It seems there isn’t a facet of entertainment advertising that PETROL is not involved in. The agency has an impressive body of work that includes print marketing, video marketing, interactive web design, and online marketing for films, television shows, video games and more. From “Breaking Bad” to “Call of Duty: Black Ops 2″, if you own a television or have had access to the internet in the past ten years, chances are you’ll recognize at least one of PETROL’s visually stunning campaigns. I will be the first to admit, I’m completely biased when it comes to the LA-based firm’s amazing body of work, not only because PETROL’s team of graphic designers and digital artists are responsible for designing and developing FIDMDigitalArts.com‘s main interactive Flash website, but also because PETROL’s team is comprised of many alumni from FIDM/Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising.
The building feels more like a creative convention than your conventional workplace.
Last month, I had the great pleasure and privilege of visiting PETROL’s headquarters to talk with some of the inspiring FIDM grads employed there. As you approach the headquarters from an outsider’s perspective– nestled in an industrial complex on the outskirts of Burbank, California, it’s a bit obscure what kind of company PETROL is upon arrival. But as soon as their dark doors open up, you can feel the creativity energy billow out onto the street. With posters from popular movies, television shows and video games plastered across the walls, the inside of the building feels more like a creative convention than your conventional workplace. After a brief but inspiring tour of the facilities, I was introduced to Mark Baham, PETROL’s Senior Production Artist who graduated from FIDM’s Graphic Design program in 2000. As a fellow FIDM Grad, I was immediately curious about his career path from FIDM Student to Senior Production Artist.
Q&A With FIDM Grad Mark Baham, PETROL Advertising’s Senior Production Artist
(FIDM Digital Arts) Tell us a little about your role at PETROL.
(Mark) “There is a group of designers that are usually dedicated to the first round of design comps regardless of the type of project. It’s not like some designers specialize in video games and some specialize in movies. Every designer in this group takes a shot at the first round of comps. Once it gets passed the first round, more people get involved. Then, once it becomes a focused design and closer to finish, it gets passed to a third group of people that handle revisions and the final finishing process. That is the part I am in– from that point, to final delivery.”
Oh wow. That is some detail-oriented work. How did you land the job at a PETROL after graduating from FIDM?
“Well, I remember I was working for a different company at the time but was always in contact with FIDM. My cousin at the time was working in the area of the school that gets you jobs and she was saying there is a new job posting and it’s for PETROL. So she told me to call [FIDM Graphic Design Program Director] Steve Reaves and he would be able to connect me with it. So I called and actually talked with Steve and he was like ‘yeah, it’s a new company and they are hiring.’ I went down, did the interview, and that was it, really.”
You mentioned you were working at a different company at the time. How long after graduating from FIDM did you get hired at PETROL?
“I had probably been out for a year at the time.”
Impressive. Now that you have been in the industry for about 15 years, do you have any advice for current FIDM Students and aspiring graphic designers?
“Pay a lot of attention in your typography classes and anything related to production. I remember everything they teach actually happened as soon as I graduated. There is a lot of stuff you can pick up along the way, but the technical stuff was very real.”
Although Mark’s journey to PETROL doesn’t sound very glamorous, it showcases the power of networking and keeping connected with FIDM after graduating. Fifteen years later he is now working on dream projects at the senior level. After our brief-yet-motivating discussion, I was guided through an obscure door and surprised to find a full studio with a live photo shoot in progress.
“Great! Great! Nice! Very Nice! Look over your shoulder as if someone is chasing you. Now look a little scared. Perfect!” shouted the photographer. The shoot in progress was being confidently directed by recent FIDM Graphic Design Grad and PETROL photographer Alex Kapustin. After watching Alex in action for a few minutes, I pulled fellow FIDM Graphic Design Grad Evan Rogers aside who was the producer on the project.
Q&A With FIDM Grad Evan Rogers, Producer at PETROL Advertising
(FIDM Digital Arts) Can you tell us a little about your job as a Producer and what you were just doing at the photo shoot?
(Evan) “Basically my job is to oversee the clients objectives, met with internal creative direction so that everyone is happy. So, making sure our Creative Director’s creative vision for the project is being executed, while at the same time making sure we are doing what our clients asked us to do. I bring in talent, wardrobe, in-game assets…basically bringing all the logistics together for a photo shoot. [I work on] finding a location, building a budget, finding talent for the shoot, coordinating grip, electric, lighting, etc., so that Alex has everything he needs to shoot with.”
