Creative Connections: Insights for the new normal
to keep our creative community connected, inspired and supported.
Times are uncertain and with feelings of separation high, we want to know how you are staying plugged in, what is keeping you creative and what may be getting in the way?
Erin Sarofsky of Sarofsky answered:
Please give a brief introduction to yourself and/or studio
Here is my little company bio. I apologize if it’s a little salesy, but it covers all the bases.
Sarofsky specializes in design-driven production and works with a broad range of clients in the advertising and entertainment industries.
We are a collective of artists, directors, producers and technologists who produce outstanding design-driven work in any medium of communication. Whether it’s a broadcast commercial or an innovative piece of AR, we are down to be a part of the team. That amazing, open-minded attitude is alive and well here, working and playing together in our inclusive culture where everyone has a unique voice and a collaborative spirit. We firmly believe it’s how we are able to incubate great ideas and solutions and deliver them in the most unique, ownable way possible.
Great talent lives and thrives in places outside of LA and New York. I left New York and planted my heart, home, and creative soul in Chicago, opening Sarofsky in 2009. The dilapidated and abandoned building I bought five years ago in the West Loop was transformed into a beautiful, creative hub of award-winning work for advertising, TV and Film. Our clients and partners include Marvel/Disney, Samantha Bee, Netflix, Lionsgate, Apple, Nike, GM, Jeep, Chicago Cubs, Facebook, Spotify, Absolut, Verizon, Miller, State Farm, Samsung, and so many more.
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How are you?
Personally, I am ok, but for sure a little extra stressed out. Owning a company with the world in the midst of a financial crisis is not reassuring. Also trying to stay in close touch with family and friends is also challenging. But I am the personality type that runs towards the fire… I move immediately into action and focus on achievable goals.
At the studio, I think we are all in various states of disbelief and dealing with the realities of being trapped at home… And of course, we all know someone with Covid. Everyone is processing things in their own way and I am trying my best to be cool with people having good days and bad days. It is hard to focus on work… But we are lucky to have some work to focus on.
Overall, every day I feel very grateful that I am able to keep my team working safely.
How is work and the pace of your projects? Busy, slowed down, stayed the same?
When the work from home situation started we had a bunch of projects we were mid-production on. Those all continued to completion as planned. However, almost all of the work we had in the pipeline either evaporated or was put on hold.
So when a few great projects popped up we were thrilled. Some of that work was response advertisement and some of it is a result of the pause in live-action. That work all needed to be turned around super-fast. So overall, given the amount and the pace, I would say we are busier than usual.
What are you working on?
We just finished up a year-long passion project: Titles for FITC (video above). The conference was supposed to be held on April 19-21 in Toronto, but due to Covid, was cancelled. We had to make other plans to share the work. On Sunday April19th, we premiered them on Mograph.com… then the following day, we had a lengthy discussion about them on MondayMeeting.org. We were very grateful for the opportunity to celebrate our work and to talk about why conferences like FITC are so meaningful to our community. I think now more than ever, we realize that congregating with people that are inspired by beautiful, thoughtful, inventive work is just as important as the work itself.
The titles we created are deeply relevant right now as well. At their core, they are a celebration of individuality, though we express that with sort of a cautionary tale set to the song “In the Year 2525” by Zager and Evans. We are so excited to share the piece, we think of it as a modern-day Metropolis. I am obsessed with the look because it is both photo-real and stylized to the point of feeling illustrated. The look is our interpretation of retro-futurism.
As mentioned above, we are also working on some Covid response ads, a series of fun all-CG Baby Bel spots, and we have a handful of entertainment projects in various stages of development… Plus as always a lot we shouldn’t talk about until it is released.
How is remote work going for you and your team?
Aside from the stir-craziness, I think we are doing really well.
I am really proud of my team. When we sat down to discuss how we were going to proceed, we decided to create a long-term solution, just in case this is months of work from home, like in China and Italy. That meant not only an investment in hardware, but basically an around-the-clock IT push to have us ready in time.
For me personally, it was important to not implement some half-assed stop-gap that depended on file transfers and crazy time-wasting processes. Our clients expect fast turnaround times and the highest quality service… So, wasting time waiting for files was not acceptable.
