure that I call you for the thing that you want to be doing.
Marti Romances:
I don't want to call you for, I don't know, like character animation, if you hate character animation, because maybe that's not what you do. And I want to know that, I don't want you to say yes, just because you need the work. I want you to be here and I want to play on your strengths and I want you to be here happy every day, doing what we call you to do. I think that is kind of, the answer is definitely yes, but at the same time, the answer of, I want to be a generalist and I want to be around like different styles all the time and doing design here, animation there, 3D or it's 2D, that's also super important to have, because these people are going to be around picking up lots of other things, teaming up with some of these specialists. And it's not that one thing is better than the other. It's just like, they are very different ways to approach what you love doing. And I think both are very, very valid.
Joey Korenman:
That's awesome. It sounds like the dream man. Let's move into some other work that Territory is working on. And there's some really great articles that you sent over when we booked this interview and we're going to link to all of that in the show notes. And I was really fascinated to read through this stuff because this is the kind of stuff that I think motion designers will find a lot of opportunity in over the next five to 10 years and it's already out there, but I don't think everyone knows about this stuff yet. And I've heard it called future UI. I've heard it now called speculative design. And essentially Territory is working to create interfaces for actual products, for interfaces with AR and VR that may be created, but maybe not, maybe you're just concepting things. So can you talk about how you guys found yourself doing this kind of work?
Marti Romances:
I think it all started by people looks at what you've done in films. And then they say, "Wait, this looks very relevant to our product. How can we invite these guys to suit their designs for our product?" I think people get very surprised that it's a very similar process. We design it. We can save all the assets for your engineers, or even if you need us to [inaudible 01:02:41] some of our engineers to make sure that this works and that this is functional and interactive, we can do that too. I think it all is driven by design. It's driven by the style that we put out there. And I think, as what I was saying, of course, we take different approaches when looking at something that is for a film versus something that has life at stake like something like cars, it needs to be super safe. But at the same time crusades that you cannot push that design further on what everyone has been seeing for years.
Marti Romances:
I think especially now technologies that are allowing us to be more relevant on [inaudible 01:03:23] products, because now we have real time render engines that are able to display things in real time that years back we couldn't, that we can only pre-render. So we are choose embracing those things and these new tools and this innovation on technology because it's technology that we end up using every day and design is the same for everything, right? And everything needs design. I think that's the most important part.
Marti Romances:
We've been designing for wearables and we've been designing for again, real products. And this is only coming from proving that our eye for details, our eye for composition, eye for color. That we have our eye trained for designing HMIs and digital products, because we've been iterating so fast and so much with all of these projects that don't last forever. We need to move to the next film and then it's, after two months, we have a different thing and a different game. And each one, as I was saying before, they need to be different. They want to reinvent. They want something new.
Joey Korenman:
You got me thinking about how, there's a lot of labels that designers put on themselves. You know, product designer, UX designer, UI designer, motion designer, but doing the type of work that you're talking about, where you are designing an interface that a human must use to interface with a car. You're kind of bleeding and blurring all of these edges. And so I'm wondering, like when you're looking to hire someone who can design something that looks really pretty for a movie, but who can also design something that might actually get turned into a real thing for, a watch or a wearable, what are you looking for? Like is motion designer the right title? Or do you need multiple designers? Are they really all the same skill just with a different label on it?
Marti Romances:
I think, we have our UX people when we talk about functional things, of course, we will make sure that things are functional when they need to be functional. But at the same time the designers are coming from, like we were doing when we were starting the studio, right? We're coming from the motion graphics from understanding 3D, simulations, particles and all of these things and this is when you inject this eye for design into this UX, that our UX people kind of have created for that product, that needs to be very functional, right? But as I was saying for the films, you need the same without thinking of that function first. So we're always looking at motion designers just because, I think motion design industry has been exposed to all of these new technologies, new render engines, new plugins and everything is just about creating. It's not about recreating, right?
Marti Romances:
This is about like, you have enough tools now that if you have trained your eye for a few years on what works in terms of colors, typography, composition, which again, if it makes sense, if it's visually appealing, no matter what you do, it's going to be good. And I think motion design, kind of [got that 01:06:44] to us, graphic design as well. Most of the times when we look at digital artists or UI designers, we end up with the same thing, people that comes from university and you look at their portfolios like, okay, well there's another of these same people that we see everywhere with like some UX here and then some templates of buttons that they got somewhere and putting on top of this UX. I'm not saying this is bad. It's just not what we're looking for.
