Then + Now : How I Started Pixel Park

My love for storytelling through motion began when I was six. Four years before the release of Toy Story, my cousin Joe and I created a short “film” titled ​The Day the Toys Came to Life​. With mostly the use of string (and of course, no ability to mask it out in post), we created a five minute movie with an absolutely thrilling plot: every time people left the room, the toys came to life, hah! This not only led to five sequels (no joke) but the start of something that would shape my career.

I’ll go ahead and skip forward past hundreds of short movies (mostly live action but some animated) and my BGSU graduation, to Los Angeles where I worked as a full-time video editor. LA is often referred to as the “place to be” for our industry, and I was ready to scratch that itch. My first gig was working at a post house in Santa Monica where I edited movie trailers and did promos for big brands. Young and bold, I started working for myself about a year later. Little did I know I would be laying the groundwork for Pixel Park.

For three years I freelanced around LA, editing and animating at an assortment of companies, gaining a vast amount of experience in a short amount of time. With a couple of solid Nike edits under my belt, doors opened quickly for me to touch brands like Apple, Disney, DIRECTV, and Volkswagen. I took mental notes of the things I saw working well (and not so well), knowing in the back of my mind that someday I might start my own studio.

My favorite studio to work with in LA was Artifact, and the people there were unlike anyone else I had ever worked with. They created amazing work while having fun, treating clients and employees kindly and they didn’t have big egos. Artifact has been my biggest inspiration for how I shaped and continue to shape Pixel Park.

My wife Karla and I moved back to Ohio in 2012 to build my career in Columbus and raise a family. In January of 2013 (still young and bold at the age of 27) I decided I was ready to start my own studio. I got pretty good at the hustle of finding work and handling clients, so my confidence was at an all time high. ​But what should I call my studio?​ I started putting words together that I liked: motion, pixel, anvil, house, haus (spelled the German way to harken back to my roots) and sent friends potential logo designs. It wasn’t until “Pixel” and “Park” came together, that it felt right. As for the dog with the box on its head? Some stories are better told over a beer.

Did I get some pushback when I decided to start my own studio? Absolutely. Did I listen? Nope. Am I glad I didn’t? Yep. But, could I do everything? No. I knew the animation work I was creating could be stronger if I teamed up with a designer so I could focus solely on the motion and sound. I hired a freelance designer to help storyboard and design projects coming in as the demand for custom artwork increased. As 2013 ramped up, the work did too – so we hired animation backup, and officially moved into our first 400 sq ft (!) office space. It’s fun to highlight that Pixel Park’s first designer was none other than our current Creative Director, Hilary Buchanan.

Those first 18 months came with many challenges to overcome. We grew quickly to a crew of five, learning how to work as a team and put an insane amount of processes in place. I dove in head first with my new team and it was probably the most fun time of my professional life. We were making great work, working long hours, and eating a lot of pizza. Of all the lessons I’ve learned while running a business, I was fortunate to learn this one pretty early on: it’s easy to lead a team and run a company when times are good- it’s difficult when times are tough. What worked in my favor was that I didn’t have any plans of Pixel Park ​not​ being successful. We were going to be a major player in the city no matter what, so when times got tough, it wasn’t a matter of whether or not Pixel Park would continue moving forward. It was just a matter of ​how​ we would move forward.

In 2015, we moved into a 2,500 sq ft location in Grandview with room to grow into. Making the office “ours” was one of my favorite career moments to date. We painted and decorated almost entirely ourselves. Our unique Pixel Park personality continues to overflow in our space with pops of bright, clean colors and funky decor.

Since then, we’ve nearly tripled our team, streamlined our process, and slowly improved each and every aspect of the business. Our client list has grown tremendously, along with the average size of each job. As the owner, I can 100% say that this was a group effort from everyone involved, whether still at Pixel Park or not. I’ve leaned heavily on my team since the very beginning and I’d never choose to do it any other way. For me, letting go has been a really big part of leading.

All in all, I started Pixel Park without a clue in the world of how to run and grow a company but I was determined to learn along the way. I surrounded myself with a great cast of characters, of full-time employees and other kinds of professionals- coaches, accountants, CFOs- and I’ve always leaned on those that I know will make me a better leader and strengthen Pixel Park as a whole. No business will ever be perfect and we’re still learning as we go, but I wouldn’t change a thing about our story and I’m so glad I “just went for it” back in 2013.

While I’m admittedly not a big quote person, I stumbled upon a Steve Jobs quote in the early days of Pixel Park and it’s stuck with me over the years,​ “Achieving a dream is not an easy thing to do. It’s complicated and requires a lot of effort, a great deal of willpower and enormous self-confidence. On the path towards a dream, we’ll find a thousand setbacks which will demoralize us, that will make us think we can’t go on, but it’s always possible to keep going. There’s always a path or another way to reach our dream.”

More Posts: