#btconf Düsseldorf, Germany 02 - 03 May 2022

Cabeza Patata

Cabeza Patata is a multidisciplinary studio specialising in character design. It was created by Katie Menzies and Abel Reverter in 2018 and has a focus on diversity and female empowerment within a world of playful characters, full of energy and positivity.

They have worked for tech giants such as Google, Apple, Microsoft and Spotify, and have done editorial illustration for The New York Times, The New Yorker, El País and Icon Design.

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The Positives of Saying No

In the four years of running their studio – Cabeza Patata – countless moments of decision have come up and, often enough, “no” has been the right answer. It might have negative connotations, but as an artist your power is in deciding what you want and don’t want to do. These “no”s applied not only towards others, but also to themselves. What they thought they wanted to start with, later proved to not be the best idea for Katie and Abel. Several times over. In this talk you’ll join them on a crazy adventure that involves working on global campaigns, opening and closing a gallery, and travelling the world in a van while running an online school. So many things have changed but one has remained intact: their love for all things characters.



[Audience applause]

Katie: Awesome. Thank you very much. Thank you, everyone, for coming back from the bar.

Abel: Yeah.

Katie: We really appreciate that. [Laughter]

Abel: We feel super privileged to be able to speak at this festival, and we are so happy that these things can happen in person again.

Katie: Yeah.

Abel: We feel the excitement I think that everyone is feeling from this returning.

Katie: Yeah, and so you might have seen the name of our talk or the name of our studio. I guess you’re probably expecting a talk from Cabeza Patata, a character design studio who does work like this kind of 3D animation, sometimes 3D illustration. We work for big tech companies usually. We’ve done work for Apple, for Spotify.

Abel: We worked with them across the globe, so you can see how they got translated in every single language. But also, we work with local clients. I say local. I’m Spanish. Katie is English. But we are based in London parts of our time.

It was very exciting to have a campaign in Costa Coffee. I think it doesn’t exist in Germany, but it would be the equivalent of Starbucks. It was very fun to go outside home and see our posters all around.

Katie: Yeah, some places are a bit further afield that we actually didn’t get to go and see. This one was in a cultural center in China where they printed our gigantic there. Unfortunately, because of the pandemic, we could only get a feeling of how they were in this incredible, enormous space.

Abel: We’ve also done product designs. This is for a wine actually produced in Germany. It was so much fun, and we loved putting our hearts in as many places as we can.

Katie: Yeah. As you can see, everything we’re showing you right now is pretty varied. It shows how our portfolio changes as we go. We love doing editorial illustration.

Here’s some for the New York Times or The New Yorker.

Also, we’re quite passionate about doing public campaigns and social campaigns. Here’s one that you might have seen that was in Vienna a couple of years ago for the MuseumsQuartier.

But as I said, this is not a talk about Cabeza Patata.

Abel: And it’s something we haven’t done before, so we’re kind of testing it here. But we wanted to be more honest. For a long time, we feel that we tried to be a company and not really talk about the fact that we are something else.

Katie: This is a story that started nine years ago in Central Saint Martins in a summer school in London. It’s about the young couple that met there, Katie and Abel. It’s about the story, really, that led us to Cabeza Patata.

Abel: Yes.

Katie: Probably the first creative thing that we ever did together had nothing to do with Cabeza Patata. I guess it was a haircut that I gave you.

Abel: Yeah, that’s in the university apartment. Katie gave it to me in the kitchen.

Katie: Mm-hmm.

Abel: One of your flatmates took the photo. Funny enough, I haven’t gone to the hairdresser ever since.

Katie: Yeah.

Abel: Yeah.

Katie: Yeah. That’s not even my full-time job. [Laughter]

Abel: Yeah. It saves a lot of money as well. [Laughter]

[Audience laughs and applauds]

Katie: Not that I’m looking for new clients, but--

But something that we realized through the beginning of our partnership, our relationship I guess, is that the things that make a good foundation -- which are respect, valuing each other’s opinions, and letting each other be independent as well, and having a common goal that we share -- are also the really important foundations of a company, weirdly.

Abel: Yeah, we think all those things have been translated so much of how we work together and valuing each other’s opinions at work and having a common goal. Everything is so connected.

Katie: I think that things obviously change and people change over time. As a couple, we’ve gone through many different life-changing events in different contexts. Probably what we’ve come to realize is that Cabeza Patata is basically just another stop that our relationship has taken us to.

Abel: Completely.

Katie: It didn’t start as only making characters behind the screen for big clients. Really, it was a way of doing creative things and spending time together.

Abel: Yeah. We were not trying to turn it into a business. We were not trying to make money. It came as a way to go to the street, paint characters on walls, paint characters on window displays, and even Katie was doing embroidery by then, so the characters would appear in that.

Katie: Even the name, Cabeza Patata, people always ask us what it means. It’s actually just something silly that made us laugh one Saturday morning from bed, and it stuck.

Abel: [Laughter] It translates to potato head, if you don’t know Spanish. But it doesn’t really....

Katie: Not that that explains anything. [Laughter]

Abel: [Laughter]

Katie: But I guess with every seemingly beautiful story, there are downsides as well. For us, it was right from the beginning. Cabeza Patata grew fast.

Abel: When we say fast, we mean very fast. Within the first years, we went from painting things on walls in the street to be working with many, many, many big clients. The company started becoming, we feel, bigger than us.

That means that it was giving us a single goal that was growth. You feel like you need to get more money. You feel like you need to get more clients. Basically, just start losing control of it because you have to get bigger no matter what.

Katie: This is a story of how we as a couple took back that control by saying no whenever it was necessary.

Abel: This is not a recipe book.

Katie: Yes can become no. No can become yes. Obviously, as humans, we all need so much more than just growth alone.

Abel: We realized that, through time, humans need to take care of their mental health. You need to feel valued, and you need to balance your life.