Marti Romances:
What we're looking for is people that design things that are new, that is not what we've seen already, because everyone can follow the same steps on what we see in some product designers, right? Oh here is the app design that everyone, looks at it, and everyone thinks this is the same as the other 2000 apps that I've seen. So I think motion graphics, and the community and the industry is this community and industry that keeps reinventing itself, thanks to this technology that keeps evolving. And I think that is very important when you're trying to disrupt with design. So there's never a good label for it. Again, there are visual designers out there that maybe they hearing that it's like, oh no, probably it's different for each one of us.
Marti Romances:
And I don't believe in labels. I get to work with people that they come to me saying like, "I'm a character modeler." And then you put them outside of their comfort zone and you use their skillsets of modeling or scoping into something that is not a character, but it is now like, I don't know, a weapon for a sci-fi film. And you are like, holy shit, this is insanely good because their eye is trained. Like the tools will evolve and change every day. So I don't care if someone is very good at one tool, I care about what they can do with the tools, rather than like the tool itself. If you just rely on the tools, then you're operating a machine, but this machine will change in two years. There will be another tool. And the most important part is like what you do, that taste that we were talking about.
Marti Romances:
Where is that? And I want to see that in your projects. I want to see that you have taste, even if it's with personal projects, that show me how, when you're not doing things for your everyday salary, how you can just go out and do things that are way out of your comfort zone. I think that's kind of where you see people really thriving these days, because they have access to lots of tools and they can express themselves. And I think that's what it's all about, like while we were talking about combustion and all of that stuff, man, when you learned Premiere the first time, or even Cinema 4D version 8, like that was like in a book.
Marti Romances:
Nowadays it's so accessible. Like everyone can just pay a subscription, $15 a month and try it for a month and have a software to usually used to be like hardware base and thousands of dollars in a facility. Now you can have it in your own home. And don't get me started with training. We have so much training for free, some of them, tutorials and all of that. So I think there is no excuses anymore to say, "No, I only do this. I only do this because it's what I do" It's like, you should be opening a little bit more to what you can use as a tool next to see how your creativity flourishes in that way.
Joey Korenman:
I love it. I love it. Preach. Yeah. All right, so let me ask you about the process of doing this stuff. And maybe as a case study we can use a project that's on your website. It's called the, I don't know if I'm saying it right, The Amazefit Watch and it's a watch that has this ridiculously cool interface on the watch face. And it's funny because it looks like it should be in an Iron Man movie or something. It's just so futuristic, so cool, beautifully designed.
Joey Korenman:
Now, I'm sure most people listening, if you said, okay, go do a 30 second commercial, they would understand what that process looks like. You have a concept, you have mood boards, you have thumbnail sketches, style frames. There's a process that we all know. How does it work when you're designing something that has to a, function in some way, it has to get approved by people who are engineers, building physical products with materials. It has to be rendered in real time and there's considerations about battery life and if you have this many colors, the battery will drain. How does that process work when it's so much more complexity?
Marti Romances:
Well with these guys, it's a funny story. It's a Chinese company, Huami, they do these wearables, like a Fitbit kind of a style smart watch with lots of tracking for fitness and whatnot. Then they came to me, they've seen my website, they came to me straight away and say, "Hey, well we've seen your designs in Guardians of The Galaxy and all of these things, and we really love it and we would like to see if you can help us." And I was like, well, look, let's just involve the studio. You know, I'm running the studio and let's just see what we can do. And they didn't have much time or much money, but it wasn't about time or money. It was like the opportunity was amazing. For me, I always been a fan of technology and to see what Apple did with user interfaces. Right. It's just disrupted the world years ago. And now we all using it. They changed things. But I always struggle when I was looking at the iWatch. And I was like let's design something. And I started hearing from their team, well, you cannot design whatever you want. You need to use all of these icons and all of these structures and all of these things. You cannot go off that.
