Tom Ludlow From Tend Studio Talks Creative Services For Brands
Tom Ludlow is the founder of Tend Studio, a multimedia production studio in Longmont, Colorado. We spoke to Tom about how he's taken on major aerospace clients and created content for the University of Colorado Boulder Fiske Planetarium, along with opening a creative production space during a pandemic.
Listen in as Tom shares how his company has grown and how stickers are a part of his story.
Below is an edited transcript from our conversation with Tom.
[00:00:36] Andrew: Everybody, welcome back to Stickers on the Mic. Andrew with you. Today is Friday, April 16th, and it is a sunny, but snowy day here in Colorado. Wherever you are when you're getting this, I hope it's nice where you're at. Today, we're bringing in a Longmont-based creative, Tom Ludlow, from Tend Studio. Tom, thank you for joining us.
[00:00:58] Tom Ludlow: Absolutely. Thank you for having me on.
[00:01:01] Andrew: Tell us all about Tend Studio. What's going on?
[00:01:05] Tom: Well, Tend Studio is a motion design and video production company. We are currently located in Meade, Colorado at our new facility where we offer live-action video shoots as well as custom motion graphics packages, and animation. We do everything from web and social, to broadcast video, to even what we consider custom projects. We're currently in month 15 of production on a Planetarium film for CU Boulder. It's called Forward to the Moon and it's about the next 30 years of NASA missions to the moon. It's really incredible. I've spent my quarantine doing spacewalks and then I'm home in time for dinner.
[00:01:54] Andrew: That's pretty cool. I think that's actually what really brought me to you guys. I feel there was obviously the perseverance stuff was going on and I feel I saw a post related to this Fiske Planetarium thing at CU Boulder, which loved that place. It says it's going to be released in summer 2021. How did you A, land a client that and then B, what does it look to work with Lockheed Martin and talk to astronauts and et cetera?
[00:02:28] Tom: It's pretty wild, man. Honestly, how I landed it was the curator of the Planetarium, his name is Thor Metzinger and he was my professor when I went to the Art Institute of Colorado in Denver and he taught me VFX and motion graphics. Now, he makes Planetarium films at CU Boulder. He was looking for a partner and we were looking for a project and it was just very serendipitous. I met up with him again at a networking thing that I go to in Denver, at least pre-COVID. There was this get-together called Sauce Society, and it's all video editors, motion designers. I saw him there and he was like, "Hey, I haven't seen you. How are you doing?" I said, "I'm great, man. I just launched my own business here. Check it out." He's like, "I might have something for you." A couple months went by and then the phone rang one day and he said, "You ready to go on this? Come on in. Let's talk about it." It's been incredible. To have Lockheed Martin as a partner is just mind-boggling. The 3D models that they've been able to share with us have been incredible for the success of our film. I would not consider myself a very good 3D modeler, certainly not to the detail level of the models that were [unintelligible 00:03:50] put our hands on them and put into this film. It's been a really valuable relationship with them. We work hand in hand with their Waterton Canyon location where we've actually been able to get in and do some video shoots with some really neat outer space stuff in the background and talk to some incredibly smart people that are pioneering the technology that's going to get us there. It's been incredible. We have a weekly call or a bi-weekly call with them, excuse me. On that biweekly call, we cover everything that's going on, any updates to the schedule, updates to the COVID status. Are we going to be able to get in with a VR camera to do some video recording or are we at the mercy of your team? They've been very collaborative about it and it's looking like things are moving in the right direction that we might actually get the footage we're after.
[00:04:52] Andrew: This facility looks wild with what they do there.
[00:04:58] Tom: As said the Planetarium?
[00:05:00] Andrew: No. Waterton Canyon [crosstalk] project.
[00:05:02] Tom: Oh, yes, man. That's been a pretty wild experience to get any access there.
[00:05:09] Andrew: Wow. I didn't even realize they were producing satellites like that there.
[00:05:14] Tom: Oh, they do all kinds of DOD.
[00:05:16] Andrew: A lot of Department of Defense. This is wild. They've been doing it for a while, but really cool.
[00:05:25] Tom: Colorado has really become a epicenter for the space programs.
