Friday, March 07, 2014

FWA Article: Digital Pioneers, Then and Now... Eric Jordan (2advanced Studios)

"One day while standing in the concrete driveway of our former workplace, with leaves swirling around us, we spoke its name…"2advanced Studios". It was perfect." Eric Jordan

Your name, plus your original "web name/handle"
Eric Jordan

Your first web encounter, year etc.
My first web encounter happened in a cramped, overly beige-colored computer lab in 1995 when I randomly signed up for a Pascal programming class.

I met an odd hacker-type who I befriended and whom introduced me to the old telephonic BBS boards that preceded the Web.

I began frequenting the shadowy world of BBS boards and later went on to sysop my own underground board called "The Federation".

Later, after the WWW took off and the browser had started becoming more advanced, my friend showed me EYE4U one evening (one of the earliest sites engineered in Flash) in around 1998 and suddenly I knew my life would never be the same. It was a very basic site, but deep down I knew this was going to change everything, and I wanted to be a part of it.

Many a late night would be spent by the glowing flicker of the screen learning and studying animation after that night.

Ironically, my first job at age 16 was performing customer service for an ISP, where I began to dabble with design in my spare time and was subsequently let-go for not focusing on the task at hand. Unbeknownst to me at the time, this would later become the best thing that could have ever happened to me.

What our readers might recognise you most for, when you first hit the web.

I'm most recognized for my first personal release of

(FWA: 2Advanced Studios v3 Expansions site from 2001 was voted "The Most Influential Flash Site Of The Decade")

At the time, I was on my own, doing low level web design for a company called Binus Group out of Laguna Niguel, CA. I had been experimenting with Flash for some time and decided to put up my first experimental portfolio page.

After normal work hours I would stay behind at the office, animating by the glow of the screen, working out all the keyframes for the intro and section animations. I had been DJing and producing electronic music for quite some time, so I was also able to structure all the audio for the site myself.

I happened to have all the skills necessary to pull off the site by myself, without needing a team to help me, which was a great advantage. It was actually somewhat embarrassing to release the site, because I had no idea how much attention it was going to get when I released it.

Little did I know that I would soon be contact by Friends of Ed, to participate in their New Masters of Flash book. Later would come the unexpected awards, and the rest is history.

Your digital journey since.
My digital journey since the release of the 1st version of 2advanced has been a complex series of twists and turns and ups and downs.

After my chapter in New Masters of Flash made it's way into the hands of small design studios, a company called Design Insites came knocking and brought me in as their lead flash designer.

I had a great time with the team there, working on cutting edge projects, just as the fire of the dot com boom was burning at it's hottest. That was my first real experience working with a team of other designers.

For the longest time I'd been doing my thing pretty much isolated, and working alongside others at Design Insites gave me the foundation I needed for what would come later.

When the dot com bust came around, a lot of things got shaken up and the world seemed upside down for quite some time. I was never sure things would ever be the same.

Sometimes, a good crisis is just what you need to change that inertia into something positive. The closest, most-dedicated people on the team decided that Design Insites was a sinking ship…it's allegiance to clients with the most money had become an albatross around it's neck. We wanted something with vision, something bigger.

As we disconnected from the studio, we could feel the new team being born, almost organically. All we needed was a name for it. We soon realized we already had the name, it had just been lying dormant.

One day while standing in the concrete driveway of our former workplace, with leaves swirling around us, we spoke its name…"2advanced Studios". It was perfect.

It wasn't long before we were office-less and working out of our bedrooms until we could get on our feet. But it didn't take long to forge the 2A logo by the glow of the monitor in my living room. The Expansions site came soon after, and everything was just flowing. It was effortless, which made it a special time in my life.

I look back on those days and remember how strong the muse was working for me at the time. There was a real creative fire burning beneath all of us, which helped build the energy we would need for the tsunami of work that was looming just offshore.

Once we were on our feet, the clients came easy…and quickly. The years that followed carried us through a series of cutting edge projects that tested all of our creative and problem-solving capacities. It was a somewhat stressful time because we pushed ourselves to the max, always striving harder…pushing ourselves to reach higher.

We quickly became known for our large-scale dynamic flash solutions that eventually steered us into the video game industry. It was here that I was able to build a bridge into video production, and 3D modeling.

I believe this is where we hit our stride, and it was where I felt we were doing the work we were born for…a lot of intense UI work and heavy animation/FX work. There was a lot of experimentation happening at this stage with new technologies and platforms like Combustion, Vue, and Cinema 4D.

We hit it hard and tried to push ourselves to make websites feel more like experiences. I think we hit our peak number of employees at this stage, more than I ever envisioned us having. With 20 people going full time in the studio, I felt we were a perfect size.

