How AI Is Transforming Creativity and Business With Lucien Harriot

Lucien Harriot is the Executive Producer at Mechanism Digital, a New York City-based studio specializing in visual effects, animation, innovative media, and marketing within the entertainment sector. With over 25 years of experience in visual effects and creative work, he is a member of the Producers Guild of America and has contributed significantly to feature films and corporate projects. Lucien is known for his ability to explain complex topics simply and ensure clear and concise project goals and deliverables. Additionally, he embraces emerging technologies such as AI, regarding them as essential tools for advancing creative processes and business efficiencies in his industry.

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Here’s a Glimpse of What You’ll Hear:

  • [2:11] Lucien Harriot’s early entrepreneurial lessons from selling sodas during a crisis
  • [5:15] Balancing creative passions with the demands of business management
  • [7:12] Insights from working at iconic companies like HBO and PBS
  • [9:14] Importance of systems and processes in creative businesses
  • [11:32] Challenges and solutions in teaching new artists about SOPs
  • [13:45] How diverse life experiences enhance creativity and technical skills
  • [18:19] AI’s impact on creativity and job roles in the industry
  • [23:47] Potential of VR headsets to revolutionize viewing experiences
  • [26:50] Keeping up with rapid technological changes in digital media

In this episode…

In today’s fast-paced creative industries, professionals grapple with integrating emerging technologies like artificial intelligence (AI) and virtual reality (VR) into traditional workflows. Many fear these advancements might replace human creativity and expertise, threatening existing job roles. So, how can creative professionals utilize emerging tools without losing their unique touch?

Lucien Harriot addresses these challenges by emphasizing the importance of embracing AI as a tool rather than a threat. He illustrates how AI can enhance creativity and efficiency, offering examples from his experience at Mechanism Digital, where AI assists in conceptual design and project acceleration. Lucien also discusses the balance of running a business while nurturing creative talent, advocating for strong systems and processes to streamline operations without stifling creativity.

Tune in to this episode of the Smart Business Revolution Podcast as John Corcoran interviews Lucien Harriot, Executive Producer at Mechanism Digital, about the integration of AI in the creative industries. They also discussed the importance of early entrepreneurial lessons, balancing creative passions with business demands, and the potential of VR headsets to revolutionize viewing experiences.

Resources Mentioned In This Episode

Quotable Moments:

  • “If we don’t embrace AI, we’re going to get replaced by it sooner. There’s no stopping AI.”
  • “Our job is to take these complex concepts and deliver them to the masses in an understandable way.”
  • “I love the opportunity to teach, whether it’s within my employees, with the customers, or the ultimate audience.”
  • “AI has always been the future, and now it’s here. It’s an exciting time to be alive.”
  • “We thought us humans were very special in our creativity, and now we’re realizing maybe we weren’t all that.”

Action Steps:

  1. Integrate AI into your existing workflow as a brainstorming and time-saving tool to accelerate the pre-production process: By adopting AI, creative professionals can streamline preliminary stages, like moodboarding, allowing more time for refinement.
  2. Create and maintain clear Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) to provide structure in creative projects: SOPs ensure consistency and efficiency, crucial for managing complex tasks and allowing more focus on innovation.
  3. Embrace continual learning, especially regarding new technologies like AI, to remain competitive and innovative: Continuous education on AI keeps you agile in adapting to rapid changes in the industry.
  4. Prioritize action based on value rather than cost to maximize profitability and client satisfaction in business: Demonstrating value to clients rather than competing on price fosters a sustainable and mutually beneficial relationship.
  5. Foster an adaptable mindset among team members to prepare for and embrace technological disruptions such as VR and AI: Cultivating adaptability in a team creates resilience against industry shifts and capitalizes on new opportunities.

Sponsor: Rise25

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Cofounders Dr. Jeremy Weisz and John Corcoran credit podcasting as being the best thing they have ever done for their businesses. Podcasting connected them with the founders/CEOs of P90xAtariEinstein BagelsMattelRx BarsYPO, EO, Lending Tree, Freshdesk,  and many more.  

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Episode Transcript

John Corcoran 0:00

Today we are talking about how to embrace the AI revolution in your business and how to really make it work for you. My guest today is Lucien Harriot, and I’ll tell you more about him in a second, so stay tuned.

Chad Franzen 0:13

Welcome to the Smart Business Revolution Podcast, where we feature top entrepreneurs, business leaders and thought leaders, and ask them how they built key relationships to get where they are today. Now let’s get started with the show. All right.

