“Over this period of time I worked for a number of agencies in both London and in Spain. After spending around seven years working for various agencies, I decided it was time to start my own so that I could work on the projects that I thought would be groundbreaking. By then I could see how the whole 3D digital environment was beginning to develop, and how I could create new interactive experiences for the web.”
Carlos studied computer science at university in Spain – something that has come in very handy over the years: “I think the degree that I did was very useful, as it taught me about programming, which came in very handy later on when I was doing more graphics-based work for the agencies I worked for,” said Carlos. “And of course when I began to develop my own projects, the programming knowledge I had gained, and the experience creating 3D objects and the environment they inhabit was a great skillset for the projects I have been working on since I founded the agency.”
Having worked for several years within digital agencies, Carlos inevitably began to think of how he could take more control of the projects he was working on. The pivotal moment came with the release of Papervision 3D. The project was conceived as an interactive experience to showcase the full power of the 3D engine that was available at the time of launch on 5 May 2007. The project puts the user inside a coral reef scene where they can look around and interact with the different fish. The reaction that Carlos received after the release of Papervision3D convinced him that doing more projects like that was the way forward for him.
Carlos explained: “Basically the background to Papervision3D was simply that when I moved from working in games development to the web, I couldn’t see the tools I needed that I had gotten used to with games design, so I decided to develop my own. If you think back to when the consoles first came out, you had to own these to see the games we had designed. Anyone that didn’t have these consoles couldn’t access the 3D interactive environments we had built.
“We began to think about how we could expand the user awareness of the games we were building, so a website seemed the obvious thing to do. However, back then it was unusual for a game to have a website. Doing this web design enabled me to share what I was doing with the games design – and actually, I became more interested in the website than the game itself.
The web then became the focus for Carlos after initially focusing on games development. He wanted to see what was possible with today’s browsers and 3D interactivity. And does HelloEnjoy pay as much attention to the development of its website, as it does building 3D projects for the web? “For us is very important, and it has taken lots of years to understand what we want from it and what is the ideal site,” says Carlos. “We have come to the conclusion that it is a work in progress, and the best site is the one that lets you work on it whenever you have a moment – but will also endure the passage of time, so every effort you devote to it won’t be scrapped when you decide it’s time for a redesign.
“Also, when we were coming up with a name for our site, we brainstormed with the guys at Build that worked with us on our image. It reflects the things we like to do: Experiences that anyone can enjoy, making heavy use of interactivity to engage the audience in a fun way, which is not necessarily games but also creative apps – anything that’s a joy to use.
“Being just a two-person studio, we don’t dedicate as much time as we would like to update our site – it’s far easier to update Facebook or Twitter – but at the same time it is never far from our minds and at least it gets updated whenever we finish a new project.”
The ways in which an agency attracts the clients it works for are manifold – often referrals are a key component. HelloEnjoy has a very different approach that Carlos outlined: “Being a small studio we are very specialised in what we do, which is interactive 3D for the web and mobile. We have a solid network of collaborators that we trust, so we can more or less tackle any size of project, but we never stray far from 3D. Which doesn’t mean we won’t take projects out of our comfort zone, we like challenges, like exploring new hardware and experimenting with new technologies.
“The approach we have taken when it comes to attracting clients is that we have created 3D interactive projects that we find interesting and that have new technologies that haven’t been used before, we find that clients, after seeing these projects, come to us with potential work. We have gained a number of client projects like this, which is gratifying, as it shows us that the kind of projects we are developing do have a commercial application that brands want to exploit.”
Among the many projects that have been completed by the agency, is there one that typically defines the HelloEnjoy ethos and why? Carlos goes into detail: “Our HelloRun game I think answers that question. It ticks lots of boxes, from the technical – a web technology, greatly optimised for mobile (probably the first fully fledged 3D game on mobile using WebGL), that makes the most of all the R&D we had done in the previous months, to the few things that form our philosophy – fast, engaging, beautiful, fun, without asking from the users anything that they are in no mood to provide when having a quick fun ride on the web. But, in essence, it is a perfect example of what it means to be an independent studio: obtain results of fairly good quality with very limited resources (it’s all been done by two people while on parental leave).”
