Even in a job as cool as special effects rendering for Avengers and a multitude of other Hollywood box office hits, there are still challenges and pivots necessary to survival. The constant conversation happening around our rapidly changing business and technology ecosystem has everything to do with adoption, and that is for one very simple reason: We aren't changing as rapidly as the technology is advancing. We aren't adopting at the pace necessary to keep up. Well, some of us are...and in that category of early adopters and technological innovators is Chris Edwards, co-founder and CEO of The Third Floor.
Fifteen Years in the Making
The Third Floor is a pre-visualization, post-visualization, and virtual reality company based in Los Angeles which was founded by a group of artists who worked together on Star Wars: Episode III--Revenge of the Sith at Lucasfilm. The company was named after the location where they worked. The Third Floor's name-dropping capacity is wide. Their client list reads like a who's-who in big business, with heavy-hitters like Disney, Nissan, HBO, Marvel Studios, Sony Pictures, Samsung, Pepsi, and plenty more, but this success didn't happen overnight.
Growing into the Process
Edwards talked about how their first five years was a constant effort of trying to make everything work, making sure the next job came before the next round of payouts were due, and just keeping the lights on, so to speak. The second five years was what Edwards calls the optimization and systematization of what he and his team had built in the first five years. It was during this time that Edwards became a "real CEO" by expanding his capacity into duties that were less about keeping the lights on and more about turning new lights on. The Third Floor consciously focuses on keeping quality, creativity, innovation, and a strong culture at the center of what they are building.
Creativity Runs Deep
In business, what I've always known to be true is that my creativity and background in design has made me a better entrepreneur. Creativity has always been an apprenticeship model, where being nimble beat out homogenization any day of the week, and it still is. I remember being at RISD when they got their CAD lab gifted to them, some Apple devices with CAD and rendering software. This wasn't part of the curriculum at that time, but as students, we were encouraged to use the machines and kind of figure it out. That kind of approach, coupled with open-mindedness and a zeal for innovation, is the combination that brings sustainability. Edwards talked about how important it was for him to approach the "next five years" of their business going vertical and looking ahead, to keep their place in front while expanding their lead.
I think creativity gets misdefined, and really what that creativity can offer technology, design, and business is stability by way of flexibility and nimble thinking. Edwards compared this approach to being a short order chef. Every order coming in is different, and you have to make it on the fly. This ability to think on your toes is something creatives do very well, and something entrepreneurs need to be able to do well.
Leading the World
The Third Floor team uses the virtual world to imagine, plan, and problem-solve for stories in film, television, games, VR, and themed attractions. This is absolutely interchangeable with product design and entrepreneurial pursuits. Entrepreneurs and designers are setting out to imagine, plan, and problem-solve for their piece of the world and their niche in the marketplace. For all of the differences in virtual design versus product design, the similarities also seem substantial. The tools that The Third Floor team is developing to allow for rapid prototyping (hello, product launchers), and heavy visualization definitely mirrors the changes we've seen in product design as well.
Edwards and his team love helping the world's leading creatives realize their vision, even when the process or path to get there seems sophisticated and complex. Part of working in design or a creative field--or even entrepreneurship or innovation, really--is being able to simplify these processes to help others adopt. Just as product design and business is rapidly advancing, so is media and especially technology. It's very competitive because of the rapid advancements, which is exciting but also creates plenty of challenges. As we continue to be innovators, it's important to remember how much our work actually revolves around:
Simplifying the sophisticated solutions ahead of us, and
Stability by way of flexibility and nimble thinking.