Employers We Love: S77

December 18th, 2012 by Katlin McNally
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CCAD alumni at S77 (right to left: Chavilah Bennett, Scott Ulliman, Nate Reese (back), Andrew Mark, Chris Meister). Photo courtesy Rainer Ziehm.

Walking through the Short North, Columbus’ arts district, you will be sure to spot galleries, restaurants, and tattoo parlors. Look a little closer and you’ll see S77, a design studio that focuses on motion graphics.

Its work can be seen around the world and ranges from a Lil Wayne music video to EXPRESS online branding.

Out of the nine full-time employees, five are CCAD alumni: Chris Meister (Media Studies, 2006), Andrew Mark (Media Studies, 2007), Scott Ulliman (Media Studies, 2010), and Chavilah Bennett (Advertising & Graphic Design, 2012). We got a chance recently to sit down and chat with some of them about what it’s like to work in a creative environment alongside fellow alumni.

Q) What is it like to work with other CCAD alumni?

Andrew Mark (AM): Working with fellow alumni allows you to immediately have an idea of their background. You know that they come from the same foundation studies, and it gives you a good read on what they can do and how you can work with them.

Chavilah Bennett (CB): What Andrew said is absolutely right. I am a new graduate and have only been away from CCAD for six months, and coming here and knowing that everyone had a similar background was nice and made my transition easy and comfortable. We all had an initial commonality and can relate on some CCAD experiences, like all-nighters.

Scott Ulliman (SU): Honestly, I don’t really think about it (laughing). It does give us a common topic to talk about though—and there are plenty of times we sit here and chat about past professors and projects.

Chris Meister (CM): Yeah, I am with Scott in that I don’t think about this too much. I did know a lot of my current co-workers before starting at S77. For instance, I went to school and had class with Andrew, so we just had to transition our student teamwork to a professional setting.

CCAD alumni at S77 (from right to left: Scott Ulliman, Nate Reese, Chris Meister, Andrew Mark, Chavilah Bennett). Photo courtesy Rainer Ziehm.

Q) Why do you think S77 has employed a lot of CCAD alumni?

AM: The fairly obvious answer is that S77 is local, just a hop-and-skip away. I know a lot of people love the city of Columbus, and after they graduate they want to stay local. There is not only an attraction for alumni to come work here, but also for us to go search out graduating CCAD students to come work here. At S77 we are able to take comfort in the fact that when we are looking to expand we have people ready to join the team with similar training and background right around the corner. It has just developed into a natural relationship.

CM: When a lot of us have a similar education background we are able to know right off the bat when they start where their skills are going to lie, what they have a strong background in, and how we can mold that skill. Chavilah is a perfect example of this. She came to us with not a lot of experience in motion design, but we knew she would be able to pick up on this because she has a basic understanding in design and fundamentals, so we could easily teach her anything as projects roll in.

SU: To add on to what Andrew just mentioned about the natural relationship with CCAD—I have been working here for two years and it is primarily CCAD alumni, but I think it is natural and not intentional. Rainer [Ziehm] started this company and also taught briefly at CCAD, so when he is looking for new talent he is going to able to identify those people in town and where they are coming from—which is CCAD.

CB: Although there are a lot of CCAD alumni here, I think it is also important to note we work with a lot of freelancers based around the world. But when we are looking for a permanent fixture on our team, we pull from the local pool and a lot are affiliated with CCAD.

CCAD alumni at S77 (from right to left: Scott Ulliman, Andrew Mark, Chavilah Bennett). Photo courtesy Rainer Ziehm.

Q) What would your advice be to students and fellow alumni who want to work with S77 or a similar company?

AM: Develop your portfolio, definitely. Create a massive portfolio, and then you can trim it down to your best work. There are a lot of times that if you are a particularly good student you will have a big-fish-little-pond mentality. I think the best thing students can do is envision their pond as being the industry. They need to remember that they are not just competing against students, but they are up against professionals, too. That’s not to scare young designers away, since most employers will hire on potential, too, not just current work, but it is important to keep things in perspective and keep practicing and learning—because you will do that your whole career.

