Category Archives: International Creative Talents

Ana Lossada perfectly honors ‘That’s so Raven’ with awesome opening to ‘Raven’s Home’

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Ana Lossada

Ana Lossada, a leading motion graphics designer, loves what she does. She doesn’t wake up with that feeling most know all too well on Monday mornings. She doesn’t feel her week is a monotonous blur until Friday night. She is eager to go into work every day. For her, every day is different, and she has the ability to share her gift with the entire world.

Lossada’s work has impressed international audiences. When working with The Walking Dead, Lossada worked on The Journey So Far, a two-hour special summarizing the first six seaons of the show, as well as the virtual reality experience, a 360 teaser for their upcoming season. She captured the feelings of the main character of Netflix’s Atypical, a teenager with Asperger’s syndrome, with her work on the opening for the show. Working with Disney Jr on the spots Be Inspired with The Lion Guard and Be Your Best with Miles, she worked to encourage young kids to live healthy, active, lifestyles. Her career has been formidable, and nd now, her most recent work on the opening sequence Disney’s new series Raven’s Home, based off the old classic That’s So Raven, has generated quite a lot of attention.

“Disney Channel wanted the main title for their new upcoming show to be as catchy as the old one. As a fan of the old show, I could not say no,” said Lossada.

Raven’s Home is Disney Channel’s new spinoff from their major hit TV series in 2003. Lossada was in charge of creating the live action set that was used for the main title. She had to plan how the talent could interact with the set as well as how they could place the talent next to their names as they appear in the opening credits. She created several different mock-ups for the set using 3D software (Cinema 4D and Octane Render) as well as Adobe After Effects. The selected set had a LED wall that displays animated graphics that Lossada designed and animated herself. During post-production, she oversaw the selection of typography and animation by the interns, as well as adding visual effects to certain shots that needed it.

“Ana’s graphics and visual effects knowledge made her an instant asset to our design team and clientele. Her willingness to constantly go above and beyond her normal call of duty has shown through all of the projects that she’s worked on throughout her tenure with us. Not only has she been a key member of our post-production process, but has now been working with our live-action productions team, lending her talents to assist in shoots and constantly growing in all areas of television and film production. You just know that if she’s involved you don’t have to worry about her giving 110 per cent and whatever is assigned will be done thoroughly and to the best of her ability. You simply can’t ask for much more than that with any employee and we are so thrilled she’s a part of our team,” Mike Greggs, who worked alongside Lossada on the project.

The main title was released in July of this year, and has already reached over 1.2 million views on YouTube alone, as well as being shared through social media and various websites. It has been featured in Buzzfeed, E! Online, and TV Guide, to name a few, with articles praising the opening for its creativity and the way it honors the original content.

As a motion graphics designer, it is not often that Lossada actually gets to go to a set, despite being a vital part of the filmmaking process. More often, she works behind the screen of a computer. However, with the Raven’s Home opening, she worked on the pre-production and production side. Everyone she worked with had the opportunity to see what she was capable of, and just how well-rounded she is for any task. All of her skills were put to use, including designing, illustrating, animating, and even producing. She put everything she had into this project to ensure it resulted in perfection, and it did.

“I rarely get to go to sets, because I usually can’t due to work, but they needed extra help. While on set, I was able to aid with live-animation for the LED wall, and also helped out on the production to ensure it ran smoothly,” she said.

Lossada’s design and visual effects knowledge made her an instant asset to the design team and clientele. Her willingness to constantly go above and beyond her normal call of duty has shown through all of the projects that she has worked on. Not only is she a key member of Big Machine’s post-production process, but she has now been working with their live-action production team, lending her talents to assist in shoots and constantly growing in all areas of television and film production.

“I’d suggest to students entering the creative industry, they should open their expertise not only to design, but conceptual thinking and execution skills. Especially today, where there is always something new (interactive for example), they need to be able to adapt fairly quickly to the evolving technology and software updates, and be able to execute an idea based on the rising technology,” said Lossada.

Watch Lossada’s outstanding work in the Raven’s Home opener here, and watch Raven’s Home on the Disney channel to see it on a regular basis.

