- Wednesday, Jan. 21, 2015
Hanging above a staircase in the lobby of the exquisite Flatiron headquarters of Napoleon, a creative content studio, is a weathered and rusty 3-foot red metal sans-serif “N.” Dotted with once-electrified empty light bulb sockets and dramatically lit from behind, the N, to the casual observer, is a cool piece of vintage outdoor signage, no doubt salvaged from a demolition site dumpster. And though that’s exactly where it was discovered, the N is much more than mere décor.
In 2015, Napoleon celebrates an unrivaled industry track record—30 years of excellence and evolution—with a new brand, a new facility and a new website (with a new URL: http://napoleongroup.com). There from the beginning was the N, which not only embodies Napoleon’s legacy—a simultaneous salute to the past and an affirmation of the future—but the key to Napoleon’s success: the ability to adapt and evolve that’s been hard-coded into the company’s DNA from the start.
The N originally graced the exterior of the former West Side Airline Terminal at 460 West 42nd Street in New York, the first letter in a sign that spelled out the name of the facility’s then-new occupant, National Video Center. Renting space at National was Napoleon Videographics, the first incarnation of the company now known as Napoleon, founded by Marty Napoleon. The year was 1985. When National’s owners replaced the sign with a new one, Marty Napoleon grabbed the N from the old one and tossed it in the trunk of his car.
Inspired by serendipity and the coincidence of two company names that just happened to start with the same letter, Napoleon adopted the red N as the logo for his eponymous previz company and used it in one way or another for nearly three decades as his company continued to evolve and expand. Napoleon Videographics became The Napoleon Group and moved from National to the penthouse floor of the Graybar Building next to Grand Central Terminal, adding staff and services and gaining a reputation in the advertising world as a can-do creative studio.
Flash-forward to 2015 and as the finishing touches are made to a stunning new custom-built facility in New York’s lively Flatiron District, Napoleon the man and Napoleon the company are making another evolutionary leap. Long renowned as a previz powerhouse, Napoleon is using its previz prowess as a springboard to a full portfolio of products and services that includes art, audio, broadcast and digital/content. A firm believer in the adage that, in business as in life, change is the only constant, Napoleon says it was time to forge ahead.
“If a company isn’t changing, it’s dying,” he says. “Ten years is a new generation. Thirty years is a new lifetime. Some might think that 30 years is a bad thing. But it isn’t. Thirty years just means you know what you’re doing. We’re confident. We feel like there isn’t anything we can’t do. Napoleon started out as a test commercial house but now we do just about anything. We’re really a brand new company. So we needed a new brand.”
Napoleon charged Brooklyn-based design and branding studio Makewell with the challenge of reimagining the Napoleon brand as well as the website and collateral. Beginning with the brand, Makewell undertook an intense research phase that combined staff interviews, questionnaires, group discussions, competitive analysis, multiple concept presentations and palette suggestions, all designed to discover exactly what makes Napoleon’s heart beat.
“The task of redesigning the Napoleon identity was more than just refreshing the logo,” says Makewell Partner + Creative Director Jonathan Motzkin. “It also involved the larger goal of representing the evolution of the 30-year company history as something timeless within the ever-changing landscape of the industry. The solution was to craft an identity and mark that is simple, clear and enduring, that respects the legacy and values of Napoleon, giving a nod to the past while firmly planting itself in the future.”
Makewell ultimately went back to where it all began, deconstructing the N for a digital world into eight diagonal bars, streamlining “The Napoleon Group” to “Napoleon,” utilizing the spare but stylish sans-serif font Antenna for the logotype and proposing a smart new palette. Green is the new red, with a vibrant extended color scheme of teal, purple and dark gray.
“The new interpretation of the abstract N letterform is designed to feel fresh and current,” says Motzkin. “The minimal angled lines represent a sense of movement and evolution over time, as well as the various styles and services that Napoleon offers. The use of color is intended to feel playful and flexible while also being interchangeable and creating a sense of the unexpected.”
Marty Napoleon was thrilled with the result but admits that the process to get to it was daunting. As Napoleon’s founder, he finds the company’s brand and his personal brand inextricably intertwined.
“This was a new experience for me,” he says. “As the owner, as a creative and as someone who doesn’t always listen to a lot of people, I can say it’s my way or the highway when it comes to how the company is represented. But anybody who has a company like mine and has been in business as long as I have realizes that you don’t know everything. If you’re not going to listen to other people, you’re just wasting everybody’s time. Makewell did their homework and they were able to enlighten me about my company in ways I never imagined. I found that to be refreshing. I liked working with them. They were smart, intelligent and innovative. They had guts and some pretty bold ideas.”
Makewell extended the ideas embodied by the new brand to Napoleon’s new website, a sleek, sophisticated showcase for the three attributes that set Napoleon apart: “Our work, our facility, our people,” says Napoleon President Doug Miller. “For the first time, we have a website that instantly communicates why savvy agencies and brands trust Napoleon with their creative needs time and again.”
To that end, the site features a full-browser homepage reel of Napoleon’s stellar capabilities, an expanded portfolio of services, a gallery by renowned architectural photographer Michael Parmelee that shows off the edit suites, audio suites, production studio, stage and kitchen of Napoleon’s incomparable Flatiron headquarters and, last but not least, staff portraits by Eljay Aguillo, founder of Instagram’s hugely popular Why I Love New York City feed (@whyilovenyc), that introduce Napoleon’s entire staff.