And HelloEnjoy works quickly for the clients that want to work with them. “Projects very rarely are longer than two to three months – not because they are not complicated enough but because we usually work for advertising and those are the standard timeframes,” said Carlos. “It’s very rare that a client comes to us and says that they need the work in six, as frequently they say just two.
“Being just two people, we put many hats on. We share the creative responsibility, which not only includes creative decisions, but mostly creative solutions to make the most of the resources. Depending on the project’s requirements, we might need to outsource asset creation, but ever more frequently we can take care of assets ourselves by modifying or adjusting pre-bought ones. We share those tasks between the two of us depending on the software that’s needed to do it. I take care of the code and spoken communication with clients and Liber is in charge of written communication, and co-ordination of collaborators.
“Depending on the project, the most time consuming part can be the code itself, usually when there is a new technology involved, or if the team is very big and we don’t have direct control over collaborators, implementation of all the different project parts and team management tasks.”
With so many tools and frameworks to choose from when developing for the web, are there any that HelloEnjoy particularly favours? Carlos explained: “The best investment we have made in software in the past years has to be Unity; we also spend a lot of money in the Unity Asset Store, and it never ceases to amaze us how cheap everything is compared to either doing everything ourselves from scratch or finding someone else to do it.
“I think we are now at the stage where as developers we have a mass of tools to choose from when we are creating new 3D environments on the web. HTML5 offers a whole host of new opportunities, and with new tools being released it is now much easier to create these 3D environments than it was when I started. Where once you saw a lot of development going into high-end games engines, I am now seeing that level of development going into HTML5. It is great to see the games engines used in the past now being used for the web. That’s a very exciting development. We used to spend weeks doing motion capture for games. You can now apply animation to your characters in minutes with the tools we now have available.”
As a forward-thinking agency, HelloEnjoy is always looking for new platforms to use that can enhance the user experience of the 3D environments they build. “We are smitten with the Oculus Rift, although it is still early days,” said Carlos. “It is an amazing experience already, and it’s going to be a game changer.” And when the multi-screen approach to digital design is considered, Carlos says: “Responsive design is clearly our goal. We want users to experience our pieces regardless of where they are.”
The third screen approach to design is also, of course, joined by social media. Many of the most interesting digital projects are taking place in this space. For HelloEnjoy, social media is simply an essential component of the projects they create, as Carlos explained: “Social media should be an integral part of everything online, people either share things on social media or they don’t share things, so if you don’t integrate them as seamlessly as possible and in as many ways (without being annoying) you’re missing out on a vital source of traffic. And they are not only important for traffic, but a vital tool of communication with your followers, clients and users. The way they talk to you and you talk to them is through social media.”
Many agencies have a raft of talent that they draw upon when a new project is green lit by a client. For HelloEnjoy it’s always just Carlos Ulloa and Libertad Aguilera – but they do augment their substantial skills with many freelancers that have more particular skills, as Carlos elaborates: “As we are literally a two-person agency we have over the years worked with a number of other people that have the specialist skills we lack. This has given us a stable of people that we know we can count on when we need those skills for a new project. It’s great to have the flexibility to call on these people as and when they are needed. As time has gone on, we have come to know who is the best at what they do. We actively try and find these people so that each of our projects is the best is can be.”
And what does the future hold for HelloEnjoy? Carlos concluded: “We always look forward to new technologies and devices and like to be on the front line. We devote a lot of time to R&D. In the near future we plan to continue doing client work, particularly in WebGL now the technology looks more mature. We also hope to be able to dedicate some time to our own apps. We have a couple of ideas that we’d like to explore and are already in the works. So many things to do, so little time.”