Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Most Honorable Indeed - M&M's World Shanghai

There are times when I forget how awesome my job is and what incredible privileges God has allowed me to enjoy. 

With product design, there's always the next design, the next big deadline, the next season's line, the next store opening.  There's always so much coming up next that sometimes, you forget to just step back for a minute and look at what you've been a part of for the past decade.  


I've had the unique honor and privilege to be a character artist at Entertainment Retail Enterprises since 2005.  Before that, I learned the ropes of merchandise design at the Disney Design Group as a Creative Assistant Intern.  

To say that the past 10 years have been a whirlwind would be both true and untrue at the same time.  It has gone fast, but there's been a lot of growth, a lot of challenges, and a lot of work...I mean a LOT of work.  But then, there are moments like this of pure, unvarnished joy.  You get to step back from your computer screen for a moment and see what all your work actually looks like in real life.  

You do so many mockups and concepts and "virtual" art that sometimes you forget that this stuff is actually going to be real.  And then, one day, you see a kid walking through the mall wearing something you designed...something that was YOUR idea.  Forget the sense of pride in convincing your team or your client that it was a good idea.  This is a person who doesn't know you or anything you do and THEY thought it was a good idea.  They thought it was so good, that they bought it and now they're wearing it around...IN PUBLIC.  

That is an incredible feeling.

So I hope you'll understand that this post is, in no way, a self-promotional piece.  It's just a chance for me to share some of the immense happiness and profound joy I've experienced in being a part of something big and seeing it come together in real life.

M&M's opened their newest retail store this summer in Shanghai.  We at ERE had the unique opportunity to be a part of what was an immense collaboration of creative people, managers, merchandisers, buyers, and quite a few positions I don't even know about.  Let's just say it took a lot of minds and hands to make all of this happen.  

We got started immediately and began to research, concept, create, design, produce, and ship new, original, and creative product to a store that had not yet been built in a culture that was entirely new to us.  Scary?  Sure.  Motivating?  More than anything you can imagine!  

The combination of high-pressure and high-creativity is my favorite place to operate.  Being involved on the front end of the creative process allows you to think big and try absolutely everything as you slowly funnel down to what works and what doesn't.  Some of the ideas you'd think would be a home run don't resonate culturally.  Sometimes there are connotations you'd have never guessed - even down to which colors are popular and which ones aren't...I'll give you a hint though...red is VERY popular in China.  All of that combines to make the experience of working with the M&M's Shanghai team one of the most memorable, challenging, and rewarding times of my life.

The majority of the pictures you see here are of what we'd typically call "photo ops", affectionately titled in the store as "character moments".  No matter what you call them, they're life-size 3D M&M's characters with whom guests can pose, photograph, and remember their trip.  

When I was given the unique honor to design the character moments for Shanghai, I was absolutely elated.  I hardly had time to appreciate the excitement, because as soon as I found out, I had to start working on it.  On the concept end, there were meetings, sketches, 3D mockups in ZBrush, focus group feedback, revisions, research, cleanups, final sketches, and then one day, it was done!  The designs were approved and sent off...including a nod to the immortal Bruce Lee in his trademark yellow jumpsuit.

The intervening days were quickly filled with other work as most days are.  There are rarely slow days at the office, so as soon as I sent the designs off, I was on to the next project, almost forgetting about all the work that had just been completed.

And then...a few months later...

The pictures of the completed store started coming in.

At this point, I'll stop writing and let you see how the whole thing came together.  I've included some concept art in various stages of refinement so you can get a feeling for how these things actually happen.  Sometimes, you're creating turnaround drawings, sometimes you're creating fully realized airbrush renderings.  Either way, I really hope you all enjoy seeing the process.  

It's a privilege to not only be a part of something big, but also to realize that these "big" things are made by teams of normal, and totally awesome people.

It truly is a privilege...

and, yes, it is also an honor.

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