“The Napoleon website is designed to showcase the incredible art and video work in a state-of-the-art interface that makes their ever-changing content accessible to their users,” says Makewell Partner + Creative Director Melissa Motzkin. “The site has been built as responsive to the many screen sizes and devices being used in the modern world, resulting in an elegant and customized form that is backed by an easy-to-use content management system, putting the editing power into the hands of Napoleon. The goal was to create a site that was easy to navigate and easy to maintain while also being so flexible that it could grow and adapt to Napoleon’s needs well into the future.”
For Napoleon, the future began in 2013, when the company picked up shop and moved from the Graybar Building in midtown and headed downtown.
“When we moved into the Graybar Building at 42nd and Lexington, it was an exciting place to be,” says Napoleon. “Madison Avenue was still filled with advertising agencies and our location was the hub of it all. BBDO, Grey, McCann—everyone was within walking distance of our facility. It was a hip neighborhood at the time and we were there for 15 years. But it got to the point where the technology and the business changed so much that the place I built was not the place to do the work we needed to do going forward. The technology was different, the work was different. We needed to set up whole new pipelines and protocols and we either had to tear the whole place apart—disrupting our staff and clients for a full year—or move. I decided to move.”
After surveying the Manhattan landscape, Napoleon settled on New York’s new nexus of creativity and technology, the Flatiron District, and moved into the trendy former offices of Kate Spade.
“It was a cool place,” says Napoleon. “She’s a designer, a fashion brand. There were black hardwood floors. There were walls that moved back and forth to reconfigure the rooms. I could easily have kept it just as it was but instead I said, ‘Rip it all out. We’re starting from scratch.’ And when everything was gutted, I was able to stand in the space and say, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if…? Wouldn’t it be cool if…?’ We were finally able to design and build a facility that was everything we wanted it to be, everything we needed it to be. A place that was fun and comfortable, a place where you can get work done in a much more progressive, efficient and cost-effective manner.”
Napoleon created a dream studio—a one-of-a-kind, bi-level, 14,450-square-foot contemporary office and production studio that highlights the company’s diverse capabilities.
The new project-centric space features a 12-camera Vicon Bonita motion-capture system, a spacious green-screen stage, stylishly efficient edit and audio suites and sleekly modern kitchen that allows Napoleon’s peerless client services to shine, all seamlessly tied together with a state-of-the-art infrastructure. The studio boasts an open-air workspace for 50-plus creative directors, animators, editors, designers, illustrators, modelers, compositors, scripters, character artists, motion-graphic artists, producers and marketers, expressly designed to foster creative collaboration among staff and clients alike.
“Our new facility personifies what our old facility couldn’t,” says Napoleon Director of Business Development Paul Johnson. “The new space features a really well-conceived production floor plan that makes our capabilities clear. Clients instantly recognize that we’re a VFX company, a live-action company, an art studio, an editorial house. We do it all. Our clients are not just coming to Napoleon for previz. They’re coming to Napoleon for solutions.”
A significant number of those clients have been coming to Napoleon since Day 1. “I’ve worked with Napoleon since their humble beginnings on 42nd Street,” says Publicis Kaplan Thaler Creative Director/Writer Alan Braunstein. “I’ve continued to work with them for the simple reason that they get it done the right way every time and with a smile. I think Napoleon is still in business because they have the same high creative standards as the agencies they work with. And their coffee and cappuccino just keep getting better!”
McCann SVP Group Creative Director Doug Welch echoes that sentiment. “I have worked with Napoleon for over 20 years for one main reason,” he says. “They deliver. The work always looks fantastic (and the previz scores though the roof) and the technology is always cutting edge. But, ultimately, it's the people. Damn are they fun to hang with!”
High creative standards, fantastic work, cutting edge technology, fun people, good coffee—can it get any better? “Absolutely!” says Marty Napoleon, pointing to the new brand. “We’ve been in business for 30 years but, in a way, we’re just getting started. It’s time for a new birth. It’s time for a new everything. I always say, ‘Everything old is new.’ I think we’re a perfect company at the perfect time to be doing all the things we’re doing.”
A previz powerhouse since 1985, Napoleon has not only endured, we’ve expanded, using our previz prowess as a springboard to a full portfolio of products and services that now includes art, audio, broadcast and digital/content. Thanks to a trait programmed into our DNA from the very beginning—the ability to adapt to meet advertising’s ever-changing needs—our longevity is unrivaled, our talent untouchable, our client list unparalleled and our facility incomparable.
Nothing sets Napoleon apart more than our New York City headquarters. In 2013, at a time when much of the industry was downsizing, Napoleon seized an opportunity for growth and, after 15 years in midtown Manhattan, moved to a custom-built facility in the city’s new nexus of creativity and technology, the vibrant Flatiron District. Gutting Kate Spade’s former offices, Napoleon created a one-of-a-kind, bi-level 14,000-square-foot contemporary office and production studio that makes our diverse capabilities clear.
The new project-centric space features a 12-camera Vicon Bonita motion-capture system, a spacious green-screen stage, stylishly efficient edit and audio suites and a sleekly modern kitchen that allows our peerless client services to shine, all seamlessly tied together with a state-of-the-art infrastructure. The studio boasts an open-air workspace for 45-plus creative directors, animators, editors, designers, illustrators, modelers, compositors, scripters, character artists, motion-graphics artists and producers, expressly designed to foster creative collaboration among staff and clients alike.
Savvy agencies and brands seeking peerless experience and expertise know there’s only one place to turn: Napoleon. http://napoleongroup.com