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DEVELOPER SPOTLIGHT: Curtis Priest - Pixelcarve / “Culinary Canvas”

First and foremost, the Horizon Interactive Awards would like to congratulate Pixelcarve from Toronto Canada on their 2011 best of category win with the business to business web site “Culinary Canvas.”  In this developer spotlight, we will learn more about the project and the producers of this award winning site.

Today, we're speaking with Curtis Priest - Partner / President & CEO of Pixelcarve. Curtis, thank you for taking the time to talk with us!

CURTIS: My pleasure, thank you for the opportunity.

HIA: So tell us a little about your company.  Specifically, what types of work you regularly produce, industries, solutions, how you got into the business, etc.

CURTIS: Pixelcarve is an agency that specializes in creating beautiful interactive experiences for premium brands across a wide range of industries. Our clients represent the best in class brands in every industry, including fashion, architectural & design, entertainment, manufacturing, financial, and even professional services. We started our company 14 years ago to introduce a new caliber of beauty and interactivity to the web, with the understanding that people buy emotionally, and engaging them in a memorable way is a far more effective way for brands to attract and retain clients. Since then we have evolved to offer full service marketing, strategic, creative and development services.

HIA: Can you give us a background of the project, “Culinary Canvas,” and tell us a little about the overall objectives, creative inspiration, background, etc.

CURTIS: At Pixelcarve we’re very fortunate to be able to work with forward thinking, creative, passionate and high quality brands. It gives us the opportunity to develop the type of work that represents a dramatic shift in conventional thinking. The Culinary Canvas is a perfect example of this – the client, a premium catering company called The Food Dudes, came to us with an idea to uniquely portray their innovative food creations. There are a large number of competitors in their industry, but none that offer the type of sophisticated creative experience offered by our client. Creativity and innovation are so important to them in fact, that they have their own Creative Director, Brent McClenahan. We worked closely with Brent to refine his vision, and then design and build an experience to properly represent their diverse and imaginative “culinary canvas”. The primary objective of the project was to define The Food Dudes services as uniquely creative and premium in quality to assist them when they were bidding on high-stature projects.

HIA: Based on the project objectives, was it successful and why?

CURTIS: Aside from the incredible attention the website has received within our industry, and the subsequent traffic that has resulted in, The Food Dudes reported a 100% sales increase within 3 months of the website launch. They have directly attributed it to the image the website portrays with new clients.

HIA: Over the past 10 competitions, we have seen animation on websites transition from Flash “Splash Screens” to more integral components of the user experience. Can you talk about how you see animation from a user experience perspective and how it has evolved over the past few years?

CURTIS: The infamous “Skip Intro” page has certainly done its fair share of damage to the public’s perception of animation and Flash in websites. Often times that type of thing was done simply because you could, which was an unfortunate abuse of the technology. We believe that you have to take a holistic approach to using animation on a website. At Pixelcarve we create a narrative with our work. Brands have a story to tell, especially those that serve premium and luxury clientele. A website has to be more than a static menu, hero image and some blocks of content - it’s more than an online brochure. Movies and games have shown us that people respond to engaging, interactive experiences that reflect the motion, and emotion, of real life. We look at every project as a blank canvas that allows us to create that rich, immersive and cinematic experience. Movement helps us tell the story by creating a seamless transition through the beginning, middle and end. Everything on a website has to enter, exist and leave in an intuitive and organic way. Making something spin, blink or bounce does nothing for the experience if it doesn’t serve that objective. The problem comes when this is done superfluously, or without purpose. Ultimately the goal of animation is to assist and augment the storytelling and emotional connection of the project.

HIA: Where do you see the use of animation for web going in the coming years? Also... if you would, talk about the technologies used to create websites that have animated components. 

CURTIS: The web is going through a bit of a pubescent phase right now. Technologies such as Flash, which were once ubiquitous, are now embattled due to the rise of mobile computing and competing corporate interests. New technologies such as HTML5/CSS3 (as a catchall phrase for the wide variety of tools they represent) are gaining more attention, but they are still somewhat immature and currently lack a defined final specification and consistent standardization. The browser fragmentation, poor hardware acceleration, and lack of agreement on critical components (video codec standards, 3D engine standards, etc.) is making it a challenge to create the type of richly fluid and engaging interactive experiences that were once limited only by the imagination rather than the technology. Right now we still walk a balance between creating websites in AS3 (Flash) and in HTML5. We choose Flash where the majority of the users still visit a website from the desktop, and where there is requirement for the utmost smoothness of fullscreen animation, premium video or 3D content. And we choose HTML5 where those things aren’t necessarily required, and also as a tablet companion website to ensure universal support. Going forward I expect HTML5 technologies to progress quickly and can only hope the different browser makers get more aligned, but Adobe still has a considerable roadmap for Flash which will also continue to introduce advanced new technologies that cater to specific requirements. At the end of the day we ultimately are serving our clients who have real-world goals and requirements for their websites. They expect us to deliver an amazing experience and our job is to come through for them every time without fail using the best technology suited for the job.

HIA: So, where do you/your team turn for inspiration?

CURTIS: We find inspiration everywhere and we value beauty in all its forms. Several of our senior creative team have film and animation backgrounds, so movies are definitely a strong source of creativity for us. All forms of art and design can inspire us, from music to fashion to printed pieces to motion design, etc. Our office is a very casual environment, and many of our ideas are developed around our bar, sharing ideas, interesting things we’ve discovered, laughing and brainstorming concepts that rattle the conventional. We often find ourselves spending hours looking at other award winning websites to fuel our fire to be more creative and create more exceptional work. But sometimes our greatest brainstorms can come while washing our hair in the shower or even from a vivid dream the night before a presentation. Creativity is everywhere if you let yourself see and feel it.

HIA: What does it mean to win the Horizon Interactive Award?

CURTIS: We are incredibly honored to have our work recognized amongst the best in the industry. Receiving an award of this caliber is not only deeply gratifying for the entire team here at Pixelcarve, but it’s reassurance that the type of immersive and experiential interactive work we create is making an impact and helping define a new standard of web excellence.

HIA:  Do you have anything else you would like to add to our interview?

CURTIS: I would like to express my gratitude to you and the Horizon Interactive Awards team for creating a showcase and platform that highlights what is new and great on the web. It’s an exciting time with the surface of possibilities only being scratched, and I for one am very excited to see what we all come up with next!

Thank you again for taking the time to be a part of our developer spotlight.  We have enjoyed sharing more information about the great work you all produce and look forward to having you back in the 2012 competition. Best of luck to you now and down the road!