Tag Archives: keys to sanity

Office Space: Fashionbuddha


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Let’s talk Office Space. No, no TPS reports (mmmkay?) or bashing up malfunctioning fax machines here, although probably not a day goes by I don’t quote the genius of Mike Judge. Nope, in this case, it’s time to take a step back and have a look at the place we spend so much of our waking lives. Let’s talk shop, literally.

The Office Space posts will take a look at some of the best, most inspiring spaces and office environments in the Portland VFX scene. It’s an idea that occurred to me while doing studio tours along with my VFX classes at the Art Institute of Portland over the years.  As we got around town to a new shop each term, we started to realize we’ve got something special going here.

Oh, you know, it’s not always puppy dogs and ice cream out there.   I think we’ve all had our fair share of temp spaces where you look at your desk and it’s like, “why bother?”  Being the rough and tumble world of production that we live in (some more than others), often times we’re chucked into a garage or warehouse with a bunch of space heaters and ikea furniture and still meant to do our best work.   But growing pains and makeshift situations aside, there’s definitely something to be said for making the most of your space and surrounding yourself with things that keep you going when the going gets tough.  Once you get to be somewhere with permanent prospects, and they give you your own chunk o’ real estate to call your own…   that’s when things get interesting and you can start dialing it in just so. When this environmental evolution starts to take place, sometimes over the course of several years – you can’t help but see someone’s personality come through in their space.  Definitely one of the keys to sanity (tm).

In this first installment, we’re getting a tour not of just any one person’s space, but a whole studio worth.  One of my favorite Portland studios – interactive, design, animation and self proclaimed digital skunkworks Fashionbuddha! As if their previous west side waterfront office over in the old Merchant Hotel wasn’t cool enough, they’ve upped the ante and shifted across town to snag the top floor of the coveted Leftbank building, split alongside Sockeye Creative.  The ‘buddha is pitching anchor and setting up shop for years to come, and it’s now getting to the point where they can show it off. Let’s open that door and have ourselves a look – right this way!

As you walk up to the front door of the Leftbank, it’s hard for the Trail Blazers fan in me not to notice the proximity to the Rose Garden – directly across the street.  Which, of course, means we are also directly in the heart of the Rose Quarter.  A stone’s throw from the Broadway Bridge, and the first stop on the new streetcar east side loop.  Nice view!

The Leftbank building underwent a major refurbbing and rebirth in 2009, and it’s new wave of residents are as diverse as they come; in a strange cosmic way (or perhaps by design) they all seem to combine to form a sort of perfect creative Voltron.  A group of Trail Blazers in their own right.  You’ll see what I mean in a minute;  it’s a unique chemistry that’s on tap here, and we’ll take the scenic route on the way up to Fashionbuddha’s roost.

As you enter, you’re immediately hit with the wafting trail of coffee being ground by the Stingray Cafe, who are holding fort in Leftbank’s lobby.  Breakfast, lunch and the occasional late night pre-Blazer game fare served up daily.  I’ll order up a split shot soy mocha, thanks. It’s my day off and still before 10:30, so as usual I’ve not quite joined the living yet.  Better pep up for the tour and, really, who could make it past that smell of fresh coffee without getting roped in?

The funky wood encased elevator holds a bulletin board with all sorts of techie announcements and job posts, and it’s glaringly obvious that Fashionbuddha are not alone.  Other than the aforementioned Sockeye Creative, Leftbank is also home to a roster of tenants known affectionately as the family and notably in there is an office pod collective known as the Hive (not to be confused with Hive-FX).  As a freelancer myself, I always wonder if this sort of an office setup away from home might be a glimpse into my crystal ball?  A sole proprietor can presently rent a cubicle in the Hive for about $350/month, and have 24/7 office access and I believe shared internet, utilities and IT support, and including bike parking, shower, kitchenette, you name it.   Not to mention the energy and atmosphere brewing.  Mmmm, good coffee btw.

