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Active Theory Alex Telfer Tran Nguyen Bleublancrouge 60 Years of Design Exhibit

September/October 2019 Twenty-Four Dollars commarts.com


BY MARGARET ANDERSEN

D

esigners and developers—even within the most collaborative studio environments, there’s often an invisible divide between the two. One’s got the creative vision, the other has the technical know-how to execute those ideas, but when either party doesn’t understand the other’s perspective, workflows slow down, deadlines pile up and nobody wins. This isn’t the case for Los Angeles–based creative digital production studio Active Theory, whose cofounders have managed to bridge that creative gap with their combined knowledge of interactive design and software development.

worked together IRL, and they say that the timing was just right for them to move on from their respective agency jobs and form a studio together.

Known for its ability to marry imagination and whimsy with technical precision and speed, Active Theory has been making a name for itself internationally and at home on Silicon Beach. Its work ranges from interactive games for the Google I/O conference to web-based narrative experiences like Pottermore’s 3-D tour of Hogwarts. Whether it’s working with corporate clients or designing experimental, artful virtual reality (VR) stories, Active Theory is constantly working to stay ahead of the technological curve while producing content that is both engaging and relatable to end users on a deeply human level.

“I think my long-term plan was to move to Sydney and sort of go from there,” Thelander says, “but Michael, who’s from the US and was already living in California, found me online, and we started talking about these wild animated websites he was building just using HTML and JavaScript, which I’d never seen before. I was working at agencies and not really liking having to choose between being a designer or being a developer; I wanted to do both. That doesn’t really exist in the agency world; you have to choose one or the other. So when Michael suggested that we start working together, I knew it was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up.” Thelander explains that everything happened pretty quickly. He sold his belongings, got married and moved to the United States, all in a period of about a month. Nick Mountford, the managing director and third founding member, joined Active Theory more recently but comes from Australia as well. “I met Michael and Andy after I’d already moved to the US, and I was just immediately impressed by the quality and the speed of their work,” Mountford says.

Established in the summer of 2012, Active Theory’s origin story begins a world away from California, with two thirds of its founders hailing from Australia. Interactive director Michael Anthony and creative director Andy Thelander were fans of each other’s work online before they ever

The newly formed team sought to fill a gap in the industry when Flash-based interactive content was prominent online but no longer functional across the market’s rapidly expanding range of mobile platforms and Apple devices. “It was a very transitional time when we opened our doors,”

Captions supplied by Active Theory. Right: “To celebrate the first day of term at Hogwarts, Pottermore launched Welcome to Hogwarts, a fully interactive WebGL experience that gives users the chance to explore a 3-D version of the school for witchcraft and wizardry. The experience enables millions of Pottermore fans to immerse themselves in a fantastical world, discovering information and exploring the layout of Hogwarts and its surrounding areas. To ensure a seamless user experience across a range of devices, we did a lot of performance optimization and used a stylized aesthetic. We also created project-specific tools, such as a hot spot placement tool and an illustration platform, enabling Pottermore to continue to inject new content over time, encouraging users to come back and keep exploring.” Pottermore, client. 38

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INTEGRATED BRANDING PROGRAMS 1 (series) Jack Curtis/Saadia Kardar, designers Ryan Booth, design director Ryan Booth/Charline Fauche-Simon/Michael Romaniuk, art directors Zak Mroueh, creative director Mark Delisi/Patrick Godin/Angeline Parsons, writers Jarvis Alston, editor Cary Smith, content coordinator Anna Harju, studio artist Jesse Hunt, director Dino Cuzzolino, sound engineer Jenna Peel, production manager Greg Heptinstall, production director Teresa Bayley/Cherie O’Connor, producers Ground Glass Media/The Pixel Shop, production service companies Mike Johnson/Erin McManus, project managers Zulubot, production company Zulu Alpha Kilo (Toronto, Canada), ad agency Hilary Ashworth/Rebecca Dudgeon/Karin Heinsch/ Kim Wells, RGD, clients “Speak the Truth, the timely theme for the 2018 RGD DesignThinkers conference, communicates how most designers approach their craft: bold and without apology. The concept focuses on exposing the truths of design around us in a humorous, relevant and sometimes provocative manner. Since the truth is often black and white, the conference materials follow suit while highlighting design truths across all of the elements.”

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BOOKS 1 Alex Bruce/Paul Kepple, designers Chika Azuma, associate designer Paul Kepple, art director Gina McIntyre, writer Renée Bollier/Megan Worman, Melcher Media, editors Christopher Steighner, Melcher Media, senior managing editor Oskar Kalinowski, photographer Kyle Lambert, illustrator Susan Lynch, Melcher Media, production director Netflix, production company Headcase Design (Philadelphia, PA), design firm Ballantine Books, Del Rey, publisher Melcher Media, client “Stranger Things: Worlds Turned Upside Down mimics a tattered, secondhand 1980s genre novel. Breakout sections are designed as yearbook spreads, file folders, Dungeons & Dragons character sheets and ’80s-style ads. The ‘upsidedown world’ section is literally upside down, legible when readers rotate the book. Includes a hidden drawing on the inside jacket, a map and a decoder for secret messages.” 224 pages, 7 × 10, 4-color, hardcover, die-cut tears, mylarwrapped jacket, sticker, foil stamping.

2 Kristine Planche/Sarah Rafter/Hélio Teles, designers Nic Bradford/Taylor Toth, art directors Carey George/Sue McCluskey, creative directors Mike Barber/Mike Kanert/Erinn Steringa, editors Derek Moxon, production designer Jess Arnold, project manager Goods & Services (Toronto, Canada), design firm UXB Press, client “Tomorrow Is Too Late by Derek Emerson and Shawn Chirrey. Printed in black and white as a nod to the zines and posters of the movement’s heyday, Tomorrow Is Too Late keeps the DIY spirit alive in a fast-paced oral history of Toronto’s 1980s hardcore punk scene.” 320 pages, 9½ × 12¾ folded and finished, 1-color, perfect bound, fore-edge printing, individually hand-lettered covers.

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FRESH MICHELE MARCONI

Although Michele Marconi commonly tackles tricky, abstract topics—from finance to science to the future of technology—in his editorial illustrations, the Rome-based artist presents them in a way that feels easy. “I make illustrations that help explain the main theme and concept in a simple, direct way before readers even read the first word,” he says. The marriage of composition and clarity in his work reflects his background in graphic design, which he studied at the Istituto Europeo di Design in Madrid and Rome. After working as an art director at ad agency TBWA, he decided to freelance as an illustrator himself, or, as he puts it, join “the dark side.” Now he works with illustration agency Synergy Art and counts Apple, Google and WIRED UK among his clients. He credits an old pastime for helping him find new inspiration. “As a skater, I broke and had to replace a lot of skateboard decks,” he says. “Every time I was in a skate shop to look for a board, I was surrounded by decks with awesome artwork hanging on the walls. I still love going into skateboarding shops to see new artwork.” Thanks to Marconi, readers will glide straight to the crux of the matter in style. michelemarconi.com

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