When Zero VFX CEO Brian Drewes co-founded the company in early 2010, he didn’t just gain entrée to the visual-effects arena — he also worked to transform it, launching Zync, a pioneering provider of cloud rendering services, in 2011. Google purchased Zync in 2014, freeing Drewes up to focus on broadening the purview of Zero VFX. Today, Zero has offices in Boston, L.A. and New York, where recent projects have included director Peter Berg’s Mile 22, director Antoine Fuqua’s Equalizer II and the animated Box for Progressive’s Get That House TV spot — but Drewes has his eye on mobile, AR, and other emerging content categories, too. We asked him Five Questions about local markets, business challenges, and the future of media.
StudioDaily: What are you working on today?
Brian Drewes: Today, I’m pulling location permits for a small commercial we are shooting in Boston; I’m visiting the set for Pete Berg’s Wonderland, which we are overseeing the visual effects on; probably budgeting on another feature I can’t mention (but will be an Oscars’ contender next year); and then pulling together some of our mograph examples for an upcoming ad campaign we are bidding on. And definitely tons and tons of coffee along the way.
How are the markets in Boston, New York and California?
All are both really different in some specific ways but at the same time, on a macro level, quite similar. I suppose it depends on what you are looking for. At this moment we find ourselves in a super busy time, in different ways in each market. We’ve decided to really focus Los Angeles on commercials and content while going with the blended feature/commercial model in both New York and Boston. Obviously, the industry is in a constant state of change, so I don’t feel it’s super valuable to try to guess where it’s all going to land. Better to spend your time figuring out what you do better than anyone else and playing to that. That’s the best option for a solid creative business.
What’s been the biggest challenge in your business over the last 12 to 18 months?
For me, it’s been about not letting super busy times in project-based work slow us down from our R&D and technology efforts. It’s really what I love to do, and with our track record of spinning out key technologies into meaningful IP, this incubation model, even for a company our size, can create great stuff. Worst case is it helps us do things others can’t. Best case is it hits like our cloud-rendering service Zync did, and becomes a tool the industry can’t imagine not having access to.
Where do you turn for inspiration?
Frankly, outside the industry. I took organic farming in college (total hippie) and my dad was a biology professor. So a love of the outdoors and science is, for me, where it’s at. I’m a huge proponent of interdisciplinary learning and truly believe that lessons abound, just as though you take the time and energy to draw parallels back to your own daily challenges. I’m always listening to podcasts on tech stuff, business theory and the like — but at the end of the day I always come back to being engaged by trying to understand the natural world through science. So I geek out with long articles about quantum mechanics that I only partially understand. But generally, even what little bits my little brain can process teaches me something I can apply in real-world terms.
Tell us about a recent project you’re especially proud of.
Back to the incubator model (Zero Reality Labs), we’ve always got stuff cooking, from a procurement platform for VFX tasks (www.openzero.io) to artist-friendly scheduling apps, and now some efforts into mobile engagement. I’m not a tremendous fan of VR as an everyday experience, but AR is another beast altogether. I see huge potential for gaming, advertising and integration of data into our everyday routines. So the project we are working on now is a mobile AR game, which even in early proof of concept is a blast. We are taking something fairly trivial we all do daily and turning it into both entertainment and competition. My goal is to prove out the theory that certain AR mechanics can become habitualized if they are well executed (like Snap filters). The belief in this theory is why I believe AR plus advertising is the future. Now, everyone could disagree with me and never play my game, but a) I don’t think so and b) if I’m wrong, at least I’ve had some fun trying something new.