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This summer we had the chance to talk to Lance Evans, the founder and creative director of Graphlink Studio. Many 3D professionals in the New York area also know Lance as the co-founder -- along with Sara Sprague -- of the 3DNY.org, a professional user group focused on visualization. A long-time New York artist, photographer and graphics professional, Lance reveals a fascinating chain of events which have led him and his studio to prominence in the New York City advertising industry. Aspiring 3D professionals may find it revealing too, the way in which art and its production have taken a certain evolution in New York City as compared to the creative industry in Hollywood.


AFR When you founded Graphlink Studio what was your background at the time and how did you get into computer graphics?

LE My personal background was the fine arts--years before computer graphics existed. I originally started in painting, printmaking, and later fine art photography. I spent a few years doing the art world scene with both gallery and museum shows, getting reviews in the New York Times, and mentions in Art in America. At one point in time I began working on a photo series of black and white night images of people in exotic locations--very euro fashion influenced. A close friend at the time was the main Haute Couture buyer for all Sak's 5th Avenue stores, and he persuaded me to go commercial. It was a great change for me, and I began shooting for fashion houses, and companies like Warner Communications and Ringling Brothers. I also started shooting a series of portraits of outstanding New York personalities like Supreme Court Justice Weisberg, Broadway producer Morton Gottlieb, artist/choreographer Geoffrey Holder, Sydney Biddle Barrows (the famous �Mayflower Madam�) and many others.

AFR So you moved into photography?

LE Yes, I continued to shoot commercially and kept other media on the back burner until the late '80's when the Mac started to make art. I rushed right out to buy an entire Macintosh computer rig and fell instantly in love with its potential. It also gave me a good reason to get back to graphics after a long stint with photography. It was at this time we changed the name of the shop to Graphlink Studio.

AFR So you really did a full loop from graphics and art to photography and then the Mac actually helped you come back around to art--3D art of course. Now that digital photography is such a large focus have you had much interest or need to jump back into your photography skills?

LE The Mac made commercial illustration a possibility for me. I would not have done it the old way--too time consuming and then a client makes a change. Digital is faster and crazy client changes are bearable. In a sense, the Mac was to art, what the camera was to photography--both allow the creation of imagery without making the artist paint every stroke themselves. Very liberating and economically essential.

AFR How did you get into 3D work? How did that evolve?

LE We had not planned it. Our client Shearson-Lehman Brothers/American Express wanted to create a large in-house multi-media department and Graphlink was brought in to help launch it. We provided consultations, and large amounts of multimedia design/production.

In producing all of this early multimedia work we found an increasing need for 3D graphics. This was in the days of Swivel 3D and Infini-D one point-something. Although some people were doing 3D, most was garbage, and expensive. We figured we could do garbage cheaper (laughs...).

In no time we were hooked on the technology, and a short time later became aware of a new program that delivered a professional level of 3D on the Mac. We became one of the early adopters of what was then called Electric Image Animation System. Later we added Form-Z to the toolset and we were off and running.


AFR Were you able to launch into 3D with clients right away?

LE We were one of the first graphic shops in NYC to go digital, and it was not the easiest thing to do. In the early days of digital, the tools were very rough and there were a lot of technical problems. Remember, color monitors hadn't even come out yet!

All of the fancy photo manipulations, multi-media and 3D work we had wanted to do had to wait a few more years. Instead we pursued design and graphics jobs for magazine and book publishers including Scholastic, Van Nostrand Reinhold, and NewLife. Then later advertising work for Jerry Della Femina, J. Walter Thompson, Bates Worldwide and other agencies.

AFR One of your interesting early 3D projects involved a portrait of a real life Princess? Who is Princess Lynn Von Furstenberg and how did that project come about?

LE An active NY socialite, Princess Lynn was married to the Prince Egon Von Furstenberg. His first wife was of course Diane Von Furstenberg, and they have all been very involved in the fashion industry the past 30 years.

I was shooting Lynn's portrait and publicity photos, some of which were to be used in conjunction with the couture fashion house of Ungaro. We shot in her upper east side apartment using black and white film. A short while later I realized that the full length shot in the Ungaro gown needed to be even grander than her city dwelling allowed. So I decided to replace the indoor archway background with a storybook Roman style archway sitting in the middle of a lush outdoor scene.

AFR What tools did you use?

LE The modeling was done in form-Z, and the scene built and rendered in Electric Image. Some post illustration was added in Photoshop, and of course the black and white Princess had to be hand colored. The final image was a great departure from the original vision, and had a much greater impact.

AFR Over the last decade Graphlink has worked for many top ad agencies providing a variety of creative services. What projects have you produced and how has your 3D and visual effects ability shaped Graphlink's position in the advertising market?

LE I have eclectic tastes, and run my studio that way. We explore and get involved in an astounding range of projects. Over the years we have done work for Miller Beer, Trojan Brand Condoms--their screen saver was the first mega-download on the Internet--and projects for Absolut Vodka and Sepracor Pharmaceuticals for the Lowe-McAdams agency. We also do annual reports for Merck and have done a number of EDS advertising campaigns, and literally hundreds of other brands and clients I can't even remember right now.

The common thread through all of this work is that we produced it digitally. And at least 90 percent of it all involved the heavy use of 3D. Many times even when the product did not look 3D.

AFR It sounds like 3D technology has been an advantage even while you were doing more traditional 2D graphics-like work.

LE As an early adopter of 3D, Graphlink was able to provide our clients with a product that was often not available elsewhere. As more shops jumped into the fray, we stayed ahead of many by offering a level of expertise and craftsmanship others may not have had. Ultimately, we also stayed ahead by understanding both the needs of the client and the breadth of the technologies involved. Let me try and explain what I mean by that and give you an example.

Within a few years of Graphlink going 3D there were a number of shops that could knock out good 3D imagery. This is critical, but not always the watershed capability in and of itself. When Miller Beer needed their "Cap Races" campaign imagery they knew the art would be needed for a wide range of uses, including being reproduced across the walls of huge multi-story brick buildings used as a billboards in many markets. Few illustrators could hope to deliver a digital file with enough resolution to come close to such a task. Traditional illustrators could do a large painting, but the content would also need to be used as animation. The question was how could all of this work be done efficiently without compromise to quality?

Graphlink looked at the range of needs, and the technology, and using 3D devised a way to create the entire work in an object resolution-independent environment. This allowed us to scale any of the work we did for the client up or down and not suffer the loss of resolution or resort to "resizing up". We produced animations, art for ads, and art for building sized billboards all from the same files!

Along the way we have developed a large backlog of custom solutions. Some of these are workflow based, and some are software based where we have created custom software solutions for our in-house use. I think having this range of resources and expertise has always quickly differentiated Graphlink Studio from other shops.

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Tools for Success
Power Macs
Linux Servers
Linux Workstations
Dell Win XP Systems
Mac OS 9
Mac OS X (Jaguar/Panther too)
Electric Image Universe
Adobe Photoshop
Adobe After Effects
Adobe Illustrator
QuickTime Pro
Code Warrior
Custom Software
PHP, C++, Basic, MEL

Graphlink Studio uses a wide array of computer technologies and platforms to suit the diverse needs of its clients.

The firm would love to see Apple come out with deeply affordable Xserve 1U servers so that they could build render farms using Apple' Mac OS X with industry-leading perf./price ratios.

Graphlink Studio has at times up to 20 employees with a diverse range of design and computer technology backgrounds. The firm has lots of video and photography hardware and even its own B&W photography dark room.




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