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Cooking for the stars: Chef Salvatore Meo

Salvatore Meo always wanted to follow in the footsteps of his father. He wanted to have his own restaurant, making authentic Italian dishes for the locals to appreciate. What he didn’t expect was to become an international success, cooking food for presidents, filmmakers, celebrities, and more.

While growing up in Lecce, Italy, cooking was Meo’s one passion. He always felt that cooking was a way to express creativity. While making classic Italian food, he found a way to express himself. However, unlike his father, he decided to expand his horizons beyond the borders of Italy, and moved to Germany to bring his food and share his culture abroad. He has shared his knowledge with his employees and his customers, always achieving success.

“I’ve learned from Salvatore to always be conscious of your surroundings. Make sure you always carry your chef’s vision when making first class dishes,” said sous chef Carlo Centonze, who worked alongside Meo at Trattoria Fornaretto.

Meo has owned and operated a series of popular Italian restaurants in Germany, including Trattoria Fornaretto, Ristorante Rossini Bischoscheim, Restaurant Zum Nudeldunker, and Ristorante Rossini Floersheim. There is little he cannot achieve.

“Experience, dedication, and the ability to handle a fast-moving industry are the most important aspects of starting your own restaurant. Overall though, I think it’s your origin of where you are from that allows you to take that wherever you go. My origin is why I like cooking,” said Meo.

As owner of the restaurant Restaurant Zur Ratsstube, Meo was in charge of every aspect of the cooking and management. He hired the staff, took care of payroll, and created the menu with his own original recipes. He also had the freedom to choose what products he wanted to work with, so he was able to build and create the menus he wanted to serve. He wanted to work with fresh products that he was able to purchase locally and farm grown or raised. The good quality had a very positive improvement to the dishes he cooked and purchasing local products helped stimulating the economy. At the time however, despite vast experience cooking, it was his first time actually owning a restaurant.

“Naturally it was exciting and scary at the same time. It was in a different country, I didn’t speak the language very well and I already had a family to support, but I fell in love with the area it was in. The Rhineland in Germany is known for its many wineries and the wine it produces. It had a very rustic ambient with a good quality kitchen and accommodations that allowed me to run my restaurant and have my family nearby,” said Meo. “The area was interesting because it resembled the part of Italy I came from with the wineries. Local wineries and wines was the foundation and the inspiration to create German and Italian Dishes that I was able to pair with the local wines. People enjoyed that because they were able to enjoy good food that was cooked and prepared with local products and paired with wine they already knew and loved.”

Building Restaurant Zur Ratsstube from the ground up did not come without its challenges. With a friendly and family style and a German and Italian country mix, Meo was bringing Italian cooking to Germany, and wanted to build a good reputation in community. He achieved his goal, as Gimbsheim was a small town that really had no Italian restaurants. Meo was bringing something new and exciting to the well-established community. People enjoyed the southern Italian food and frequently came back.

In working the new country, Meo learned a lot about German culture and cuisine. It helped him improve the way he ran a business and how he cooked.

“Learning what German people appreciate in food helped me improve the quality of my food,” he said.

Because it was new and unique and one of the first to be established in the community, the combination of a rustic German kitchen mixed with a Mediterranean kitchen was extremely interesting, and people responded well what Meo had to offer. For his first restaurant, he achieved what many do in a single lifetime, and it set up the base for his now esteemed career. Despite such success, however, it is no longer just his passion for cooking that motivates Meo.

“My kids made me realize that working hard and doing what you love to do for a better quality of life is important. Although my kids chose a different profession, they both work hard to achieve their dreams and I have passed down my passion for Italian cuisine, which both of them incorporate at home in their kitchens,” he concluded.

AWARD-WINNING CINEMATOGRAPHER DEPICTS A WAR TORN FAMILY IN “LAST CALL”

Cinematographer Ruixi Gao can’t help herself sometimes, she is overwhelmed with ideas. This is the blessing and the curse of possessing a creative personality. It’s incredibly difficult to make a film so when you do, you want someone talented and driven like Ruixi to be among those enabling you to manifest your vision. This was the mindset of Zhipeng Xing, director of “Last Call” when he approached Gao to be the DP for this film. After receiving the script from Xing, Ruixi recalls, “I sat down and read it immediately. I think it is instinctual for many cinematographers, it most certainly is for me. I could see the scenes inside my mind as I read. The whole picture played out for me. I understood the lighting & the perspective of the camera in relation to the action. It’s exciting when you read a script for the first time and the film is playing in your head; I wish the audience could see it so quickly. That’s part of what motivates me as a DP; I see this wonderful movie and the desire is to bring that to life for others to witness.” Besides her obvious passion, Ruixi brings years of experience and talent to every production she is on. An emotional film like “Last Call” requires every bit of her sensitivity and expertise.