Marti Romances:
And that was like a bit of a... I was thinking, "Bummer. you guys have a platform here where you could have very, very cool designs, but you are now restricted to what you can do with it." These guys were the opposite. These guys were saying, "Well, look, you can do whatever you want." And it's funny that you say that, but their brief was like, "Can you design six watch faces? Imagine that these were for the Avengers." Right. "We like this. We like this in our watches."
Marti Romances:
So, I took the brief like that. And I started just designing as this was for a film. Right. But thinking and knowing first, which data sets they have available for us to show in there. And then to start thinking, like, "Let's take this as an opportunity to see and show, because they allowing me, whatever I want."
Marti Romances:
And I think that's the big problem with wearables. When you work or when you just go buying for shoes or a watch even, you look for the designer. Designer creation is what you're buying into you. You want that design.
Marti Romances:
So I think it's something that is being lost now because of all of these Apples and Samsung or whatnot. They have the same watch with the same interface for everyone. It's like, wait, you're missing out a big opportunity here. The watch faces could be the thing that you buy from your favorite designer.
Marti Romances:
So I wanted to do these with the smartwatch and that's exactly what happened. I wanted the design and the Territory ethos and the Territory styles to come across and just to say, this is how beautifully you can represent very, very simple data. Right. And we created those. And the good thing about that is that they give me very, very much all the freedom I wanted, as long as just I did not design for data sets that they don't have, or they cannot take.
Marti Romances:
One is pretty much just like, look, is the time, is the time and the date. And there's just like the radio element that it's a spiking and showing your higher base in real time. And I thought that that was very nice. You don't need a lot of information if you are the person who wants to see their heartbeat, because for whatever reasons. It's very personal. Right. It's very personal to what your heart is doing. And you see the connection in the UI.
Marti Romances:
Versus another one that was just tracking all the kinds of data. But for each one, I wanted to do it in a way that you design that yourself. That you're not restricted by which design elements they can give you to achieve it. Because then it's the only way that this can be the watch design, but it's designed by Territory. It's designed by us.
Marti Romances:
And I think that's what we're missing with some of those. You have to buy into the designer like you do when you go and buy the new Levi tone back. And I think that came across very, very nice. We saved all of the assets for the engineers to plug into it. We work with them on making sure that the final designs were looking like what we envisioned in our designs. And we also gave them animations to make sure that the animations, when you transition from this button to these other button touch, it happens especially exactly how we want it.
Marti Romances:
And the day when I received this watch and I was wearing it, that day was so special because you've seen your name and credits and films and whatever, but to be able to wear and see the data that your body is producing in a design that you design, that was very, very special. I think there's always that, that special moment. And that's the best award. The rewards like this that you get when you do something that is not going to end up never seen by anyone in a presentation for their finance, these year finance presentation or whatever it is.
Marti Romances:
We do things that people can use, people can see, people can play with. That's what's our trade at Territory. All of the projects are things that you're going to be able to own and you're going to be able to show your friends on the TV and films. You're going to be able to play on the games or even wear them on a wearable tech. So I think that's very special. And as long as we don't lose that, I think we will continue to really, really enjoy every day.
Joey Korenman:
Yeah. I think a lot of people listening are going to be craving this. Because you just nailed I think one of the hardest things about working in motion design, is just how disposable a lot of our work is. Especially now where you have studios doing Instagram stories for brands that they literally last one day.
Joey Korenman:
And so working on products and speculative design stuff like this sounds really amazing. Now I wanted to ask you how big of a market is this right now? Because I'm guessing that there's probably just an awareness problem where companies that are designing products like this, they may not even think to approach a company like Territory. They may not know that that's a thing you can do.
Joey Korenman:
And so if someone is getting into this industry and they go to your website and they see the Amazfit Verge watch face you designed, and they say, "That's amazing. I want to do this kind of work." Where do they find that? I mean, is this really a career path yet? Or is it still bleeding edge, not many people are doing it?
Marti Romances:
Well, there's always the thing this is for the risk takers. Right? We've been proving now that we do things for real products. You can see it and soon you'll be able to drive some of those cars with all of our UI in front of it. So what is the best... Is it that's going to be just pretty much a testament of, yes, we do things for real technologies, for real products and you can approach us.
