By Randi Altman
New York — RuckSackNY, which opened in 2011, has been busy out of the gate with work for companies like Chase, American Express and Chevron. This steady flow of projects has also led to a recent expansion for the creative studio.
RuckSackNY (http://rucksackny.com) is run by Fred Ruckel and his wife Natasha, both of whom are industry vets. They had a business model in mind about the best way to work, so they put their model to the test by stepping out on their own.
Fred has been in the television industry for 21 years. Prior to RuckSackNY, he was creative director and Inferno artist at Stitch Motion Graphics, a company he co-founded in 1999 with Refinery Post. Over the course of his career Fred has been an Avid editor, online editor, colorist, Flame artist, creative director and engineer.
Natasha started her career as a graphics demonstrator for Quantel, based in the UK. She also spent time at Autodesk in Montreal where she worked on marketing the company’s products, such as Flame and Smoke. Before joining Fred at RuckSackNY, she was creative content director at Momentum Worldwide, working on a range of high-profile accounts, including American Express, Microsoft and Google.
I recently sat down with Fred to pick his brain about his new company and the ever-evolving world of production and post.
WHEN YOU STEPPED OUT ON YOUR OWN, WERE YOU SCARED, EXCITED, BOTH?
When Natasha and I decided to combine our creative skills and start RuckSackNY, we were somewhat apprehensive. The New York post market was in a state of flux, and many larger companies were closing their doors.
While the first step was the most difficult, our efforts were rewarded quickly. Work started coming in as soon as we launched, and there’s been a steady growing stream since.
WHAT ABOUT FINANCING THE NEW BUSINESS? DID YOU HAVE TO TAKE OUT A LOAN?
We are 100 percent self-funded. Our initial capital investment for RuckSackNY, included the purchase of production and editing equipment. We bought what we needed to complete the job to the best of our ability, without over-extending. Once we finished the first big project, we were able to generate significant momentum from it. The first led to the second and then the third and fourth, and so on. Our clients have been pleased with the quality of our work, the fast turnaround and, most importantly, how flexible we are to work with compared to larger company.
DID YOU HAVE A FRAMEWORK, A PLAN, FOR WHAT YOUR NEW COMPANY WOULD EVENTUALLY BECOME?
Our company is continually evolving. Our very first project was a full graphics production. Since then, our capabilities have enabled us to take on projects that include not only shooting the videos and editing them, but also creating the accompanying animations.
But you could say our initial business plan for RuckSackNY’s growth included a framework of our ideals, cultivated from our interactions and frustrations when working with larger agencies.
Our goal was to be different and nimble. We work on projects that we believe in, and clients we enjoy working with. We never want to dilute our creative or stretch our team so thinly that clients feel lost in the shuffle. Our business is about long-term relationships, not one-off projects.
AS IT IS TODAY, HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE YOUR COMPANY?
We have become a small advertising agency in our own right. We offer solutions from concept to delivery, and everything in-between. We are directors, creative directors, designers, editors, animators, engineers, inventors, and entrepreneurs. We also customize workflows on a per-project basis. No two projects are the same; each workflow has its own fingerprint.
HOW DO YOU KEEP OVERHEAD LOW?
Overhead is a significant obstacle for any small business. I learned at my last company that too much overhead can put you in debt, making it difficult to survive. We found that it was impossible to maintain a full-time staff of all the best talent, representing all our different needs, while keeping cost under reasonable control. We learned that it was better to staff up as necessary, per project, hiring talent specific to the needs of the project.
The normal agency paradigm for commercial creation employs as many as 10 people before even getting to the shoot. Many of those costs are unnecessary in today’s digital age. The legacy of old-ad models, maintains numerous line items, charging clients a premium price tag for extraneous services. We put quality first and never cut corners to make more profit. From conversations we’ve had in the past, I know you believe that happy artists create quality work.
Our employees know we work until 6pm. No later. This allows them to plan on being home in time for dinner and spend time with their family. We place a large emphasis on working to live, not living to work.
We hope that this sends a positive message: we care about the people we employ, just as we care about the results we produce. Great creative happens when talent is fresh. Working employees late into the night is simply a waste of man-hours. It sacrifices creative, and steals an artist’s life.
We talk to our clients, not just about work, but about life. Our goal is to foster a friendly working relationship built on trust. Relationships matter more than people realize. We pull out all the stops to ensure that we deliver above and beyond our clients’ expectations.
WHAT ARE SOME RECENT PROJECTS YOU’VE WORKED ON?
At the end of 2013 we created a 3D animated logo for Chevron via agency McGarry Bowen. It will be used on all of their worldwide videos. This was followed with nine different language versions, several more are in the pipeline.
As an agency of record for American Express, we produced more than 25 projects during 2013 and we continue to work on several jobs into 2014. One of our own projects during 2013 was a Thanksgiving public service announcement aimed at helping bring awareness about the dangers of texting while driving and/or walking. The commercial can be viewed at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bQlJ-RXtGGc
YOU RECENTLY INVESTED IN NEW GEAR. CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THOSE TOOLS AND WHAT IT MEANS FOR YOUR STUDIO?
RuckSackNY has more than doubled its size in two years. We now have eight workstations. I custom build all the systems and create new workflows on a project-by-project basis.
Solid state drives coupled with Thunderbolt are the core of our systems. It’s much faster than traditional technology. Each one of our machines is “over-clocked” for speed, boasting 32GB of RAM each. We call on the full Adobe Creative suite, matching plug-ins, Cinema 4D, and lots of utility applications, making things more streamlined.
We use the Canon 5D for smaller productions and complement that with a range of lenses to capture beautiful imagery at any focal distance. Smaller productions aren’t limited to a tripod; we also have a Flycam, a slider-rig and controllable LED lighting.
YOUR GROWTH ALSO INCLUDES NEW SPACE, CORRECT?
Yes, we’ve also expanded with a new office in the Catskills. We believe that an office both in the center of Manhattan and in the Catskill Mountains will open new doors for future business. The new studio is home to a client viewing theater, three edit/graphics/sound workstations, a grand piano for original score composition, a 10-piece Pearl Drum set, Latin percussion limited edition bongos and a steel drum.
We were also an early adopter in terms 3D printing within the post-community. We can replicate objects by first scanning with our digitizer, and then printing real 3D objects of them.
Another plus: we encourage out clients to take advantage of a 35% state tax credit by working from our Catskill office because the state is offering that incentive for work done above the Hudson line. In the city they get 30%.