Meet the boutique 360 production and post company impressing brand giants and music mega-stars with their limitless philosophy
True creative freedom is one of the most sought after qualities that any director could ever wish for. This is something that LA-based production company Drive Studios is proud to support, cultivating what can be described as a playground for its directors, to bolster exploration, imagination and experimentation.
In this way, the team strives ‘to make the exceptional accessible’ across all production and post needs including features, commercials, videos, art, VR, AR, experiential, and live action platforms. Their client list consists of numerous global names such as Apple, Adobe, Billie Eilish, Lana Del Rey, Eminem, Uber, Thom Brown, Snapchat, Ford and Honda.
Head of creative Louise Baker defines their approach as creative socialism: “This is a creative community - we all have good ideas and we all have some not so good ideas. We encourage everyone to participate in mining the best ones to find the magic formula for each project.”
Described as a ‘master tailor’ by the rest of the team, Louise is one of four partners, joining director and ECD Rich Lee, managing partner Justin Diener, and head of development Ned Brown. Her skills lie in finding bespoke approaches to each project, bringing together the most capable minds to accomplish it.
It’s this ability to find unique solutions to clients’ needs that seems to draw people to Drive Studios - a value that could stem from their founder, Rich Lee who is known to his peers as a natural born problem solver. He enjoys exploring the unknown in the realm of filmmaking, whether learning to pilot racing drones, building camera rigs or mastering a new VFX software, he is a non-stop tinkerer. And by calling on the other great thinkers and tinkerers throughout his career, he inadvertently assembled a group of people with similar desires to do things better and more efficiently, while constantly pushing boundaries. “The makings of Drive Studios started in my garage and eventually grew into a multi-level DTLA studio,” he recalls.
Rich began his career in New York as a sculptor and fabricator, creating set pieces for Broadway shows such as The Lion King, Titanic the Musical, and Phantom of the Opera. He eventually worked his way to Hollywood where he supervised 3D animated pre-visualisations of action and effects-heavy blockbuster films including The Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy, I Am Legend, Minority Report and Constantine.
Commenting on founding of Drive Studios, he says: “We started as a post house which was a natural first step because of my background as a VFX artist, but I had always dreamt that the company could support all the areas that I have worked in: commercials, music videos, film, television, tech, VFX, and live events. I wanted to create a home base where creativity in all these forms could be fostered in a way that supports all these interests as well as those from other like-minded creatives.”
Fellow partner and head of development Ned Brown elaborates: “We wanted to create a model that could shape-shift to accommodate different creative challenges. Rather than building a machine that needs to be fed by doing projects a certain way, we built a model that could adapt to be a bespoke fit to each project. Directors and creatives were immediately excited by the idea that they could workshop an idea instead of just being told what they could and could not do for their budget.”
Part of Ned’s role includes pairing exciting creative opportunities with the right talent, and figuring out how to make it all work smoothly in challenging timeframes and limited budgets. Having led various award winning companies during his career, he has helped forge relationships with brands in a way that pushes the boundaries of what storytelling can do.
Ned has also been a strong voice in steering the community by sitting on the board of the AICP for many years. He has built a reputation for using a more efficient and targeted approach in creative partnerships for brand building and believes that doing good work also entails doing good. “Relationships with artists and brands that keep coming back tell us that our formula works,” he states. “Getting the opportunity to creatively partner with huge music artists and brands time and again shows us that fostering a collective creative process works.”
“We love to work with brands who push limits,” adds managing director Justin Diener. “Designer Thom Browne is particularly well known for this so we really enjoy collaborating with him, it has always been really fun and very fruitful in its reach.”
Justin brings over a decade of experience as a producer and has helped build a forward thinking company from the ground up. He thrives under pressure and enjoys facing challenges head on, particularly loving projects that span more than just one platform. “These briefs give us the chance to incorporate all of our strengths in short form, long form, music driven projects, social, digital, interactive and print.”
With a portfolio full of high level innovation for huge clients, Drive Studios is well-versed in pushing boundaries. Since the company’s formation, it has been nominated annually for various achievements in filmmaking by Cannes Lions, D&AD, CLIO, AICP, MVPA, and British Arrows, among many others.
More recently in 2017, the studio began its foray into virtual and augmented reality, including the first ever augmented reality live show experience for Eminem, who headlined Coachella 2018. This experience is activated only at his live shows and at specific times. Drive Studios created eight different pieces of AR content that are geotagged to the location of the stage and become what feel like impossible set extensions to the stage itself. As well as this, the app offers at-home experiences such as a three dimensional poster and portal.
“I’m incredibly excited about AR,” says Rich, who has been a long time collaborator with Eminem and has spearheaded the leap into AR. “From a certain point of view, we augment reality anytime we do a VFX shot or add something impossible into our traditional live action productions. With AR, the magic is seeing it all come to life before your eyes in real-time. It’s a trip and it’s so fun to watch others trip out on the magic of it too.”
As well as the Eminem app project, Drive Studios has developed two more AR apps - overseen by Louise who has worked in post production and visual effects on countless music videos and commercials, and has spent twelve years as a supervisor and 3D artist in pre- and post-visualisation for films such as the Amazing Spider-Man, the Hunger Games, and Transformers.
The first app, 4th Wall, was a collaboration with artist Nancy Baker Cahil who was inspired by technology after a VR demo at Drive Studios. She was hooked on how her art could be seen by anyone, anywhere, and the potential for AR to be used as a public art medium. The app that Drive Studios developed lets the viewer experience Nancy’s dimensional work anywhere in the world.
The second, 14th Factory, was a collaboration with LA’s famous exhibit. In an effort to preserve the experience of the 14th Factory, Drive Studios scanned each room photographically, then used photogrammetry to recreate several of the rooms in virtual and augmented reality so that anyone can experience the art, anywhere in the world.
Throwing Out The Rulebook
Drive Studios' ability to approach each brief with fresh eyes is partly down to purposefully not having a rulebook.
“The core tenet of our company is that we do not have one set way to produce something,” Louise asserts. “Company guidelines can be the death of the creative process so we work hard to avoid them and forget everything we know. The architecture of each project is individualised to cater to that project, and we try to imagine a new way to accomplish each job - that’s when real magic can happen.”
Because of this, Drive Studios “tend to work with directors who are not stuck in one box,” Justin explains. “We like to come at each project in a way that can offer the best approach to telling that particular story. We are also driven by nerdy desires to do things in a way that has never been done before, to push the limits of what we can do.”
It’s a core value shared across the team: “If you work with us, you can expect to be part of a unified team pushing a boulder up a hill,” Rich says. “We run from traditional client relationships and instead build partnerships – time and again it is far more effective and fun, just ask anyone. But most of all, they can expect us to deliver.”
Looking over their journey so far, it has been proven that Drive Studios’ collective creative curiosity and playful experimentation has pushed the boundaries of what’s expected to deliver work that truly lands. “Every day we figure out new ways to say yes to things,” Justin affirms. “Whether it’s with a new piece of tech or software, or a crazy idea from one of our interns, we are thirsty for new ways to tell stories, and we are just getting started!”