As I walked in, “the music that plays before a sad country concert” welcomed me to Oddfellows’ Portland home (an actual description by an Oddfellow). The team was heads-down and finishing up their day. The lights were dimmed in the open space, with the aromatherapy machine pumping scents meant to calm. Stepping behind the scenes of this talented team was a chance to peek at processes which bring delightful design and animations to life. I knew their work before I knew their name, and that made the tour that much more special.
Reclaiming their souls by starting a company
Oddfellows founders Chris, TJ, and Colin had each sold their souls for other companies, putting in the long hours to create work that matters – but they all came to a point where it was time to reclaim their freedom. Banding together, they set out to create the company that would eventually become Oddfellows.
An award-winning animation studio expands to Portland
Oddfellows’ niche started with design animation for technology companies, such as Facebook and Google, so it only makes sense that they were founded in San Francisco. However, during growth they realized that San Francisco was not a place they could continue to expand.
With that decision, Oddfellows opened up shop at HatchLab PDX while waiting for their space in the easy-to-photograph One North building. It has been about a year so far, but one that has helped to cement the agency with its two homes.
A gift from a friend: brand
When Oddfellows started, it was without a formal name. Work had begun, but there was a list of over 100 (mostly sarcastic) names, and the team could not decide which to move forward with. But when an LA agency told them it was pick a name or get out, Oddfellows seemed like a name they could live with. It was not love at first sight, but it became the worn glove that just fits.
With a name comes a logo, but that in itself was a process. It took over two years, but friend (and incredible designer) Jessica Hische came to the rescue, designing a logo and brand that they are proud to use.
The “Unicorn Project”
This was the first big project for Oddfellows: work for Google Fi. They had been hoping for a project they had the time to sink their teeth into, and this was scoped with a luxurious 3-month timeline.
They tackled this project much like their others:
- Black and white to create visuals
- Designing and bringing in color
- Creating a graphic language
Then the project took a turn: Google wanted to change the script. Most of the work that was previously created had to be unceremoniously thrown in the trash. For a team that pours their heart and soul into a project, this can be devastating. But the team took it in stride, working with Google to use a new script and bring the animation to where it needed to be.
In the end, the Unicorn ended up being a 7-month engagement that went through many iterations and changes, but it gave the team an opportunity to really reflect on their process. They took the time to understand what went wrong and what could be done better in the future, refining their process to allow the small team to handle a half-dozen projects at any given time.
Originally, Oddfellows was very nervous about bringing characters into their process, though they started bringing in small features – hands, arms, legs. Then they were approached by Cartoon Network to create 15 second bumpers, and they ran at this project full-force.
They have continued to do more work for Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon, enjoying the added challenge characters can bring to the process.
How do you manage vast changes of scope, such as the Google Fi project?
The number 1 rule: have a buttoned-up SOW.
When you have a scope of work (SOW) everyone understands, outlining specific details (for Oddfellows that includes number of days, number of artists, and number of reviews), clients will understand how a change request will impact the project. This allows the team to continue working while the producer coordinates with the client to secure more funding. Luckily, it is very rare that a client not understand the process.
How much time do you spend doing research for a project?
Unfortunately very little time. Once a client comes to Oddfellows for a project, they are usually pretty far down the path of knowing what they are looking for. That sometimes results in the request being sub-optimal, which Oddfellows has to try to adjust as much as possible.
Ideally the team would be more involved in the research, concepting, and planning process, though it’s going to take a bit of time to get there.
Do you do your music in-house or work with other composers?
Oddfellows will try to use one of their dozen composer collaborators, people who are not employees but are very integrated within the team. They are in the Slack channels and have been around for quite a while. Sometimes a client or agency will require a specific composer, however.
With two offices, how do you work together?
There is a computer in each office that streams a live feed, allowing people to easily communicate with each other. Slack is used all the time – the perfect tool to keep people focused but the conversation flowing.
Photography by Taylor Adkins. You can view more photography of the event on our Flickr.