Studio Time: FX Gets Reel
Posted Mar 4, 2004

Since the dawn of television, the reach and influence of multimedia content has extended exponentially, touching the lives of millions of people worldwide. But, the ranks of those with a hand on the entertainment/advertising spigot have dwindled as the Rupert Murdochs of the world consolidate their power into multinational corporations. This trend slowed in 2003 with the backlash that followed the FCC's attempt to further monopolize the media. But the general structure lives on throughout America's corporate culture, especially when it comes to the ownership of digital content.

It doesn't have to be this way. In fact, it runs counter to the increasingly egalitarian nature of all things digital. Cheaper and more powerful desktop computing levels the content-creation playing field, enabling individuals to work in media previously relegated to those with pockets deep enough to afford expensive, esoteric technologies and the time to master them. One man interested in flattening the curve for the adoption of professional-quality effects and motion graphics is Adam Roe, founder of Reelhouse and its parent company, Lunchbox Studios.

Now based in Virginia, Reelhouse produces and markets royalty-free FX and motion graphics kits. "Motion graphics and specifically video," Roe says, represent the next important phase for professional content design. With the royalty-free still-image market dominated by two multinational corporations—Bill Gates (a corporation in and of himself), who owns Corbis, and Getty Oil, namesake for Getty Images—Roe hopes to establish an alternative business model for the emerging field of motion graphics. "If you're one of their artists," Roe says of Corbis and Getty, "your work disappears. We're trying to build Reelhouse as an artistic collective." By helping to establish individual artists, Roe believes Reelhouse can make sure that the impersonal, cookie-cutter corporate mentality that he sees currently controlling the still-image market doesn't lay claim to motion graphics and FX.

The Scars of the Past
While his bio lists stints as the "fifth Golden Girl" and the "voice of Alf" among his credits, Adam Roe's path to the creation of Reelhouse was even more circuitous than these faux digressions would suggest. In his teenage years, Roe traveled the country as a professional skateboarder. His father owned a series of printing shops, enabling Roe to start his own skateboarding publication. At the tender age of 19—with his skateboarding prime behind him—Roe used the design experience he gained publishing his own magazine to open a type foundry (a creator of computer typefaces). Roe's font-making outfit has since evolved into a communications agency of the same name, Lunchbox Studios.

Reelhouse came to life when Roe and his Lunchbox colleagues found themselves dissatisfied at seeing the same images peddled by the same two companies. "Some of the products" that eventually became Reelhouse's stock-in-trade, Roe says, "were created initially at Lunchbox." Many of these were, and still are, utilized in Lunchbox projects. They continued to create in-house and send the results off to friends for evaluation, who loved the work that they saw, according to Roe. Thus, Reelhouse was born.

Reelhouse continues to suckle at the teat of Lunchbox, sharing space as well as resources. "Eventually, we would like to break them apart, still using Lunchbox as a resource, but letting Reelhouse grow on its own," says Roe. "We've spent the last three years developing product. We really haven't done any marketing." That said, 2004 could prove to be the year in which Reelhouse establishes itself as a viable company, independent of the support Lunchbox provides.

The Lowdown
So what exactly is it that Reelhouse does? "What we want to do is offer full libraries," Roe explains. "At the $599 price point, Getty gives you one CD. We're giving you 18 gigabytes worth of video on five full DVDs." This comparison doesn't apply to all of Reelhouse's offerings—only the Organic FX and Geometric FX Kits. Packages range from a $69 starter kit that includes eight clips to a $2,299 Mad Scientist Suite, which encompasses all nine of the Liquid Lab Kit series. Other highlights include an 8MM Mask Kit, which is designed to make any digital production look like film; a Grids and Scopes Kit, which includes 65 "organic grids, spinning scopes, sensitive meters, and text readouts"; and a Vintage Surf Kit, which captures the Baja surf scene in grainy black and white. (Inviting as the surf set may sound, Roe indicates a desire to go strictly FX with Reelhouse, so the fate of footage like this has yet to be determined).

The clips are formatted as full-frame QuickTime (MOV) movies, compressed with the Photo-JPEG codec, and adhere to either the PAL or NTSC video standards. Many of these clips are 30 seconds to a minute long without loops. If you don't want a whole library but instead just a selection of individual clips, Reelhouse will create a custom DVD and ship it to you free of charge. To see these clips put to use, check out the showcase at

Roe hopes that, through building relationships with established artists and developing raw talents, Reelhouse can give customers higher-quality FX and good value, both important qualities when it comes to authorizing purchases within a design department. "What editors don't have is time," Roe states. "We've tried to anticipate what could make them heroes in a very short period." While much of the work done at Reelhouse is utilized at Lunchbox in the form of projects like a promo for Lucent Technologies, Reelhouse has high-profile clients of its own, such as A&E and Telemundo. At the same time, it also draws a number of prosumer and corporate customers.

Gettin' it Done
Much of the content that Reelhouse sells on its Web site comes from outside talent. "We've been finding really talented effects artists who have good products but don't know how to market them or make them commercially viable." In that way, Roe likens Reelhouse's relationship with its artists to a sponsorship that you might find on the professional skateboarding circuit. But you don't have to be a polished professional to enjoy Reelhouse's support. "Some of the artists come with really raw stuff, but with a little guidance, we help them shape it into something that they and the customers want," he says.

"The motion graphics industry is very exclusive, and different from print," Roe adds. "There are a lot of artists out there that are really good but don't have the contacts." Part of the intent of Reelhouse is to provide the tools artists need to break into the field.

But Reelhouse does not outsource all of its content production; Roe points to the company's latest project as an example. "We're now producing the largest film effects library in the world," he claims. "It's going to have over 3,000 effects ranging from 1910 to 1970 in eight different languages. We're doing it all in-house, using a Steinbeck to chop it all up." He continues, "We jammed everything we possibly could into it. It's squirting out the sides." The project was still in production at press time, with pricing to be determined.

The Next Step
2004 should see some major changes in the way Reelhouse does business. "We're going to move to a download model in the next few months," says Roe.

Speaking of moving, Reelhouse recently moved out of the Big Apple to Virginia. Reelhouse's business model doesn't require them "to be in a specific city," Roe says. "We'd rather get more space so that we can put out more product." But space isn't the only thing on his mind. "When you're in New York, you can't ever get away from work."

As mentioned earlier, Reelhouse has yet to do much in the way of marketing besides a bit of PR. That's about to change this year with the unveiling of the aforementioned "world's largest" film effects library, but, as Roe says, "We're still trying to figure out how to market these products. This industry's still in its infancy."

Roe goes on to compare today's market to that of type in the 1990s, when sales were really flat. "Reelhouse is a baby—an infant company in an infant market," Roe says. "We're trying to position ourselves so that when the inevitable happens, and video becomes a large part of the market, we'll be there." And while the intent is to make Reelhouse a viable entity on its own, Roe is in for the long haul regardless of how the market shakes out. "We'll keep on doing this," Roe says, "even if it doesn't explode. We're doing this because we love it."

Reelhouse Products
8MM Mask Kit: 1 CD, $299 - Convert the look of your production to film
Grids & Scopes Kit: 1 DVD, $399 - Detailed organic grids, spinning scopes, sensitive meters, and text readouts
Kinetics: 1 DVD, $399 - 22 films of subway, metro, and train tunnels of the world
Geometric FX 1: 5 DVDs, $599 - Over 18GB of background FX
Liquid Lab 2: 1 DVD, $399 - Silvery swirls, chaotic turbulence, and drifting liquid clouds