A production company in California is managing to balance cutting-edge creativity with huge commercial success. Dom Hall finds out what makes Logan run
For Alexei Tylevich, co-founder and creative director of Logan, some things really are worth the wait. He spent seven years developing a project that resulted in 12 minutes of stunning motion graphics for Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots on PlayStation 3, the latest instalment in the blockbuster videogame series. Speaking to Computer Arts from the company's offices in Venice Beach, Los Angeles, Tylevich tells us how the long-term approach to winning commissions can pay spectacular dividends.
"It's a departure for us, but also an evolution," begins Tylevich, explaining how his company has developed its output from groundbreaking music videos rich in motion graphics to high-profile spots such as the recent commercial for iTunes featuring Coldplay's Viva La Vida.
"I met [Metal Gear's creator] Hideo Kojima seven years ago - we had lots of meetings," he adds. "I designed and animated a logo for them, and things developed from there into the 12 minutes of footage for the new Metal Gear release."
Logan didn't actually pitch for the Metal Gear job, but when the call came to produce the footage, Tylevich had to act fast. The company created the film in only three months, including the post-production. "I developed the concept script with my sister and we shot for five days. All of the CGI was done internally - nothing was outsourced," Tylevich says.
The results certainly speak for themselves, and illustrate the way Logan approaches a job: keep everything in-house and pull the company's 25 full-time staff and up to 15 freelancers together to create something innovative and unique.
Although Tylevich is right to identify the Metal Gear job as special and a strong indicator of Logan's future projects, the firm's bread and butter remains highly stylised and visually rich commercials. Clients are usually the kinds of brands - Apple, Nike, Volkswagen - that are prepared to give the company creative, open briefs, then trust it to make something people will really remember.
"We do some pitches for new work, but mostly clients approach us because of our reputation and because they're looking for something different," he says. "How we work with clients depends on who they are. A company like Apple allows us to express our creativity and breadth of ideas."
While an open brief sounds like a dream scenario, Tylevich stresses that the company is subject to the same commercial restraints as everyone else. One of his main challenges is balancing the creative urge with hard-nosed selling.
"We try and push every brief into a place where we can create the work we want to do," he says. "It depends on the clients. Some come to us with a clear brief - we discuss it with them and, if it's a good match, we'll do it. We get most freedom from companies in Japan - clients over there view us in a special way." No wonder, given Japan has such a rich visual culture.
When asked if the company has an identifiable style, Tylevich says, "I hope we've got a 'Logan look'. It's important to me that every project we work on satisfies on different levels." He spent the early part of his career as a graphic designer and says this background is important to the unique feel of the firm's projects: "Everything we do is visual, and design is an important part of that."
Pushed further, he expands on what makes Logan stand out from the crowd. He believes it's the company's hybrid approach to its work, which takes in not only design but also fine art, motion graphics, art direction, directing and more.
"Storytelling is the key," he says. "Our clients always talk about what separates production companies from straight-ahead directors. I think it's the fact that we can do so much."
Highlighting the company's work for Apple, Tylevich points out that the global campaigns are not just about the groundbreaking TV commercials, but also a host of other areas.
"It's important to understand how things work regardless of the medium, and we can work right across the business. No one thinks of us as guys who can only do one thing," he says. "We're able to do everything here - from generating concepts to directing live action, design, animation, editing and sound. We also do work in print, fashion and environmental design. We try to do it all. We've still got a connection to our roots, though."
For 'roots' read 'portfolio of cool music videos', which Logan has created for acts such as Madonna, DJs and producers Felix Da Housecat and Ken Ishii, No Doubt, and Beastie Boys collaborator Money Mark. In fact, it was the company's video for Money Mark's single Information Contraband in 2001 that first got Logan noticed. "It's quite a simple film, looking at it now," Tylevich says. "But in those days it was a breakthrough and it changed the way motion graphics were perceived."
Can he identify any mis-steps during Logan's seven-year history? "I wouldn't have done anything differently," he laughs. "I'm happy with where we are. We keep changing and modifying our approach, and that's important to us."
As for the future, he's looking forward to working on new projects and maintaining the delicate balance between creativity and commerce: "We're going to keep doing what we're doing and making sure that graphic feel is always there."