Front eyes the world

Front thinks beyond national borders, which is what sets it apart from the competition. "2001 is the year we’re ready to take on the world," proclaims Jeff Rustia, president and head of creative at the Toronto-based design and production house.

Case in point is the studio’s launch of children’s network Nickelodeon in India. Shot in Front’s new Bombay facility, the project was a recent finalist at the New York Festivals awards in the art direction and station IDs categories. Front incorporated a wide variety of styles in the campaign, from stop-motion animation to 35mm live-action clips with child actors sending up popular Bollywood movies. Production was handled by local crews supervised by Rustia, with a Canadian producer always present.

Front has also designed Nickelodeon’s launches in the Philippines and Malaysia, with Sweden, Russia, Poland and Hungary soon to come.

One factor that has helped Front nurture these global connections is Rustia’s career origins at MTV, whose parent company, Viacom, also owns Nickelodeon. Rustia launched many of the music video channel’s local Asian stations before working with Time Warner and News Corporation subsidiary Star TV, a multi-platform content and service provider for the Asian market. He also served as head of creative services for the CBC/Power Broadcasting U.S.-based cable networks TRIO and Newsworld International, which have subsequently been sold to USA Networks, but which remain his clients.

About 18 months ago, Rustia decided to set up his own company and pitch for individual projects. In a classic David-and-Goliath scenario, Front beat out ad agency powerhouse DDB Needham Worldwide for the Nickelodeon India campaign.

Rustia says the local industry is surprised by the global success of his company, whose business has been built almost entirely through word-of-mouth.

"From the one ad I put up we’ve been getting a lot of calls from our competitors," he says. "They ask, ‘How are you getting international clientele when things are pretty slow in Toronto?’ "

The answer in part is Rustia’s presence in overseas conferences such as Promax Asia in Singapore, where he was a featured speaker on the topic of how to get a viewer’s attention in a promo’s first three seconds.

Winning awards also helps. Front’s profile was raised by its Silver showing at the 1999/00 Promax/BDA Awards for its Nickelodeon Philippines campaign, which features 35mm live-action IDs with the Nickelodeon logo turning up wherever Filipino children play. For example, in "Hide and Nick," a group of kids play hide-and-seek around a tree when a Nickelodeon coconut falls to the ground.

Closer to home, Front recently completed a campaign for Astral Television Networks that included shooting, editing, and providing animation for a video in support of a CFTPA presentation by Lisa de Wilde, ATN president and CEO, which promoted the company’s new corporate look.

Front’s Toronto staff can be described as a dozen "one-man bands."

"It’s very much a Warholian factory of filmmaking hybrids – people who can produce, edit, direct, shoot and do everything else in between," Rustia says.

Front put together an unusual demo reel to illustrate its staffers’ creative range.

"We invested in a two-minute design film that speaks to a lot of the different services we can do for people," Rustia says. "Everything from claymation to 3D animation is done entirely in-house."

Front will soon go to work for HBO’s Cinemax movie network on a campaign entitled "Expect Something Different." *

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