[00:05:29] Andrew: Yes, it is. It's fantastic. We've covered the space. I'm a space geek so I could talk about that all day and that's just fascinating. I'm a huge, huge geek about it, but let's face it. This is a small business. Lockheed Martin doesn't need our promotion. You're in the promotional creative space and you're working with a lot of varied group of clients. There's ARC Thrift Stores, there's Left Hand Brewing. That's a wide gulf of audiences and clientele. How do you scale what you can do and offer folks through Tend Studio?
[00:06:13] Tom: I'm really glad you asked that. Thank you. Tend can scale to whatever project size we need to, whatever team size we need to accommodate. We've got a whole, we call it a hive because our logo has a little bee on it but our hive of freelance talent, people across the country, we've even got a few international partners that we can collaborate with. We can find a local crew to come in and shoot your video and we can direct it remotely just like this over Zoom or over some video platform or we can set up something at our facility, at your facility, bring a local crew to handle it. The same goes for animation and motion design. I've been in the industry for a long time and I have a lot of friends in a lot of places and many of them are freelance, have recently gone freelance in the past year. There's incredible talent. It's about sourcing the right talent for the job. I think that's what we specialize in is what are you after and let us get the right person on the project.
[00:07:27] Andrew: Interesting. It says that you can rent out the space too. This is neat. It looks pretty established as far as the staging and just the whole room. You know what I mean? What does it look to do studio work there?
[00:07:46] Tom: I'm really glad that you think it looks established. We just got in here in October.
[00:07:50] Andrew: Hey, listen. The pictures online, you're selling it. You've got to sell it through a website. It's all photos, but you got your editing loft there and you've got your green screen and soundstage. In a place like Boulder County, there's definitely a few studios. There's one not far from here. I'm blanking on the name of it, but places where you can rent or do whatever. When it comes to soup to nuts, how do you offer that to people who are interested? Right now, obviously, it's no. People are beating down your door, but I presume you move out there and this will pass too. How do you want to promote that side of your business too?
[00:08:32] Tom: I'm not really sure what that looks for me yet, honestly. I just had my first clients in here yesterday using that for the first time while I'm up in the loft working and it was great.
[00:08:42] Andrew: Oh, that's hands-off for you. That's just hourly rate.
[00:08:47] Tom: It can be. For me, for my business, it was a wise investment because location is always a cost. It's always a line item, unless the customer like Left Hand really wanted to do something on their location. They wanted to do something similar to their social media because it's really successful and they wanted to piggyback off those themes and those locations and bring something magical to a space, which is certainly something we can do, but we also have many clients who just have a small office or a small conference room that they could offer up. Honestly, that's not really enough. We need to have a more secure space where we can leave things set up so we can maybe spread the shoot out over a couple of days or we need better sound quality, better lighting quality. If I can get into my own studio and get all that set up and have my six-year-old sit in the seat for me while I light it up and make sure it's looking at least a sketch of what I have in mind, then when the client shows up, because in our line of business, often, the client is the talent. When they show up, they just walk on, get in the hot seat, and we get started. We do a video interview or maybe we have something staged and setup, and they're our actor for the day. It just gives us a lot of flexibility to do whatever needs to be done for our clients. That the creative is most successful. Because if the creative isn't successful, we're never going to achieve the client's goal. Then we've just failed in general. I really try to be sure I know their goals and what they're after and the quality that is going to achieve that. Then we work back from there.
[00:10:45] Andrew: Interesting. Speaking of like to control is obviously a big part of just having a studio, which makes a lot of sense. Sometimes things can get out of control. Speaking of out of control, I could imagine these motion design projects going either really well and really seamlessly or tragically off track because of scope creep and clients not understanding, rendering, and immersive environments and how much goes into that. You know what I mean?
[00:11:20] Tom: I do know what you mean. I think for us that always just comes down to managing the client's expectation and being an effective communicator and saying, "Well, that's not how we really like to do it," or, "That's not typically how we do this sort of thing." Helping guide that conversation, shepard it in the right direction and keep it on the road, man. I feel like clients are often like it's just their hand to their face, close to their problem or to their needed objective that they just don't see the bigger picture, which is maybe the general public doesn't understand their product or understand their approach and why it's different and where that value really is because of their product or their technology. We did a good job of like explaining that to the public.
