An Interview with New Mexico’s Dynamic Duo

New Mexico is a small state, with a small population, and very seldom the top item on most people’s radar. Nevertheless, it’s home to two of the most dynamic women you could ever hope to be awed by. I thought you’d like to get to know them.

Best in the SW web page

Elaine Montoya and Becky Padilla are both the inspiration and the perspiration behind Best in the SW : : Flash Animation and Motion Graphics Conference. This three day conference, held in Albuquerque, NM, grows in stature and attendance each year. It is attended by Hollywood animators, motion graphics designers, VFX artists, and broadcast designers as well as graphic designers and in-house artists.

These two women are electrified with creativity. They put ordinary multi-taskers to shame, and frequently use the word “passion” to describe their work.

The two envisioned the Best in the SW conference as an outgrowth of the NM Adobe User Groups. It began as a Flash animation and motion graphics contest with Adobe software as prizes, and has ballooned like the hot air balloons that fill the Albuquerque skies at the same time as the Best in the SW took place in 2007. Hotel rooms are hard to find during the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, but Elaine and Becky made sure they had plenty for the conference particpants.

NMAUG web page

As leaders of the NM Adobe User Groups, Elaine and Becky serve as Adobe community liaisons. Their tasks range from creating a community for designers, web-developers, animators and motion graphic artists to providing educational opportunities. They also arrange various types of outreach, such as integrating expert seminars and presentations from the AdobeQuerque Community Experts into the University of NM Continuing Education offerings.

(Disclosure: Yep, that’s my funny face. I’m one of the AdobeQuerque Community Experts.)

Zocoloco web page

Elaine and Becky are the principals of Zocoloco Studios, a design firm specializing in motion graphics, web development, and print design.

To celebrate Elaine’s fifth year as a breast cancer survivor, they are putting together yet another event, Code for the Cure.

We conducted an interview by email, starting with a list of questions.

Question: This year’s Best in the SW was a big success. What were some of the high points for you?

ElaineElaine: We were very pleased with so many aspects of this year’s event. It far exceeded our expectations. I think one of the things that excited me the most was being able to provide amazing, high-caliber talent to present at Best in the SW. Our lineup included artists who design screen graphics, title design, and visual effects for major motion pictures; create broadcast design for all the major networks including ABC, NBC, FOX, A&E; and work as animators for Disney, Nickelodeon, and Cartoon Network.

Almost every attendee told us they were planning to come back in 2008—and that they plan to bring co-workers with them. A common thread in the post-conference survey we conducted was that they loved the intimate size of the conference. They felt that everyone was accessible—from the speakers, to the producers, to the software gurus at Adobe—everyone was approachable and available. This was something we were aiming for with Best in the SW. We wanted people to come and feel like it was not just a conference, but an experience. We think we succeeded!

Question: How did you divide up the chores in organizing such a big conference? How long did it take you to do it?

BeckyBecky: In 2006 we produced the first Best in the SW. It consisted of a one day statewide mini-conference, and a Flash animation and awards competition. The competition was open to artists throughout the southwest quadrant of the United States, including New Mexico, Arizona, Texas, Colorado, Oklahoma, Utah, Nevada, and southern California, When we were making the decision to expand the conference to an international level, bringing in some of the top talent in the industry, we had no idea it was going to take as much work as it did. The workload was exponential compared to the previous year.

Fortunately, our talents and skills are quite similar, so both of us were able to pitch in and work on any and all aspects of the conference—from designing the graphics, to developing the website, from getting sponsors, to working with post-secondary schools and negotiating contracts with vendors—we both took an active role. From the day we decided to put on the conference until the day our last speakers left Albuquerque, it pretty much consumed our every waking hour.

Question: What’s a tip you could give to other conference organizers?

ElaineElaine: Think about it seriously before you commit. It requires an inordinate amount of time and commitment, not to mention a substantial financial liability. Many of the conferences that take place today are produced by companies that specialize in conferences, it is their business.

