With a background as an art director and an impressive track record of technical work, Eric Heaton, Technical Director at B-Reel says this holistic view is valuable when getting creative work over the line.
What does the role of a creative technologist entail?
In my role I look at any type of digital project that comes across our desk to see what opportunities there are to push the boundaries in the way something is done, looking at new technologies and seeing what ways we can integrate them. It’s applying technology to that creative process.
There’s a lot of education in this role. My mornings start by checking a list of technology and art blogs to see what’s new and upcoming in the space. There are also days I might take an afternoon and do an online course geared towards a specific area, so I can keep learning and get a deeper understanding. One component here is awareness and the other is self-teaching. I generally think people in my space are huge fans of internet learning. It can get overwhelming quickly though, so you have to pick and choose what you want to focus on.
What kind of skills do you need to be effective in your role?
A lot of it is understanding what’s out there to use, both the latest and greatest, as well as the solutions that have been around for a while. It’s good to recognize that the best solution might be one that’s been around for a while. It doesn't need to be over complicated; it doesn’t need to be a buzzword. Some of the most interesting solutions we’ve come up with have been looking at older technologies in a new light and using them in ways they were never meant to be used. It’s basically understanding how all the tools in your toolbox work, old or new.
Right up there with your toolset, is communication skills. A lot of times, my role involves translating technical concepts and approaches into layman's terms to ensure everybody on the team has an understanding of how things work. This goes in the other direction as well, when communicating the approach and some of the creative ideas to the development team, to ensure it is implemented in a way that works for everyone.
Where do creative solutions intersect with functional design?
It’s important to review creative ideas in a constructive way. The last thing you want to do is just say ‘No, that’s not an option’ and just not follow that up with alternatives. It’s about being able to come up with possible solutions and always saying no with another solution in mind or a different way of thinking in mind, to keep those creative ideas going.
What’s the most challenging aspect of the creative technologist role?
Keeping in mind there is a budget and a timeline. It really is the biggest challenge. You have to focus on creative problem solving but also whether clients can afford it, and do we have the time to make it happen? I don’t always want to be the bad guy who has to say no to something, so I work with the producer team to communicate that message and get them to reel back in a little if we need to. That helps keep that creative vibe going.
How do you see the role expanding with the introduction of the metaverse?
I think the metaverse is a new playground for us to play on. It’s going to be one of those spaces that requires us to either grow our existing toolkit or add a new one to our arsenal, similar to the way the AR / VR world has done. I also think there will be more of a division in the community when it comes to choosing a specialty for creative technologists. The metaverse will be space like any other, with its own set of rules and options for pushing boundaries.
Are there any passion projects you’ve worked on that you’d like to share?
My favorite passion project was a physical installation we did, called Prana. One of our art directors came up with the idea to have an environment full of LED lights that you can walk through, and it would respond to your breath and motion. We built it from the ground up and the installation was 3.5x3.5x3.5m and over 18 thousand LED lights. It was fantastic seeing it go from thought process to full execution. It ended up being in Soho for around six weeks rather than the expected two because it was so popular and then it travelled to an installation in San Francisco.
The big learning for me on this project was learning to leverage partners to help with the execution. The original iteration was built from the ground up by our team. While we learned a lot, it was not cost or time effective. When the project was resurrected for the San Francisco iteration, we learned to leverage partners for the components that needed to be rebuilt - making things more stable, and in the end, cheaper. It’s not a bad thing to hand some of the work over to a different team; so long as your creative vision is upheld, and you are able to guide partners in the right direction to fulfil it. I think it's 100% part of the way we work now.