October 11th, 2013

Some big brains, consisting of experts from across the digital media spectrum from advertising, films, visual art, and design industries, were in the house on Wednesday night for Think & Drink at the LA office. The Mill has long been focused on keeping its finger on the pulse of emerging technological innovations and we were thrilled when the poolhouse jumped in to co-host an event where we could dive deep into the subject.

Panelists included  Alastair Green, Executive Creative Director, Team One Agency; Sam Baerwald, Director of Film Productions, 72andSunny; Paul Debevec, Research Professor, USC Viterbi School of Engineering & Associate Director of Graphics Research at USC's Institute for Creative Technologies; Robert Sethi, Creative Director, The Mill; Winston Binch, Partner & Chief Digital Officer at Deutsch LA. The conversation was moderated by Annie Uzdavinis, Producer, the poolhouse.

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The big topics of the night centered around technology sparking creativity, here are some of the thought provoking questions and opinions from the evening.

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The chicken and the egg as it relates to creativity and technology.

Which comes first? Robert began by proposing something simple - that it is a little bit of both. You might find the technology interesting, and later on the idea grows from that, but it can also be the opposite. As the conversation evolved, the panel looked into the opportunities that technology creates (ex: iPhone fingerprint scan), and how art inspires technology and vice versa. We use technology both to spark ideas and to enhance existing creativity.

Democratization of technology and the third wave was of huge interest to both the panel and audience. With accessible technology, anyone can make a commercial, song, documentary, etc. This challenges agencies to create something that is beyond the norm. It puts us on our toes, pushes us to rise above the clutter. Winston provided some insight: "I think that companies that are leading have a mix of influences. We just hire kids now. They know more about social landscapes and technology - they're natives. We see a change happening. You've got to put yourself in a position where you attract these young thinkers." Additionally, most agreed that it serves as a way to stay on top of new technologies.

The conversation turned to the issue of how to keep abreast of new techniques with constantly evolving technology: "A big part of embracing new technology is the admission that you don't know everything and being able to open yourself up to an idea from a developer. We've hit the wall - let go of your own ego and see that a 17-year-old kid can develop something great using new technology." Well said, Sam. Or as Paul adds, "the best way to predict the future is to invent it."

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The panel moved on to a topic many hesitate to discuss out loud: fear-based culture. Clients want their work to stand out, yet are frequently stifled by the fear of doing something different. Annie began by saying that it's hard to innovate because people often want to go with ideas they have already seen elsewhere. Alastair brought the conversation way back: "I remember starting in the industry in London. I remember a lot of paper drawing and from that comes many interpretations. I have a love/hate relationship with technology; sometimes it holds us back. The prototypes are very rigid. Where's the interpretation?"

Winston made mention of a recent project he worked on with VW and Google. "It's like Nike+ for driving" as he put it. SmileDrive is an app that uses your vehicle's Bluetooth connection to keep track of and share your road trip adventures and more. Winston used this to support the notion of selling innovation differently. Not everything can be sold like traditional ad campaigns, nor does everything need to be created from scratch. Use existing technology to create something truly innovative, and boom - your work stands out! Winston continued, referencing the recent viral video promotion for the movie "Carrie" as a fantastic alternative to traditional advertising.

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Sam: Treat 72andSunny like a brand itself.  "We need to treat our agency like we treat our clients, making sure our company gets that love as well."

Alastair: Team One's move to Jefferson. While he kept hush-hush on the details, he mentioned plans that involve digitizing their new space from the ground up.

Paul: Developing a process to create realistic facial expressions for digital characters with Ira, one of his digital research partners. Digital Ira is a uses color-coding technology to detect the different areas of Ira's face that are activated when making various expressions. The hope is that this project will open one of many doors to giving real-life movement to digital characters.

Robert: Down to the structure of workflow and the collaborations across all offices, technological innovation is a core part of The Mill - from the R&D teams to Creative Directors. Every day is an opportunity to up one's game and knowledge across all mediums.

Winston:  Working on for the last 12 months and knows what to expect for the next 12 months: taking to a global platform requires taking in a massive amount of technology. But he reminded us that in the midst of the whole technological innovation craze, people really just want a good story.

It was bar none an amazingly talented group of panelists with their hands in all sorts of innovative work. It was important to both The Poolhouse and The Mill to gather not only our esteemed panel but also influential members of our industry to participate (although there was an unfortunate chair incident for Winston). The result was a night of challenging and engaging conversation and the biggest Poolhouse event to date. The goat cheese, peach and porchetta crostinis weren't so bad either…