[00:12:26] Andrew: As I say like educate because there's a difference between 2D and 3D motion design, obviously. It's just a sense of depth I suppose. It's more complicated than that, but when you're trying to sell these things, how do you get the right fit for somebody because obviously, it's like, "Look at what we did for Left Hand? We can do this, obviously, we'll do it different." How do you onboard them to get them the right fit for those kind of-- because having motion, we see so much of that now, and we're doing a lot of it here at StickerGiant with our ad creative and our creative team?
[00:13:00] Tom: Yes, you guys do an awesome job.
[00:13:02] Andrew: Well thank you. It's mostly really flat vector. It's cool looking, but because of COVID it's like we're not doing a lot of live shots. We're not having our videographer come into the factory right now to just-- even though we have a lot of footage of stuff coming off machines, it's nice to just listen, we got a new commercial. We might even be doing a lot of times what we're doing now is we're printing a design that goes in the ad. We can't get that footage. We've gone to more animated stuff. I think a lot of people are doing that because of social media, but it doesn't necessarily-- it's not cheaper just because you're not doing live action in a way it's like, "All right, we got the sound, we got everything in frame." As opposed to, I got to get the sun over here with the landscape of this graphic, and it's going to move in the shadow and the light natural light takes care of itself is what I need. How do you figure out a way to get that right blend for people of motion and live action?
[00:13:57] Tom: I'll be honest, man. A lot of times they have a vision for what they want already. They have an example of something they've seen or something that they were moved by and that's what they want for their business. With the internet, it's so easy to say, "No, no, no, I want like this company or this video, look at this piece of reference." Then I would say the other major component of that is budget. I'll just be honest with you, small businesses. We usually steer them towards a 2D package because it's just cheaper. It's more efficient to get it done. It's less time-consuming and small businesses often on a budget crunch and a time crunch, and they just need it to work, and they need to get it out there. We take all that into consideration. This is a convoluted response to your question, but there's a lot to consider there. We really try to focus on all of those considerations very early in the project. We actually have a contact form that has a couple of different paths you can follow on our website. If you just want to say, hi, like you're one of our friends or somebody who maybe is listening and just went freelance, and you want to let us know you're available, please reach out with, "Hey, I'm just saying, hi," but there's also something on there that's I've got an idea of what I want to make, and I want to set up a time to talk about it. Okay, let's do that. A couple days out, you can schedule a meeting with us, and we would love to hear what you want to do. There's another third path on that. That's for an existing customer or an existing client where they can just put in a creative request, and it triggers a bunch of automated stuff on my end. We get that thing going as fast as possible, especially on a time crunch, but they can upload, files to share with us. They can upload footage to share with us. We have two buckets of how we might do a video production. One of which is, bring us in, we've got professional equipment, professional lighting stuff, we've got it all. We can do it all and provide the staff for it. If that's not something you can afford, you've got a smartphone in your pocket that is got a terrific camera on it. You're capable of taking pictures, you're capable of shooting some video of your product, and we can put together a successful social media campaign for you on a budget. That is what we considered that you shoot the video package, we provide the editing and motion design expertise for the post-production. We're really trying to offer a wide variety of services to a wide variety of clients with different budget constraints. I see a lot of advertising agencies and that's where I come from, is advertising and working agency side. I saw the little guys really struggling, man, and they just can't afford it, and they just can't do it, but it's become more accessible to your point. You guys do a really great job of it, it's 2D, but I would say your whole businesses 2D. It's a good fit. For you guys to bring on an advertising agency to help you really dial that up would be pretty expensive. We're a small, scalable studio. We're a mom-and-pop essentially. It's my wife and I that own the business. We scale to your needs. I never even had the vision of being in a big facility, but it became apparent we're just shelling out cash to secure facilities or secure permits and locations. We should just have one also, where everything can be set up. We don't have to haul it out and bring it in. It's a whole deal [crosstalk] [
00:18:11] Andrew: You [crosstalk] charge for travel.
