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Midnight Sherpa: Meet the Designers Bringing Creativity Into the Light


Founder and CD Miguel Lee, EP Alex More, and production coordinator Anna Mendoza talk LBB through their studio’s unique approach to creative process - and how it helps them to ‘visualise what can’t be filmed’

Midnight Sherpa: Meet the Designers Bringing Creativity Into the Light

On a foggy, faint, and still night in California, Miguel Lee found himself driving at the apex of one of the state’s many mountainous roads. Emerging out of the horizon’s gloom, an immense shadow began to take shape - slowly, a wind turbine became visible thanks only to a solitary crimson light atop its peak. 

“If it weren’t for that light, I wouldn’t have made out this enormous structure right in front of me - I’d have missed it entirely”, he recalls. “It was a surreal moment, like something out a dream, but that helped crystallise the name and philosophy of Midnight Sherpa. We are that light - that shepherd - who guides our partners through darkness”.

If that approach to naming his company suggests a tendency to think deeply, it's an accurate portrayal of Miguel and his team. Since the studio was founded in 2015, Midnight Sherpa has made a habit of designing clear, powerful communications - bringing light and shape into what might otherwise be darkness. 

“We love rising to any challenge, but if we have a special talent it’s the ability to visualise what can’t normally be seen”, agrees EP Alex More. “We tend to shine brightest when a client comes to us with a particularly tricky communications problem. If it’s something that few people understand or have seen before, that’s where we can come in”. 

By way of example, production coordinator Anna Mendoza recalls a standout campaign for the materials engineering giant Applied Materials. “It’s fascinating because semiconductor chips are something that make a difference to the lives of billions of people, but only a tiny number of them can even visualise what this technology even is, let alone how it works”, she says. “I’m really proud of our work on this film because we were able to put visuals and images to something highly conceptual but relevant to so many people”. 

Above: The team at Midnight Sherpa designed and delivered an epic piece showcasing the science behind building semiconductor memory chips which power essential devices from hospital equipment to smartphones.

The idea behind the brand film, as Miguel explains, was to delve into a granular-level of detail in terms of how the company produced materials such as logic boards and memory chips. “I spent a few days taking online chemistry and physics courses”, the founder explains, “so that I could have a better understanding of the theory and mechanics discussed in the meetings. Our goal was to be scientifically accurate, to know what colour the materials would be at different temperatures - how they’d physically react - and what physical state they would exist in at every step of the process. Amazingly, nobody had done that kind of visualisation before, despite the fact that this technology has been around for some seven decades”. 

As the team recounts the story of that Applied Materials campaign, it’s hard not to think back to the looming wind turbine emerging from the Californian mist. Where there was once darkness and the unknown, Midnight Sherpa had brought light and understanding. As our conversation continued, however, it became even clearer that this only marked the beginning of the studio’s creative capabilities. 

“Creativity Is Rarely A Straight Line”

That quote, from Midnight Sherpa’s website, explains a lot of what you need to know about the company’s approach to its craft. What’s fascinating, however, is how deep the creative roots truly go. 

For example, in addition to running Midnight Sherpa, Miguel is an associate professor at the ArtCenter College of Design in Pasadena. “As the owner of the company, I’m allergic to the idea of becoming too far removed from the creative processes and losing touch”, he says. “But working with the students at ArtCenter is the perfect antidote to that. They’re incredibly savvy, they know what the latest tools are, and you can’t pull the wool over their eyes. They’re honest with you about what’s right and wrong with the industry - you can’t put too high a value on that kind of insight”. 

A knock-on effect of working so closely with the next generation of design talent is the democratising effect they have had on the studio’s wider culture. “We want a horizontal company, where everyone is contributing”, Miguel continues. “The people who come up with the ideas are often also the people executing them - that makes for a very joined-up and healthy way of working”. 

Another instance of that joined-up creative thinking coming to fruition is the company’s long-standing relationship with Dolby. During that time, Midnight Sherpa have produced a wide array of content from technical videos to more traditional commercials, with a range of branding assets in between. That work has taken place across Dolby’s line of offerings, including Dolby Atmos, Dolby Vision, and Dolby Cinema, as well as for experimental technology in both VR and AR. “Most people will associate Dolby with audio, but in addition to that we’ve helped them bring some of their visual offerings to life”, notes Alex. “An example of this are the full-scale theatrical demos which are tailored to play in Dolby Cinema - for both consumers and as a tool to evangelise filmmakers. It's rewarding to create something not just for a general audience, but also as a piece of tech advocacy to be showcased for a Jon Favreau or James Cameron”. 

Above: Headphones highly recommended for this immersive film from Midnight Sherpa promoting the benefits of Dolby Cinema. 

The way that the team at Midnight Sherpa clearly gets a kick out of these various creative challenges - visualising complex technology and the benefits of spatial audio - is infectious. As Miguel goes on to explain, thinking big is a big part of the fun for the studio. “Personally, my favourite aspect of the process is coming up with what that process should even be”, he says. “A lot of times a client will come to us with a precise scenario or problem, and it means our first step is always to regroup and think ‘okay, how do we even tackle that?!’”. 

As our conversation draws to a close, it’s impossible to escape the sense of creative invigoration that emanates from the Midnight Sherpa team. There’s a sense of confidence and - perhaps most importantly - clarity that is visible not just in the company’s work but also in the way its team reflects on it. 

For the studio’s clients, there’s an obvious benefit to that lucidity - and for the team internally it helps forge an identity, too. Whilst the studio’s next project is yet to emerge from the darkness, audiences can expect to see it in perfect clarity when it does. Amidst an industry landscape where clutter and noise are becoming part of the scenery, it’s a ‘special talent’ which might have just found its perfect moment to shine. 

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Midnight Sherpa, Thu, 17 Nov 2022 09:05:47 GMT