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As John Lennon once said, "Life is what happens when you're busy making other plans".
German design agency Aixponsza (opens in new tab) started out on one path and ended up sidestepping onto another. But CEO and technical director Manuel Merkle couldn't be more pleased with the way things have turned out.
Trained as a graphic designer, Merkle began his career in print design, before moving into designing for big broadcast networks in the late Nineties. "That's where I started in 3D animation, and how I met a fellow graphic designer, Christian Tyroller," he recalls.
Then in 2006, the pair joined with Tobias Müller, an editor, and Achim August Tietz, a photographer, to found what they saw as a new kind of company.
Bringing design to a new level
All were unhappy with the design agencies they were working at, Merkle explains. "Working at these firms was a very nontechnical experience. Very often jobs could not be created in the way that we wanted to because of the lack of technical skill."
So the basic idea behind Aixsponza was to "combine graphic design and a deep technical understanding of 3D - to bring design to a new level and develop our own ideas."
The founders' original plan was do graphic design work for TV networks. "But very soon commercials started to call, and we did more and more in this field," Merkle says. "So what we do today is mainly industrial films, events, fairs, commercials, stuff like that."
Based in the south of Germany where the auto industry is very powerful, the firm inevitably does a lot of car commercials, for companies such as BMW and Audi, while other big-name clients include Red Bull and MTV.
We profiled some of the studio’s best work in this article (opens in new tab) - all of which showcase the company's world-class animation and VFX work, plus a level of originality and creativity that's truly inspiring.
Merkle particularly relishes working with Red Bull, he explains, because they give Aixsponza the creative freedom to develop their own ideas. "With the Red Bull pieces we are very free," he enthuses. "Plus we get involved throughout the process - the design, the direction, everything - which is more rewarding than just doing a small piece of it. It's a lot of fun."
Software of choice
While you wouldn't necessarily spot it just by viewing their finished work, Cinema 4D rather than Autodesk is Aixsponza's software of choice, Merkle explains, which is mainly for historical reasons. "We all came from the field of design, and Cinema 4D is very strong there, because it's easy to approach,” he says.
“It's what all the design agencies that I know use. That's why we stuck to Cinema 4D when we formed our company. We didn't come from a visual effects background, where we would have used something like Maya or XSI."
Back then, the possibilities offered by Cinema 4D were rather limited, Merkle admits. "But the software grew with our company. So every release had the features we needed for the next job, and that's why we stuck to Cinema 4D."
Aixsponza also has a good working relationship with the company behind it, Maxon. "They are German guys too so that's a big advantage for us because it's a relationship where we can call the developers and talk to them directly," Merkle explains. Two years ago, Maxon even asked Aixsponza to dust off their graphic design skills and redesign the Cinema4D logo for them (shown above).
But these days, Cinema4D is not the only tool Aixsponza is interested in. "We're using every package there is in the company right now," Merkle says. "Maya, XSI we use extensively, Houdini, RealFlow, 3D Code, Zbrush, everything that's needed."
Like every company, he adds, they recognise the need to keep up with new technology in what is a fiercely challenging commercial environment. "It's increasingly competitive in Germany," explains Merkle. "As the tools are more and more approachable, more and more dudes are doing this stuff.
“When I started in 3D there was more or less nobody doing 3D. Today everybody has his own copy of Cinema 4D Prime and does his own 3D logotypes and stuff. So the competition is getting stronger."
But Aixsponza is in good shape to survive that competition, Merkle believes. That's partly because Aixsponza is small and lean - just 12 full-time employees working with a pool of freelancers - and partly because it offers both graphic design and 3D animation means it offers a unique proposition.
"There really is a lot of work around, and there are not so many companies like ours in Germany," states Merkle. "There are big VFX houses - but there are very few companies combining design and visual effects, just four or five come to my mind. And most of those are in Hamburg or Berlin rather than Southern Germany.
"The industry is changing constantly and I think it will grow because media is getting more important. Maybe not in the classic areas like TV, but online certainly. So I'm really confident looking into the future."
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