[00:18:14] Tom: This is another way that a really budget-constrained project can still have that high production value. I think it was a wise investment for us and I really don't envision a team of 15 people under one roof. Pre-COVID I was saying this, I was like, that's not the future. The future is on the internet. It's online, and it's a collaborative workforce, and it's all about hiring the right person for the job. What does the budget allow me to hire because I've got plenty of motion designers that we can get you into a graphics package with very affordably, or we've got some people that specialize in crazy shit, man, excuse me but crazy stuff like fluid simulation and smoke and fire simulations and things like that are really high-end visual effects workflows.
[00:19:16] Andrew: We've covered the motion design side of your work. That's really cool. Talk a little bit about projection mapping, and this multimedia branded thing. What is this all about?
[00:19:30] Tom: Projection mapping is really a passion for me. I think it's a really interesting format for motion designers to be able to take a video projector or a fleet of video projectors and cover an architectural surface or maybe a rock outcropping. After being at the Art Institute of Colorado for visual effects and motion graphics, I really had a tight group of just the Homies, man. We all got really good internships and met really awesome freelancers in all the studios in Denver, and just the whole community of motion design and video in Colorado is really collaborative. It's super awesome. A few of us, we graduated in 2010, so the job market and the economy was just impossible.
[00:20:25] Andrew: Cranking. It was cranking. [laughs] No, it was not, it was not cranking.
[00:20:28] Tom: It was impossible.
[00:20:30] Andrew: It was impossible. It was about
[00:20:32] Tom: We were like, "Well, we got to do something." We formed a little art collective called Ghost Pixel. We were the crew that projection-mapped red rocks for a big gigantic dubstep band out of Boulder. We did it three years in a row forum and it was awesome. That's our claim to fame. That's my little brag in life. That's a high watermark for me, 10,000 people screaming when the graphics and the music change.
[00:21:00] Andrew: That's gone.
[00:21:01] Tom: Really like, "Oh, man [crosstalk]
[00:21:02] Andrew: Were you protecting on the rocks then? That's what you--
[00:21:04] Tom: We were.
[00:21:05] Andrew: Oh yes. Okay. Cool.
[00:21:06] Tom: The rocks would build to the build of the music and then collapse on the drop and all syncopated to the music and the whole amphitheater was living and breathing that night. It was incredible. [crosstalk] [00:21:23] Andrew: I was about to say there are nights where the rocks definitely speak, but that's a different story.
[00:21:29] Tom: Yes. That's a different podcast.
[00:21:30] Andrew: That's a different podcast because it's just crazy. The red rocks is like the womb of the earth. It's really a special place. Speaking of events though, you also guys also offer virtual events. Was this pre-COVID or was this once COVID hit, you're like, "We can do this. This is our pivot, at least, to try to do something?"
[00:21:52] Tom: It was our pivot to at least try to do something. I would be remiss if I didn't mention TLC Learning Center here in Longmont. I actually sit on their board of directors. It's been a passion project for my family for a couple generations now. I have a older sister who has down syndrome, who actually went to the school in the '70s. It's a family project, and TLC needed to raise some funds. We wanted to get the teachers some long-term disability, we wanted to do a lot of things to just make sure we didn't lose staff over the pandemic. Hey, how do we flip all of our in-person events? Became a real topic of discussion really quick last spring because everything they did fundraising-wise was in person. They're just like, "We're not going to be able to do this. We need to figure it out." I said, "Well, why don't we do a virtual event, and we'll do some video interviews in a safe way, we'll get some good sound bites, we can have a sponsorship real." I just brought my television knowledge to the table for them, and we flipped the switch and we're ready to produce an event within a couple weeks. I think we're on our third one for them now. In the past, whatever it's been, 14 months of the pandemic, we've done three fundraisers forum. I don't want to say that we've helped them raise the money that has provided all the stuff for the teachers because the Stuart Family Foundation here in Longmont, they did that, not us. They've donated incredible amount of money.
[00:23:41] Andrew: Well, that's positive. Just to follow up really quick, the TLC Learning Center for folks listening, they've been providing pediatric therapy services to kids in Boulder County since 1956. My family has had some experience with our kids for some childcare and therapies as well, and I want to say thank you for helping them out and doing that, and having that passion for what is early childhood education. I'm pretty passionate about myself. Thank you for doing that. That is cool that you all take on projects like that because it's easy to just chase dollars and that's, in a way, maybe not the--
[00:24:20] Tom: Yes. Dollars don't always make sense.