The relationship between Director and DP is commonly accepted as one of the closest working relationships in film. Each director has their own process and the cinematographer must be flexible to this to help said director achieve their vision for the story being told. “Last Call” director Zhipeng Xing prefers to focus on the actors instead of fixating on the framing of the scene in the lens. Rather than a shirking of responsibility, this was a result of Xing’s trust in Gao’s abilities and talent. This allowed Ruixi to communicate extensively with her team. Working with her Gaffer and Key Grip to establish the lighting plan, and framing with the PD, the effort was highly collaborative. Her plan used soft filters for imaging effects and a low-key style with warm and cool tones to control different emotions between war and home.

This story depicts war and its effect on family. The father and son are separated from the mother (& wife) who is still in war torn Iraq. They communicate via letters and a weekly Facetime. After one of the weekly family Facetime talks, the father is speaking with the mother after their son has gone to bed. Disturbing noises are heard and the signal is lost. A week goes by with no word from the family’s beloved wife/mother and they fear the worst. Unable to sleep from worry, on the morning of the son’s birthday, the husband hears a knock at the door. It could be the mother or a government official to announce her unfortunate death. The filmmakers do not reveal the answer, leaving it up to the viewer to decide what they think happened. The purpose of telling this tale is not to resolve it either way but rather for the viewer to contemplate the effect of war on real people with families. In the last scene, prior to the knock, the father receives a letter from his wife in which she states that she won’t make it to see them for their son’s birthday.  When the father reads this letter it’s impossible to not feel the pain of being separated by these circumstances. War is cruel, it makes people ache; it’s also what makes this film work and have such impact.

Ruixi was awarded two best cinematography award for this film: Best Cinematography Platinum Award WINNER at the LA Shorts Awards & Best Cinematography Gold Award WINNER at the NYC Indie Film Awards (the film also received multiple other awards at these festivals). Gao’s passionate disdain for war and its malevolent effect on people in many parts of the world moved her to dig deep in her abilities for “Last Call.” Edwin Beckenbach worked with Ruixi on the film and professes, “Ruixi brings with her the experience of an international woman to a domestic industry that has traditionally been dominated by men and is not known for inclusivity or diversity. Film as art is a powerful generator and amplifier of cultural values and perspectives and as such the addition of underrepresented voices, especially those as promising as Ruixi’s, can entertain as well contribute to the benefit of society overall. In an industry where many people place their image before their abilities and ‘fake it until they make it’, Ruixi is authentic to a fault and is singularly focused on the artistic and technical challenges of the job at hand. Her dedication to her craft and clarity of vision is a unifying motivator for the camera and lighting crew to perform to the best of its ability.”

For many viewers of the film the most heart-wrenching aspect of the story is the young boy’s difficulty in being separated from his mother. With the understanding that this character would have be both a catalyst and proxy for the audience, Gao took extra preparations including reading psychology books on working with young professionals and preparing props with stickers and colored tape to make them more enjoyable. Far from being the task of a normal DP, this type of approach in working with a young actor is indicative of Ruixi’s overall pattern of professionalism. By creating a positive and friendly atmosphere in a variety of ways she is able to get the best performance from everyone and thereby get the best shots with the camera, to say nothing of coming in ahead of schedule. While some prefer to stay in their “own world” Ruixi Gao feels that the images she wants to create allow us to see through the eyes and emotions of others, which is what “Last Call” is all about.

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Graphic Designer Suzy van der Velden on becoming industry leader

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Suzy van der Velden

There is a saying in Dutch that goes “Doe maar gewoon, dan doe je al gek genoeg” that roughly translates to “Just act normal, then you’re already silly enough.” Suzy van der Velden has always embraced this mentality. Originally from the small town of Limmen in the Netherlands, she had a passion for creating in a place where there was not a lot of arts and culture. Despite this, van der Velden could not hold back her desire to create, and her artistic instincts quickly took hold. From a young age, she would sit behind her desk and draw, and slowly drawing transformed into design.

