Tag Archives: office space

Office Space: Chel White’s Forest


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Chel White, in his natural habitat

Chel White’s “natural habitat”

On anyone’s first day on the job at Bent Image Lab, there’s this inevitable neck snap of a double take that happens as they are shown around and walk by Chel White’s office for the first time.  Sometimes there’s a sound that accompanies this action – but this is no kung-fu  soundtrack…  this is the much more low key true-to-life sound you hear when you see something unexpectedly awe inspiring.  Sometimes the whoosh has a “wha?” attached.  Sometimes it’s more of a “gah.”  Other times it’s merely the sound of the lower lip separating from the upper as the jaw drops wide open.

Welcome to Chel White’s forest – an office honed to Pacific Northwest perfection over many years spent directing and supervising independent features, commercials, music videos and other creative endeavors at Bent.

I like a good challenge as much as the next guy, but I’ll admit trying to put what Chel has created here into words will be a tall order.  Let’s try this – it’s a bit voyeuristic but here’s a panorama I snapped and stitched that puts you in the center of the room.  Click & drag below, have a look around!

Can you feel it?  It’s a kind of calming effect.  That same feeling you get when you’re fully enclosed in Forest Park and see the buildings of the city melt away as you ascend up into the redwoods, sequoias and pines.  It took me a while to catch myself doing it, but each time I walk into Chel’s office I almost subconsciously take a deep breath as if there was fresh forest air waiting for me inside.  Yes, I’m being completely serious – this scene he’s created…  it gets me every time.

mirrorI guess it’s no different from a breath you might take when you’re about to tee off at the first hole of the frisbee golf course at Pier Park amongst the trees, or when you take that first step onto, say, one of the more manicured college campuses around here – maybe Reed College down in Woodstock, NoPo’s U of Portland, or Pacific out in Forest Grove.  Or maybe you’re hiking up that trail to the top of Multnomah Falls.  Depending on how long you’ve lived here, you may not quite have put your finger on it yet, but you most definitely know it;  it’s that impossible to define “forest feeling.”  For some of us it’s half the reason we live in the NW in the first place.

But let’s not kid ourselves, this is an office space that lies within the heart of Bent Image Lab.  There’s work to be done — a mountain of it!

And make no mistake – lots of intense, amazing work does flow through this office in particular.  But thankfully (for our sake), the calming effect makes it a much-needed eye of the hurricane.  You step out of Chel’s door and it’s chaos at 24 frames per second (ok, sometimes 30).  But step inside and close the door, and you might be safe if not just for a moment.

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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.