The Mothership Has Landed

If you saw our post yesterday, then you already know a little something about the mysterious entity known as Mothership. Today we got the full details, and it’s pretty juicy stuff.

First though, feast on these three four additional films from Mothership’s crew:

What’s this all about?

Mothership is the brainchild of Ed Ulbrich, Digital Domain’s President of its Commercial Division and Corporate Executive Vice President since the company’s birth.

The idea is to gather visionary filmmakers and turbo-charge their talent using Mothership’s resources—the same resources enjoyed by sister company Digital Domain (which they’ve used to win a mantel full of Oscars).

Mothership is launching with talent including Robert Hales, Dael Oates, David Rosenbaum, Sil Van Der Woerd, Brent Bonacorso, Pierre Michel, Matthew Santoro, and Happycamper. They’ll also represent Nathan Love on the U.S. west coast.

So what?

Just another production company, right? Who cares?

Maybe. The fact that Digital Domain is providing firepower is one obvious difference. But if you dig a little deeper, there’s some fairly ambitious language behind the launch.

Says Ulrbich in the company’s release, “Consumer demand for compelling content on connected devices creates an enormous opportunity for advertisers. To capture it, agencies need integrated cross-platform strategies and creative services, and they’re turning to companies who can execute a brand vision from concept to completion.”

Pair that seemingly innocuous nugget with Mothership’s executive leadership: Alejandro Lopez, a 22-year ad industry vet, will be serving as Executive Creative Director with Tanya Cohen, former EP of Michael Bay’s The Institute, as Executive Producer.

I have to start wondering: Is this the new model I keep hearing so much about? Or, more pointedly, is this the end of the old model?

What old model?

Ad agencies have spent the last ten years suffering from a swelling panic. New media and the rise of an increasingly democratized creative class have called into question many aspects of the ad industry’s business models.

While Mothership’s initial clients will undoubtedly be advertising agencies, their cross-platform, full-service approach reminds me of R/GA’s evolution over the last couple decades. Recently named one of Ad Age’s Agencies of the Decade, R/GA successfully transitioned from a creative service shop to a major player in the ad world by—to borrow Ulbrich’s words—”executing a brand vision from concept to completion.”

Nothing’s stopping Mothership from making a similar move. All the variables are lined up: experience, resources, talent. It’s just a matter of opportunity—and a willingness to strike while the iron is hot.

About the author

Justin Cone

Together with Carlos El Asmar, Justin co-founded Motionographer, F5 and The Motion Awards. He currently lives in Austin, Texas with is wife, son and fluffball of a dog. Before taking on Motionographer full-time, Justin worked in various capacities at Psyop, NBC-Universal, Apple, Adobe and SCAD.



This is very cool. So basically, from what gather, this is digital domains initiative to do to bridge the gap between the client and the actual production team/artist. It’s a necessary step, and seems logical due to the many inefficiencies of the present clientbig agencysmaller agencymiddlemenstudioartist model. There are way too many middle men between the birth of the idea and the artist’ finger tips. ideally, the relationship should look like clientstudioartist. I hope this will inspire more clients to abandon the agencies that too often don’t really contribute much more than a yes to the client and offer a health dose of competition.


Well its official::: the end of the old school vfx company is here. This is why DD is “launching” the Mothership. First A52 with Elastic. Now DD/ Mothership.

Sorry as a Mograph professional its kindof insulting. This is NOT a NEW Model.

It has become too expensive and too slow for agencys – clients to use studios like DD.. So the VFX studio want to rebrand and position themselves like Psyop, MT, BNS, Stardust, Superfad, ect..

“To capture it, agencies need integrated cross-platform strategies and creative services, and they’re turning to companies who can execute a brand vision from concept to completion.”

Motion graphic Studios have all been working in this capacity for years. Agency’s get it. its the vfx studios that don’t get it. Now they need to change or become extinct.

PS…To launch a “NEW” studio you will need much more than a bunch of cliché, over produced, 90’s, films.. I think we have seen plenty butterfly’s, sculls, flowers, under water-slow motion chicks and 90s car chase scenes.. (Very Michael “cheesy” Bay)

Now that the vfx studios cant compete.. Time to re-position and call it “NEW” ??

The motion graphic community should be insulted.


I think the work looks fantastic personally, but with the resources of DD, how could it not? It’s easier to make stuff look great when you have a render farm that wouldn’t fit in Michael Bay’s beach front condo.