Now, van der Velden is a leading Dutch graphic designer. She is internationally sought-after working with some of the world’s biggest brands. However, she did not always know graphic design would be where her creative predisposition would lead her. From the time she was a young teenager, van der Velden found herself interested in fashion. However, it was not until her work with the Dutch company Oilily that van der Velden realized she could combine her interests.

“I see myself as a problem solver. More than anything I’m trying to find an aesthetically pleasing solution, through the use of all sorts of media, to solve a problem or need. I have talks with myself whenever I’m working on something on how to achieve the best result. One day nothing might happen and the solution seems far away, and the next day it just pops in my head and I know exactly how to handle something. In my work, I don’t tend to stick to one type of media so I’m constantly learning and thinking of new ways to come to innovative results. Often it feels like my job is all about balance and how to reach that balance. Next to the technical side of things I hope my work as a graphic designer adds that extra joy or connection to a product,” she said.

During her time at Oilily, van der Velden quickly rose up the ladder, impressing both customers and colleagues with her talent. She designed a wide range of artwork for both the Women’s, Kids, and Toddler lines. She worked to bring the themes alive through allovers prints, placement graphics, embroideries, engineered prints and trims. She was also a part of both the ‘Oilily Summer of Love’ and the Fall collections that were shown at the Amsterdam Fashion Week of 2009.

It wasn’t long after this when van der Velden’s reputation became extremely reputable in her home country, and she went to work at sporting wear brand O’Neill. O’Neill is originally Californian surf wear and surfboard brand started in 1952 by Jack O’Neill. The company produces wetsuits, performance water and snow sports inspired apparel for young adults. The products are distributed internationally to 86 countries worldwide.

While with the iconic company, van der Velden managed all the artwork that included swimwear, active wear, lifestyle and snow wear. She was part of a global design team that created art that would be placed on products throughout the entire world. She directed and groomed lower level designers to grow and enhance their skills. She also took on the highly important role of emphasizing the importance of making unique artwork for specific regions around the globe some including Australia, Japan and Germany, helping to increase sales in these countries with her work.

“Suzy was part of the creative team, where she was responsible for all the graphics, allover patterns and presentations for each new seasonal collection for the women’s, swim, apparel and snow line. I thoroughly enjoyed my time working with Suzy, and came to know her a as a truly valuable asset to absolutely any team. She is an incredibly hard worker, honest and dependable. Beyond that she is a very inspiring, creative person who always delivers the results. Along with her undeniable talent, Suzy was always an absolute joy to work with. Her knowledge of sportswear and casual wear, and her expertise on creating artworks from scratch, her color use and feel and her skill-set on printing technique were all huge contributions. She is very independent and always had a secret box of unexpected, new and original ideas,” said Mareine van Beek, Senior Designer Swim/Lifestyle Women & Girls at O’Neill.

After years of creating dynamic imagery for O’Neill, van der Velden caught the attention of Lululemon, a Canadian athletic apparel retailer. It is a yoga-inspired athletic apparel company and a designer and retailer of technical athletic apparel. The company makes a number of different types of athletic wear, including performance shirts, shorts, and pants, as well as lifestyle apparel and yoga accessories. It is extremely popular around the world, and working for the company was the highlight of van der Velden’s esteemed career.

After being headhunted for the role, van der Velden moved from the Netherlands to Vancouver to work for the brand, helping them revolutionize their look. With the company’s shift to reach a more youthful and progressive demographic, van der Velden’s versatile skillset came into play. Due to her great artwork and design aesthetic, she works on the global design team as Senior Graphic Designer for both the men’s and women’s divisions. Since her employment, the company has acknowledged the success of her design artwork and has increased her number of designs to grow the overall business. She was also a part of a select design team that traveled to Switzerland to create a small collection in collaboration with Europe’s leading supplier of technical embroideries. On top of this, she was also chosen with an exclusive group to travel to a Lululemon retail store in Toronto to give a detailed product presentation when the first collection with the new aesthetic was launched. The company has grown and advanced in their overall design aesthetic largely due to the success of van der Velden’s artwork and design theory.

