In the beginning was the word
The annual Portland Creative Conference returns next week on Sept. 28. The event is a celebration of people in the creative industries but its audience has broadened as staid companies from healthcare to insurance send their staff to spark a little creativity of their own.
Speakers have one job: to reveal their creative process.
The Business Tribune talked to three of them.
Wolfkill is head of Halo Transmedia at 343 Industries in Seattle. She was responsible for building the internal Halo 4 production team, shipping Halo 4 and was Executive Producer on Halo: Nightfall. Other game credits include the Project Gotham Racing and Forza Motorsport franchises, as well as Fable, Crackdown, Gears of War, and Mass Effect.
Part of making Halo work for television is deciding how to adapt moments that the fans may already know – preserving the details that matter while adding the right kind of depth for television, which may mean some perspective shifts. "It's threading a needle, placing the right 'artifacts' in the Halo world that respect our fans while also providing new story and details," says Wolfkill.
The big talking point in the world of gaming now is Fortnite, and how a free, multiplatform shooter game which combines elements of Minecraft and Halo (both Microsoft-friendly properties) came to spread so quickly and earn so much cash in in-app purchases of gear, skins (outfits) and emotes (dances), as well as season passes which exchange dollars for "V bucks."
"It's always a good moment to make sure we're paying attention to what's going on out there," says Wolfkill, talking about how to deal with shifts in the industry.
"You get heads down (in your own work), and it's not like we can change a game direction overnight."
Wolfkill notes that the industry has changed from the early days of the single creator model, such as Shigeru Miyamoto and Mario, or Mario Alexey Pajitnov and Tetris.
"There must always be a vision holder but the narrative of the game development experience isn't just about that single person, it's about the team and the studio."
More disruptive than any one game (Fortnite) is the rise of streamers. These are professional game players who stream themselves playing live at home on Twitch and YouTube and can make six figures in ad revenue and endorsements. Tyler "Ninja" Blevins, 27, one of the best known Fortnite players, used to be a Halo esports pro competing even in the 2016 X-Games in 2016. He was recently the first ever esports player on the cover of ESPN.
"Ninja gives us a shout out every once in a while," she says with a laugh.
"Even though e-sports has been around a lot longer than people think, streaming and Mixer and Twitch have changed the face of gaming. (These players) have become the public face of gaming, which is interesting. The who shift to video games being not so much something you play as something you watch is super interesting, and something I am at a personal creative level still trying to get my head around. I don't have kids so I don't get to watch their behaviors day to day."
She watches some streams but not with the dedication of a 12-year-old boy.
"I get the gameplay, but it's interesting to see the personalities they gravitate toward. More so than Fortnite, that's been one of the more disruptive changes in player behavior that's come along that I didn't necessarily foresee."
Raamia Mohamed made a name for herself writing eleven episodes of the hit TV show Scandal, about a black, female PR person/fixer working in the political belly of Washington D.C. She worked on "Grey's Anatomy" and "Off the Map," and is now cowriting a pilot about black teenagers set in the upper middle-class part of Los Angeles where she was raised, Windsor Hills.
She and her cowriter, Issa Rae, who is from the same neighborhood, start working in Word documents, then move on to using Movie Magic or Final Draft. They throw scenes back and forth remotely using Google docs, but get together face to face to fine tune the action.
"Luckily we've both worked in TV and have a shorthand. We're creating something similar and we get along well." Rae's web series Awkward Black Girl became Insecure on television.
Mohamed grew up loving Beverly Hills 90210, Felicity, Moesha and Dawson's Creek, all shows about affluent teens, so creating a show in her own neighborhood seemed natural.
"They (HBO) were looking for someone to helm a show, someone who knows TV, how to break a story, formulate pitches, and someone with authority," she says.
Breaking a story, she explains, means fleshing out the action.
The pilot will get shot so the studio can see how it looks. If all goes well the pair will crank out a season.
"If you create strong characters it's not that difficult to come up with stories going forward.''
The show will be less of a procedural, like Scandal where the hero solves a problem every week. "It'll be more like Dawson's Creek, a new storyline every week but delving into characters and their relationships."
Windsor Hills has the greatest concentration of black wealth in the nation. Mohamed still visits her mom there. However, it is "surrounded by a lower income area. It's becoming more gentrified. Parts of L.A. are getting expensive, and this is an area people didn't know about."
Gentrified in this case means white people are moving in. She relishes the chance to write about class and race together, and find drama where the two forces intersect.
"If you have a character who can defy expectations I think you're creating a character that feels real and people can relate to. The spoiled princess who hasn't worked her whole life, people have expectations of what she should be. But when that person has a moment of integrity that might be a surprise." Ditto a Latino man coming out of prison after 15 years.
"The only way to really show a character and have someone relate to it is to show all the sides. It's unfair to limit characters."
Richard Ting works at powerhouse ad agency R/GA. Their Portland office, R/GA Ventures, was in the news recently for partnering with the Oregon Blockchain Venture Studio, which has attracted investment from Nike, Intel and OHSU as well as taxpayer money.
As Global Chief Design Officer, Ting works with hundreds of designers to come up with digital experiences, which could be an online music service or a running app.
He's also a "sought-after digital thought leader" and he taught "Designing the Future of TV" at NYU's Interactive Telecommunications Program. On Twitter he's @flytip.
At Cre8con Ting will be talking about design humanism, a way of using design to solve massive human problems rather than as just a means to make things look good.
"Think about health and fitness. Designers can help people by making products to help us exercise more or eat better. They can apply design to real issues we're facing. Designers have a role. We're trying to send a message to young designers, to better the systems, services, institutions and platforms that determine how humans interact."
Digital brands have to impress in the first thirty seconds. Uber he likes, especially how you can track the car. So, an electric scooter app, "If it feels clumsy and not trustworthy, that's your first impression of that brand."
At R/GA, they have their own brand and their own unique ways of working.
"Designers don't sit with only designers. The model is cross-discipline, designers sitting with copywriters and technologists. The magic happens in the intersection of the disciplines."
Steve Gehlen the chairman of the Portland Creative Conference (Cre8con), sees process as they key to the modern workplace.
"Cre8con has always been about the creative process across all creative industries. No matter what you create, process is the common denominator. This way any attendee can gain something new from any speaker, no matter what their specific work is."
He's all about the D-word too.
"When putting together the speaker roster, I focus not only on impressive work, but also on diversity — industry, gender, ethnicity. I think that results in a richer experience," says Gehlen, who also curates the speakers. "The other great thing about these speakers is that they are donating their time to help support our non-profit cause of providing funds to various youth arts education programs in Oregon."
Cre8con 2018 Speaker LineupJohn Gourley and Zach Carothers — Portugal. The Man. Grammy winner 2018. Chuck Klosterman — New York Times bestselling author, writer for ESPN, GQ, Esquire, and Spin Kiki Wolfkill — Halo video game franchise transmedia Studio Head. Raamla Mohamed — Screenwriter/Story Editor/Supervising Producer for ABC's "Scandal" television series Richard Ting — R/GA agency Global Chief Design Officer. Arianne Sutner — LAIKA Producer (Kubo and the Two Strings, ParaNorman). Ronnie Wright — Jordan Brand @ Nike Footwear Design Director, Singer/Songwriter Paige McKenzie & Mercedes Rose — Mother-daughter team from Portland who went from a Web Series to a YA Book Series to a TV deal for The Haunting of Sunshine Girl.
Reporter, The Business Tribune
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