I feel like I own a little coffee shop and starbucks just moved in across the street.


to an certain extent, these new BIG shops will never replace the edgieness or the experimental nature of the smaller shops and individuals, the creative power is too elusive to be dominated by one single studio. Although i think this is the right step in acknowledging the understated role of the studios during the creative process, it isn’t an alarm bell for exisiting studios to rethink their strategy. Infact if DD is emulating smaller studios as mentioned above, it only serves to show us that the smallness is more advantageous in serving the needs of the client. IMHO the most folks in this industry are the people who are actually making the campaign come to life as oppossed to the account holder with connections to the client. The dilemma for the client has always been that they didn’t know who to goto for their needs, so they turned to an ad agency who basically distribute tasks to indivudal studio/post houses, who then dsitribute it to the freelance designers production artist. Its a wrinklely redundant web of distribution that could benefit from a face lift by simplification. In a way studios are already acting as an agency. I am sure alot of the designers have had the experience of pitching for the same clients/projets at different studios. Its the artist that does the work, and if a client wanted a certain style/look/effect more than often the same director/designer/artist is called at the chosen studio. Most established studios on motionographer are around 10 years old give and take a few years. and many are still less than 5, its a young industry with alot of young people, and i think the client studio relationship are still work in progress.

Matt Lambert

This appears to be quite different than what you’re mentioning. It’s a roster-based production/content-creation company tapping into DD’s resources — not a hybrid/collective model like the aforementioned companies and also not a motion graphics company.


I agree that the ideal model would be client-studio-artist, rather than client-agency-otheragency-studio-agencysaysnoreviseit-studio-artist, but the problem (at least as I see it here in Australia) is that the agencies jealously guard their clients, and it’s very difficult to actually talk to someone at Kellogs, or someone at Sony, rather than to a “creative” at the agency. We would all love to do work direct-to-client, and skip the agency side of things altogether, but this is hard to achieve when the agencies have had the client’s ears for so long.

I think any studio, as part of the “new” way of doing things, needs to be contacting clients directly and showing examples of internally scripted and directed work, rather than waiting for a phone call from the agency to say that their copywriter has something they’d like you to pitch on.

Perhaps the difference here is that Mothership already has a reel of “internally” concepted and directed work, whereas a lot of studios have trouble finding the time and money outside of regular jobs to get this kind of self-promotion together – although we would all like to!

It’s NOT a new model, but it is something that a lot of agencies/post houses are still not doing, or not doing well.


It always comes down to the concept first, than the execution. Traditionally this is where agencies come in, an art director and copywriter partner up and brainstorm ideas. Not an easy thing to do. Especially when millions of dollars on that account are at stake and you are expected to utilize it for an entire year across ALL media (print/radio/tv/interactive/environmental) Live action production companies and design/VFX companies execute that original idea. They stylize it, they bring it to life, also not an easy thing to do. That is, doing it extremely well.

I have seen so many videos posted on here that are highly visual and flawlessly executed, but weak on concept or story or not emotionally engaging. Visually engaging yes, but that is usually what ends up as beautiful eyecandy. Also, there is a reason why many commercial live action directors are in commercials and not feature films, they don’t write their own scripts. One of the greatest ad campaigns, the BMW films series were all executed by A list directors. However the scripts and job came from the ad agency.

With our new economy, shrinking budgets, companies being asked to do more for less, I can see how this approach can be appealing. Yet unless these production companies can truly demonstrate they are equally adept at coming up with great campaign ideas to their corporate clients, its just more hype.


to be honest, agencies don’t REALLY come up with the concept, They ask studios to pitch on a vague set of critieria and then pick to best one. That to me isn’t where the creative credit goes. The design that wins the pitch is THE concept. Its simple as that.


It really is not that simple. Unless you strictly like to define yourself as a technician/stylist. You obviously have not worked at BOTH sides of the business.

What you are referring to is for motion graphic jobs like end tags or commercials that are entirely animation and are asked to ONLY showcase certain aspects of a product/service for that particular campaign that the agency concepted and researched.

You really think, that simply getting on Photoshop and than AE/C4D is all that is needed? Just pump out cool looking visuals? If so, you should start your own company and be getting all the jobs for every mograph pitch out there from the clients directly, convincing all the account managers, marketing directors at the client end, who are all too scared to actually make a creative decision for fearing of losing their job and who are jealous of the fact that you get to “play” and make more money than them. I speak about Mr. Joe at corporate headquarters, not Mr. Slick on Madison Ave. actually dealing with these people before you even fire up Mac OS X.

It comes down to what your benchmarks and criteria for what is considered “good” work. Really knowing the difference between concept and execution helps.