As I look back, I may have underestimated how large the team would have to get in order to help me retain some of my sanity. The hours we were pulling to meet the deadlines for some of the larger clients, such as Activision, had us sleeping under our desks and living off energy drinks and bad pizza.

Those clients really put us all to the test, especially when we found ourselves developing not only the large Flash experiences on the front end, but also rolling out these heavy-duty real-time statistics platforms that were tied directly into the online multiplayer systems.

I think the solutions we rolled out for projects like "Call of Duty" were some of the most challenging things we ever attempted, and looking back I think this was the period where the late nights and the grinding started to wear on my psyche. I could feel that I was losing control of my ability to manage the creativity and the rough deadlines.

My sense was that the quality may have been suffering because we were pushing so hard, with such a small team for that scale of project. This was a place that I could sense was on the horizon…I could feel it building, but I had kept pressing forward, thinking I could burn my way through the wall I felt coming toward me.

Alas, there are moments in a designers life when the creative spark can only burn so hot for so long…eventually it's going to run out of fuel if you aren't actively taking steps to replenish your vitality.

I had hit my moment…my burnout. 

It's a tough thing to describe creative burnout, and even tougher to admit to yourself that it's happening to you. And perhaps yet even tougher, is trying to admit what is happening to a team that you're supposed to be leading and directing.

I don't think the team will ever really realize what was happening to me internally during my crisis point, and I didn't really know how to handle it gracefully. How do you reveal your human-ness, your fragility, to people you're suppose be guiding?

I felt like I had to be a rock for them, to always be there pushing forward no matter what, even with the deck of the ship on fire… breaking apart all around us.I so wished that I could have made it through the stormy seas of those times, but I was cracking and my creativity was suffering for it. I knew I needed a break…a big break. I needed a sabbatical of sorts, to regather myself, so that I could later return with more than which I had left.

When I was a child, I used to get intensely bored with my bedroom. Every month or so I would get this nagging desire to change the whole damned thing around. So I would put on some good music and set about the task of moving every piece of furniture, every item, every device to a different part of the room. I would immediately have this sort of visceral change in my mood and could literally feel the energy of my life shifting around me as I pushed desks and chairs around the room.

What I realized during my burnout is that I was going to have to rearrange my entire life, even if it was just temporary, so that I could rekindle the artistic flame and bring it back to bear on the rest of my life. I knew I was going to have to undertake something big, something larger than life…a journey, across the ocean, to lands unknown to me.

I knew it would be amazingly difficult, but would perhaps instill a kind of strength in me, something that I could look back on and treasure for whatever ways it would teach me to grow.

For some reason it came to me, like a light emerging from the darkness. It was the farthest place from me, an epic place of rolling green hills and blue-green water…like an impossible matte painting. It was a place I'd seen in cinema, a place that was so beautiful I knew it had the power to heal, and mend the creative part of me that had been wounded.

I would go to New Zealand.

After having a good talk with my partners, we all decided it was something I needed to do for myself. They were very supportive and we strategized how we could pull it off.

I wasn't sure how I would get my family there, but I knew it had to be done. I went about getting the paperwork in order and began packing the belongings we would need into a 10x10 shipping container.

One day in 2012, my wife and I found ourselves on a 747 with our young son Evan, high above the ocean on our way to the north island of New Zealand. We toasted a bit of champagne, and kept our hearts and minds open to whatever lay ahead.

I was ready to find the artistic flame again.

What are you up to now?
Today, I currently reside on the very north tip of the North Island of New Zealand, on a sprawling 4 acre homestead deep in the green subtropics.

I spend my days in many ways, sometimes focused on creativity, sometimes on spirituality, or sometimes just playing with my son in the green fields. If I'm not reading or working on art, I am often helping my wife Rachel out in the garden, planting vegetables and fruit trees.

I think the thing I love the most is walking barefoot on the grass, and working with my hands. Sometimes I spend time building things, learning new skills, or researching things I've always wanted to learn.

I actually plan to build an art studio on the property where I can get back to painting. I have some experimental films pieces I would like to film here, and at some point, I may even write a book. I'm keeping all my options open and just cherishing this time here. I've learned so much in New Zealand, it's really hard to describe how transformative this time has been for me.

Occasionally I've been working on projects for 2Advanced here and there when they need my help, but I am taking it at my own pace, and not overdoing it. I know the team is holding down the fort, and they've never let me down. I know they've got this.

When people ask me what I've been up to lately, it's hard to give them a kind of prepackaged answer, because this place is so different and I split my time so many different ways. I can't remember the last time I wore a watch on my wrist.I think what I've really been up to is reconnecting with nature…listening to the simple rhythms of the earth, away from all the tech and all the noise of big civilization.

I've turned down a lot of the noise of my life, so that I can get a clearer signal to come through. And deep down I can sometimes feel it returning…the creative flame…rising, building, and I can sense that someday soon the spark will ignite yet again.


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