Outside the nondescript tan metal building, a cast iron Brahma bull is fixed, with its head cocked and raised, in a suspended regal pose — it’s the only interesting thing on the small lot on Kingsgate Way in North Richland.
Behind the bull — inside the 8,200-sq.-foot metal warehouse surrounded by gravel on outskirts of town — is SnakeWorks, part of Lockheed Martin’s Creative & Strategic Services team.
Inside there’s a fascinating cache of random items.
A small airplane is stashed in an aisle, behind a miniature monster truck, tucked between two floor-to-ceiling shelves stacked tall with long, chrome-lined black road cases.
A tall, lighted marquee at the end of the aisles adds to the feeling that you might have stumbled across a Hollywood movie studio’s set graveyard.
“We repurpose everything we can,” said Dana Jensen, director of Lockheed’s Creative and Strategic Services.
Hence the need for the large warehouse — which doubles as a workshop for four members of the Tri-Cities team. The rest of the local team is stashed in Lockheed’s Garlick Boulevard office building.
The group, which consists of 40 people, helps to visually brand the company. But that task goes far beyond creating few pieces of printed material or a video.
The Lockheed Martin Creative & Strategic Services group does it all — conceptual design, branding, campaigns, print design, multimedia, video production, photography, publications, custom fabrication and up to 100 trade shows a year.
The group, which is largely based in Richland, but has a small arm with nine employees on the East Coast, is in high demand throughout the entire company — because they are very good at what they do.
The group has two Emmy awards to prove it.
The Creative and Strategic Services group actually started in the Tri-Cities about a dozen years ago with a core group of about 10 people, said Jensen.
The secret to the group’s success is two-fold — one part is the hands-off management style.
“We have leadership that values and recognizes good work,” said Jensen. “They don’t restrict creativity.”
The second, and most important part, is the employees themselves.
“Nobody delivers less than what is expected,” said Lynn Ver Steeg.
Ver Steeg is, technically, the group’s multi-media design engineer. But they just call him the “metal man.” His specialty is bringing the ideas the group comes up with to life — in metal, wood, fiberglass or plastic.
Those who attended last year’s IT Day might remember the giant metal cog that sat on the stage, representing the event’s theme ‘The Power of Information.”
Each project starts out with a brainstorming session with the entire group where everyone is encourage to spit out their ideas — the bigger the better.
“There’s no lack of ideas,” said Jeff Flora, the group’s creative director.
“There’s a lack of time.”
Every project seems to be limited by time, he said.
The group also has a propensity for saying, “Sure — we can do that,” and later pondering the question, ‘Now, how are we going to do that?”
That challenge keeps the job fresh and interesting, said Ver Steeg. It also takes the team to some interesting places — like to the mile-long factory where the F-35 fighter aircraft are built.
“The F-35 is ‘The Program’” said Flora. “They give about 700 briefings a year on the program.”
Officials were frequently given long, fact-filled Power Point productions that were dull and boring.
“It was death by Power Point,” Flora said.
The team was asked to create something a little spicier — a new multi-media production to brief government officials about the military’s F-35 fighter aircraft. But there were some strict caveats — they had to do it without actually showing the actual aircraft or the facility where it is built.
“They wanted us to make the concepts more simple and attractive,” said Flora.
The team used 3D modeling and motion graphics to create a short video that explained how the aircraft were made in a few short minutes.
The team was also asked to create an eye-catching, attractive new entrance for Lockheed Martin’s NexGen Cyber Innovation and Technology Centre in Australia.
That, too, had very specific instructions. It needed to be sleek and high-tech, while at the same time capturing the core of the country — being distinctly Australian.
The team created a design that used a saltwater aquarium as the focal point, over a thick glass reception table on a smooth steel base representing the country’s shape. Everything was designed and built using materials from Australia. Then it was shipped to Australia and installed at the Canberra facility.
In team has earned Emmy Awards for three of its productions, Smithsonian Libraries, My Name is Lockheed and The Hanford Story: Overview Chapter. My Name is Lockheed also earned a silver world medal at the 2012 New York Festival for Film & Video.
In 2012 alone, the group has earned 14 APEX awards, 88 MarCom Awards, 85 Communicator Awards of Excellence and Distinction and 18 Telly awards for video production.
Although the team does projects seen across the world, they have a fond spot for the Mid-Columbia, and frequently volunteer their time and talent locally.
They often lend items from their cache to community organizations, high schools and theater production groups.
And they volunteer their time and talent to create permanent displays around the region — like the built-to-scale model of the B Reactor core that is placed at the B Reactor for tours, and an interactive kiosk at the Richland Public Library.
The group is also responsible for the themes and production of Lockheed Martin’s IT Day, a popular event attended by thousands each year.
But they are keeping hush about this year’s IT Day theme and plan.
It likely won’t include the bull that welcomes visitors to SnakeWorks.
“We did a New York-themed event many years ago and needed a bull for the Wall Street section,” explained Flora. “That was the only thing we could find.”
The cast iron bull is hollow, but weighs 1,500 pounds, he said. That’s why it’s outside. There’s no place to store it within the building that wouldn’t require moving it often.
“We have to move it with a forklift,” Flora said.