Katie: From about a year ago, I guess, we decided that Cabeza Patata is no longer in charge of us. That the humans behind it are.

Abel: We’re going to show you how we’ve done it.

Katie: This might sound like saying no, you might think, oh, it might sound a bit negative, but as Marc said, this is all about positivity.

We’re going to tell you some of the positives that it’s given. I guess just a few no context recent highlights for you.

Abel: Having a really lovely lunch with the ambassador to the U.S. of Botswana.

Katie: Yeah. We’re not going to explain that further. Just drop that there.

[Audience laughs]

Katie: We visited the New York Times headquarters a couple of years ago, which was a bit of a highlight for me.

Abel: Also, we’ve been living in a van for a while, and we’ll tell you about that a bit later.

Katie: Yeah, that one we’ll explain a little more, but not too much.

We’re going to go through our top six no’s during this talk. The first one is no to a representation agency.

Abel: Yeah. We started getting attention for commercial work when we started developing all of these 2D illustrations into 3D. Right now, it might look more obvious, but we were the first ones getting this realistic clothing style and putting it with very graphical characters.

It didn’t come because we were exploring a specific program. It was because we wanted to have our characters wearing clothes that we owned. At the beginning, we made a project about sports, so we wanted them to wear sports clothes.

Here you have a character wearing a jacket. Funny enough, that jacket that Katie is wearing there is not her jacket. She took it in my grandparents’ house one day that we went to visit one Christmas. It used to belong to me, but when I was, I think, eight years old. But it fits her.

[Audience laughs]

Katie: Yes. It’s kind of come full circle somehow.

Abel: Yeah. [Laughter]

Katie: Yeah. Taking references, I guess, from real life and real-life photography sometimes, and putting our characters in those improbable situations. Trying in that way to create new images that maybe hadn’t really been seen in that style before.

Abel: Yeah, and this work started to get a lot of attention online, so we started getting some jobs. The first logical step -- and I think we learned that through university or people told us about it -- was to get a representation agency.

If you’re wondering what a representation agency is, basically, it’s a company that sits between the client (or the job that you’re going to get) and you as an artist. The representation agency is there in the middle.

Here we have the money you get. If the budget for a certain project was this budget, a representation agency usually takes around 25%, 30% of the budget in order to connect you to the client. That doesn’t really stop there.

Katie: Often we would find that when we got onto bigger jobs, then they’d say, “Oh, we’ve got it through an advertising agency.” If you’re wondering what that is, that is someone who sits between the job and the representation agency and you. So, that budget that you had about 30% taken from, suddenly, you get another 30% to 50% taken out of it.

Then when you’re starting out, particularly, they’ll say, “Oh, we’re also going to need to work with a production company in the middle.”

Abel: If you’re wondering what a production company, in this case it’s a company that sits between the job, the advertisement agency, the representation agency, to help you get the job. They attach art directors, creative directors that help you kind of making your style. It’s a bit strange, but--

Katie: If you haven’t caught up yet, this is the budget that you have, and this about the end of money you’ll end up getting. The percentages vary a bit, but on the whole, when you’re starting out, we figure that you’ll usually end up with less than 20% of the total budget of a project.

Abel: By the way, we are saying this because it took us a lot of time to discover this percentage. Usually, the only percentage you know (because you are legally entitled to know) is the one from your representation agency. The rest is all hidden behind the very convenient opaque screen.

Katie: You’ll end up with this amount, and a lot of people in the middle with a lot of opinions about your work. You probably had a lot of reason why all of these people are important, all of these middlemen or companies in the middle. I’m for sure, in certain instances, people find that very useful. But as well, you have to try and think about what is the vested interest behind all of these people--

Abel: Feeding this idea, thing to you.

Katie: --being part of the project. Yeah.

Abel: Again, if it works for you, we are not advocating for everyone. We are talking about our personal case.

In our personal case, what we discovered is we had an agent in London that were around Soho, I think, in the city center, you know, a beautiful building.

Katie: We’d go and visit them in the middle of London, and they’d take us out for lunch. It was all very swish. Then we’d be like, “Okay.” We’d head off back to the outskirts where all of the other artists were working.

We think, “Why as creators -- we’re the ones creating the value of the campaign -- why are all the artists in the outskirts and everyone else is in their fancy city offices?” So, we started to wonder, “Do we need these advertising agencies, representation agencies, and production companies in the middle?”

Abel: Because in reality, when we started thinking about it, they didn’t give any suggestions on our style. We developed it without them coming to us first.

They didn’t fund our first month, so we had to use our savings or continue working during the time we were developing this style. None of our ideas came from them, so it was feeling a bit unfair. Within six months, we decided to say no, take the leap and say no.

Katie: That seemed, at the time, like maybe a really counterintuitive decision. But actually, a really short time after, we got our first big job directly from Google. Since we’d always been told, “Oh, you have to have a representation agency in order to reach big clients,” we actually asked Google directly how they found us. They said, “Oh, through social media.”

It turns out, people at Google use Instagram. [Laughter]

[Audience laughs]

Katie: When we looked down, we realized, “Oh, yeah, it’s really worth us growing our own Instagram, our own social media and, in the end, maybe we can actually represent ourselves through it,” which sounds obvious when I say it out loud, but it actually seemed like kind of a novel idea at the time.

Abel: The job was a bit challenging, first because we were having direct contact with them, so we had to be producing it and communicating. But as well, because it was taking--

It was a project in which we couldn’t use the characters we had been developing for a while. We’re going not show you here a bit of the process on how it advanced with time.

These were, I think, how many stickers?

Katie: Twenty-four stickers for the Christmas Google Gboard. They wanted them to be--

Well, they wanted them to be able to be used all over the world for anyone who wanted to celebrate Christmas, so instead of making hundreds of different characters with different ages, races, abilities, or genders, we thought, okay, we’ll just make Christmas objects.