John Corcoran 0:30

Welcome everyone. John Corcoran here, the host of the show, you know, if you’ve listened before, each week, I talk to smart CEOs, founders and entrepreneurs from all kinds of companies and organizations, ranging from we’ve had Netflix and Kinko’s, YPO, EO, GrubHub, LendingTree, OpenTable and many more. And of course, this episode was brought to you by Rise25 my company where we help B2B businesses get clients, referrals and strategic partnerships with done for you podcast and content marketing. And I’m excited today because we’re going to be talking about this emerging technology of AI, which is a really interesting topic that we’ve been tracking really closely. What company hasn’t you have to be living under a rock, if you haven’t noticed it. And I put out a call to ask a group of entrepreneurs about who is doing interesting things with AI. And I came across Lucien. 

Lucien is the executive producer, Mechanism Digital, a studio based in New York City. They focus on visual effects, animation, innovative media and marketing and entertainment. They have an interesting mix of work, because they do feature films and they also do corporate work. They have an interesting mix. And he’s got a diverse background, having worked in visual effects and creative work for many years, for 25 plus years, now, also as a member of the Producers Guild of America and based out of the Soho neighborhood in New York City and Lucy. It’s such a pleasure to have you here today, and I love to ask people about what they were like as a kid and any kind of side hustles that they had as a kid. And you saw an opportunity when the gas crisis of the late 70s came across and saw people stuck in the heat of the summer waiting in line for hours to get their gas. And you saw dollar signs. Tell us about it.

Lucien Harriot 2:11

Fantastic. Well, thanks, John. I’m glad to be here, and such a great list of companies. Exciting to be a part of that list. So yeah, this, I guess, at the beginning of my entrepreneurial adventure. But when I was about 12 years old, late 70s, they had the gas lines in New York City, and they would go on for like a quarter mile or a half a mile, and people were just waiting there for hours, and it was hot. It was summertime, and a friend of mine and I realized that there was this opportunity to possibly sell these folks some sodas. So I had known a while ago there was a Soho soda distributor, and I said, Oh, I know where to buy sodas cheap, and we can walk around with a cooler of ice on a dolly and go car to car and sell these sodas. 

So we went over there and we probably bought soda cans for like, 15 cents a piece. And said, All right, what are we going to sell these for? And my friend Peter and I were talking a bunch, and we decided, You know what the best soda machine that we knew was 25 cents of soda. And everybody wanted to buy sodas from that soda machine. So that’s got to be the perfect amount of money to sell these sodas for. So we went, got a whole bunch of them, and got a bunch of ice. I learned what dry ice was. That was the coolest thing in the world. Just be careful with it. So, yeah, we walked from car to car, and those sodas sold like hotcakes. People wanted them. So we realized, you know, a lot of people like Coke and sprite and whatever, and selling them again and again. And then we ran out. We had to run back to the distributor, which is probably another half a mile away. Ran as fast as we could and came back. And kept doing that for a day, maybe two days. It was hot, hot, hard work. 

And at the end, we started counting our money and realizing how much money we were making per hour. And I don’t really remember what it was, but I remember that we were not excited about how much money we brought out of that situation, and realized that we’d only made about 10 cents off of each soda, what it all amounted to, and the amount of work and the amount of hours, and that was a really good lesson for me about selling to value. You know, not necessarily what that product is. It’s what we bring. You know, it was door to door service, and people were hot and they couldn’t get out of their cars, and that was a super important lesson to me. So we didn’t make much money charging

John Corcoran 4:32

the same amount as if someone walks across the building or the parking lot to the vending machine and gets it out of the vending machine themselves, but you’re delivering it to them as they’re sitting, as they’re desperate, they’re hot, they would pay any amount for those Cokes, probably.

Lucien Harriot 4:46

And we picked the cheapest machine that we could think of, because that was going to sell the most, right? So we thought we were going to make it up in volume, right? So that was a good lesson. And I got to say, I’ve been in business now for almost 30 years, and I still try to give away everything. Things, and I just love what I do, and I just want to give the best product. So there’s always this little lesson that I need to continue to learn, to sell on value. It’s a win-win situation, right? What’s it worth for them? What’s it worth for us? And make the best situation out of it? So good?

