Posted on Tuesday, April 12, 2022
VFX artist Travis Button's work with his company Hyphenate can be seen across a broad media scope – from television shows including the massively popular Parks and Recreation, to film and advertising spots that feature post-driven concepts.
In 2019, Travis founded Hyphenate, a creative visual special effects studio based in Los Angeles. Hyphenate’s work philosophy emphasizes both concept and execution, offering a tailored approach to each unique project. Travis especially prides himself on his short-form and branded content, recently producing a high concept piece with YouTubers Jacob and Katie Schwarz for ASUS.
As a Director, Travis has taken the helm on campaigns for Chrysler, Red Bull, VIZIO, Fiji Water, ServPro, and Harmless Harvest, while managing Hyphenate to excellence in post-driven spots for The Academy, Amazon, Google, Asus, Dolby Labs, FOX, Gillette, SoFi, and Tik Tok. Hyphenate is a platform for Travis to apply and diversify his deft talent and experience across different mediums, and the depth of his expertise is apparent in the quality and ambition of his work.
PH: Hi Travis! Can you share a little bit about your background and how you got into the world of visual effects?
Travis Button: Thank you for your interest in my story. Informally, it begins in a small community in Kansas named Colby. Situated on the Colorado border and famous for its farming, it's the type of town where, for better or worse, everyone knows each other on a first-name basis. While it was not a bustling metropolis full of artistic resources, it provided me with an understanding of the work ethic and discipline necessary to thrive.
As a child, reality never kept up with my imagination. My fascination for how things worked, especially computers, took up endless days and nights. What began as a passion for accurately drawing what I saw eventually spanned to an intrigue of Visual Effects, Animation, and Film.
I distinctly remember the internet boom in the 90s and, by extension, my curiosity booming even more. I was constantly aspiring to evolve my artistic and technical expertise. Around this time, Pixar was on the rise. With releases like Toy Story, Monsters Inc., and Finding Nemo grasping my interest in animation and setting my sights on something beyond life as I had known it up to that point.
For those unfamiliar, NW Kansas being NW Kansas, resources within the arts were challenging to access. Still, not letting that obstacle discourage me, I pursued every opportunity to dive deeper into anything to fulfill my creative outlets. Focusing on this, a few years after high school, I decided to pursue it full-time. I applied to the Savannah College of Art and Design and got accepted into the Visual Effects program on a partial portfolio scholarship. At 20 years old, the first pieces of what encapsulates my current self began falling into place. So, in June of 2005, I packed up my entire world, my dog, Molly, and headed for a city I had never set foot in.
After graduating with a BFA in 2009, I decided to push myself further into the unknown, landing in sunny Los Angeles. As luck would have it, seeming like something out of a movie — my landlord was an industry veteran, VFX Supervisor Chris Watts. A legend in his own right, Watts impacted the VFX industry greatly. He was involved in groundbreaking techniques in Pleasantville, Waterworld, 300, and many other movies that influenced many artists, including myself. Watts was gracious enough to welcome me into his network of VFX professionals. Two weeks after the move, I had my first seat on the job as a Nuke Compositor at Ingenuity Engine.
You take a lot of pride in short-form, branded content. Can you talk a little about some of your work?
Travis Button: Short-form work, specifically advertising, is my happy place. I thrive on the challenges that come with the territory — demanding deadlines, on-the-spot innovation, problem-solving, and endlessly evolving creative exploration are incredibly fulfilling. In addition, the rapid pace of quickly getting commercial projects in and out the door keeps me inspired, motivated, and eager to learn and evolve as an artist, director, and business owner. Complacency is not an option in our world, which drives me to push beyond established boundaries with every opportunity.
My directorial work is always grounded in a visually-driven narrative. It serves well on both fronts, simultaneously allowing me to push myself creatively and providing the groundwork for Hyphenate to execute on these ideas. Traditional story narrative has never really been my thing and certainly not what agencies and clients expect from my work — it's all about visual engagement.
What it's like working as a VFX artist
Travis Button: Fundamentally, I believe Visual Effects can be defined as problem-solving. As artists and technologists, we aim to exceed our clients' expectations by listening, analyzing, and formulating a calculated approach to solving any problem, whether working practically on set as the VFX Supervisor or a more technical solution in the post-production process. Of course, it's challenging and disheartening to fail, reset, fail, reset when navigating specific software, hardware, or creative obstacles, but this is also what makes it so rewarding once you ultimately prevail and succeed by arriving at the solution, whatever that may be. It's an ebb and flow, rarely do two days look the same, which is stimulating and continues to drive me into this craft!
Let's talk about your company Hyphenate. What drove you to create your own visual effects studio?
Travis Button: Hyphenate, first and foremost, is a full-service post-production house focusing on Visual Effects and Animation based in Downtown Los Angeles' Arts District. Ideologically, it embodies multiple concepts in and of itself that collectively frame me as an artist, individual, professional. As an expression, it elevates an overarching belief in collaboration and unity wherein our community hyphenates our expertise and vice versa. If you look at the term, the act of hyphenating something, or the hyphen, brings two entities together and, for us, in the context of post-production, we are hyphenating concept and execution.
