At Escape Technology we’re deep into planning our next Creative Rooms event. We host it twice a year and this will be the fourth iteration. What’s exciting for us this time is that we’ve outgrown our old venue and have had to move.
Our new space, Oui2 Rooms on Great Titchfield Street, has won PR venue of the year for two years running, and it gives us the extra space we so desperately need.
For me, the fun of planning these events is broad. From searching for a venue to gathering sponsors, discussing topics for sessions to designing the space - it’s all part of a larger whole that gives me great satisfaction.
Part of that is pride. Creative Rooms is an Escape Technology invention and there’s nothing quite like it in the VFX industry - at least not in London. But there are challenges that come with the territory. Because it’s so very different it’s often viewed as an unknown quantity. Pitching the idea to sponsors and presenters can yield a wide selection of feedback. Now that we have three events under our belt, however, it’s a little easier.
We arranged the first ever Creative Rooms - hosted in July 2015 - knowing full well that it would be challenging. From the outset the plan was to run more than one so we proposed some investment: with a small budget we would purchase the furniture we needed instead of hiring it. That made the first event’s budget very tight indeed so we ran for just two days - including set-up and pack down. The theory behind this was to show that you could, in actual fact, set up a creative studio in under a day. Half a day in fact. And we proved it possible. On the back of those choices, the budget for the second event was higher, and went further because we no longer had a cost of hiring furniture.
With extra budget comes the potential for more ‘stuff’ at the event itself. Do you bring in waiters, staff, experiences? We did some of that, sure, but we spent the rest on bringing in a photographer and a film crew. For the first time we could brief an agency and film the event we ran. That decision alone gave us the proof we needed to pitch the third event.
But how did we even get the first one off the ground? By understanding the risks.
Suppliers are always going to be reluctant to fund a new event. When we pitched for funding to our key sponsors we knew what their concerns would be. So we prepared documentation to illustrate the talks we would host and the audience we would attract, along with answers to the questions we knew they would ask. Communication happened face to face to discuss what we were planning. This was vital: by talking with sponsors on a familiar, business-focused level we were able to explain the value in a more creative event.
On top of this, we made certain to bring speakers on board ahead of time. We were able to tell our potential sponsors that Milk VFX were involved, that The Mill’s Adam Dewhirst would run a competition, and that Wonder Vision were interested along with many more. With these names already invested we could show interest in an event that didn’t even exist yet.
It’s been a learning curve for everyone involved - something of a disruptor to the status quo of VFX industry events. We know that because our audience continues to grow and we are regularly asked when the next Creative Rooms is going to be.
Second time round was similar, but we had an event in hand as proof of the concept’s value. Technicolor got involved and very quickly we found ourselves with a compelling, visually dynamic event that discussed colour in all its forms. Panel discussions and knowledge sharing sessions increased in volume and we found ourselves packed to the brim with people clammering to join in. And we filmed it. With the budget we saved on furniture we were able to bring in a film crew and have some living proof of the event. Something we could use to show off. And something we could include in our pack the third time round.
This approach has been instrumental to the continued success of Creative Rooms. We pack it full of content we know is of value to customers - artists, technicians, directors - and make sure there’s lasting evidence of what happened.
The content has been key. Without it, no-one would show up. Creative Rooms was started to combat the lengthy, tiring vendor-led presentation events that are found the world over. The ones where people gather in a large auditorium and are talked at or sold to for hours on end. Instead we wanted to put people in front of other people - visual effects artists talking to other visual artists talking to technical experts. In essence, we wanted to create an open forum where people can freely share knowledge and not be badgered to buy a thing afterwards. (Don’t get me wrong, if you need a thing - at least a technological thing - you should definitely speak to our team. Their knowledge is seriously scary.)
What we’ve done is prove to our sponsors that by associating themselves with the amazing work produced by visual effects companies they benefit from being “cool by association”. Only in this context that means the technology that vendor provides is the best thing a VFX artist can have. Leading manufacturers such as HP and NVIDIA join with software businesses like Autodesk to help us bring Creative Rooms to life. And the benefits are noticed.
In Creative Rooms we have a platform to talk honestly about technology and the issues facing visual effects. The staff at Escape Technology pride themselves on being vendor agnostic - we’ll recommend the equipment you need, not the stuff we’re being pressured to sell. That makes us more dynamic than your average reseller. That and our engineering team are demigods of problem solving. Combine the knowledge sharing with the videos we produce, blogs we write, and people we engage with and you have something more valuable than any single vendor could provide alone on this scale.
What’s more, in my opinion, our partners relish the opportunity Creative Rooms provides. Where else do you get to talk to decision makers and artists from world renowned post production facilities, architects, game designers, commercials agencies… the list goes on. Our partners benefit from face to face contact with people who make the world of VFX what it is: a visual paradise you could easily get lost in.
And that in itself is a massive draw.