25_Arvind Palep and Serge Patzak

Special Effects

Someday, years from now, Arvind Palep and Serge Patzak will tell the story of how, in the summer of 2004, at the combined age of 48, they quit their jobs, turned down an offer from Industrial Light & Magic, and launched 1st Avenue Machine.

Today, the two-man graphics boutique is the darling of the computer-animation industry, and Palep and Patzak have been juggling advertising work for clients such as Nickelodeon, MTV, VH1, and Adidas from their modest SoHo office in New York. Their breakout work was “Alias,” a surreal three-minute video that features a clan of elegant yet goofy robots maneuvering through foot traffic in the East Village. (The bots fit seamlessly into the streetscape but are entirely computer generated with off-the-shelf software; still, they proved so realistic that representatives at NBC called 1st Avenue’s office looking to track one down.) “Before, technology was the barrier,” Palep says. “But it’s faster and cheaper now, and there’s a real shift to people with artistic vision.” Within 10 days of posting “Alias” online, 1st Avenue saw 230,000 hits to its site–and had more than 1 million after a month. “You wouldn’t expect that kind of reaction from art,” Patzak says of the public response. “Maybe from porn, but not art.”

No, they’re not real.

There is an undeniable physical allure to 1st Avenue Machine’s robots, multiplying cyberflora, and other creations. “One person told me she wanted to lick them whenever she saw them,” says Palep. Last summer, the company caught its first big commercial bone, an ad campaign for the launch of Adidas’s Tunit, a customizable soccer cleat. Released last month, the ads show soccer stars in computer-generated armor that shatters as they kick the ball.FCS