Pixel Farm 2.0

  • Article by: TODD NELSON , Special to the Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 24, 2012 - 11:40 PM

Minneapolis design and post-production studio Pixel Farm reaps benefits of adding creative services.

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Bill Kruse, executive producer of Pixel Farm, left, and Paul Sadeghi, director of operations in their Minneapolis office complex.

Photo: Marlin Levison, Star Tribune

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Pixel Farm produces a bumper crop of work, from the rousing opening video for Twins games to visual effects, animation and sound and music for commercials, music videos and film.

As widely as that output varies, it all begins with digging down to unearth the narrative root of each project.

"Our process is always defined by us finding the story in each piece of work that we do," said Pixel Farm executive producer Bill Kruse. "Storytelling is the heart of what we do."

That has held true, Kruse said, even as the high-end, high-tech tools needed to produce that work -- from visual effects for a Prince video to a plaid-swathed street for a Target fashion spot -- have become more powerful and the delivery platforms -- from smartphones to stadium screens -- have proliferated.

Pixel Farm's own story has evolved as well. The company, which has 60 employees, finished 2011 with $7 million to $8 million in revenue. That was up 20 percent from five years ago, despite the Great Recession. The company expects to see sales rise by up to $1.5 million this year.

The studio has done work for Target, General Mills, Best Buy, the Minnesota Twins, the National Hockey League, Sunny Delight and J.C. Penney, either directly or through ad agencies working for those companies, according to Pixel Farm marketing director Sarah Edwards. 

Pixel Farm was founded in 1995 by Mohsen Sadeghi, an experienced feature film editor and producer when he immigrated to the United States from Iran in 1968. As president and owner, he reinvests heavily to provide the company's artists and producers with state-of-the-art software and hardware.

Recent growth has come as the company added creative services to its post-production capabilities, which already enjoy a wide reputation for fast turnaround, competitive rates and high quality.

"We've morphed over the past five years into a company that we think of as a creativity company," Kruse said. "We're a company who wants to find creative solutions to whatever problems are posed to us, whether it be from an agency, a corporation or an artist."

Creative services represent about half the company's business today, according to Paul Sadeghi, director of operations, up from 10 percent five years ago.

"We're unveiling Pixel Farm 2.0," Paul Sadeghi said. "We've got such a rich history of post-production work, it's inspiring and amazing how we've been able to grow and push into other realms.

That evolution now has Pixel Farm looking to be a leading storyteller at the forefront of what Kruse sees as "the convergence of design and filmmaking and advertising." The company is focusing on having the staff, equipment and strategy it needs to capitalize on that convergence and to execute in entertainment, apps, mobile and social media and more.

Driving the change in part is a combination of diminishing ad budgets and the explosion of social media and mobile devices as new ways to deliver content, Paul Sadeghi said.

"A website, a YouTube clip and a social ecosystem around that can have as many impressions as some of your high-buck [TV] spots," he said. "It's becoming a lot more sophisticated and there's a lot more strategy in how you deploy."

Aldo Hertz, executive producer at Minneapolis ad agency Peterson Milla Hooks, said he has brought in Pixel Farm for visual effects and other services since the studio's early days. He said he has increasingly looked to Pixel Farm for creative input in recent years.

"I'm a big fan of theirs," Hertz said. "Part of it is their attitude, which has always been gung-ho and eager. They've grown in their ability to collaborate. They're more likely to offer up ideas than just execute ideas."

Freelance video director Chuck Hallau of Hallau Shoots in Chanhassen also has been working with Pixel Farm since it opened.

"They have a great team of people, it boils down to that," Hallau said. "Not only are they creative but they're nice to work with and they constantly come through as far as my budget and timelines are concerned. They're working with global players who can go anywhere in the world. That's a mark of [Pixel Farm's] professionalism and a real achievement."

The expert says: Scott Bowman, director of media technology and adjunct instructor in media arts at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design (MCAD), said Pixel Farm is a significant member of the Twin Cities creative community and serves as a valuable example to students of what he said was a new paradigm in their work and in business.

"The long-predicted convergence of film with design, marketing, animation and Web and mobile development and delivery has happened," Bowman said in an e-mail. "[Students] leave from a field trip to Pixel Farm incredibly excited because they see that the cross-disciplinary nature of the work being done there for major clients isn't so different from the cross-disciplinary nature of their own arts education."

"Bottom line, Pixel Farm has been nimble in adapting to a rapidly changing media landscape," Bowman wrote. "That's exactly the kind of organization and creative culture I want our students exposed to."

Todd Nelson is a freelance writer in Woodbury. His e-mail address is todd_nelson@mac.com.

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    Business: Offers production, post-production and creative services to agencies and advertisers, corporations and independent artists. Offerings include visual effects and finishing, animation, film transfer, music, sound design and creative editorial.

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