[00:24:22] Andrew: They don't always. Yes. I was about to say, it doesn't always make sense to use that. There's many songs that use that. That's positive and that's a cool special project. What was I going to say? Speaking of special projects, I'm going down the list as folks who listened to the show know I navigate your website and ask you questions, but that's the only way to really learn about you. Those are the services loosely speaking, motion live, these virtual events seem cool, and I will get back to real events, but I also think there's a way to blend that as in-person and virtual. How can we create experiences? What does that look like? That's crystal ball type stuff.
[00:25:10] Tom: I think that's like two, three years from now type stuff. I really have seen a shift in a lot of different businesses to realizing the power of video, realizing the power of animation as a way to stand out in that social media noise. It just has what I like to call stopping power. People are scrolling, scrolling, scrolling, it moved, it exploded, it shined, whatever it was, stopped them. Dead in their tracks, and now you got five seconds, max. That's really the social media aspect of it, but how that ties into live events, how that ties into your larger brand vision, maybe how you communicate with motion and the way your website builds or the way maybe your brand has attitude and you really need to infuse some of that emotion into everything you do. I use Mountain Dew as an example. I used to work on that brand for years. Man, that's a fun brand to work on. It's really in your face like explosions, electricity, highly caffeinated stuff, but maybe your brand's a little more quiet and nimble and more focused on what you offer, how you offer it. That's also an option too, and that can be communicated with motion.
[00:26:39] Andrew: That's funny. Only one brand could have puppy, monkey, baby as their Superbowl commercial, and that would be Mountain Dew. When you think of the ludicrous SEO strategy of that creative meeting. I remember reading an article where it was like, "Well, we thought, draw a circle of the three most popular things on the internet this year." Puppies, monkeys, babies, let's make an ad. Super awkward.
[00:27:10] Tom: Well, I would love to be a fly on the wall at that meeting. That's just ingenious thought.
[00:27:19] Andrew: That's wild. Other than all this work, you're doing a lot of stuff here for the Longmont businesses, obviously as a part of your community. What are you and your wife and your kids doing to create joy?
[00:27:42] Tom: I would say that's been a real challenge for the past year to find something every single day. I've got two littles at home.
[00:27:50] Andrew: Two kids [unintelligible 00:27:50].
00:27:51] Tom: Yes. My wife's been homeschool. It's like a juggling act for her and for us. She's my business partner, but man, she got pulled in that direction, and so I've had to shoulder a little bit more than I maybe had expected. How we found joy, man, is a lot of Colorado things. We go to the mountains, we go outside. There's plenty of places to go and be by yourself and be away from people in a safe way, and really, I don't know, soak up the vitamin B from the sun while you can. I'm an avid fly fisherman, my wife and I enjoy hiking and snowshoeing and all that kind of stuff. Then we'd live on a nice little green belt here in Longmont so we've got a nice bike path and all that kind of stuff for the kids.
[00:28:45] Andrew: Nice. Last thing because it would be remiss if I didn't ask this. You talk about the high of your branding is this big and all that, but where did tend.studio which is your website, where did the inspiration come for that?
[00:29:01] Tom: Well, Lindsay and I were having lots of conversations around, "What do we call it? What is a great word that's not already used URL by somebody else? What's not a name that's already the name of another studio or a web design studio?" We really wanted to find something that no one else was using. That conversation really quickly evolved into, "Let's look at antiquated words. Let's look at words that people use. Our clients tend to think, our clients tend to feel, we tend to recommend." There's this natural placement of it in our copy when we talk about our brand, that's really interesting. I also come from a farming and ranching family here in Longmont. We've been there for-- My kids are the fifth generation in Longmont.
[00:29:58] Andrew: Oh, wow. That's rare. That's rare.
[00:30:01] Tom: Yes, it's very rare.
[00:30:02] Andrew: Especially these days.
[00:30:03] Tom: Yes. The farming ranching vibe was accessible but hardworking, I would say, and that really was a driving force in the conversation. Then, my wife, her parents live up in Carbondale, in the mountains, and they own an art gallery up there. They're small business owners, they're very down-to-earth people, and so she, by default. We really wanted something that was accessible but antiquated and that served multiple meanings, and was an available URL.