Abel: You have here the evolution.

Katie: Yeah.

Abel: Here on the left, you see the first attempt we had of these characters, and I don’t know what you think, but they look a bit high with the pupils so small.

[Audience laughs]

Abel: And they look a bit sweaty as well. I don’t know why we made them so sweaty. This is to show you how, as soon as you get out of the comfort zone, it kind of takes a lot of iterations to bring back the style that you think you have mastered so well.

Katie: Yeah. This isn’t a one-off as well. Every single one that we sent at the beginning looked kind of a bit scary and a bit sweaty. [Laughter]

Abel: Yeah. That one is supposed to be lovely, like “On my way,” that you send to a friend, and it looks like that bubble is going to die.

[Audience laughs]

Abel: [Laughter]

Katie: [Laughter] I think it’s a nice example, though. If you know people always tell you, when you’re starting something new, people say, “Oh, if you just practice, you’ll improve.” You’re like, “What does that even mean?” This is what it means. [Laughter]

In the end, everything turned out nicely after it went through kind of--

Abel: Yeah, it was so nice, too.

Katie: --horror phase.

Abel: It was so nice. We both love Christmas, and not in an ironic way. We do both love Christmas, so it was so nice to be part of a Christmas campaign like this making so many different stickers and even some a bit more emotional ones like this one that kind of got to be very relevant in the last couple of Christmases for us.

Yeah, we were isolated, like a Christmas ago, in an apartment in London. They decided to call it the British variant, which was not very convenient for trying to go back home. My family was like, “There’s no way! It’s called the British variant.”

I was like, “Oh, but we are isolated.” [Tongue clicks]

Katie: [Laughter] No number two is no to being a traditional production company. By that we mean that when you think of a big animation campaign, you probably think that you need to have a certain size of team, you need to have big computers, render farms, a studio manager, probably some interns bringing you coffee at like midnight because you’re so stressed about the deadlines.

Abel: But the reality is that none of those things are really necessary to do a great job. It’s not true. You don’t need those things.

Katie: If we take you back to spring 2019, we just bought our first flat in Barcelona, the Casa Patata. We weren’t represented anymore, so we were just kind of waiting for the next thing to come along.

When it did, it was Spotify. They came directly. We were super excited about it. They wanted us to pitch for their next really big campaign.

They had, we learned later, a ton of other big companies who have dedicated teams making pitches. Luckily, we had this sort of mixture of blissful ignorance and great characters, so we landed the job.

Abel: Yeah, and it wasn’t a small job. It was 12 videos, 25 illustrations, and only a month and a half to do it.

[Audience laughs]

Abel: So, it was a big challenge. But the reality is that we applied a few different rules that allowed us to do the job and to do it well.

Katie: Yeah. First of all, we were like, “Yes, we can definitely do it,” which I guess, again, the blissful ignorance.

Then we went straight to, “Higher the best.” I guess, having the flexibility of being a smaller team and being able to go for it a bit more and understand what’s needed was what helped us to do so.

Often the best people working in design don’t work full time and maybe take a little more convincing, “You’d have a really amazing job, you’d have a great budget, great conditions,” and then you can get people on board and they’ll do the best possible job. We actually managed to hire a lot of character animators that work in films and in video games, which is quite unusual, I think, to have in commercial campaigns like this.

Abel: As well, direct communication was key. Direct communication was possible as well because we were working directly with the team at Spotify. They decided they had trust in us, but sometimes I wonder how much they did because they sent eight people from New York to check how we were doing the job.

Katie: [Laughter]

Abel: Having the eight people there and what we did, I think, with direct communication and the attitude we had towards the job was to get them excited. From the beginning, we told them what was possible and what wasn’t, and we convinced them that if they were focusing on what was possible, we could do great things.

Everyone was part of it. People from Spotify were giving opinions on clothes choices and movements from the characters, suggesting their favorite dances. It was a process that I think wouldn’t have been possible if we had a lot of people in the middle.

Katie: For sure. The final one is, as we said, we didn’t have these huge render funds to deal with all of the animation, so we had to be efficient. When you think about it, some of the best photographers in the world have lighting setups of only two or three lights, so our 3D scenes don’t need to be any more complex than that.

We really think (and we still advocate) that using good lighting and good materials is an art form. It’s not some kind of technical challenge in your 3D. You have to try and see it like that. Be efficient with the scenes and try and communicate that as much as possible in the campaign.

Abel: We’re going to show you a little reel with some parts of the videos put together.

Katie: Oh, they should have sound.

Abel: Oh, no worries. We’re fine.

Katie: Okay. Well, we can always talk over.

Abel: [Laughter] Is sound working, because we need--

Male: [Indiscernible]

Abel: Okay. It’s not relevant for this one, but for the next one maybe.

Male: [Indiscernible]

Katie: Yeah, I think so.

Abel: Okay.

Katie: Not to worry if not. Yeah, this is the mammoth project of the 12 videos that we somehow managed to put together in the month and a half whilst kind of entertaining the client on-site and everything. Put it was actually a really beautiful campaign to work on, had a lot of success, and a lot of wonderful things, which I guess you can kind of imagine and see. Maybe the things that you might not hear are the bad parts behind it.

Abel: Yeah. First, we’re going to talk about two different ones. The first one is kind of even more funny, but when we look back, in reality, we were doing the building works in our house, and this happened in the middle. I don’t know why.

When you have a lot of stress, you don’t even have time to think, “Oh, let’s rent an apartment temporarily,” so the builders were in our house doing things, and we were also painting things at the same time we were doing the job. Everything was full of dust.

We did a lot of emails, a lot of things from, for example, washing our clothes in the laundry place. We didn’t have a washing machine by then. It was pure chaos. But I think that the support that we have from one another helped us during that time.

