Innovative Individuals: Zach Wise

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I have been watching Zach Wise closely ever since I was highly impressed with his leadership role in the 2007 Soul of Athens project. He then went on to produce extremely engaging multimedia pieces at Las Vegas Sun, including “History of Las Vegas” and “Thirst in the Mojave.”

Currently a multimedia producer at The New York Times, Zach has brought motion graphics into the journalism field from a virtually unknown concept to one of great potential. He has integrated an After Effects work flow at the Times, and continues to develop highly effective multimedia presentations.

We are proud to recognize Zach as this week’s Innovative Individual for his evident passion, talent and creativity for multimedia.

To keep up with Zach, you can find him on Twitter, LinkedIn,, Vimeo, and his portfolio site DigitalArtwork.

Q) How do you drive innovation in your work?

A) I love finding new ways to tell stories. Every time I discover or learn a new way to tell a story, it’s like I’ve added a verb or noun to my visual language dictionary and I feel like I can communicate to my audience more effectively. Also, I love a challenge. I don’t care if that challenge is access, technical, story complexity etc. I think these challenges present puzzles that force you to innovate style, approach and technique to solve them.

Q) What piece in your portfolio are you most proud of and why?

A) I’m proud of many pieces I’ve done for very different reasons. I don’t think any one of them is a magnum-opus so let me mention the last several pieces I’ve done and why I’m proud of them.

A Moment in Time” is a user generated interactive that presents the results of over 10,000 individuals making a photograph at one moment in time (May 2, 15:00 U.T.C.). It was a challenging project for many of us. My role was to conceptualize and build a way to present the photographs. We had no idea how many submissions we would get. Many of us thought it would be around 1,000-2,000 submissions, others thought closer to 10,000 submissions. Building an interactive that visualizes the number of photographs and sorts them geographically and sort by categories etc, without knowing how many you’re dealing with really forces you to think things through and build a very elastic system that can scale gracefully from 100 – 20,000 items.

Memories of Sugar Hill” is another recent piece I’m proud of. Exhaustive research went into this piece and I’m glad I was able to present the fascinating stories in a very simple way. I’m very happy with how my narration writing abilities have improved and I think that all the elements of this piece are in harmony.

Q) Please provide a brief educational and professional history.

A) I graduated from Ohio University with a Bachelors in Interactive Multimedia back in 2000. I worked my way through school doing web design part-time. After I received my Bachelors I worked at a multimedia production company that produced educational games and other interactives. After working there for about 5 years I decided to rethink what I was doing and went back to Ohio University to get my Masters in Photojournalism. After getting my Masters I stayed on at OU to teach the multimedia sequence as a Visiting Professor. I was executive producer of the original Soul of Athens multimedia project and taught the classes that produced it. The project went on to win multiple awards from POYi and NPPA’s Best of Photojournalism. After OU I went to the Las Vegas Sun where I was Senior Multimedia Producer/Editor. I contributed to a Pulitzer prize winning piece on construction deaths on the Las Vegas Strip and my work there was also recognized at the Webby Awards, National Headliner’s Awards, Online News Association and NPPA Best of Photojournalism. After a year at the Las Vegas Sun I came to The New York Times in 2008.

Q) Where do you believe multimedia fits into today’s society and how will that role change over time?

A) Where doesn’t multimedia fit in to today’s society? The White House is on flickr and people are commenting on their photos, and my less tech savy friends from high school upload videos to Facebook. I think over time the definition of multimedia will cease to exist or will be so common that we don’t refer to it as such anymore. I actually think of multimedia that way now.

Q) Whose work do you admire?

A) Richard “Koci” Hernandez. He’s an artist of communication. Even his little one day adventure experiments have more creativity than I can fathom in an entire year. If he wasn’t out there making beautiful images and motion … well, I would be extremely sad.

Q) Where do you find inspiration for your ideas?

A) I find inspiration from my colleagues, both past and present. I also find inspiration from the internet and the 2,000 feeds I some how skim everyday. I also like to find inspiration from disciplines different from our own, and like to study their techniques, motivations and the art of their craft.

Q) What specific resources do you recommend for beginners, novices and experts to improve their skills in motion design?

A) Use Google Reader and subscribe to these feeds: 99% of what I know about what I do starts with inspiration from one of these feeds and following up with obsessive internet digging and experimentation.

Q) What is one thing on your “To-Do” list?

A) To finish making a film.

Want to nominate a deserving colleague, friend or inspirational figure to be highlighted in this series? Confidential nominations can be emailed to on an ongoing basis. Self nominations are also welcome. A person will be featured every Friday, so look for the next “innovative individual” Friday, May 21st!

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