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IHAVEANIDEA.ORG > articles >  How’d You Get In: Jeff Toll

How’d You Get In: Jeff Toll

Posted on June 4, 2013 and read 2,998 times

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 According to the bio of Jeff Toll, Creative Director of west coast digital hot shop BKWLD as Creative Director in 2005, he has been the driving force behind many of the agency’s most successful projects. Jeff has led creative efforts for clients as diverse as 2K Sports, Microsoft, HBO, Scion, Analog Clothing and Gravis Footwear as well as musical talents including Alicia Keys, Foo Fighters, Ice-T and graduates of American Idol.

“Finding inspiration in the diverse lifestyles and vital creative community surrounding the company’s Sacramento office, Toll channels an introspective and thoughtful leadership style that reflects the strong personal bonds that he cultivates among the BKWLD creative team. When not working, Jeff enjoys hanging out at the local skate park, or spending quality time with his wife Keri, their son Jackson, and daughter Myla.”

That’s wonderful and all, but what the IHAVEANIDEA audience really wants to know is… how’d you get in?

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bkwld jtoll press13 Howd You Get In: Jeff TollI’ve always been attracted to art and drawing. All throughout elementary school, middle school, and high school, I would draw, doodle, and sketch. In the 6th grade we had a hands-on workshop with an 80s cartoon legend named Mark Kistler, aka “Commander Mark” and the Imagination Station, a show on PBS. He taught me how to draw using foreshortening, perspective, and 3D. From that point on, I was addicted to every medium of art. I dabbled in watercolor, oil painting, charcoal, and pastels – you name it. Later, when I got into high school, I started to take it more seriously. I started drawing comic books, entering art contests, and exploring early digital drawing tools.

My family had a Tandy 1000 at the time and some frame-by-frame animation software branded under “Hanna Barbera.” The software was basically a pixel paint program limited to 16 colors. You could animate frame-by-frame using onionskin. I would come home from school each day and lock myself away, going through the painstakingly slow process of drawing these animations. Once I was done, I’d set up a tripod, play music from my cassette boom box, and bring my animations to life. I still have the VHS recordings.

As soon as I graduated high school in 1995, I freaked out. I didn’t know of any school or career paths that would have leveraged my interests in art and animation. I was really into skateboarding and snowboarding so I took a break from school and pursued my other dreams. I did that for years and then realized I needed to go back to school.

I eventually enrolled in Sonoma State University as a Business Major, still unsure of what in the hell I wanted to do with my life. I laugh thinking back to the days of accounting class… I’d be a god-awful accountant.

At this time I met my now-wife, Keri, with the help of my cool-guy America Online profile. It’s hilarious thinking back, Keri and I basically made up a phony story about how we met that we told for years. Online dating was definitely not mainstream or fully accepted back then. We were only able to see each other for a few weeks before she moved off to study in San Diego, but we traveled to see each other frequently. Around this time she introduced me to rave culture and drum n’ bass music, in particular. I instantly fell in love with it all.

The music, the aesthetic, and the culture just grabbed me. At the time I was really into being “straight edge” – go figure. I started buying records, collecting flyers, mix tapes, rave visuals, and DJ-ing at parties. My wife started throwing DnB events and needed art for flyers and other materials. This is where my inner artist began to reveal itself once again.

The first flyer I ever designed (dare I say “designed?”) was done in one late night at a Kinko’s where I hacked my way through a foreign and extremely intimidating program called “Photoshop.” I used Sharpies, magazines, Exacto blades, scans, and saved them to my good ol’ zip drive. I loved the work UFO! and “Hell”vetica were doing at the time, raw mosaic scanned image style in contrast with digital textures. The first time I saw my flyers printed and posters pasted all over a rave, it was abundantly clear to me where my talent was. I soon heard of a Graphic Design program that had just recently been created at CSU Sacramento. I quit all the random jobs I had and focused solely on learning design. I completely immersed myself in learning the fundamentals of design and the software to create it.

I started treating all my contacts with rave promoters as clients and began “freelance work.” I worked for some rather large names in the rave scene back in the early 00‘s – The Planet of the Drums Tour and Dieselboy, to name a few.
I was eventually able to combine my design skills with my animation and web skills and, soon after graduation, I began work for a company named Multimedia LED, where I worked as their in-house creative lead. They were the leading manufacturer in all the LED screens you’ve most likely seen in Times Square. The ribbon/wave style LED screens at ABC Studios was their initial claim to fame.

I did everything from branding, marketing, copywriting, animation, web design – you name it. It was great and I learned a lot, especially from a man named Rich Webster, who ran numerous successful startups. He taught me a lot about the web, but I wanted to be pushed harder. I decided to put in my two weeks and just flat out quit.

During this time, I was a big fan of Scott Hansen, aka, iso50. I always admired his work and we would chat online here and there. On my last day at Multimedia LED, I received an email from him. He told me he was working at a web shop named “BKWLD.” As soon as I read, “You’ll be working on about 90% web work,” I was sold. I remember calling my mom and telling her that I was not going to accept any of the offers that paid more because they lacked the creative opportunity I was yearning for. It was worth it.

That year, 2005, I met the BKWLD crew- Ryan Vanni, Scott Hansen, Dusty Brown, and Robert Reinhard and instantly knew that this was the place I needed to be. I’ve been fighting the good fight ever since.




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