Katie: For sure. I guess that maybe was a little bit of a fun side of it, but there’s also more of a serious downside, which is what making a lot of money in a short space of time can actually do to your brain.

Abel: Yeah. When the money hit the account, I personally started feeling a lot of anxiety. It doesn’t help that people around you say, “You should invest it,” “You should grow the company,” or “You should hire more people. You need to get bigger. Come on.”

Katie: You start, as well, to think, like, “Do I really deserve it?” I guess, growing up, as well, sometimes, we might have felt that people who make a lot of money might do it through inherited wealth or through exploiting others.

When you start to suddenly feel more like, “Oh, I’ve started to make money. I’m on the other side of that,” it’s sort of hard to reconcile what that is.

Abel: Yeah. As well, there is a very dangerous logic with this thing about growing. If you think about it, if you change your lifestyle or change the studio size, the only thing you are doing is putting a lot of pressure to yourself to do the next job because you need to get the next job in order to maintain this new lifestyle that you didn’t even want in the first place.

Katie: The pressure only grew as well. As we said, the campaign went really well. Actually, Spotify themselves started putting it forward for a lot of awards. Every week or two, they’d be like, “Hey, guys. We won another award.”

We were like, “Ah...” [Laughter] Because the expectation was starting to grow, and we had this kind of expectation to create the next big thing. What’s it going to be?

Abel: It’s very strange to have everyone telling you, “Oh, what’s going to be the next big thing?” By then, the focus we were having was on learning how to make carpets. How do you call it? Sorry--

Katie: Weaving.

Abel: Weaving. Yeah.

Katie: Yeah.

Abel: Weaving was one of the things. It was interesting to us at the moment. Also, we were making a gigantic, three meters character for the sake of it, putting pillow covers.

Or even more fun ones, which is 3D printing biscuit cutters with our characters. This is usually not what big production companies are attempting, but this is what we wanted to make.

Katie: Yeah, and we just decided we should do what makes us happier. Also, by the way, we finished the building works. [Laughter]

Abel: [Laughter]

Katie: That was a big life goal. And it was great that we did because then we were in this apartment during the pandemic. I don’t know if we went really crazy or we were incredibly creatively inspired.

Abel: The lockdown was very strict in Barcelona, where we were. During two months, you couldn’t leave the house at all, not even to exercise, so we had to do something. Our idea was, let’s make ourselves in the same positions, but in 3D.

Katie: Is it really weird, or is it creative genius? I still don’t know.

Abel: [Laughter] Yeah.

Katie: But there are quite a lot of them. We were there like -- we had a lot of time, obviously, but very stressed out. We’re moving tables around, tidying things up, doing this and that.

Abel: I guess it gave us something to do, so yeah, it was fun.

Katie: Yeah, so I don’t know if that ever will come in useful or anyone will be interested in that.

Moving on to no number three, which is, no to the pressure of having a permanent location. Definitely, we’ve always found, in our industry, that having a studio space, your own fixed space, is the holy grail of being a successful studio. If you’re in a shared space, people might think a bit more that you’re starting out and that you’re not as serious.

Abel: What could feel better by putting your name big on a door, on top of a door, especially if your name is potato in Spanish. It was so cool. We’re going to put our name, and we have our study.

Our ideas, I think, were coming from a good place. We thought we can connect more to the neighborhood by having a place that is open, in the street, completely glass, so people can see, can come in, and visit.

Katie: Yeah. But for us, it felt like the reality was quite different. We felt like when we did open up the doors and people came in, we were more sort of acting as tour guides or boosting our reputation in some way.

Then when we closed the doors to try and have some privacy or work on something, we felt like we were isolating ourselves. Especially, as all of this was going on during the pandemic, so we felt a little confused about this big thing that we’d wanted, we finally got, and then we weren’t actually really sure that it was what was good for us in the moment.

As soon as things started to open up a little bit, we went to the Canary Islands.

Abel: Yeah. It was such a good idea to go there. I think it changed the course of the last year and a half.

We arrived there to the islands. They are part of Spain, so it’s quite easy to go there. One of the reasons we went there is because the islands didn’t have tourism.

There’s a lot of British and German people going there. During that time, there were not that many, so there was not that much COVID there. Places were very empty, so some people told us it’s a good idea to go there and work from there.

As soon as we arrived, we rented a place. This is an old factory. We rented a little desk with other creative people there.

Katie: Yeah, and so we just had this small desk in a shared space. We rented a little apartment there.

We looked at each other, and we realized we were just feeling so much happier without having the big spectacular studio, but we’re somewhere that might look like sort of paradise on earth, but it’s really achievable to get there. It was somewhere that was in Europe and was quite inexpensive. We could work from a rooftop and not have to worry about paying council tax and giving tours and thinking if the space was clean.

We realized really then, I think, that working and traveling was definitely the thing that we were needing right now.

Abel: Yeah. it suddenly felt being a smaller town, smaller spaces, we were doing fun things, fun activities, not focusing only on work. As Katie is saying as well, not having the pressure of our own location liberated us.

I think, as well, there is -- we both think that there is a point to be made about sharing spaces, especially when you are a small business, that you are not sharing that much time with other creatives if you have your own space.

Katie: It definitely opens up the circle a lot, I think, too. When we’ve been focused more in Barcelona or in London, we’ve met people. Everyone is sort of working on bigger campaigns, I guess.

But it was really nice going to the Canaries and meeting other people who might have been working more with local businesses or in different things. It just kind of opens your mind a bit to how diverse the industry is and how many people are doing interesting things but maybe aren’t getting so much of the recognition, or you might not have otherwise heard of.

Abel: We recently took this to the maximum. I mean we rented out the studio. We’re not there anymore. We went from this to our new life that has been living in a van. You can see our office there.

