Not that long ago Adi Goodrich was a world-renowned set designer from Los Angeles with a list of commercial clients as long as her arm. Sean Pecknold was a highly awarded animator from Seattle, best known for making one of the most epic pieces of stop-motion of the past decade, the extraordinary The Shrine/An Argument, a music video for his brother’s band Fleet Foxes. Both were ADC Young Guns. Then they met each other on the set of an ad shoot, and have barely been apart since.
Their relationship has been one of intense collaboration, living and working side-by-side at Sing Sing, an animation, photography, and design studio, all based under one (very high) roof in L.A.’s Chinatown. Though it’s, the idea behind Sing Sing seems to have been in the works for some time. Both Goodrich and Pecknold had grown tired of their existing working environments. “I got rid of my wood shop,” says Goodrich. “I said ‘I don’t want to do this anymore.’ Everything was covered in dust and I was managing a huge crew of dudes that I love, but could be total dickheads sometimes. I was around dudes telling dick jokes all the time. Eventually I had to say ‘this is not my vibe.’ I wanted to just design and have a beautiful studio, and kind of do something else.”
Before he met Goodrich, Pecknold mostly worked in seclusion, grinding out hours working on animations. “It was very much me and a small team for many many months, and I think I got a little tired of just being in a dark studio. I never really set out to just do that, and I kind of hit a point where I wanted to try live action and see what it’s like to work with people out in the real world.”
Aesthetically Goodrich and Pecknold are a solid match. Both revel in making hands-on work, something they’re keen to maintain as they grow the studio. “We’re both from the DIY school of thought,” says Pecknold. “Even if it’s a commission job, we’re like, ‘How much money do you have? Great. We can do that, because I’m doing the animation by myself, and Adi will be doing all the sets.’ We just always want to have our thumbprint on the work.”
In the world of advertising this is a rare position to take. Most agencies farm work out to freelancers, or build huge teams of specialists to take care of every little aspect of a project. But for Goodrich and Pecknold that takes some of the magic out of the creative process and separates them from the work itself.
“Keeping things smaller means you can touch things,” says Goodrich. “Once jobs are huge and you get these big ads, you stop touching things and caring, and it kind of dumbs the whole project down. If we have to do ads, we want to keep them in-house with a crew that we love, and are smart, and just try to keep it small.”
“At the same time you need a big crane and a whole bunch of crew to wrangle talent for some projects,” says Pecknold. “We go big and we can also go small. It’s very much a work in progress, figuring it out.”
Also in progress is where Sing Sing is based. For the time being at least it’s in Los Angeles, in a space coordinated specifically to meet their needs. What was previously a huge white box with a ceiling so high “it felt like our thoughts were escaping” now has a mezzanine, modular tables, storage spaces, bookshelves, and enough empty space left over to handle everything from animation to live-action shoots, as well as Goodrich’s trademark large-scale sets. There are also a few cubby holes for Pecknold to hide out when he feels the urge to return to the animator’s hole.
But the pair suffers from wanderlust and are frequently out of office, whether that’s on short breaks to European cities or on road trips at home, where they project manage on Starbucks’ wifi before disappearing into the woods. “L.A. is a hard place to make the magic happen,” says Pecknold.
What’s rock-solid about Sing Sing is their commitment to each other. “In the creative world, there’s no one I would really want to work with aside from Adi,” says Pecknold. “It’s kind of a dream—I think I would be doing it even if we weren’t a couple.”
“We’re both big fans of each other,” says Goodrich. “We love each other’s work.”