You are right about me not having worked at ad agencies, but do i want to? the answer is no. I am not denying that agencies plays a part of the creative process. I understand you are speaking on broader terms where ads, (TV, internet) are just part of the equation. But just how important are agencies really? Obviously the launch of DD’s mothership is in theory suppose to show people how effective the ad campaign can be when huddled under one roof. They want to execute a brand vision from concept to completeion? If thats the goal, what’s to prevent a client from going directly to a vendor who can take care of the brand image in “multiple devices”? What is at stake in my humble opinion are how many stops the budget of the ad campaign makes before it turns into something tangible. And it seems like there could be less.


car ballet scene with Audi R8 leading, Digital Domain… Transformers 2 anyone ? must be a coincidence :) or maybe “resource sharing”


dave2 +1
If that car chase was supposed to demonstrate something creative it failed miserably.


About initiative: good idea, not sure if it will work thou…
About works presented: execution is flawless, concept is off.
This is not something I’d use to attract clients or showoff.
Just my 2c.


Not that it matters (I don’t write the checks), but they lost me at “integrated cross-platform strategies “. They aren’t changing the game, they are playing the same game everyone else is. I can only hope that their attentiveness to broader market synergies and emerging targeted solutions carries them past their initial viral hype campaign.

That said; Best of luck to them (seriously!). It looks like a super stacked crew of artists.


Instead of opening up revenue streams for DD doesn’t this slam their existing business door shut? Would a director or production company want to partner up-front with DD on a pitch knowing that DD might already have their own guy up for the job, or at bare minimum might give the lead to their own rep firm to capitalize on? Seems like it could be a case of biting the hand that feeds em’.

Matt Lambert

Mass Market / Blacklist / Psyop
A52 / Elastic / RPS


I agree with the consensus that this is not a NEW model at all. It should be flattering to us smaller shops that big behemoths are taking notice to what we’ve been doing for years. Concept is king.


Sorry to tell you “smaller” shops, that most have failed at this “all in one idea”. Design studios outsource or higher freelancers to do the vfx work and real comps. The idea that Mth for example is an all in one shop is an illusion sold to clients. I am glad to see DD make this move, I hope they put the kids like that little place across the street from them, out of business. All those dudes “playing” directors would be lining up for jobs at Kinkos.


Very True!!! Small shops try to be the one stop shop but don’t want to pay the talent. So they hire a freelance designer to win a project or give there reel a look. Then they hire cheap labor to make it happen.

I think it is the opposite. A lot of small mograph shops are trying to do the higher end vfx work and can’t pull it off. They don;t have the pipeline or experience to handle suck projects. What is mograph and what is commercial CGI animation? Motion Graphics use to be TV promos, now you see a Psyops ad call that mograph when it is closer to a high end animated film.

I juts wonder what the hours will be like at mothership.


I kinda disagree with you. The small shops are more personal, have a tight team working on the project. They don’t get the budget of the big ones (therefor they cannot hire the good freelancers all the time). Oh and maybe they have cheaper employees but many people got to start somewhere. In my experience small shops are driven to build on the image of their shop. That can go slow with crappy job after crappy job, but once in a while they can prove theirselves. Also the community needs to have a piramide shape. A broad base so the talent can stick out.

And about the wannabe directors:
I guess I am one of them. At a small company I get the chance to work on everything, from story & concept to designing & animating to editing & compositing. Giving me loads of insights and experiences that you won’t get if you’re doing your 1 thing at a big shop. That obviously leads to lesser end results but way more personall stuff. I can say what I made and where I am on the road to becomming an actual director. Ofcourse I live in the Netherlands (no big shops at all) so I am kinda forced to be a generalist.

I say go small shops! Lets show em!


i was impressed yesterday and then today we are let know that this is DD. lol… nice.


I must agree that this is not a new model… ATTIK now an ad agency, Imaginary Forces, The Ebeling Group and many others, have been doing this for over a decade. It sounds like a confusing model with lots of room for conflict of interests. So basically Mothership will be competing against ad agencies and will start going direct to clients… but they will also be producing for the same ad agencies they will be competing against… plus they will be serving Directors and Production Companies, while working on treatments for the same project in the room next door… Well I say, cheers to that, if they can actually pull it off … Is this the end of the VFX Studio or the end of the Ad Agency? Nevertheless, they have put together an impressive roster… Congrats!


All of DDs commercial clients either agency’s or directors/production company’s. Love the saying DON’T BITE THE HAND THAT FEEDS YOU.

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