Her role with the company is absolutely essential. Not only does she design, she brings on new team members and trains them to follow in her footsteps. For those looking to do so outside of Lululemon, she offers important advice.

“Go for it. It’s hard work, but the joy you get from it pays off. Try and work as free as you can to discover new ways of working. Take a look at other graphic designers if you don’t know where to start and go from there. It’s a very specific job and chances are that if you don’t become the best in your field it might be hard to stay in the game. Therefore, you have to keep practicing and experimenting. See where and how you can push the limits to come to new solutions,” she advised.

And with a career like hers, we can all assume that van der Velden’s guidance will be fruitful.

A PHOTO IS ONLY A GLIMPSE INTO THE DEPTH OF RANDI KENNEDY

Randi Kennedy is attractive…and a fitness enthusiast…and an extremely positive person. How is this possible when she two of the main facets of her life and career are social media and being a fitness model? That’s because much like the aforementioned aspects, Randi Kennedy is much deeper and more complex than a superficial viewing can ascertain. You have to spend time with Kennedy to understand what makes her tick. In contrast, her enthusiasm is evident within the first few seconds of speaking with her. All of these characteristics have led international companies such as 1UP Nutrition and Live Fit apparel to seek her out as an ambassador of brands. In this modern day society where it seems everyone wants to be famous by presenting commonplace as extraordinary, Randi has done the opposite by making her followers and fans believe that her extraordinary accomplishments are achievable by all…something which she wholeheartedly believes.

When posed with the query of how one gets to the same point of success and personal fulfillment that Randi has attained she communicates, “My best advice is to aim big and don’t settle, chase after those dreams. If you aim low, you are going to fall short of the bigger picture and what you truly want to accomplish. I believe you can truly accomplish everything and anything with hard work. Create a game plan for yourself. What do you want to accomplish? What do you need to do to get there? What would the first and second steps be? Take action and keep a clear vision. You’re not going to build your dream career overnight but it will take a lot longer if you give up. Don’t be afraid of hard work and don’t be afraid to take risks. Owning your own business is not easy but it’s worth it.”

Judging Kennedy by her big smile and her athletic physique will misinform you as to the astuteness and determination to have a benevolent effect on those around her, which is the true center of this self-made very modern day success story. As a health and fitness enthusiast herself, she noticed early on that there weren’t a large number of what she considered to be healthy supplements marketed towards women when she first started her journey, this has since changed. While her endorsement and use of such products from companies such as 1UP Nutrition shine a light on the visceral physicality of a woman, her work as one of the faces of Live Fit Apparel embrace the femininity of it. There’s a holistic approach to Kennedy’s personal life and her professional/public one. As with any relationship, Randi feels that both herself and the companies she works with must have a belief in each other. When a common goal appears, both sides benefit. Since it is a working partnership so of course both sides need to feel they are being taken care of for the relationship to work. When it comes to sponsorships in the clothing and supplement industry it typically goes something like this: The sponsor receives a brand affiliate and becomes associated with the influencers brand. They receive marketing which generates more brand awareness and sales. The influencer receives support from the sponsor in the forms of compensation in a monthly salary, commission on sales and can even go as far as support for competitions and further education in addition to marketing by the sponsor.

It’s one of the great dichotomies of the industry that the visual aspect of the exterior is so often displayed as proof of internal health. Sometimes these traits are congruent and sometimes they are not. Kennedy adamantly relates, “I think that it’s very easy to forget about your mental health/mental state when you’re caught up in looking a certain way. Often people are working so hard to improve their physique that they don’t realize how extreme they are being with training and nutrition, which can lead to an unhealthy relationship with food and create body dysmorphia. This is something I preach about on my [social media] platforms. I always tell my clients: “Work to improve your mindset just as hard as you work to improve your physique.’ Many people seem to think that fitness is solely having shredded abs and being jacked all year round; little do we know that same person thinks that nothing is good enough, barely eats enough to fuel their body, their energy levels are low, they’re hair is falling out, hormones are out of whack and it’s all in order to look a certain way. Social media does not help with this but I’m happy to say that it is slowly changing, people are sharing a more realistic side of fitness and starting to accept that it is unmaintainable and unrealistic to look like that year round. Not all progress is physical! Fitness is more than a shredded physique.”

In the fitness world, one of the bench marks is having your photo taken by the celebrity photographer known as “King of Covers” Jason Ellis. The noted photographer has taken cover photos for more than five hundred magazines. With his work gracing the covers of magazines such as: Muscle and Fitness, Fitness RX, Oxygen, Iron Man, Men’s Health, Muscular Development, Train, and many others, Ellis is the gold standard of the industry. Jason worked with Randi two years in a row, shooting her at the IFBB Olympia in Las Vegas. He professes, “Randi is a young talent who both reflects the fitness aesthetics and lifestyle and is very astute in her comprehension of the modern industry. She is very marketable and understands how branding works in this new marketplace. Add to that, she is always a pleasure to work with. That positivity of hers is very authentic!”

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Part of the new model of branding and marketing is social media; it’s something which Kennedy has embraced deeply. There’s a duality to the modern approach. Meet & greets and magazine covers are still important to be noticed but social media means there is a necessity and a responsibility to stay connected to followers on a daily basis…no matter where they might be in the world. While she concedes that social media can have negative aspects, Randi also notes, “I enjoy social media in my professional life because it is an amazing way to market to your ideal demographic all over the globe. We literally have access to millions of people at our finger tips. Social media is a very powerful tool if you know how to use it. There is an account for almost every business these days. I enjoy social media in my personal life because I get to capture and share memories and moments that will last a life time. I get to share the experience I had a restaurant and say “hey, you should go here too!” I can share my travels and inspire others to get out there and explore the world. Through my photos they get to see something they might not have ever seen, and then I get to reflect back on it years down the road.” No matter where she might be and what the images she shares, Randi Kennedy will be encouraging and assisting those in her sphere to challenge and better themselves just as she had done.

www.randikennedy.com

Instagram: @randikennedy_

YouTube: Randi Kennedy

Facebook: Randi Kennedy

Maria Akpan Scouted by Mark Anthony for Prince Revelation Tribute Show

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Maria Akpan

When most parents ask their children what they’d like to be when they grow up, they expect to hear answers like professional “actor” or “dancer” and simply hope that the novelty will wear off with age. This, however, was not the case for Maria Akpan’s mother and father. From a very young age, Akpan knew that she had a gift and over the years, she has been determined to share that gift with the world. The talented dancer and choreographer is passionate about not only keeping the art of dance alive, but ensuring that it remains fresh, engaging and entertaining. She has creativity soaring through her veins and is eager to continue shedding her greatness before aspiring dancers everywhere.

Only a small fraction of human beings can confidently say that they get to do what they love for a living, and Akpan is one of those few people. In living out her dreams, Akpan has built a strong career full of invaluable experience. Her exceptional reputation has earned her a vast amount of achievements. For instance, Akpan performed as a lead dancer for the production Thriller Live, where she was tasked with taking the audience on a journey through Michael Jackson’s childhood and career. She has also appeared in a number of hit music videos, like Funky Twinz featuring N. Kay’s video, Entertain You, where she choreographed each dance number and subsequently acted as the lead dancer in the video. Her exposure to high quality productions and performances has allowed her to showcase her skill set before the eyes of several major production companies and fellow dancers. As a result, she has been recognized for her talents and even won an award in 2014 when Shirlene Quigley, a former dancer for Beyoncé and Rihanna, was looking for a dancer that wowed her enough to donate $500 toward a scholarship for the Broadway Dance Centre in New York. Unsurprisingly, Akpan blew her away and won the competition by a landslide.

One of Akpan’s most notable career highlights was when she choreographed and danced in a lead role for Mark Anthony’s, Prince Revelation Tribute Show. When Anthony was looking for talent to not only choreograph dances for the show, but also star in the show alongside him, he demanded that Akpan come on board. He was astounded by her natural affinity for choreography and dance when he stumbled upon her website online. Akpan was thrilled to be able to lend her talents to the show, as Prince was one of her favorite artists. The job allowed her to dance in well-known venues all over England and she thoroughly enjoyed all of the various aspects that the job entailed.

“Working on this project was so awesome. Contributing my skills and work to this show made it feel like my own. It was even more fulfilling when crowd members would approach us after the show to let us know that they thought Prince would’ve been proud watching it. It was surreal doing the festivals because you knew people had travelled miles to be there just to see the show. The energy coming from the audience was addicting and Twitter views were at an all-time high after each show,” recalls Akpan.

