Steve Choo’s boutique design, VFX, and animation studio, My Active Driveway, goes big with BOXX, creating national commercials for high profile clients.
By John Vondrak
Awhile back, BOXX Technologies’ Inside Sales Manager Dustin Leifheit approached me regarding a customer named Steve Choo. ”He has a company called My Active Driveway,” Dustin said, “and I think it would make a great customer story.” Dustin, like all of our performance specialists, occasionally feeds me the names of BOXX customers (or BOXXers as we like to refer to them) that other BOXXers, and those who wish to be BOXXers, may enjoy learning about. Since we try to alternate our customer story subjects to equally represent our different industry segments I’ll confess that my response to Dustin’s suggestion was decidedly lackluster. I had just completed an architecture/construction customer story and was not keen to immediately follow it with another. “I just wrapped an AEC story,” I said, “so I may hold off on this one for awhile.”
“It’s a VFX and animation studio in New York,” Dustin replied. I was having trouble reconciling the name My Active Driveway. It sounded as if they were into concrete, building driveways or roads. “Interesting name, I know,” he smiled.
So, when I first reached the perpetually busy Steve Choo, my first question was obvious. “What’s with the name?” I inquired. After first insisting that it was “really not a great story,” he relented. “When I first moved to New York,” Choo said, “I was trying to go to a friend of mine’s art gallery opening. I was driving around the Lower East Side just looking and looking for a parking space and every time I thought I had found one, there was a ‘No Parking: Active Driveway’ sign there. So I said to myself, one of these days, if I ever open my own company, I’m going to have my own active driveway.”
Making a Go
Steve Choo arrived in the Big Apple right after graduating with a BFA in painting from the Kansas City Art Institute. He went to work as a Flame artist, then a 3D Maya artist (prior to its existence as a power animator) in the production department at BBDO, the worldwide advertising agency. Yet in the wake of 9/11, he decided to start his own company.” It was a time when a lot of my friends were leaving,” he recalls. “They just left town, some going as far as to leave the country, but I decided to stick around. I was going to try and make a go at starting my own company in New York— try to rebuild a little bit here and keep the work local. It might have always been in my subconscious, but after that day, my thought was ‘You never know what’s going to happen tomorrow, so if I want to do this I should do it now.”
So My Active Driveway INC. a boutique design, VFX, and animation studio, was founded in New York City in 2001. According to Choo, the past 15 years have seen the studio scale up and down in staff size, property, square footage, machinery, and equipment. “We’ve made ourselves adaptable to the industry’s climate, says Choo. “Having come from an agency background at BBDO NY, I had a solid understanding of the ups and downs of the industry. When business is good, we’re running on all cylinders, pumping out work as fast as possible. But when there’s downtime, you want to make sure you’re not just burning fuel.” Choo believes that this level of experience and understanding ultimately led him to BOXX. “It’s why,” he says, “after trying so many other products, we stick by BOXX as the backbone of our studio.”
At one point, Choo and his My Active Driveway team did what a lot of other studios have tried. In an effort to save money, they built their own systems instead of adding to or upgrading from their existing Dell computers and BOXX workstations (in this case, a 2008 model 3DBOXX 8404 and a 3DBOXX 4860 purchased in 2011). “Workstations, custom render farms, and custom servers,” Choo recalls, “you name it, we tried it. We always thought, we can save money by just doing it ourselves and that sort of worked for awhile—until it didn’t. Then we were in a deadline and panicking because there was no support for our custom-made equipment that broke down during the job.” To make matters worse, there were other mitigating factors that Choo had never really considered. “Honestly, in the long run, if you calculate all the hours and research, as well as enormous electric bills, we wasted a lot of time, money, and frustration,” he admits. “Not to mention, every freelancer that worked with us was always fighting over who got to use the BOXX workstations, rather than our custom builds, or even the Dell systems.”