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My Professional History — Part 1
by Jim Suelflow, Creative Director of James Suelflow Design
I arrived in the advertising industry through a highly technical background, and as a “pioneer” in new technologies. My father—through a special promotion offered by his employer—took delivery of an original Macintosh computer in 1984; at the same time I was continuing to develop my skills in the graphic arts as a hobby. When that original Mac didn’t have my favorite fonts, I simply created the new font sets I desired so I could use them in the Youth Newsletter that I was editing at the time at my parents church.
These newfound skills helped me get a a job as a designer at a print shop next to my college campus, near Arizona State University where I was a BFA Theatrical Design student, studying theatrical lighting design. This shop was called UniPrint, Inc., and my job there eventually led to a partnership with another Mac genius, Paul Herman, who foresaw the potential of “desktop publishing” to revolutionize the printing a publishing industry.
Paul had started a company which became Design Corps, and we did design and advertising for many businesses in the Greater Phoenix area. Our success led Paul to become a partner in an AlphaGraphics franchise in Mesa, AZ for a short time, where I worked typesetting forms, and designing flyers for Mesa businesses.
In 1990 both Pual and I found ourselves whisked out to California to join the team of a traditional typography and graphics production company with an agency and entertainment clientele, The Best Graphics Group. In helping to upgrade their business with new technology, we created the very first direct-to-film full color VHS package for a major movie studio (Mortal Thoughts for RCA Columbia Home Video, now Sony Pictures Home Entertainment) and we also developed the packaging templates widely used by many studios during those transitional years to computer print mechanical preparation and design.
Working with Denise Minobe of Minobe Designs, I learned successful design strategies for Home Entertainment marketing, and eventually became a lead artist at of one of her preferred vendors, Insight Communications in Glendale, CA. Insight (founded by Paul Herman) continued to push the envelope in Mac-based design and retouching, working with many entertainment and corporate clients as a “new school” prepress resource, offering full-spectrum digital services, film separations, proofing and advertising design.
I then went to work with Schneider Design of Hollywood, producing packaging and ads for Chucky (Universal’s Child’s Play Series) among others. Initially our office was located inside Applied Graphics Technologies (now part of Schawk) at the time when they had just installed their Scitex Blaze ultra high-end retouching system (Link to awesome movie found at WhitlineFilms.com). I remember being blown away because it actually had 512Mb of RAM and cost a quarter of a million dollars! They were also on the leading edge of world-wide satellite distribution of advertising materials, and I will always fondly remember their “white-tile” environment, customized lab coats, high-security facility protocols, obsessive time-tracking procedures, and those amazing company parties we would get invited to!
Armed now with some skills in entertainment advertising, and back together with Paul Herman at Insight Communications, we became a preferred design shop for Orion Home Video. Paul had pitched them on prepress services, but they needed designers. Knowing that I was a “whatever it requires to make it happen” kind of guy, Paul said “sure, we do that all the time!” and I ended up designing several of their video releases.
This is when I decided to “break out on my own,” utilizing the “friends and family financing plan” to buy my own very first Mac. One of my dear friends at the time had won on Jeopardy, and lent me five grand! I really went to town for Orion Home Video, designing packaging and campaigns for their huge library and brokering separation services and printing for their packaging and collateral.
It was great because Orion’s managers served as both their marketing and creative team, so there was no back-and-forth revisions, which seem to be the norm nowadays. Sometimes I would do a single comp for Key Art and they would say “Great! When can we see the full package?” Those were certainly the “good old days” and I was able to make up to $400/hr on some of the work I did for them. Budgets certainly aren’t the same as they used to be! During this time, I moved to the Brewery Artist community, where I continue to have my home and home studio.
In producing over 70 titles in 3 years for them—which included hundreds of mechanicals, separations, and proofs—Orion on only one occasion requested rework on a packaging proof, noting that the color on one face “was a little too pink”! The experience I had gotten working with Minobe/Insight had trained me well. (See this related post “When Perfect Color Just Isn’t Good Enough!”)
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