Speaking of brewing, I’m sorry but I seem to have pushed the down button in the elevator. I did say the scenic route, didn’t I? I couldn’t pass up the chance to head downstairs to Upright Brewery and their tasting room, which is a speakeasy style craft beer soire and defacto “secret spot” to meet up before a Blazers game. Well, not so secret now I s’pose.  It replaced the skeeballin’ good times at the Spirit of ’77 and then Windows (top floor bar of the Red Lion Hotel) as the go-to pregame ritual, and is such a great place to grab a pitcher with some friends.  Drink basement-style amongst the vats as people chuck on whatever record they’re feeling at the moment.  DJ Democracy in the house!  And the beer?  Solid, and even better given that it’s solidly priced.  Upright (named for jazzer Charles Mingus weapon of choice, the upright bass) keeps it simple and numbers their beers rather than confusing things with these “names.”  Roads? Where we’re going we don’t need “roads.”  🙂   I’m a #5 fan m’self…  but that’s for another day.  Let’s head upstairs and get the real show on the road (or lack thereof).

Yep, third floor, Fashionbuddha. Here we are!

Walking in, we’re greeted by…   just about the cutest white pit bull (mix?) I’ve ever seen,  and as friendly as they come.  Super cute.  Meet Bella, deserving of the title office mascot today.  I’m told Nemo, a 12 yr old Shepherd, is also usually at the studio.  Need me to sign an NDA, Bella?  Woof?  Hmmm, now is that a “yes” woof or a “no” woof?


The first impression that hits you when you absorb the room is how open the space is.  No divided cubicles here.  No generic painted gray or beige walls.  Windows all around, and skylights too. With those braced metal desks and smooth reflections on the metal surfaces complimented by wood and brick, you couldn’t raytrace it any better than this!  Ok, nerdy 3D jokes aside, the light does reign free here, but the computer screens are carefully angled so artists can see and work without glare, making you wonder why some of us work in spaces so low on light they could pass for dungeon if Game of Thrones was scouting locations around Portland.  Offices line the wall to the right, but notice all of the big gliding plank doors are wide open.  Some thick Feng-shui in the air – this space is well designed.  Everything is in it’s place for a reason, and there was careful thought behind the placing of every piece.  The mark of people who care about the visual aesthetic.

Executive Director Robert Lewis with Blue the puppet dog (from the Intel webseries Cam & Maggie)

Enter Skylab Architects, who partnered with Fashionbuddha on the design of the space.  Form and function given equal love, and plenty of personality injected along the way.  Everyone, meet Founder & Executive Director Robert Lewis, the driving force behind Fashionbuddha.

“They gave me a list of furniture and bits to buy and as I started to see it come together, there was an ah-ha moment.   Ahhh, ok, now I see why they chose those chairs, paired with those light fixtures,” he said.


And by now you’ve noticed the sofa.  The sofa.  To end all sofas.  What a couch!  Robert, ok seriously, can you jump on up there so I can show them all the scale of it? (by the way, worth noting that Robert is a normal sized guy despite being reduced to a Hobbit when sitting on a couch this size)

I mean, I’m almost without words here.  Pulling this pic into Photoshop before uploading made me feel like I was working on Alice in Wonderland all over again.  The sofa is a completely custom job.  Custom made to be massive.  Massively comfy.  He confirms that the entire company can fit on the sofa.  Best…    meetings…    ever.

The doors of the old office in the BG will become the conference room table

Moving from the casual meeting space of le grande divan, there is also a formal conference room, which is fully functional but a work in progress.  “The plan all along has been to take the doors from the old office and convert them into our conference room table,” says Lewis. “There’s a lot of history there.”

Several offices line the side of the main room, and with the open door policy you can’t help but wander in.  What’s this?  Further evidence that we live in the stop motion capital of the free world, that’s what!

