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In case you missed the first parts of this series, I previously met with Chris Carlin and Gary Tolle, in an effort to catch up to where the sports collectibles industry is in 2009, and where it’s heading. Next up: Martin Welling, Vice President of Creative Services.
UpperDeckBlog: So what’s your job title?
Martin Welling: I’m the Vice President of Creative Services.
UpperDeckBlog: And what does that mean? You have different teams you manage, so what do they do?
Martin Welling: We’ve got a diversified group. We have graphic artists, designers, art directors, photo and type editors and pre-production specialists. We’re engaged in product development for sports trading cards, trading card games, plus signed and unsigned collectibles.
For graphic arts, basically we have three separate teams: one does Entertainment, one does sports and one does collectibles. Their job responsibilities are nearly identical, but their focuses are very different. Basically, one uses sports photography, and the other uses fantasy art. For our collectibles products, the work they do is more fine art oriented: composition, layering, Photoshop treatments. They have to be considerate about how those pieces will be assembled and displayed.
UpperDeckBlog: So in terms of process, they get the photos and it’s their job to design the card around it?
Martin Welling: For sports trading cards there is a collaborative process that joins design and photography. We also have an art acquisition team that commissions the art we use in our entertainment products – both illustration and sculpting. They work with outside artists directly and manage that workflow and those relationships. And on the sports side, our photo group works with freelance photographers in the same way.
UpperDeckBlog: For a sports fan who may dream of working here, is that a job for example? Like you’ve got thousands and thousands of photos for let’s say, Derek Jeter, and it’s someone’s job to sift through those and manage them for cards?
Martin Welling: That is a job – we have a number of photo editors. Each is very knowledgeable of who the players are, what the team dynamics are. There are a lot of photos that go through the group each day, and we need to produce at a specific rate to keep things moving. We also have writers who do all the bios, so they’re the ones who put together the copy.
So a diversified, talented group of art directors, designers, photo editors, type editors . . .
UpperDeckBlog.com: Everything that goes on a card, basically.
Martin Welling: Everything that goes on a card. That’s the preliminary piece of our group, and the other is that everything needs to be assembled, and put together digitally. So all those inputs, the text, photo, design, those come together in our pre-press group. That’s where the final assembly happens. So they assemble or link the card design, photography, the team logo, colors, whatever the background and frame are. This is our pre-press group with thousands of inputs, they’re sort of like our nuclear reactor.
In addition to assembly, they enhance all of our photography. They neutralize the whites, match the team colors to the style guides we have. They improve skin tones, brighten up the backgrounds so the grass gets greener, and the sky gets bluer. For instance, the basketballs are tinted to all look the same. Lighting can be very different in varied venues – whether it’s morning or afternoon, in an open-air stadium or a dome.
UpperDeckBlog: Sounds like a lot of monumental steps that most people take for granted, or don’t really think about. Myself included sometimes, I mean you open a pack, you see a card. It’s all there.
Martin Welling: Absolutely. Giving tours is always fun, because you can see the lightbulb go on for them. They have no idea how much collaboration and coordination needs to exist from start to finish. People may think, “Well, it’s just a trading card”, but when you think about it: you need to get a photographer into the event, get them on the sidelines, get those images shot and back to the company, sort them, get them into our digital asset management database, get a photo selected and color correct it, the card designed, type added, pre-production accomplished including separating the different finishing features like decorative foil, die cutting, numbering, etc. All of that pre-engineered and pre-arranged, and then sent off to the manufacturer in an efficient manner.
UpperDeckBlog: In terms of design and creative, if I’m a collector who hasn’t been in touch with the industry for the last five, ten, even twenty years, what do you think they’d be most excited by that they’re not aware of?
Martin Welling: That’s a great question. I’d say that print lithography hasn’t made many huge leaps forward, and that’s how we reproduce our cards. There’s lots of print technical stuff that’s been improved in terms of efficiency, quality and speed, but it’s not exciting to the average consumer.
Everything that we do is now done digitally, and that gives you the freedom to do almost anything in terms of design. You can get so much more dimension in the designs you create, and this didn’t exist in years past. So for me, the design tools that are available and have been enhanced are the biggest change. It used to be that when we hired graphic artists, they had to be great designers, knowing color, composition, typography, etc. But now when we interview, you still need to look for those skills, but you also need to find the technical ability to use the software we have. When you combine talent with the digital tools, some amazing things happen.
UpperDeckBlog: That’s great stuff, thanks Martin. In closing, I’ll ask your favorite athlete, sport and team, which we’re doing with everyone.
Martin Welling: It’s hard to work here and not have an affinity for Kobe and the Lakers (note: this interview was conducted just as the Finals were starting). They’re kind of local. I’ve had the opportunity to meet Kobe a few times in business meetings, as Upper Deck works closely with him. What’s impresses me when any our spokesmen come in or appear at events for us, is that they are very charismatic but personable. They’re at the top of their sports, and that comes through in their personalities. Very self-assured, very confident, but they have the ability to make you feel important as well. The first time Kobe shook my hand, he acted like we were long lost friends, and we were just meeting each other for the first time.
So when Kobe sits in a business meeting here and talks about some of the ideas he has, it never comes across as him versus us. It’s always complimentary. So I have an affinity for him, and the other athletes I’ve had the opportunity to meet. They come across as real, very talented, sincere people who are happy to be a part of Upper Deck.
So to answer the question, I’d have to say my favorite sport is basketball, because it’s always faced paced, with action up and down the court. Something exciting can happen on every possession. I used to live in Utah, so I have an affinity for the Jazz. Years ago, I was at the NBA All-Star event and Stockton walked by with his young family in tow. Once again, top of his game, legendary guard and yet a normal dad. It’s fun to try and capture the heroic nature of sports on cards.