Marti Romances:
I think if you want to do something you've never had, you have to be... I don't know what to say is is like, if you want something you never had, you have to be willing to do something you've never done. Right. And that's how we approach some of these things. And this is how you come out with even a small projects like this smartwatch.
Marti Romances:
These people were taking the risk to say like, "We want you to design whatever you think is the best." And then they end up with these designs that everyone just responded super well to it. And it's like, "Wow, I'm buying this watch just because I like the design of this watch face."
Marti Romances:
And this is so important that we are helping products and brands that way. But it's not just that we are helping them envisioning what it could be, but we actually now doing it as well. So I think, yeah, people need to start discovering more this from us. And of course, our legacy is always that design driven, designing for iconic walls and films and designing for all of these things.
Marti Romances:
But now, as time moves on, we are involved in so many other projects that everyone will start seeing. And as a business, as a company and as a group of creators we're evolving to that. And this is actually very, very exciting and I cannot wait to see who else wants to get as involved with their products and just to do things our way.
Joey Korenman:
This is awesome. Well, I really am excited about this aspect of motion design. And I hope that it starts to become more well known and more companies are asking for this. I know that the big tech giants, Apple and Google and Facebook, they're all doing this already in one form or another. But I don't know how many watch manufacturers are hiring someone who's working on the Avengers movie to design watch faces.
Joey Korenman:
So I hope there's more of that. So I have a couple more questions for you, and thank you so much for your time. You've been super generous with your time already. And I'm learning a lot and I love hearing stories from the front lines of this kind of stuff. And I know our listeners do too.
Joey Korenman:
So a question I was curious about is about the scale of Territory. There's not that many studios that... I mean to call Territory emotion design studio, it's not entirely accurate anymore because you're doing so many other things. But your DNA is in motion design.
Joey Korenman:
And there's not that many studios that are over 100 people. That you're starting to get into rarefied air there. And I'm curious if you have any insight as to what has helped you guys be successful.
Joey Korenman:
You're in three cities, London, New York, San Francisco, 100 plus employees. And that's difficult to do and difficult to maintain. And so there are new studios springing up that maybe they're in a different niche, so they're not competing with you so you can give them the secret. But what would you tell them? What's the secret of growing to that size? How do you get over the hump of 20 employees where most studios tend to stay... It's like no man's land to go above that?
Marti Romances:
Well, I think as I was saying, our thing has always been design first, design driven proposition, talent. We're all about our talent. We just now becoming almost a platform of we allow great artists to tap and work into great projects.
Marti Romances:
And we just becoming that layer, this platform that attracts exciting projects. Right. And if you think it this way it's just something you can continue to scale as long as it's controlled. And because there are so many industries that need this eye for design.
Marti Romances:
As I was saying, we were the one creating only these explainer videos, but we got out of our comfort zone and we started finding that the film industry needed that. And that the way that the video games also need that on their cinematics, but also on their menus. Also they need it on their heads of displays, like the films do as well.
Marti Romances:
And wait a minute. How about this technology that is now allowing us to just recreate this in VR/AR? Let's just jump into that. We are what our talent is. Right. We're who we are because of them. Every single designer, every single producer on the rooms, on all of these three facilities.
Marti Romances:
And we just continue to do the same. We scaling knowing that our vision and mission is just to continue to create a legacy in design. Something that has the Territory ethos and DNA. And we know that people are attracted to those because they seeing what we done with other products, with other films.
Marti Romances:
And they are knocking on our door saying, "I have this project because I know that you can do it because look at what you've done before." So, as soon as you become that platform of allowing artists and groups, creative teams to tap into very exciting projects, then it's almost like a self-feeding machine in a way. And as long as you don't lose your north and you know that your vision is that design driven legacy for iconic products or iconic walls, then I guess you just keep going.
Marti Romances:
And as I was saying, like we're growing and we are an on demand studio. And we know that there's a lot of demand. We know that there's a lot of people that they don't know about us yet. We know a lot of industries because it happened in the past that they discover us. And thanks to these projects that we did with them, some other people in the same industry will look at them. It's like, "Wait a minute. I want the same."