Did you get hired in as a producer? If not, can you tell us a little about your career projection after graduating from FIDM?
“No. I started as an intern. Steve Reaves introduced me to one of PETROL’s partners who then introduced me to Alan. Originally, I started as a graphic designer, moved into the illustration department, and then started art directing. As an art director I got involved with the photo shoots and quickly realized there was a need for my current position. So it’s a little bit of client service, a lot of creative, and a lot of logistics. It definitely keeps [my job] interesting. I’m lucky to be involved in so many projects. For example as the producer, I am on this current photo shoot this week, while last week I was producing a live event for a Twitch stream, and next week we are filming a commercial.”
Now that you have been in the industry for almost 10 years and have worked on so many projects, do you have any advice for current FIDM Students and aspiring graphic designers?
“I went to FIDM because I knew they have connections with the entertainment industry. That is why I chose FIDM. I was lucky enough to get an opportunity at PETROL and when you get those opportunities, you have to be persistent. I didn’t just get this job. You can’t come in as a producer or senior-level member of the company. I had to work hard. I have been fortunate enough to craft what I do here from nothing. The biggest [advice I can offer] would be to keep driving. When you get opportunity, keep hammering at it until you get what you want out of it.”
When you get opportunity, keep hammering at it until you get what you want out of it.
Lastly, I had the pleasure of meeting with Alex during the photo shoot and was pleasantly surprised to find out he graduated from FIDM in 2009. In that short amount of time, Alex has already forged his own path from intern to photographer and how he managed to pull it off is both fascinating and inspiring.
Q&A With FIDM Grad Alex Kapustin, Photographer at PETROL Advertising
(FIDM Digital Arts) Can you tell us a little about your career path after graduating from FIDM?
(Alex) “I did six months of classes and then had the option to do an internship. PETROL actually offered me the internship and I was like ‘sure, let’s do it!’ So I came to PETROL and, man, I fell in love. Everything felt amazing. After six months of interning I had to ask my boss several times to hire me on for anything but he kept saying it was a bad time. I finally graduated from FIDM and felt stuck. I was like ‘what do I do?’
In the meantime, I worked at my grandpa’s shop to make a little extra money. I was thinking to myself, ‘I can’t go back working there after graduation. That would be crazy!’ I came to my boss again and it was finally my breaking point. I was like ‘man I need something. I’ll do whatever it takes.’ He finally offered me a project. He was like ‘you know what, I think we might give you a position to make a portfolio for us. So you will take all of the work we do here at PETROL and create a portfolio for clients to get new clients.’
That was kind of my story of how I became a Junior Graphic Designer. I started my career in the production room where a lot of stuff comes down and gets finalized for printing. I learned a lot of skill from there. I still had an interest in being an illustrator so I tried that out but didn’t stick there too long.”
Fascinating. So your persistence paid off! How did you transition into photography?
“One day I brought in my personal photography book that I had done in the past to show my coworkers and somehow it trickled into my boss’ office. He saw the book and was like ‘hey man that is some great stuff, would you like to do some photography for us?’ They didn’t have an official photographer at the time. I was like ‘yes of course’ and had to pretend like I knew what I was doing. I didn’t know how to use a lot of the equipment in the studio, like strobe lighting and I essentially started picking up my skills as a photographer along the way. My first gig that put my placement as a photographer was for Call of Duty Black Ops 2. That was my first gig and since then I have been shooting all the recent ones.”
That’s a really inspiring story. How did FIDM help prepare you for your job at PETROL?
“At FIDM each student had 30-40 minutes of direct access with a teacher. The teachers who were there at the time are now my current coworkers that work here at PETROL. So they took their time every Wednesday night and they would come over to FIDM and teach us about what they did that day in their current jobs. You get super intense teaching this way.”
Do you have any advice for current FIDM Students and aspiring designers or photographers?
“You have to somehow, some way, find a mentor. Talking with someone is the key because they will show you shortcuts rather than learning on your own. I wish I had a mentor sooner.”
Although I only got to meet three of the many FIDM Grads currently employed at PETROL, it was an inspiring experience that reminded me that networking, hard work, and attending a college like FIDM with industry connections is the recipe for a rewarding career. We hope you enjoyed this behind-the-scenes look at PETROL, and we want to thank the team at PETROL sharing their advice and personal career stories with us.
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The FIDM Digital Arts Blog is dedicated to professional and aspiring graphic designers and filmmakers, illustrating the range of career opportunities within these fields written by FIDM/Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising. See more at www.fidmdigitalarts.com.