20170607_174958Akpan is no stranger to the world of choreography and her unique delivery and storytelling are what set her above her competition. She has had to fight for every opportunity she has accomplished thus far in her career and has developed a certain strength through her perseverance, a strength that every dancer sticks around long enough to develop. It is a grueling profession, but it is one that Akpan excels in. Her unprecedented skills as a dancer are the reason that she is a perfectionist, holding herself to the highest standard possible, as she knows what she is capable of. In stressful situations, she thrives and her drive is at an all-time high.

Lucie Camelo, who was fortunate enough to dance alongside Akpan in the Prince Revelation Tribute Show, witnessed first-hand Akpan’s profound ability to take a production or performance to the next level. She knows of the quality of work that Akpan is capable of delivering and considers herself lucky to have worked with such unparalleled talent.

“Working with Maria was definitely uplifting and enlightening for me. To be able to work closely with someone of her caliber was intense and just to get a glimpse into what it takes to be successful in this industry was a blessing in itself. She is a true inspiration to many. Her drive, commitment, and discipline for her work is unlike anything I’ve ever seen. Working with her left me inspired,” says Camelo.

So, what is in store for this extremely talented dancer? Akpan created her own dance class called “#LinesNsaucewithmimi” which is taught in heels and has earned her great success so far. She also teaches children’s dance classes and continues to audition and perform for productions that interest her. On top of that, she is often called upon to teach private lessons for individuals of all different levels, from beginners and non-dancers to professional artists. In future, she hopes to dance with iconic artists like Janet Jackson, Beyoncé, Madonna, Usher, and Christ Brown. So long as she is teaching, choreographing, and dancing, she will be content and motivated to continue along her successful path.

Design Director Bonnie Park talks working with the world’s biggest brands

When Bonnie Park was a child in Seoul, South Korea, she was always interested in making things. She would catch herself looking at an object, or a space, visualizing in her head how she might have created it differently. When she was a teen, Park moved to Switzerland and found her love for creation intensified as she immersed herself into such new and enticing architecture. Even the smallest of details became eye-catching works of art, and her simple sketches molded into intricate drawings. This was where Park’s journey in design began.

Now, she is internationally celebrated for her work as a Design Director, collaborating with some of the world’s largest brands. Working with CS Global, a worldwide agency delivering strategic brand consulting and integrated production, design, film and lighting services for live event, print, digital, television and travel retail, Park is well-known for bringing the visions of her clients to life, be that through fashion shows, product launch events, gala dinners, private dinners, social activations, press previews, photo shoots, and more.

Park’s process begins when her clients share the experience that they hope to generate for their guests. From there, she brainstorms with her design team, producers, and lighting designers to exceed her client’s expectations. This requires Park to coordinate many different aspects of design. For instance, she has to communicate her design with the scenic vendors who are responsible for building her drawings and renderings. She also searches for new technologies and materials to use that fit within the client’s budget, as well as keeping on top of trends that will satisfy both her clients and her guests. It is an overwhelmingly challenging role, but Park does it with ease.

“As stressful as my job can be, it is extremely satisfying when you see your work come to life. Looking at your finished product makes all of the troubles and obstacles along the way disappear. In my opinion, an effective leader knows not only how to bring people together, but how to help them work together harmoniously. In my line of work, I’m exposed to so many different professionals and as a result of that, I get to learn about areas within the industry that I’m not always as familiar with. I think that is the best part of my job – despite all of my experience, I am continuously learning and there are always new challenges for me to solve,” said Park.

The truly remarkable part about Park’s career, however, is the rate at which it has grown. When CS Global was exposed to her talents, they offered her a position in the company as a design intern immediately. From there, in just five short years, she has become their Design Director. In this position, she is responsible for managing teams and is given full creative freedom to execute her ideas.

During her time working with CS Global, Park has been involved in several major projects with world renowned brands. In fact, a highlight of her career was working on an event for Tiffany & Co., when they celebrated the 175th anniversary of their Blue Book Collection. Working with her team, they built their iconic Tiffany jewelry box on top of the New York’s Rockefeller ice rink. The surrounding building was lit in Tiffany blue, and the result was extremely impressive. Inside, all of the furniture was custom made, as the evening was inspired by 1920s architecture and style. There were cigarette girls, and the band The Rockettes performed with an aerialist in the air. Park had to largely consider the technical side for the project, and learn how to have an event in a public space, something that attendees don’t typically have to consider at such an event.