There’s the remnants of a little miniature set with the familiar faces of Luke, Yoda and R2D2’s chrome dome.  Ha ha, Fashionbuddha recently finished up their contribution to the organic Star Wars Uncut, which is currently taking submissions for the The Empire Strikes Back!

Fashionbuddha chose scene 188, a great slice of a classic, and although I hesitate to put this as the first image some of you will have ever seen from Fashionbuddha, it’s just so darn fun. They earned this embed!

Star Wars Uncut Scene 188 from fashionbuddha on Vimeo.
Good times after hours, no doubt!  And it’s clear to anyone that behind all of the techie cascading style sheets and action scripting madness lies a heart deep rooted in animation.  Robert spills the beans as to the story behind the name, “Fashionbuddha is a character I created as a freelance illustrator. The site originally promoted my illustration but later grew to include design and programming work and expanded from there.”

Over the years they’ve had some amazing projects come their way across a wide variety of mediums.  Says Robert, “Object Stories remains one of my favorite projects;  thinking about the future of museum exhibits and the role of technology in public spaces is fertile ground for exploration.”

When it comes to VFX, Fashionbuddha uses it as a tool to support their narratives and design work.  Let’s see if I can dig up a past VFX heavy project that puts this heart of both art & science out on the ol’ sleeve.   I was just scrolling through Fashionbuddha’s uploads on Vimeo and I was reminded of this gem, a run of commercials done for the Monterey Aquarium a couple years back.  These were hot off the press when my VFX class strolled through and I was first introduced to Fashionbuddha. Very tastefully done, a nod to those stolen “did that really just happen?” moments.  Another embed earned, and this is more along the lines of the quality work you see repeatedly from the studio:

Monterey Bay Aquarium – Share the Love from fashionbuddha on Vimeo.
Worth mentioning that, like any big move, this one is being done in phases and this is still in the early days, relatively speaking.  There are more pieces being added from the Skylab directive, and other bits and bobs that will continue to refine the space over time.  As we walked around, Robert was pointing out “oh, yeah, we were thinking we’d do something different with that, and those cables there are going to be routed up over that way instead…”  They’ve brought the space most of the way but still have some refinement and works in progress to sew up.

Also worth mentioning, since this is the first of the series, that any of the photos can be clicked on for a larger view.  Don’t be shy!

Robert sums up the time and effort invested into the space with this – “I believe we could do great work in a coffeeshop, or even a closet, but ultimately we chose a space that inspires us and encourages us to share ideas and collaborate.  It’s also a space that has room to experiment and is located alongside so many other creative studios and people.  Our projects and teams are getting larger and more complex.  The new space allows for better collaboration, experimentation, and room to grow.”

Well said!  On that note, we’ll wrap up this tour and pop back out the front door.  Thanks for coming along for this one – we’ll be keeping an eye on Fashionbuddha as the projects continue to deliver, with great design and animation fueled by this incredible space that they’re weaving.  I’d say “thanks for the look behind closed doors” to Robert and the crew,  but yeah…   by the looks of things, none of those doors are ever closed…    🙂

Cheers to opening doors in the Portland VFX scene.

Pedal Powered


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The bike rack @ Bent Image Lab

This guy says to me today, “You’re going to bike to work? Like, a bicycle? With the wind and rain and all that?”

And now say in your head again, but be extra whiny where you see the italics to get the full effect of what I’m dealing with down here. Ha ha.  Yes buddy, yes I am.  Call me crazy, but tomorrow I will turn in the keys to that shiny company-provided rental car and proceed to bike 20km (12 miles?) each day to/from the office.  Not that it really needs justification, but oh let me count the ways: Gas is about $8USD a gallon where I’m working, a brief contract in New Zealand. I’ll be turning in some major hours on this crunch and I’ll need the exercise and “zen” time to wind down.  Ahhh…  that almost meditative biking state.  Or maybe some days I’ll flip it, slam a flat white and pretend I’m a bike messenger in NYC…   and race the clock for a change.  Being the southern hemisphere, we’re coming to the cusp of summer and along with it, the wind and rain is fading away.  Yeah…   ok, I could go on, but you know what? The short of it is… damn it, I’m a Portlander. We bike.