CM: Presentation is key. And for me personally, I love looking through students’ and peers’ sketchbooks. You can see specific projects in their final portfolio, but sketchbooks kind of give you a peek into how they are as a personal artist and what their passion is.

SU: Like Chris said, I like looking at sketchbooks and more personal work. A big thing when you are looking to get hired at a place like S77 is fitting in with the company and having something unique to bring to the company and the team. Always do work outside your professional or educational projects; that way you can show the company something else and little bit more of who you are.

CB:  I think a big part of being hired someplace and having people trust you enough to become a part of their company is being able to think creatively. It is not always about the skill level you are at; you have to be good, but you have to show that there is thought behind your work and that you will continue to grow. It is a continual process, and for me, I have learned an astronomical amount since I have gotten here and I have a lot more to learn.

CCAD alumnus Andrew Mark (right) watches a co-worker play skee-ball in the S77 office. Photo courtesy Rainer Ziehm.

Q) What past experiences do you share and remember from being a student at CCAD? How has this influenced your professional career?

SU: We do talk a lot about difficult and easy professors—and of course the all-nighters. We have also brought the competitive nature you have as a student here into the workplace. I studied a lot of 3D work in school, and it was a small group of students, and we got competitive with our work. I think it is the same way here and probably in any office. But with friendly competition you are constantly able to learn the strengths of others and able to develop your own style.

AM: All-nighters is one thing we all remember, and it is something that doesn’t disappear once you go into the professional world. There are a lot of things that are similar, though, between this line of work and your time as a student. In school you try and get a good grade on a project, and now you want to get a good grade with the client. So that mentality has stuck with me.

CB: Critiques have definitely continued into my professional life. Now you will get critiqued by not only the client when you present the work, but also your peers and co-workers. It is productive criticism, though, and really valuable in becoming a better designer.

CM: My favorite classes at CCAD were the ones with brutal critiques. I know sometimes they would make students break down and cry, but it was always so helpful because it was so truthful—like when they say, “This looks awful, why would you even turn it in?” In the professional world you need to kind of have that tough skin. Clients have an idea in their head, and they are coming for you for help, but if it is not what they want they will always be honest about it.

An S77 hallway, hung with part of their collection of albums released in the year 1977. Photo courtesy Rainer Ziehm.

Q) Why are you in the creative field—why do you love your job?

SU: What makes it great here is how comfortable I feel. I mean of course we can all wear what we want, but the people make you feel comfortable. I don’t ever want to have a job that is not as fun as this. You get difficult clients or boring projects occasionally, but then you remind yourself that you worked on a rapper’s music video that is seen now worldwide.

CM: I like the fact that we all do a little bit of everything, so there is never a boredom factor of having to do the same thing day-in and day-out. And there is also a level of freedom—if you want to start learning a new technique or something you can explore it and learn new skills.

AM: I really like the people here a lot. We can joke around with each other and small talk. Here at S77 we have a small, intimate team, where you know everyone’s strengths and weaknesses. I trust everyone I work with, and I have genuine friendships with everyone.

CB: The best thing about working here? There are just so many great things. The first thing I noticed when I walked in the door here is the environment. We are surrounded by toys; we are all big kids and everyone can take a break once in awhile. It is exciting to work on projects and then see them released on TV. Recently I worked on Highball [Short North’s Halloween celebration], and when I went there I got to see my work on the big screen—it’s a new, exciting experience.

Editor’s note: Their offices are brag-worthy. They have a bowling arcade game, a wall covered in record albums released in 1977 (based on the company’s name), a skee-ball machine, and a fully functional kitchen (word is that Andrew makes pancakes every Monday morning). We are a bit jealous.

CM: To jump off that idea—it is exactly like the music video we worked on for TI and Lil Wayne. It premiered on VH1 in October, and I got to watch the whole show and kept getting excited when they would say, “Coming up, the world premiere…” I know that if I ever get a project that is boring or slower than the rest it is immediately erased by the fact that I got to work on a Lil Wayne music video.

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One Response to “Employers We Love: S77”

  1. Sell Rolex says:

    It is productive criticism, though, and really valuable in becoming a better designer.
    Sell Rolex