John Corcoran 5:15

Yeah, and you’re a creative professional, someone you people tend to be drawn to that because they have a combination of skill and interest, and then you kind of have to divorce yourself from that and put your put yourself in the position of someone who doesn’t have skill or interest in developing visual effects, and what they would pay for that, what value it provides to them, whether it’s plugging it into, you know, major, major motion picture, or whether it’s, in other case, other work that you do, working with doctors and and healthcare and creating education, that’s a digestible.

Lucien Harriot 5:50

Yeah, it’s whether we’re doing entertainment for feature films or education and corporate communications, like you said, for healthcare, it doesn’t matter. We’re telling stories, and us as artists, we love to tell the stories, and we would sit there and work on it all night long, and not even count the hours. Right? Are my employees sometimes, like, I’m just going to spend a little extra time on it, because I just want to make it right, because we just absolutely love this stuff. And as the business, my business has grown, mechanism, digital has needed to add people. 

And although I started as an artist, kind of freelance, jumping around different companies, and then I hired somebody to be an artist, and then I became more of an art director or a producer and a creative director, and wearing all these different hats. And now I hire people that are much better artists than I am, and just because the tools have grown and but what I need to continue to remind myself is to divorce myself from wanting to give as much as I possibly can to the point where the business is losing money. It’s even though I’m not an artist anymore. It’s hard to not want to make it perfect all the time, and let’s just spend a little extra effort. So we have to find that fine balance, right? We want the customers to get the best product, but there is a point where we need to kind of move on to another project or so, and so it’s always changing and evolving.

John Corcoran 7:12

And you started your career actually working for you doing animation visual effects for PBS, and then later worked for HBO, doing visual effects there as well. Two I can’t iconic movie companies known for the quality of their productions. What did you learn from those experiences? What did you take away from that that maybe you apply today?

Lucien Harriot 7:32

Interesting. I don’t know if that’s good or bad, so I learned that attention to detail is super important, and when I worked at those places, we were often working by the hour. I actually still work for those companies, but we end up working as a vendor. But, you know, it’s funny that I decided to start my company, because these bigger companies had a lot of what I call corporate sort of overhead and infrastructure which seemed to take a lot of time and meetings and waste. And so I decided to start my own company, because I wanted to get away from that. But then realized, the bigger the company gets, the more you have to embrace this, and it’s just about structure and about making it work. And the whole corporate, what I always thought was sort of a bad, not a bad word, but I just, you know, corporate is it all sounds so negative, but if you do it right, hopefully it’s not taking the fun out of the situation. 

John Corcoran 8:28

So, I was just talking with my friend Kevin Waldron, who just he introduced me to the book The aim with by Michael Gerber, which that book is all about, this story of this, you know, fictional Baker who loves baking, so she goes and opens a bakery, and then she finds that she’s doing everything, payroll, bookkeeping, everything, but doing the thing that she loves, which is baking, right for you, who was drawn to this industry, visual effects, animation for your love for the actual craft of it. Now you find yourself running a business. How have you managed to balance those two, to balance your original love with the fact that, you know, running a business, you’ve got to run the business, you got to do bookkeeping, you got to do payroll, all that other stuff.

Lucien Harriot 9:14

Yeah, good. You know, it’s an E-Myth. I read that book, and then I started, I was a convert, and I started handing it out to everybody. And then I realized I didn’t completely understand it until years later, then I understood it more. But was it a technician with an entrepreneurial seizure? Yeah. I loved the story about baking pies and the creative behind baking pies, but it really comes down to ingredients. And I still think about that story that Michael Gerber talked about, and that you just have to create a system and then follow the system, and the creative is around the edges. The creative is sort of the extra step that we kind of figure out. But there’s a lot of things that we do on every project. We set up projects and we have all these SOPs to make sure that they’re all set. Correctly, so that we hand off the project to somebody else. 

It’s not a bunch of chaos, and we’ve learned to embrace and enjoy that, because when all of the details are in order, that allows us to enjoy the creative stuff that when we take a project in a new direction and we invent something nobody’s ever seen before, that’s where that can be fun, where if we’re so mired down in the chaos because it wasn’t set up correctly, or we didn’t follow the SOP, then we don’t get a chance to play and enjoy quite as much. So it’s taken a bit to understand myself and then try to teach it to new people that join the company. We’ve built lots of interesting systems and databases and now I find that my paintbrush is just bigger. Like when I was an artist, I felt like I never really used a paintbrush. It was all digital for me, but, but I used to create things, but now I can create things that are even bigger. And the business is also an extremely creative outlet for me, not just the content that we create.