Mark Galazka had already been testing a Teradici pipeline. We knew it would work, but some aspects were uncharted territory for us. Since it was our best solution, we dove in headfirst. The IT department set up a Teradici cloud server to connect all our existing workstations with Teradici’s PCoIP software client. It’s an amazing solution; nothing about our infrastructure changed, our storage and render farm all remained intact in the studio.
We also made sure all of our employees had enough bandwidth at home and sent them home with dual monitors to replicate their setup at the studio.
Additionally, because we have our own standalone building, servicing our server was not an issue. Mark or someone from IT could always pop over to the studio to service the equipment when or if necessary.
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How many video calls do you average per day right now?
With clients, I average about 4-7 a day – maybe more. But internally I just jump from one chat to another. On Slack, it’s easy to turn a typing convo into a video call, so unless it’s a yes or no question, I just video call. So easily a dozen + internal video calls a day.
After a few days, I craved being near people… And I could tell team was missing “direct” contact with me. So, no matter how disheveled I look, I get on video calls. A two-minute “in person” chat where we laugh and talk is so much better than typing a paragraph.
I also type as concisely as possible. So, I am certain I come off as curt. In fact, just yesterday I learned that responding “K” to someone is insulting. I had no idea… That was my version of “ok, I saw your note.” Maybe I am just old now. That’s why talking is better.
What is your biggest distraction when working remotely?
At home, I have a 2.5-year-old. So, it’s fun when she hops on my lap for video calls. All she does is shovel cheerios into her mouth… It is pure entertainment when it happens.
It’s also very hard to work when I notice something I want to clean or cook. I just want to dig in but I can’t. I have to let it go ‘til the weekend.
When you feel stuck, or need inspiration, what are your go-to’s?
First, sleep. For me, a good night of sleep fixes any mental blockage.
But Pinterest is fun. Not even for design or photography inspiration… Just for aspirational living. (LOL)
My husband and I have revisited watching movies from our childhood to see if they hold up. Mostly they don’t, but it is fun.
But back to your question: Mostly when I am stuck, giving myself permission to step away usually fixes it. Sleep and good distractions help with that. Although most of the time I write before I start developing visuals. I find that if I have a goal on paper – in words – it is easier for me to achieve my objective.
Can you recommend three general habits to improve workflow? Or list insightful do’s and don’ts.
Put working time on the calendar. It’s important to carve out time to work. If you are on calls all day there is very little left.
Make lists. If it’s written down, it’s tangible… And you get the satisfaction of crossing it off.
Take good notes in your meetings. Being organized and keeping track of things in the moment helps you when you sit down to address them hours or days later.
There are also good office workflow do’s and don’ts.
“Version up” often, and make sure your render names match your file/comp names.
Put your files where they belong on the server. You would think this is a basic thing, but it is not.
Do not leave an empty roll of toilet paper and put your dishes in the dishwasher. We are civilized, are we not?!
What Studio, Designer, Artist (dead or alive) would you want to have a Zoom meeting with?
How do you quiet your inner critic?
While I have high standards, I don’t kick myself over missteps. I believe that when people hire me, they are basically deciding to engage in my process with me and my team. I have faith that our process will get us to a great outcome. Every posting won’t be perfect (how could it be?) – but it will inform what we do next, and that’s what matters.
Can you share a failure and what you learned from it?
As a designer, I would win one in every seven boards. Now as a studio, with many designers, we win approximately one-in-three competitive pitches. The truth is, you absolutely cannot win them all.
As artists, we have our take on how we would make something, and it’s not that someone else did it better, they just did it different. We’ve all seen work produced that we had pitched on and thought both “mine was way better,” or “holy crap, that’s amazing, no wonder they chose that.”
In our business, you just have to be okay with rejection and with feedback. There is a lot of both.
What inspired you to get into this business?
As a kid, I was obsessed with MTV ident bumpers (moon man with their logo on the flag) as well as a-ha’s “Take On Me” music video. While my friends were making mixed tapes, I was making mixed video tapes on my combo TV/VCR in my room.
Later, just as I was graduating from college, DK had just produced the Six Feet Under main titles and the Sixth Day main titles. I am grateful they saw something in my work and brought me on full-time right out of grad school.