Katie: Yeah. Welcome to our new offices. Patata HQ. Her name is Buttercup. She basically has got everything that you need, really. We’ve got solar panels on the roof, so we can plug into electricity whenever you need to. A fully stocked fridge there and a little kitchenette. The best part is that you can have a different sunset every single day.

Abel: Yeah. It’s been so liberating. I think we have built up pressure that comes from external forces, people you meet, and then expectations of the only route to be a successful studio. When we are in the van, it feels like this is so much better than what we could have imagined that was the perfect idea of the studio.

Katie: Mm-hmm. No number four is no to hiding behind a screen. I think this one is especially relevant for us being more of a digital art studio because the undeniable truth is that the 3D makes more money.

Abel: Yeah. It’s clear that it makes more money. It’s easier to sell. The clients want it more. It’s easier to make changes, which clients love. It’s not that easy if you are making a three meters character and now they want it 3.5 meters. It’s more valued by society, in general.

Katie: That’s for historical reasons. Historically, in a world where crafts were confined to the home and mostly done by women, they weren’t really considered artistic or worth paying for.

But really, we realized that if we stop doing the crafts, and if we just get stuck behind the screen all the time chasing the next 3D project, then we’ll really lose the essence of where our 3D work comes from.

Abel: Yeah. We need to remember that we didn’t start these as a way of making a production company of making money. The characters clothes we made is not because, “Oh, the clients are going to want character clothes.” They come from our love from making real clothes.

Katie: That tactile feeling that people like so much in our images actually comes from our understanding of making physical objects.

Abel: The love we have for patterns and colors comes from the love we have to put in them in real life.

Katie: Our enjoyment of physical comedy and of dance actually, in its own turn, then informs so much of the characters’ movements. We really feel like if we got stuck behind the screen only, and if we didn’t keep exploring all of these different things that we love, then we’d lose so much of what sets our study apart and also makes us enjoy the work so much.

Abel: Yeah. We think combining crafts and technology, for us, is perfect. They feel so separated. We have an example of a project doing 3D printing that feels quite logical. When we made it, we didn’t really realize how different it was from what most people are doing. But it kind of got a lot of attention. We were like, “Oh, yeah. This is not what people are using 3D printers for.”

We had this idea of making our characters as a chess set. We designed them in 3D because we know how to design them in 3D. But then we took them into the 3D printing software. We prepared them.

Katie: We printed out every single character of the chess set individually. They came out here like this little army. Then we hand-painted all of them. We made the chessboard actually out of wood.

Abel: I used to play War Hammer for a long time, so I have a lot of experience painting and doing the dry brush and everything.

Katie: Yeah. Actually, we went to the War Hammer store to get the paints, and the guy was like, “Fantastic.”

Abel: Yeah.

Katie: He was there like, “Come. Come to the meet-ups.”

Abel: I left the shop with some samples of War Hammer.

Katie: Yeah.

Abel: I was like, “Oh... Should I go back?” Yeah.

Katie: He was like, “At least take samples. You will be back.” [Laughter]

Abel: [Laughter] But yeah, every single tool that I learned through the War Hammer time, and all the painting can be applied to figures that you model and then you 3D print yourself. It seemed to be that not that many people were doing that.

It was amazing to make it. We put it out. We only have one copy. We don’t sell the physical pieces because it takes a while to make them and we are kind of keeping them as one-off pieces right now.

We haven’t yet shared the 3D mold as well. We might, in the future, so people can print their own ones.

For now, we painted them, and it was amazing to see it. I don’t know. It’s so pretty.

As well, we like this combination. Then we went back to the 3D software, and we imitated the painting that we had done on the figures. This is a 3D render of them, which is kind of going from the computer to the 3D printer to paint to then bring it back to the computer. It’s like this ping-pong style that we have been exploring a lot.

Katie: Yeah. Everyone is always super confused about what’s real and what’s 3D. We kind of love that, so we never really tell people.

Abel: Yeah.

Katie: But we like to explore a lot of other crafts as much as possible. We also--

That same 3D printer, you can change the head and make it a CNC cutter. We like to explore as well making toys in wood. We recently made this puppet where you kind of see, I guess, how when you’re trying to use different mediums, you get different results that you might not have otherwise expected.

Then I think that often we will translate those back into the 3D when we go there. You get this lovely constant change where you can see the level of detail that we’ll use in the real world, the creating of handmade, tiny buttons.

Then when we go to make them in 3D, you’ll see how that’s so influenced. You’ll see how sometimes maybe we say, “Oh, let’s make the stitches a bit bigger,” or “Let’s make these buttons slightly oversized in 3D so it does look more like a real doll.”

Abel: It’s almost as if there is a contradiction between when you are making real objects. You try to make them as perfect as possible because imperfection is coming naturally all the time.

When we are working on the computer, it’s almost the opposite. We are introducing imperfection because if things look too perfect, they don’t look nice. We learned from one technique and it informs what we do in the computer works with our crafts and vice versa.

Katie: For sure. The same comes, I think, when you think about animating, too. I think that stop motion animation is also such a fun way of having limitations, basically, in what you’re creating, which then you can bring into the digital world.

You never want anything to feel too refined and perfect. Sometimes, when it does, it can lose a bit of soul. That’s why we like to keep jumping back into the real world.

Abel: Also, there’s something beautiful, I think, about doing stop motion, which you see a physical part that you have made moving. It’s incredible.

Katie: Yeah.

Abel: It’s an incredible feeling.

Katie: We have a little neighbor who is five years old. When we show her stuff like we show her the animation, and then we have this toy. We show her. We say, “Look here. You can play with it, and you can move it around.” She’ll be like....

Abel: [Laughter]

Katie: “It doesn’t move for me.” [Laughter] She thinks this magical thing should be jumping around and dancing. I’m always like, “Oh, yeah. I don’t know. He was doing it earlier. We can wait and see.”