When I’m on these jobs where I’m able bike to work, use another gasless alternative, or hop mass transit – I have to say it feels good to have it dialed in and be able to talk about the ol’ commute without it being a total negative downer.  It’s become one of those keys to sanity(tm) I occasionally find the need to rant about.  David Byrne (yes, that David Byrne) intellectualized in his book Bicycle Diaries that the only way to truly become one with a city is to take it by bike. To step out of the armored steel chariot and leave yourself exposed to the belly of the beast.  And he’s right.  It opens things up and you can’t help but soak up life around you –  osmosis!  And soak Portland up we do.   And although that’s an unintentional rain joke – when we’re not biking in the rain, sometimes, we’re even biking naked.  Ha!

Portland and it’s bike scene are regularly ranked #1 as the Best Biking City in America by Bicycle Magazine. The biking infrastructure? 2nd to none. Fully wired with bike lanes & paths, some of which (like Willamette Blvd, Vancouver & Williams Ave, Clinton St, the Springwater Corridor) are almost better termed as bike “highways.” A healthy daily commuter parade that has created fully aware and bike conscious drivers that are increasingly cool with sharing the road.  Beautiful scenery, fresh air, the trees, the river. Ample parking, a bike shop every few blocks, custom builds and unique styles fully encouraged, bike racks on city busses and trains…   it’s not hard to understand;  Portland makes biking easy.

A recent survey at Bent Image Lab turned up that almost 1/6th of the company is biking to work these days, over double the city average.  Any given day, it’s a mob scene at the bike rack out front. A few catch the bus or carpool, and there’s a good number of Benters riding in lower impact scooters and motorcycles. Several are able to walk to work (jealous!). One absolutely crazy dude even drives an old Fiat convertible converted to 100% electric, and there’s another classic VW Karmann Ghia convertible in the Bent family that’s had the same treatment.

I remember during bike-to-work month last year at Laika (Entertainment) out in Hillsboro, there was a huge response.  I was especially impressed with one madman who regularly biked out to the studio in Hillsboro (far west of Portland) from Gresham (the eastern suburb). Let me say that again:  Hillsboro.  From Gresham.   Holey Corn (!!) –  I would guess over 30 miles each way, with steep grades…   2 hours both to AND from, I believe.  Rick, you are the real deal and have my utmost respect.  That, sir, was nothing short of phenomenal and a huge inspiration.  Hard core!

The icing on the cake to all of this would be to rally the studios in town to further support the biking subculture and embrace the fine piece of legislation that our own Oregon congressman Earl Blumenauer helped put in place a couple years back: the Bicycle Commuter Act! (click for more info)

I was first introduced to this while at Sony Imageworks in Los Angeles, who (as you can imagine) had very aggressive alternative transportation policy in place, being that California is total smogsville and needs all the help it can get to keep a car off the road. This is a nationwide program and it’s premise is simple: Bike to work 3 days a week, get $20 each month for your “trouble.”

That’s $240 a year towards bike maintenance, upgrades, gear, weather protection, and storage. Or more like pizza & beer…  we need to carb load it and fatten you up.  Ya bike too much!  Ha!

Bikers pocket the cash, and employers save 9.5% on FICA taxes, let alone the cool points and respect scored with employees.  Win/win all around.  No time like the present.   Just do it.  🙂


UPDATE 2018 – The Senate Finance Committee has suspended the Bicycle Commuter Benefit as part of the Tax Cut and Jobs Act.  It will return…     January 1, 2026.  Ah well, we had a good run.  Or a good bike might be more appropriate.

Lunchin’ II, electric boogaloo


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Picking up where we left off, the lunch post got some of us talking – let’s cruise around town and see what everyone’s up to.