[00:30:44] Andrew: I was about to say that studio is novel, and so it blends nicely with what you're doing already, and so that's cool.
[00:30:56] Tom: We knew we wanted to call it something studio or something like productions or something like that. We felt studio was a little bit more open-ended in terms of what we could offer, and that way we could take on more projects and staff teams accordingly. Then the .studio thing was actually pretty new when we launched our business in 2019, and we were just like, "Oh, that's cool. That's a fun way to stand out, and be remembered, and maybe get bookmarked, that's fun."
[00:31:31] Andrew: Right. This is a story about your business, but it's also we say every sticker has a story and that's how it closed the show here, but I remember being really drawn to the love behind the mask sticker with the heart and the mask. As we wrap up here and just a quick hit of stickers, we love stickers are all behind me here, as you can see. What is your role? How do you use stickers, I guess?
[00:33:11] Tom: Well, I'm a sticker junkie. I'll hold up my iPad for everyone who can't see it, but it's covered in stickers. I've gotten from artists or from placements in town or small businesses where it's on the counter or whatever. I've always found stickers to be a way to stand out, and so I'll doodle stickers on my iPad on Procreate. When the whole COVID thing hit, I couldn't believe if there was even a discussion about masks. Like, "We're just going to do this." That was my mindset, and I realized that's not for everyone, but that was definitely my mindset. It quickly became apparent to me that if you love your family or your parents, or your grandparents, or your aunts and uncles, you're going to wear a mask and we're going to do this together. That's really where it came from, was like, "You can't see my face, you can't see me smile, but I love you." I don't even have to tell a stranger on the hiking trail that I can show them that right now, which is really an interesting psychological aspect of this whole thing for me. I doodled that heart and put a mask over it and was just like, "Whoa, that might be something." Lindsay, like, "Come look at this." She was like, "Wow, dude, you should get stickers." I was like, "Yes." She's like, "Yes, get some stickers, and we'll hand them out to people or send it to clients or leave them behind it, video shoots." That's how it started. She just gave me the green light from Tend Studio finance to buy some stickers, which I'm always game for, and we made them. Then shortly thereafter, I found an app called Artivive, hold on, let me make sure I get this right because I always pronounce it wrong, Artivive. It's an AR app where you can scan this sticker now with the app and it'll actually like animate and move and it's got emotion to it. I'd never done anything like that. We've got some clients who are interested in that, like XR AR-type workflow, and so I've been exploring it in my spare time, but that was a really cool thing that I just bolted on to making this sticker. I may or may not have placed them all over town, and if you see one, you can download the Artivive app and scan it, and it says, "Wear a mask, save a life." Is like the rest of the message. StickerGiant's always there to whip up something crazy that I have an idea for and get it done quickly. I love working with you guys and I really enjoy having a local partner for my stickers, and I cannot wait to come back in and see Saul and put all the stickers that I've made in the past year on him because [crosstalk]
[00:35:18] Andrew: He's right there in the other room, and he's my buddy. Well, Tom, thank you for your time, everybody out there thanks for letting Tom share his story and being along for the ride. We do say every sticker has a story, there's a bunch from Tend Studio, but the one that really spoke to me was, of course, this love behind the mask. I appreciate all the love you're putting into the Longmont community. Thank you again for your time today.
[00:35:47] Tom: Oh, thank you. Thanks for having me on. The only other thing I wanted to add was sent the love behind the mask stickers to some family members who are in the healthcare industry, and she gave it to her whole team and we got a bunch of pictures back of it. You can go on our social media and check that out, but full PPE holding up the masks and you can just tell that they are holding up the stickers and you can just tell that they're excited about it.
[00:36:12] Andrew: Oh, there's love, there's actual love, you can see it in their eyes. The eyes really do speak a lot, and that's what we're doing these days.
[00:36:20] Tom: Yes, exactly. That's an emotional little story behind the sticker also.
[00:36:26] Andrew: There you go. Thank you everybody for joining us and we'll be seeing you next time, Tom. Thanks again. Like I said, everybody out there, be good to each other. [music]
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