[Audience laughs]

Abel: We were talking about how we like confusing people with what is real and what is not. Sometimes on purpose, sometimes accidentally.

We like cutting paper, and we have a paper cutting machine. We’ve been doing some projects with it.

At some point, we wanted to do it completely fake. We were like, let’s make--

This is not real paper. This is in the computer. We made it look like it was real paper.

Now I’m telling you, so probably you are like, “Oh, it’s so obvious it’s not real.” But we put it out, and everyone thought it was real paper.

Katie: Yeah, we started getting -- even people started sort of recommending different weights of paper and stuff.

Abel: We felt like liars.

Katie: We sort of felt too embarrassed to say that it wasn’t real. We were like, “Oh, thank you.” [Laughter]

Abel: The cool thing is that this allowed us then to put it on an iPad and have it as an interactive piece where people could go around a paper figure and explore it. This type of mixture is what excites us. We find it way more exciting than just using 3D for the sake of it.

We’ve been kind of exploring even further with this. Right now, we don’t use anymore any libraries of materials because there’s something fun about creating our own ones that are connected to our daily life.

You will never know that, for example, these heads that we made recently, the wooden materials come directly from Katie’s childhood chair.

Katie: [Laughter]

Abel: We took some photos of the chair. We turned those into textures and texture maps. We now have it as a library for ourselves. That means that many of the tiles around the house and things can be used in our illustrations.

Katie: Now our next no is no to Ponzi schemes. Some of you might be thinking, “How is this relevant to the talk?” I guess this is something that, for the last couple of years, has kind of taken over our industry and has also been another big career-defining decision for us to say no.

Abel: Yeah. Probably at this point everyone knows what is crypto art or heard about some people being millionaires from day to another. These are some of the terms that are being thrown around. It’s very confusing. If you ask about it, people say, “Shut up and just make the money.”

The terms kind of feel confusing and imposing for a reason, we think. If you think about what crypto art is on a basic level, it’s the idea that we could create a unique copy, like the original copy of a digital file, that we could store in the blockchain.

In reality, when you look into it, that is not real. That’s not true. What we are putting a hyperlink that then is stored in a server where it stores our image. Also, we don’t know if that person that put the hyperlink there is the original author of the image because, I mean, we’ve been getting stolen all the time.

In reality, we think that humans are necessary in this connection to make it work well. As well, we think that what’s been happening is that the big pyramid scheme has been built into this system. We’re going to explain how it works.

Katie: From the beginning, so I guess it’s about two years ago, it’s kind of the height of the pandemic as well, and people started telling us we’ve got to jump into this thing, crypto art. And “Oh, I’ve been making-- I just sold for $100,000, this piece.”

People were throwing around huge quantities of money in their Instagram stories and stuff. We were thinking, “Oh, wow. What is this thing?”

When something sounds too good to be true, I think it usually is. We stepped back to have a look at it properly. Our first question was, where is the money coming from?

Abel: Yeah. Suddenly, hundreds of millions of dollars or euros are coming into scheme. We’re wondering where were these people before?

We realized that there were two main actors here. One was the speculators. There were people that had been working with cryptocurrencies for a long time. Maybe some of you might be here, but you know (in your way) what you are doing. But we are talking about artists getting into this, which are the second actors.

The artists don’t really know exactly how this works, and they are going there because they want to make money for their art, which is fair.

I’m being cut. This might be Elon Musk.

[Audience laughs]

Katie: [Laughter]

[Audience applauds]

Abel: Maybe that’s....

Katie: [Indiscernible] Okay. Have you been cut still?

Abel: Can I use your microphone? Hello? Hello? Can you hear me?

Katie: Elon, are you listening?

Male: The microphone doesn’t like you.

Abel: I think it works a bit.

Male: [Indiscernible]

Male: Yep. [Speaking a foreign language]

Abel: I can continue talking near you for the time being.

Katie: Yeah. I think we can jump -- we can jump forward a little bit with it. What we were talking about was this idea of artists supporting artists.

Ah, there we go.

Abel: Perfect.

Katie: We want to point out probably the major problem with that. We were saying that a lot of people that didn’t really know anything about cryptocurrency or crypto art was suddenly jumping into it.

We’ve got a practical example of the problem with simply supporting your friend. We’ve got two people. We’ve got Diego and Lucy.

Diego buys an artwork from Lucy through a crypto art platform for $1,000. Lucy is like, I’ll buy one from Diego for $1,000. Two people have two artworks, which are respectively worth $1,000. They both gained $1,000, right?

First of all, the platforms take a fee. SuperRare, for example, one of the big ones, takes 15% from the seller, 3% from the purchaser. Out of that $2,000, they’re giving $360 to the platform. That’s not counting the gas fees, which is the money that you have to pay to initially put your artwork into the platform.

You’re going from supporting each other and supposedly helping each other to actually--

Abel: Oh, okay. [Laughter]

Katie: --to helping a massive corporation.

Abel: Yeah, and some people sometimes mention the idea that the fine arts market is similar to this. They say, like, what is the difference? Why are you against this when the fine art market exists?

We have two reasons why we think it’s a bit different. The first one is that, like it or not, there are still some millionaires that like having some Picasso in their toilets. When people do that, they kind of stop this buying and selling bubble because they just keep it for a while. That kind of cools down the market and allows things to be a bit more stable.

But the second reason is that when they say that we like the fine arts market, we don’t like it. The only thing that we don’t want is that horrible system to come inside the digital art world. We don’t want it.

Katie: In reality, it isn’t because, in crypto art, there are no real art collectors. What we mean to say is that it’s a system of pure speculation when you look at it. People aren’t buying the art for the art sake. They’re buying it as an investment to then almost immediately sell on.

Abel: As we know, there are no -- like, when you have a closed system where money is moving around, someone has to lose for someone to become rich. On average, in a pyramid scheme, 87% of people lose money. For the people that make money, that’s a very small percentage. Those are the ones that you’re seeing on Twitter making a lot of money.