Helvetia Tavern, if you can find it

SE Division – Bent Image Lab’s neighborhood is jealousy inducing for sure.  The sweet spot on Division & 26th unlocks the Division/Clinton strip and is within striking distance of Hawthorne/Belmont.  The quadruple threat!

I could eat Pok Pok Thai every day and not flinch, it’s the best I’ve had outside of Chiang Mai.  Also a fan of the beer slushie at the Whiskey Soda Lounge across the way – and if there’s a wait at Pok Pok, take full advantage of the Shanghai Chiang Mai tunnel (ha ha) – put your name in @ Pok Pok and they’ll retrieve you from WSL when your table is ready, and consolidate the bill.

But if I had to pick one lunch down Bent’s way, it’s gotta be Dots Cafe; that candlelit black velvet “Vegas” interior and it’s surprisingly healthy food options.  But that’s just me – we all know compers fear the light.  Update:  curse those new owners for opening at 2pm!  Hear that rattling at your door at 1?  That’s me.  Let me in.  I will take your food by force if necessary.

Take it from a bona fide Benter – Jalal Jemison (Head of Compositing) chimes in here and pimps both Sushi Mazi ($$ Amercicana Japan Fusion Fun Food) and the quickie Sushi Ben (more homey, mom & pop).  He also drops mention of Clay’s Smokehouse for it’s solid southern BBQ.  Mmmm…  catfish plate…

Nick Childs wouldn’t let me off the hook if I didn’t drop a truly FAT mention to Fat Kitty’s falafel cart, (btw – I’m mildly surprised the kitty has a website?) and oh will this guy give you much more than the steamy falafel you bargained for!  Fully take in the potentially slowest falafel in town and  remind yourself it’s not a speed contest…  time ceases to exist once the laughs start.  You’ll leave with enough deep belly laughter to last you for days.  Your face will hurt.  He’s both wild AND crazy.  Lube him up with some sports talk and see where it goes.  Tell him it’s your first time and to be gentle on the Siracha.  Just thinking about our guy here makes me laugh out loud.  So awesome, words cannot really do him justice.  No more spoilers;  this is something to experience for yourself.  Off early and looking for a happy hour?  Night Light (they finally bought a sign!).  Another gem:  the swedish meatballs at Broder.  Cart land:  32nd & Division   Coffee:  Little T’s

DUMBO/OMSI/Industrial – Hive-FX is nestled in what I’ve dubbed “down-under-the-morrison-bridge-overpass” kinda by OMSI.  Dangerously close to Bunk Bar and it’s deadly pork sandwich.  Compositor Adam Sager gets around town, and knows the spots down there – he’s quick to point to Le Bistro Montage, Produce Row Cafe, Robo Taco and if you’re in a pinch, there’s the cheap & quick Sparky’s pizza.  Coffee:  Water Ave

Pearl/Downtown – our man in the Pearl is Ryan Shanholtzer – long time Portlander who’s digging his, uh, digs over at Wieden & Kennedy these days.  In rapid fire succession:  The People’s Sandwich of Portland, in a cool location in Old Town.  The aforementioned Bunk Sandwich has the location downtown.  Ryan’s also a cart regular – which could be a post all to itself. “If you want unhealthy but delicious an Argentinean cart opened on I think Washington? In that pod by Alder/Galeria/Jakes.”  Steaks 5th Avenue, the cheesesteak cart (been going 15 years strong!).   I think we all know the carts can be a moving target, and Ryan added, “There was a ramen cart I loved that moved to Alberta and a Pork Sandwich place I loved that also moved. Man, those carts move often.  But I guess it’s in the nature of being a cart… ”

Tom Burney, pimpin' the Huggie Bites

Speaking of carts, my view of Mac ‘n’ Cheese is forever skewed by Compositor Tom Burney and his award winning recipe that was the basis of Starchy and Husk – not afraid to say that it was (formerly) best Mac n’ cheese in the city;  a bold statement indeed.  Speaking of course of the gourmet Gran Torino and it’s butternut squash w/japanese bread crumb perfection…  complete with a side of Huggie Bites (gluten free sweet potato “hushpuppies”).  Unfortunately for us all, Tom shuttered his cart after his new location didn’t work out.  Fortunately for us all, however, he’s sitting right next to me and pushing sweet pixels again.  Maybe if I do some roto for him he’ll whip me up some huggie bites for old time’s sake…  eh, Tom?