Marti Romances:
And I think as long as you keep your fundamentals and your creative backbone and your vision true to yourself and who you are as a studio, but at the same time, you expand into other industries and other opportunities, then you're going to be golden.
Marti Romances:
And it's not that we want to grow to having like a million employees one day. It's like we just doing and reacting to the market as we go. Is that a more organic growth by osmosis? I don't think it's going to stop because the industry that we are in, it never stops. It keeps reinventing himself, the new technologies coming out.
Marti Romances:
And so, that means that we cannot stop either. So everything we're doing and all we need to do is answering this demand. And I think that's pretty much as transparent as it sounds is what's happening with Territory.
Joey Korenman:
Yeah. So I want to let everyone know that before we started recording, Marti and I were talking briefly and I said, "Hey, it's nice to meet you. I wish we were meeting under better circumstances, not in the middle of a pandemic." And the first thing Marti said was, "Well, yeah, I know. But on the bright side at least we're still able to work and our industry hasn't been hurt quite as badly as others."
Joey Korenman:
And you seem like you always look on the bright side of things and you're an optimist. And I love that. And I think that is one of the reasons that you've got really good natural leadership qualities and why the studio's grown.
Joey Korenman:
But I would like to ask you and challenge you a little bit, because there are plenty of studios out there that are filled with talented people and have a fairly clear vision of what they'd like to do and can do amazing work just like Territory. I mean, there's a lot of talent out there, but most of them stop around 15, 20 employees. They cannot seem to break through. Nevermind having multiple offices in multiple continents.
Joey Korenman:
So what about on the operational side? I mean, how has Territory been able to manage just having that many employees and having to have layers of management and things like that? Maybe you could talk a little bit about some of that.
Marti Romances:
Yeah. I think, I mean, look for me, when I moved here in San Francisco, I was by myself. So I was the artist. I was the producer. I was the writer. We all wear lots of hats.
Joey Korenman:
Of course, yeah.
Marti Romances:
And it was when Linelle, our head of production, joined me as our first employee in San Francisco, I could delegate that. And it was liberating because then I can focus more on what I do, which is the creative side. This happens, again, exponentially with everything else. And you've seen how the London office, when I left, they were like 30 people. But now there are 80 people. Was like, this is crazy how things expand.
Marti Romances:
And in a way, you just need to make sure that you make them accountable for a part of this big, big structure that a studio is, and you make them own that shit. Is what I realized that it's very difficult to find talent. Of course, it's more difficult to find talent than to find clients. But the most important part is that it's difficult to find people that gives a shit.
Marti Romances:
And when you start finding these people, you feel so relieved to be able to just give them ownership of part of this big structure. And as long as you keep doing this with the right people, that only that will allow you to grow. I think it's nothing wrong with having a studio that is 15, 20 people. I think it's amazing to be honest.
Marti Romances:
That's maybe where I see as a perfect creative environment with producers, creators and all of that, 20 people is an amazing number. So to these people, I will say, if you have a partner, if you have a co-founder, right, why is this person doesn't go somewhere else and replicate what you've done? Because that's what happened with us. We were growing London. And then I left and did the same, following the same steps in San Francisco. Now this week we had 28 people working, even in the pandemic.
Marti Romances:
And it's that how you justify that or how you do it. I think it's just only finding good people and giving people that accountability and ownership for them to maybe one day, one of them will say like, "Marty, I'm going to move to whatever. Back to New York or I'm going to Vancouver." It's like, "Well, how about if you don't want to leave and you just done so much for the company, take the company with you in a way and just try to do something?" It's the only way to expand. And because these people gives a shit, they will be willing to go to the extra mile for that work.
Marti Romances:
And it's all about that. It's all about just making sure that the team and the people you have around is solid and they're good people that you trust and that you can give them that ownership. And then when I think people feels very, very invigorated when they know that it's not that they're being told anything. Now they are in charge of a section and they have to own it. And they have to prove themselves.
Marti Romances:
And this is that sort of a personal challenge. Right. Being challenged is always what gives you more rewards. When it's easy, it's not fun. I always say that. And you need that challenge that is more rewarding because I always say that we mature with damage, not with age.
Marti Romances:
It's when you fall and you have to go up again. So people that learn new things on the way will feel more rewarded ultimately. And that's the people that will allow you to scale your operations and your business.