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Daniel Gabriel and Bonnie Park at the La Perla event, photo by Dimitrios Kambouris

Such consideration was also required when Park designed an entire life-size, two-story doll house with six different rooms for a La Perla event. She had weeks of limited sleep in her determination to execute the perfect design. Each room had its own theme, such as the study and the foyer with the grand faux marble staircase, the bedroom that was covered in moss and baby’s breath, the dining room with custom flower chandelier and swings, the living room with oversized paper flower art work, and the terrace wrapped in ivy and bougainvillea. Despite the fact that her team encountered several obstacles, Park managed to pull the project together with a high degree of efficiency and professionalism.

“Initially, this event was more daunting than doing your taxes alone. Bonnie’s intellectual focus, educated background on interior design, professional background of event design, leadership skills and general modest, human and strong disposition turned a nightmare event into a project to be proud of,” said Kevin Bova, Production Director at SBI. “My main objective in this industry is to only work with people that I respect on both a professional and emotional level. Work is work, but if I have the opportunity to make work a little more enjoyable, I will take it. Bonnie seems to structure her professional persona with a foundation of strength and respect. She treats those who work with/under her as her equals, while controlling each situation with incredible ease. Her disposition creates an environment where people are eager to collaborate, which in turn yields the best possible result without the ‘blood, sweat and tears’ that others in her position use to create what she does effortlessly.”

Bova and Park have worked together on many projects during her time at CS Global, and Bova knows that no matter what the Design Director works on, it is formidable. When Park worked on the 10th Year Anniversary of the Black Orchid Event with Tom Ford Beauty, she transformed the gallery space at the Christie’s. It was a regular gallery space, with white walls and a wooden floor which she turned into an elevated, high end pop up for guests to immerse into Tom Ford’s vision of Black Orchid. Park and her team created three different rooms. In the first room, the walls were covered by screens projecting videos and created an infinity box, whereby guests had an immersive experience learning about the birth of the Black Orchid. Park’s aim was to transport the guests to the world of Black Orchid. The second room introduced the campaign model for the first time, for which Park created a peekaboo wall which invited the guests to peak through a gap and watch the campaign video. In addition, it prohibited the editors from sharing the content on social media, as it was yet to be revealed to the public. In the last room, a touch screen table revealed the Black Orchid’s ten-year evolution, creating an interactive experience. It was an instant success.

Internationally, Park has had the same effect. She travelled to Shanghai for a private internal event for Estée Lauder. As the Design Lead, she created the overall layout and the flow of the evening, the printed graphic collateral, as well as custom designed furniture.

“It was exhilarating studying the existing architectural details that I applied to designing the custom furniture. It was my first time designing furniture and the experience was unlike anything I had ever done in the past,” said Park.

Park also has skills in merchandising, showcasing the jewelry line for Jennifer Meyer, the first time this happened at New York’s Fashion Week. Park explored different and unique ways to showcase the jewelry, and the feedback from both the press and the client were overwhelmingly positive.

Her skills are becoming legendary in New York City and the rest of the world, and Park has no plans on slowing down. Her designs carry her character, and she constantly exposes herself to different art forms in order to keep growing, and to keep bringing her clients something different every time. She encourages others to follow in her footsteps, and knows the power that creation can have.

“Travel and expose yourself as much as possible to any form of art, whether you choose to cook, to dance, to perform, to write, or whatever else you enjoy. Always allow yourself to be curious and inspired. Most importantly, don’t be afraid to fail or change. Search for your strengths and weaknesses because once you know what they are, you’ll know exactly what you need to work on. You cannot be good at everything, but you can absolutely be good at something,” advised Park.

“Also, confidence is key. Don’t doubt your abilities. If things don’t work out, find a work-around and run with it. Don’t dwell on things that don’t go as you planned. You may think you have failed, but you haven’t. It simply wasn’t meant to be, and that is all part of the learning process,” she concluded.

Featured Image by Rosanna Bach