The probability is that most people are going to be in that group not making it. You might be wondering, why then am I feeling that everyone is becoming a millionaire on Twitter?

Katie: That is because it’s very carefully created to feel that way so that you feel more like joining in. There’s a massive emphasis on bragging. You need people to be talking about how much money they’re making in order to get more people excited about coming in and making more money.

You can see this when you enter the sites themselves. They have top earner sections. When you go in, you think, “Oh, wow. Everyone is making millions here.”

Abel: By the way, it’s very clear what they are doing because they are putting the prices always in dollars, which is surprising because you think if you are having a system that is an alternative money, why are you not putting your money in your local currency? What they want is people externally to get very hyped by it and to get inside.

Another thing that happens is that they have an auction system. In many websites -- for example, SuperRare, the one we were talking about -- the auction system only begins when someone makes the first offer.

The auction starts. When you get inside the website, you see a countdown. It looks like every single artwork is being sold very quickly and everyone is bidding for them when, in reality, the vast majority are not getting any bids.

As well as that, these are highly unstable currencies that we are very worried about artists getting into. People that have been there for a while, they know about it. But we noticed that many of our friends have no idea of how much a cryptocurrency can fluctuate. Any of them can fluctuate in a single day (up to 20%).

Imagine if you are depending on the money you have to pay your rent. The flat that you can afford this week might be completely out of your reach the next one.

We think that when the currency can fluctuate like that, it’s not a currency. It’s simply gambling.

Katie: Also--

[Audience applauds]

Katie: Thank you.

[Audience cheers]

Katie: One last thing on this, too, is that if you actually go and look at the U.S. government’s list of what is a pyramid scheme, to sort of help people realize and avoid them, you see how many similarities it has with the crypto art world.

No genuine product or service. This is absolutely true. These digital artworks have, until now, already been freely available. There’s no new product there.

Promises of high returns in a short time period is like the main attraction for joining.

Easy money or passive income. They promise you a 10% commission for every single passive sale that continues afterward.

A buy-in is required. Yes, you have your gas fees.

An emphasis on recruiting. We definitely have felt that personally a lot, and we know a lot of other friends who have. It’s generated quite a lot of anxiety on them in the last two years, too. We even have received insults for not wanting to enter, which is not something that usually happens, and we think that kind of behavior is quite frightening.

When you say, “Why are you telling me this?” I think it’s because it worries us. This is a market that, actually, had we got into it at the beginning instead of questioning, we could have made a lot of money. We could be in that small percentage where we would have made the money and, you know, could have told everyone about it, got everyone in, but we knew that we’d be making the money off the back of other people losing the money. And I think one of the--

[Audience applauds]

Katie: Thank you. I’m definitely not saying this to sort of put flowers on ourselves or anything, but it’s just to explain how serious we find it and feel about it. What was especially painful is that this has been sold as this way that will be democratizing art and opening it up for people to be able to make money from their artworks, but it’s simply not. It’s making the rich richer and the poor poorer, and it’s not something that we think anybody here should be a part of.

Abel: Like with everything in life, as well as doing research and trying to inform yourself about it and read more about it, we recommend always thinking what is the vested interest when someone is telling you something. We don’t have an interest.

We don’t win anything by putting this down. If anything, we got a lot of abuse for a while on Twitter, which we are not there anymore. There is no interest on us attacking this more than the hurt we got from seeing so many people losing their money.

We’re going to move from this point, but of course, we haven’t talked about the environmental implications. That’s another topic that I really recommend looking into.

Katie: Our sixth and final no is no to being secretive. I think this is quite a big one for us because I guess when you create something new, it’s kind of painful the first time when you start seeing things that look like what you’re making around in commercial campaigns. For us to begin with, I don’t know if you can feel it, but it kind of hurts when you see things that look like yours starting to pop up everywhere.

Sometimes, even you feel like those things are done without intention properly. The results lack the soul and lack the intention that you initially put into it.

Maybe your first reaction can be to be more guarded or be more secretive about it and feel defensive. But I think that it’s something that we spoke about. We actually get asked about it so much. That’s why we decided to include it as a point in this talk.

We think about the way that we wanted to come out of that in a bit more of a positive way, which was thinking, “Look. Instead of getting angry and trying to guard things. That’s not going to help anything, so why don’t we offer knowledge and resources instead?”

Abel: Yeah, and it’s something we’ve been doing for a while. We have here a photo of, I think, the biggest -- for sure is our record for the biggest embroidery workshop in the planet.

Katie: Yes. [Laughter]

Abel: From the beginning, we always loved teaching. This embroidery workshop is a very good example.

As well, we’ve done volunteering, teaching how to do character design in different places. We have a video about it. I’m not sure if the audio is going to work. Should we check it?

Male: Is the audio turned on?

Abel: It should be.

Katie: I think it’s not activated there.

[Video starts]

[music starts]

Katie: I would say in the first two or three days of the workshop, we were working completely with pencil and paper, and we were doing exercises, learning about shape and color and a bit more theory of character design and concepts.

Once everyone had an idea about how they might create a character, they each sat down and designed a robot. Once we all had a robot in sketched form, they moved into 3D modeling, so we use Cinema 4D to model the robots initially. Then once they had finished modeling and putting lots of details like little screws and little panels, we moved them Marvelous Designer where we created clothing.

[music continues]

Abel: The final result was a fashion show in which each of the robots created by them was wearing different garments, and they went on a catwalk. It’s a funny concept that we created. A lot of different skills were required to complete this project. They included using their imagination to be able to think about a robot that has functionality and has a meaning, and also using your 3D modeling skills and also rendering, like understanding materials and understanding how we can express personality or character with the use of different materials, different shapes, and different colors.