Marti Romances:
And of course, always having a vision on who you are, a good mission and vision will allow you to dictate what the next steps should be. So as long as you know that and you're surrounded by great people, which is what we have. We're so lucky that we have been always surrounded by great talent, then things should be okay.
Joey Korenman:
That was the best answer. That was awesome. There was so many good things you caught out in there. And I think the most important thing that you talked about was finding people, not just who are talented, but who give a shit. And I think I know what you mean by that.
Joey Korenman:
It's very hard to find a really talented designer, but they're out there. You can find them. But it's almost impossible to find a really talented designer that cares so deeply that you would trust them with your business. And when you find those people that's that's how you grow. That's how you scale and become 100 person company. That is awesome, Marti. I think that's advice for everybody.
Joey Korenman:
So, let's leave with this. I'd like to get some more advice from you, actually. You were interviewed by Cinefex and this was probably a few years ago. But they asked you, "What advice would you give someone starting out in the business?" And you had this long answer and we'll link to that article in the show notes. So everyone can read the full answer.
Joey Korenman:
But the first sentence was, "Never take shortcuts. I think the industry puts you where you need to be." And I thought that was really brilliant. So could you just elaborate on that and try to leave everyone listening with some advice on how to navigate this industry?
Marti Romances:
Sure. Look, I mean, there's no right answer. But I think, and we talked a little bit about that before, but when I say about never take shortcuts is never try to just jump to become that art director if you have never been even the senior guy in the room. The thing is that if you do that, there's going to be a point where someone is asking you a question. Some junior designer will ask you a question and you won't know the answer because you haven't been there before. Right.
Marti Romances:
So I don't like self-entitlement. I think in this industry, sadly, there is a lot of self-entitlement because you can always say, "I'm an art director." Or, "I'm that." But at the same time, when you've been around studios, around facilities, and you've grown with this again, like in Barcelona, where I grow with the VFX facility or in Activision and Nintendo and all that stuff and now with Territory.
Marti Romances:
You want to make sure that you go step-by-step, because it wouldn't be fun just to become that senior or creative director one day, just because. Just because you decided to. The nice thing is about that journey and everything that that journey will bring to you.
Marti Romances:
And also is because you maybe are not going to be that creative director, because maybe on that journey, you will realize that you don't like that. You will see it around studio. And you was like, "I don't think I would enjoy that. I want to maybe just swerve a little bit or look more into, I don't know, a producer role." I don't know, I don't care. The thing is if you take shortcuts and you try to jump ahead, you will miss out lots of things.
Marti Romances:
And I always say it's about the journey because there is no end. There's not that we get to a point. It's like, "Okay, I made it. I have this." Even myself, I cannot even say that. I look back and I see an amazing journey. It's been so much fun. I got to working amazing projects. I'm very, very grateful for that.
Marti Romances:
But most importantly, I get to meet so many people that I learn from. And even now, I continue to learn from people and I don't know what's going to be next for me. And I don't want to know, because that's the fun about it. Is like, I don't want anyone to take shortcuts or be self-entitled, because I think the industry definitely puts where you need to be.
Marti Romances:
It's going to be that experience. It's going to tell you where you thrive, where you enjoy what you're doing here more or there. Since we were talking at the beginning, I thought VFX was going to be it. But as soon as I discovered motion graphics, and that was the thing that makes my two big passions, visual effects and graphic design.
Marti Romances:
So, you will continue to find these answers as you go. Just stay passionate and do what you love. And probably, one day you will look back and you'll say, "That was worth it." And it's still happening. It never stops. This industry, again, it never stops So we shouldn't stop either.
Joey Korenman:
Head to territorystudio.com to check out the sick work the studio has produced. I want to thank Marti for coming on the podcast and sharing his experiences with us. I learn something new from every guest. And one of the things that I took away from Marti was the importance of your mindset in this industry.
Joey Korenman:
He's such a positive force, and it's easy to see why he's found himself in leadership roles. Being an optimist and trying to find the light, even in tough situations is an advantage if you're helping to lead a team. I hope everyone who listens to this during the quarantine feels a little bit more optimistic, and I hope you're staying safe. Until next time, thank you so much for listening.