What are you streaming / watching / reading / podcasting?
Reading. Just finished two long ones: The Overstory and A Short History of Nearly Everything. They kinda prepped me for this pandemic… I highly recommend both.
I also just listened to Richard Branson’s book, and just started The Culture Code. Without my commute, it’s going slower than it should.
I always have Harry Potter or some Star Trek series on in the background.
I have been avoiding the news for the most part. Just some CBS in the morning and maybe some Anderson Cooper in the evening… You can really see the state of the world taking its toll on these newscasters. They look tired – except for Gayle King, she is perfection!
What is your “go-to” song? And give us some backstory if inclined.
a-ha “Take On Me” (obviously, from my mixed VHS tape days).
I also love the song from the movie Mannequin, Starship’s “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now.”
And I love Toto’s “Africa”
People love our hold music. LOL
Also, toss in a little “Toxic” for me: Britney is perfection, too – hahaha. Those were simpler times.
Any newly adapted online experience you are enjoying?
Zoom birthday calls. My friend Eddie said on the last one to the birthday girl… “Aren’t you lucky to have a Covid birthday?” – And you know, it was true. People are gathering from all over the world to acknowledge people in all the little ways. I think this situation has caused us to go the extra mile for people when we can. And gathering a group of friends, in normal life would require a scheduling miracle… But now people from everywhere are going out of their way to make time for the ones they love. It’s just a little different.
Favorite movie that takes place in outer space?
Great question. Probably Guardians of the Galaxy. But Spaceballs is incredible.
Best live experience (Concert, play, festival, etc.)?
The Renaissance Festival is nuts and fun.
Can you take a picture of your current workspace, as is (don’t tidy it up!)?
Yep. It’s tidy when I start the day… by the end, not so much.
Would you rather eat a Ketchup sandwich or a Sriracha sandwich?
Sriracha on a fresh Baguette in France.
After this global experience comes to a close, any changes you want to see made? Any lasting personal or professional changes you anticipate?
Video calls will be the norm.
Our infrastructure will support a lot more remote artists, so we will have more flexibility to bring people on outside of Chicago. Though with high security jobs there will still be limitations with that.
Right now, turnaround times have gotten even crazier and late-night requests are expected… And we are onboard: We understand that people need to respond quickly and with the highest of care and consideration. But when things go back to normal, we will have to be able to unplug at night. So that will likely take some weaning.
Over the years I have developed many lasting, deep, meaningful relationships with my clients, and now more than ever, they are leaning on me and my team for help. I feel so grateful that I have taken the time to foster those kinds of relationships and that my skills really are helping keep people employed through this chaos.
Have you become involved with any volunteer communities in response to COVID-19?
Honestly, the thing me and my executive team are doing with 100% of our time, is keeping people employed… If i can make sure we have enough work to keep us busy so that the families that depend on me can get through this with minimal or no hardships, then I will be very proud.
We have been working on a couple of response campaigns that feel good as well. It is nice to be a part of the cultural landscape right now, putting out classy work for classy clients.
About the studio… we have just created a design focused Instagram account @sarofsky_design
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There we are not only showing our finished work, but also #boardsfromthegrave, and process work. We really want that to be a channel that expands our portfolio and is an actual contribution to the industry.
But… what else could you possibly want to know about me? This has been a thorough interview. Well, in the spirit of oversharing here it goes.
My blood type is A+ (like my attitude), on that personality test that assigns you a color I am a hard RED, I have an obsession with pens (lé pens, stabile, Pilot Hi-Tec C Maicia, and of course Microns), I love smart-wool socks, I am pissed that Lululemon only goes up to a size 12 (that’s total bullshit), I fall asleep to the TV (usually Star Trek TNG or DS9), I don’t like crowds, whenever someone emails me I respond eventually, I like things tidy, I have a Bernese Mountain Dog named Luna and she is a derp (lots of photos of her on my Instagram is @erinsarofsky), Halloween and Xmas are my favorite seasons, favorite snack is Cape Cod chips, favorite pizza flavored snack are Combos, best road trip album is the soundtrack to GOTG, next place I want to visit (not work related) is Iceland to see the northern lights, and my favorite thing to cook is my grandma Miriam’s latkes.