Like a ride at Disneyland, each room at Motion Theory Studios is a vignette revealing a different stage of the production process: directors chewing on storyboards at a pre-pro meeting, costume designers hidden in racks of multicolored vintage dresses, animators toiling over type treatments, dark caves of postproduction filled with flickering Avids. At the center of the mini-empire are the all-smiles founders, Mathew Cullen and Javier Jimenez, who are currently overseeing at least three projects — for Guinness, Reebok and British telecom company O2 — while simultaneously managing to divert all compliments and credit to their 50-odd employees. The reality is that they’re responsible for originating a new visual language — for mega-clients like HP, Budweiser, Nike and a slew of record labels — that does the impossible, making jaded social-networking adolescents and grumpy bottom-line-fixated CEOs equally giddy.
“This type of studio didn’t exist when we started,” says Cullen, 31. “But we had a vision for what we wanted to do, which was about just bringing all types of creative people together to take a more innovative approach.” After working the dysfunctionally disparate production circuit for years, Cullen and Jimenez teamed up in 2000, knowing they could do it better. Borrowing from the old Hollywood-studio model, they created a one-stop brand-name powerhouse with the ability to blend live-action storytelling with killer animation that somehow feels both handcrafted and high-tech.
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“This second evolution of filmmaking is all about that design sensibility,” says Jimenez, 39. “We’re creating this seamless integration of visual effects to cater to an audience that’s very sophisticated.” A spot for Nike Golf conveys 10 years of club technology in one stellar swing; Modest Mouse sail the high seas as salty fishermen in “Dashboard”; landscapes shift with poetic precision for Lexus. The HP “Hands” campaign, which features celebs such as Pharrell Williams, has become so visually iconic that it continues to spawn parodies on YouTube.
As born-and-bred natives — Cullen was born in Inglewood; Jimenez in East L.A. (his mom has a cameo, making tacos in a video they directed for Beck) — it only makes sense that their two-story Venice studio is actually a microcosm of what’s currently happening in L.A. They’re gathering the best of the converging local scenes of art, film, design and technology into their exploding multidisciplinary ranks, making them the heart and soul of the most righteous creative community in the world.
Photo by Kevin Scanlon