[music continues]

[Video and music ends]

Abel: This type of project is something we’re enjoying a lot, but we wanted to take a step further and not to do it as an isolated thing that we would do during the summertime, and just do it completely open and share as much as possible. Our newest adventure is Patata School.

Katie: Yes, so what we learnt that we felt was the best way of teaching people to get the best results was teaching them to think like a character designer and not which buttons to push all the time because that’s not what’s the important thing, really. You need to feel fulfilled by making unique work that really is your own.

We spent the last probably year and a half or so making courses and resources just kind of privately together, preparing everything before we released it I guess just two months ago. It is Patata School. We have also got a little trailer about it here.

[Video starts]

Katie: What if Cabeza Patata, a studio that works on global campaigns with Spotify, Google, and the Grinch, opened a school? What if that school included everything you need to make things amazing? Hours of tutorials in 2D animation, 3D modeling, rendering, clothes, anything you can think of in between, and resource libraries with lighting, textures, and brushes?

What if that school was constantly evolving with its students at its heart? What if that school offered a new way of teaching and learning based on real-life examples from the best in the industry?

What if we understood the importance of community and shared experience? That it’s about more than just pressing the right buttons, but that it’s about learning to think for yourself and to make something incredible.

That’s Patata School, and you can join today.

[Video ends]

Abel: Probably you notice our van is in the background of Katie. That was filmed on location in the U.S.

This is how the school is looking right now. These are the forums from our school. It’s incredible to see how much work that we’re getting from students.

We were not expecting it to explode so quickly. We are approaching--

Katie: Four hundred, yeah.

Abel: --400 students right now in 2 months, which is amazing. And it’s not only a place where we teach how to use the technical parts, but it’s also a place where students are asking for things, communicating with us, and trying to learn the fundamentals of it.

Katie: Yeah. I think, actually, my mic is on, so--

Abel: Oh, perfect.

Katie: We have a discount special for Beyond Tellerrand. If anyone wants to come and join us, we recommend taking a photo, coming and saying, “Hi,” there because we have so many things that we’ve already shared and that we’re already getting exactly the kind of feedback that we were wanting, I think.

Everything that we’re trying to explain within this talk, I think we sort of transmit to the courses that we put there and how we want the students to learn, which I think is a way that you don’t always get to learn when you go and study in traditional institutions. I think it’s a nice sort of supplementary to that too.

Abel: Yeah. A lot of things are happening inside the school. There’s practice, pre-recorded videos, and quizzes, so you can go and learn all the technical parts.

Then there are resources. We are sharing all the libraries of materials we’ve been creating for our own work. We’ve been putting them out there.

Also, we have all the forums and we have some other courses that are a bit more based on theory. For example, learning the theory of character design that we doing during ten weeks in which, every week, we are introducing concepts and we give exercises to students to make.

People can join only for a month or for a year. We give the option.

It’s a place that we think is good if you want resources, being a professional, but also we’ve been finding that a lot of people that are at university like it as a complementary thing to learn a bit more, I think, the practical side of things. We are not being as theoretical.

Katie: Theoretical, yeah.

Abel: Theoretical.

Katie: Also, we have a lot of plans to go even beyond that. We want to do blogs, podcasts, shows, interviews. We want to drive around in our van, meeting different creatives in different parts of the world, and interview them. We haven’t told anyone that idea yet, so what this space and see if that happens.

In the end, I think we want to do anything that our community requires and that they want. We love taking suggestions from students and we feel quite inspired to see what it really is that people are looking for.

Abel: Yeah, it was very interesting starting the school. We started having a lot of--

The 3D program we were using is Cinema 4D because we’ve always been using that program. When we made the school, all the students are saying, “Why are you not using Blender? It’s an open-source software that aligns much more with what you are doing.”

It was like, “Okay. We have to do it,” so we’ve been learning Blender for a while now and we are going to start putting tutorials out. Yeah.

[Audience applauds and cheers]

Katie: Now, we have our conclusion to all of this talk and everything that we’ve been saying. We hope that this is what you take for it, too, is that our saying no is really a way of moving forward with our career. Taking the path that you might not always expect, not just going with the flow and letting things happen to you, but taking control, saying no when you have to, standing up for yourself, recognizing when something is wrong, and not being part of it is really the way that we want to run our studio, have our relationship, grow our professional career. However you want to call it, it’s sort of all part of the same thing.

Abel: Saying no doesn’t necessarily come without pain. We have here a quote by Salvador de Madariaga. It’s a Spanish author. This is in the 1930s before the Spanish Civil War. He wrote this story.

The quote says, “En mi hambre mando yo,” and I’m going to translate it.

It’s not easy to translate it directly, but the story goes, there was a politician in the south of Spain going around the little villages. By then, sometimes local politicians would give money to farmers in order to get their vote.

He was going around giving money to farmers, and they were like, “No problem. I’ll vote for you.”

He goes to this farmer that refused his money, and looked at him in the eyes, and he said, “En mi hambre mando yo,” which means I am the boss of my own hunger.

From then on, that farmer was hungry because he had decided to do so. I think it’s a beautiful example of we are not--

When we made the decisions that we made in Cabeza Patata, we are lucky enough and we live with families that support us, so we never took the risk of going hungry. But we took many risks, and I think that the empowerment you can get for saying no to things when you don’t believe they are right can take you very far.

Katie: I also have a quote here that “The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any,” and I think that is so true across our industry. We’re all the time seeing incredibly talented and creative people giving away their power because they think that that’s just how things are. That’s the established way of doing things, so I need to go and work with this person or I couldn’t ever achieve that because that’s just not made for me.

I think that, as soon as you get over that and realize your own power, you’re going to be able to do something completely different.

We never really know what’s coming next. There isn’t really a clear path in our career because we keep deviating from it. I think that’s the exciting thing.

Abel: Thank you so much.

[Audience applauds and cheers]