I'll take a Gran Torino to go

On the flipside of the Pearl, Co O’Neil (Dean of Education @ the Art Institute) hooks us up:  “At the high end, I like Irving Street Kitchen. Mid-range would be Lovejoy Bakery. Low brow would be Cha Cha Cha and Fuller’s.  Ooo! I also like Peem Kaew on the park blocks – Thai.”

Recent grad and Compositor Karch Coon (who we’ve loaned out to NYC temporarily) also had some good Pearl tips:  the basement burgers at Life of Reilly (ask for Dave), Little Big Burger (get 2! and don’t skip the fries), and a nod to the conveyor belt goodness that is Sushiland – tip: freshness is a factor, and the earlier in the day the better.  Cart land:  several   Coffee: Barista

Hillsboro – sure it’s out of town a ways and sometimes leads me to believe that it’s the edge of civilization as we know it, but let’s round things out with a whirlwind tour of the “renowned” Hillsboro cuisine.  An oasis or 2 in the desert out there near Laika Entertainment, for sure.

A smile @ Sweet Lemon (photo: Kent Estep)

The diamond in the rough in all my days out there turned out to be a little Thai Vegan Bistro 2 exits down Hwy 26 (Bethany) named Sweet Lemon.  Let’s talk muse power – because, no joke – songs have been written about this place.  Sing it with me…  “Sweet sweet lemon, she’s oh so fine…”    ha ha, the pop genius of Aidan Fraser right there.  Walk in and ask for the Alfie special, you won’t be sorry.

Roundabout that way is also the Fresh Thyme Soup Co, which does a brisk biz and never disappoints.  If you’re going to be out in the middle of nowhere anyway, you might as well go all the way:  a burger with a side of trucker hats at Helvetia Tavern ranks as one of the top burgers in the metro area (although I’m partial to Portland’s Violetta and the 10 hour tomatoes m’self).

Follow the tumbleweed across West Union and you’ll eventually come to Allan’s.  That’s pronounced “A-yans” for those in the know.  Jalepeno margaritas make the rest of your day interesting, and honestly darn near hallucinagenic.  It’s ok…  we are artists after all.  Aren’t we?

Also qualifying in the “where the hell are we?” category is the Rock Creek Tavern, a part of the McMenamins mafia and the only McMens venue making our little post here.   Do not go there if you are in a hurry.  No one cares if you have the menu memorized and can order immediately, especially not the wait staff.  Out past the airport – ViVi’s does a killer noodle bowl.  I’ll drop props to Longbottoms for the Salmon BBQ plate Wed-Fri, because last time I was in there they gave me a Bronto sized plank of Salmon.  Other than that, the sandwiches are usually good and if you can talk them into it, “Dave’s” bagel from the breakfast menu and it’s avacado+tomato goodness is a killer combo.  10% discount for Laikans don’t ya know, just flash your badge (why don’t more places do that?).  Speaking of salmon, the salmon fish & chips at Baker’s in Hillsboro proper is worth the trip.  In a hurry?  A bowl of Pho at Pho Tango gets you in ‘n’ out quick, unless of course you decide to order the Pho Challenge – oh yes, this is apparently the Vietnamese equivalent of the old 96’er steak from The Great Outdoors.  If you can finish off that marathon and evade death by Pho, pause for your photo because you’ll be a Pho King Star! (yes, yes I did)  cart land:  yeah right.  Coffee: Longbottoms.

What gets you going?  Drop a note in the comments and let’s do lunch.  🙂

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