From Icelandic pop icon Björk to Japanese robot manufacturers, Me Company's clients are all after the same thing: "It's the element of magic," says founder Paul White.
Paul White set up Me Company way back in 1985, pulling together the various threads of his creative endeavours up to that point. Shortly after putting a name to an enterprise focused largely on the music business, Me Company found its decisive partnership with the diva of the North Atlantic, Björk
Nearly 20 years later, the partnership with Björk continues to bear fruit, but has been added to by names such as Nike, Kenzo, Ford and Lancôme. The ranks have swelled and the technology has shifted up several gears, but the philosophy remains the same. "We operate a policy of pleasing ourselves," explains Paul. "We'd be faking it if we didn't stick with our principles."
Me Company's work, which somehow hints at a technological fairy-tale world we all dream of visiting, starts with a story. Talking about the process in relation to a set of textile designs currently being worked up for "a French luxury bag manufacturer", Paul White explains: "Most of the process just involves talking."
The core team of Ross, Jess and Paul sit down and discuss the project: "We ascertain what's interesting about it then decide on what direction to steer the thing." At this early stage, the direction of a project is decided by feeling towards the character of the job.
"We almost thrash out a little story with characters," says Paul, attempting to convey the experience. Not quite happy with that, he adds: "But not in the traditional sense." Once this story has been laid down, the ideas are developed, giving them a palette of ideas to work with. From this palette, Me Company draws its 'exotic geometry'.
"For 12 years we did nothing but music," says Paul, who was involved in the setting up of the One Little Indian record label. Already working in the field, producing graphics "which everyone thought were computer generated, but weren't", Paul's work began to circle ever more tightly around the music scene of the late 80s.
Given the nature of the music business at that time, the potential for disaster was huge. But, sure-footed as he was, Paul began a creative partnership which lasted nearly 20 years. "Probably the most interesting projects I've been involved with came from the long-running relationship with Björk," he enthuses.
From the sleeve artwork Me Company delivered for the Sugar Cubes' first UK single, through the techno-polar bear of Hunter and down to the stunning artwork of her recent Homogenic album, this has been a very fruitful relationship.
"It was great fun, creatively very free and I liked them a lot as people," says Paul, perhaps a little dewy-eyed. But the course of true love never runs smooth: "As in most music business relationships it's the middle men that cause the problems."
Although the Me Company-Björk axis continues, the emphasis has shifted. "I got tired of the music industry itself," explains Paul. "I had enough of hearing the same bullshit from people that seemed to be getting progressively younger."
Although the majority of Me Company's output is in two dimensions, the production process involves three, "XSI is our illustration tool of choice," says Paul. "It's the way we express our ideas." The results, which Paul calls 'hi-res stills', capture the world of possibilities Paul and his creative allies envision in response to a particular brief. What makes this work is a faith in the value of the creative process itself: "We follow a line that interests us and try hard to push things forward."
The move to 3D was an early choice for Paul: "As soon as I picked up something with a reasonable rendering engine I was trans. xed." That package was the now antique Infini-D, the Mac's 3D bridgehead - "It had a really sweet little rendering engine," Paul recalls. While it was far from perfect, Infini-D was a brave new world for Paul so he threw himself into it: "The very idea of ray tracing is absolutely incredible; I found it fascinating."
The fact that this route to design and illustration is so rarely travelled is still a mystery: "We couldn't understand why other people weren't as mad about it as we were. All the early Björk, the Carl Cox and Riki Tik stuff was done with Infini-D."
Though the practicalities may involve 3D, the backgrounds that make up Me Company are varied; what pulls them together is a shared aesthetic. Ross (Maria Rossmina Urien Lopez de Castro) joined Me Company after completing a BA and MA in fine art.
"I'm a 3D modeller now but my background is in painting," Ross explains. "I came to Me Company because I was interested in the aesthetics. It's never been just about pretty pictures for me." The depth of content which drew Ross has, over time, built up a team with an extremely broad range of talents: writers, painters and sculptors.
"Clients come to us because we can solve a problem or give a quality of solution that will help them succeed," explains Paul. "Sometimes we've had a client and wondered why they wanted us for the job!" The answer is the same whatever aspect of Me Company they're after: "It's that element of magic."
"We were recently asked by a big client where we'd been hiding away all this time," relates Paul with a tone of incredulity, "I was flabbergasted." For anyone with a lower pro. le than Me Company, the situation can only be more dif. cult.
"There's a lot of good stuff around at the moment," says Paul, "but a lot of it fails to get the exposure." Fortunately, this doesn't hold Me Company back - its repertoire continues to expand, currently far enough to take in the development of a Japanese domestic security robot...
The company in question, Tmsuk, came to Me Company with a working set of tolerances and the underlying machinery in place, and the brief was to design a suitable exterior. "We were interested in character," says Paul, "but in a strongly reductive way." The final solution, out in May next year, uses lighting to suggest mood.
"We wanted something that would be comfortable in the home. We were aiming for somewhere in between furniture and robot, a kind of hybrid of the two," adds Ross, as if this might prevent the machine from going berserk and destroying civilisation. "We don't consciously search new things, but if they seem interesting, we'll take them on."
Don't look back
2001 saw the release of Luminous, the first Me Company book. "It was a snapshot of our work at the time," says Paul, keen to avoid any idea that it might be a summing up. "We steadfastly resisted the idea of an anthology."
This attitude seems to be a thread running through the Me Company philosophy. "Our work evolves, you always draw on your past. But there comes a point where the age of the work makes it pointless checking." The direction is very definitely forwards.
It seems there's a ground-up commitment to each project, something reflected in the working practice: "A lot of people do render passes and layers, but I like to compose the scene as a single 3D environment, light it and alter it in that state." This is a demanding approach and Paul's willing to admit that, "When we get pilloried by time issues, it's hard to maintain the pressure." But they do and the results are amazing.