After working in Japan and the United States, Creative Director Ben Sheppee returned to London to open a studio and develop his business. His innovative work has led him to collaborate with the likes of Jay Z and Rihanna. He talks about how working abroad helped evolve his mindset when it comes to career and creativity.
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As an artist, I’ve always wanted to work on the cutting edge. That’s why I’ve always found myself drawn to technology and the role it plays in design. When I had the chance to start my own company, Observatory, I knew that we would look to innovate, and use technology to tell stories.
We work on virtual reality (VR), stage design and augmented reality (AR), which really excites me. These technologies are developing fast, and it’s notable that big companies like Google are dropping billions of pounds in these areas. It’s an exciting time to be a part of this industry that’s experiencing a boom right now.
We’ve been able to work on some exciting projects. We worked with Sky Sports on a VR project, for their interview with Lewis Hamilton. We created an entirely new, virtual environment as the setting for the interview, which came out very well. We’ve also worked on stage design with artists including Jay Z, and Rihanna. We were afforded a lot of creative freedom during those projects — as artists, they understood the value in trying new ideas. They understand that only half of the time is spent on animating, the rest you’re spending researching how to do this and to innovate.
At Observatory, we encourage everyone to experiment. That means that sometimes they’ll make mistakes, but that’s part of the process of learning. We have a four-day work week, and the fifth day is used to experiment and learn. This gives us the space to think freely. You have to be in touch with what inspires you, if you lose that you’re dead.
We have more work than we can handle in-house, so we work with several freelancers around the world. if I used my bank to pay them it would be very expensive, which is why I turned to TransferWise to pay them. I used to go through the bank, which was a rip-off. I actually got a call recently from my bank trying to sell me on their foreign exchange, but I told them I use Transferwise. They said, “well you can’t beat them on price”. TransferWise is the only provider where I know I’m getting a fair price, and it’s been so easy to use. I’m an artist, I don’t want to spend a lot of time making payments. We’ve worked with 70 artists in 16 countries and had projects in 26 countries so having a global payment system we can rely on has been vital.
I’m originally from the UK but I moved to San Francisco when I was younger. It was so different. Everyone had a go-getter attitude, which really inspired me to take my work to the next level. The US gave me an ambitiousness that has driven my career.
However, it was when I went to work in Japan that I started to learn how to develop a business. The people there were so meticulous — it forced me to focus and learn how to run the company financially. Japan was also a really inspiring place. I had an infatuation with technology, and Japan fed into that with all the new things it was developing. I was exposed to a lot of new ideas when I worked with Sony and I developed new tools for Roland and Faulkner.
Having a diverse professional background has allowed me to create a diverse network. I work with freelancers from around the world — from Japan to the United States. It gives me a 24-hour workforce. Conveniently this meant that we were prepared for remote working when COVID-19 happened.
I returned to live in the UK a few years ago, after several years abroad. Since coming back, I’ve realized how much of a creative hub it is. That’s because of how technology and media come together here. I’m surrounded by so many talented artists. We’re also very lucky that English has become so common around the world.
I have benefited so much from an international life and the opportunities it has brought me. I’ve been lucky that my life has not been too restricted by international borders, because I believe that having a well-rounded view of the world is so important.
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As told to Chris Hockman, exclusively for TransferWise.
Photography provided by Ben Sheppee.
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