Before Hyphenate came to fruition, I realized that my need for a trusted home continued to grow with every project that came through the door. Now that we have a comprehensive infrastructure in place, we can confidently lean into every aspect of the post-production process. Hyphenate equally serves our clients in fulfilling their needs with uncompromising sustenance and efficiency. Delivering peak quality for our clients is imperative to continued growth and success for a sustainable future.
What types of clients/projects do you serve? Can you share some of the work that has come out of the studio?
Travis Button: Hyphenate collaborates with agencies, brands, tech innovators, powerful storytellers, and changemakers on high-caliber projects across advertising, film, and game design. This year kicked off full speed ahead, with multiple projects simultaneously delivering in Q1 and a few long-form pieces carrying over from 2021 that will finish in April. Other current work includes marketing pieces for the recent opening of The Academy Museum of Motion Pictures, the new 'Smart E. Pants' campaign for Mercury Insurance, and a VFX heavy exploration of neon light in HDR for ASUS' 'Neon Forest.' Another highlight is a short documentary on Ted Mann and his journey to greatness in Cinema history.
Our expansive body of work ranges from traditional TVC advertising to innovative AR and Game Development pieces, including clients such as the United Nations, Amazon, Gillette, Dolby Labs, Chrysler, VIZIO, SoFi, and Blizzard Entertainment, to name a few. Ultimately what drives us is new challenges and opportunities to evolve in our craft and be better than we were the day before.
You're also a director. What are some of the challenges (and benefits) of being a professional in both production areas?
Travis Button: My experience and expertise in post-production, specifically Visual Effects, are invaluable for me as a director. Honestly, I don't think a day goes by that I'm not reminded of, and incredibly grateful for the position I've landed. It's my job as a multi-hyphenate to ensure that we approach and execute in the most efficient way possible while also instilling confidence that everyone's needs are met creatively and fundamentally, benefiting everyone from the client to our team in post-production.
The buck stops with the director. When I'm at the helm, I take full accountability for keeping the many production components, creative vision, and collaboration in a steady flow. Of course, so many moving parts can't always be quite as streamlined or well-oiled as our heavily engineered VFX pipeline. Still, I work diligently from inception through delivery to make sure we collectively prepare to overcome any obstacles that may come our way throughout the process. With a remarkably hands-on approach, it's a gratifying experience to direct and collaborate with my peers to manifest our client's vision both in-camera and actively carry it through the finish line in post-production.
Amazon Prime's The Wilds is set to premiere later this year. What has your work looked like for this television series, and how does that differ from some of your other work?
Travis Button: Our work for The Wilds consisted of CGI, Compositing, and FX work for all beach scenes on Season 2 Episode 4, all of which were built and captured on bluescreen.
Dipping our toes into episodic was a long-time in the making and something I worked diligently to bring into the studio. The impact of the pandemic's first year on commercial work taught me that Hyphenate needed to be more diversified across our target projects and expand beyond being primarily dependent on short-form, advertising-based projects.
The comprehensive range of creative challenges that episodic brings to the table while still falling into the same relative commercial timelines we are used to thriving in is inspiring. It provides familiarity while also providing many obstacles and opportunities to innovate and problem solve. I'm optimistic that we will continue bringing in more episodic work with a broader scope of clients and build additional growth on that side of the company.
Can you talk about some of your other upcoming work in 2022?
Travis Button: Certainly! Apart from The Wilds, we are working with tech catalysts Red 6, who are actively transforming today's aerospace landscape via augmented reality with their revolutionary combat pilot training technology. The Airborne Tactical Augmented Reality System (ATARS) is a groundbreaking AI-based technology ushering in a new frontier for the United States Air Force and garnered accolades such as the Popular Science 2021 "Best of What's New Award" in aerospace. We are also handling all visual effects for another inspiring project by award-winning Director-Writer-Game Developer Sam Barlow, called Immortality. Slated for release on Steam later this year, it has also drawn significant anticipation, winning the "Future Game Show Most Anticipated Game" at E3 2021.
What are some of the biggest challenges (creative and technical) in your role, and what does solving for those look like for you?
Travis Button: The biggest challenge is always resources and how to allocate them most efficiently, creatively, and technically to exceed ever-evolving client expectations—continuously adapting and innovating how to achieve more with less.
An essential factor in solving these challenges means having reliable, multi-dimensional artists in the trenches by my side. In addition, the collaborative nature of problem-solving is critical to success because every creative mind brings something slightly different to the table, and ultimately, together, no challenge is out of reach.
Lastly, how are you constantly reinventing yourself (and your craft)?
Travis Button: It's important to recognize new challenges and trends emerging into production, visual effects, and post collectively and be 100% open-minded to evolving and adapting within this ever-evolving space. The latest of these endeavors is integrating Virtual Production tools with Unreal Engine into our more traditional VFX pipeline. We have some exciting things in the works on that front!
I also find it extremely important to step away from our craft and explore other creative and personal outlets to help minimize burnout and come back to it with a recharged mind. My most recent passion, knifemaking, came to fruition about two years ago, and now I have a full blade-smithing workshop at my house where I can escape to my pencil, sketchbook, and grinder when I need to rejuvenate.
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