We aren’t an event planning company. In fact, Best in the SW was our initiation into event planning. Our advantage though, is our passion for the content—we both love animation, motion graphics and broadcast design. We believe our passion came through to the attendees. Best in the SW wasn’t just another ‘post-production’ conference. It was unique. It was intimate. Attendees were able to interact with the speakers, who happened to be some of the top talent in the industry. It was down to earth. It was an extension of our passion. We believe this is what made it a success.

Question: How long have you been running Zocoloco Studios and how did you get the business started?

ElaineElaine: I started the business in 1985, I had been working as the Art Director for Manfredi, Mulhern, and Luztker—an advertising agency with offices in Albuquerque and Phoenix, when I decided to go out on my own. I started Art Department. MM&L as well as several other agencies I had worked for, were my first clients. The Art Department served as an extension for ad agencies and provided graphic design services.

In 1990 Becky and Steve Levengood joined the business as partners. We made the decision to pursue corporate clients. We were young and believed the only way to have respect in the ‘corporate’ world was to have a corporate name. The name was changed to Montoya, Padilla, Levengood. We got the corporate clients, including Qwest, Standex, as well as other nationally known companies. But the truth was, our personalities, our way of working, and our passions were far from the traditional corporate model. After a year or so of using our ‘corporate name’, we decided it was time for something more expressove—more playful. We came up with the name Zocoloco Studios.

Steve decided to move to Colorado and further his education in the field of international marketing. Becky and I continued to grow Zocoloco Studios. This was a time of major technological advances in the field of design and the start of the internet. In addition to print design, Zocoloco Studios expanded into the fields of broadcast, video and the web. We have won numerous awards for our work over the years, and have been published in HOW Magazine and other national publications.

Today, our projects combine our interest in motion graphics, animation, and video. We integrate new technologies that provide our clients with modern-day sources of content distribution, from online Flash Video, to podcasts, to desktop Adobe AIR applications. We see Zocoloco Studios as a balance of passion and creativity, humanity and technology.

Question: What advice would you give a woman who wanted to go into business for herself?

BeckyBecky: I would have to say that the first requirement to starting your own business is to have a passion for what it is you are doing. If what you do brings you happiness and self-worth then you’re well on your way. You’ll need perseverance because you will be spending many more hours working on your own business than you ever would working for someone else. And rightfully so! You gotta love what you do.

Second. Develop a comprehensive business plan with room for flexibility and change. It’s a navigational guide to keep you moving forward even when you think you aren’t.

Get a mentor. I guarantee that there is someone else out there who has done some of the very things you are attempting to do. Do NOT be afraid to ask for advice. What did that person learn from a similar experience that could help you in a situation you may encounter? Their answer(s) may save you valuable time, money, frustration, and heartache. It’s also an opportunity to establish a solid professional business relationship that can be mutually beneficial to you both. If you don’t have a mentor yet, find one or two. My mentors are my “angels.”

Building a business is very fluid. Keep an open mind and be willing to learn. This will allow you to look with fresh eyes and make decisions based on what you see.

Have fun! It’s a lot of work to run your own business, so build in some motivation whether it’s money, travel, massage or that carbon fiber road bike you’ve been salivating over.

Question: What’s your background? Where did you grow up? Go to school? Have you always been in the design business?

ElaineElaine: I am a native of Albuquerque. I attended Albuquerque Public Schools, graduating from Del Norte High School. I always enjoyed art as a child, particularly drawing animated characters. Snoopy was one of my favorites. I started working in the field of graphics at the age of 14 working at a local printing company. This was my first exposure to graphic design. While I really enjoyed it, I never thought of it as a career. Upon graduation, I was the recipient of a NASA scholarship for Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at the University of New Mexico. Several years into the program, I knew my heart wasn’t in it. I wanted something with more creativity. Switching majors, I graduated from UNM with a Bachelor of Liberal Arts.

While attending UNM, I continued to work in the field of graphics. First as a production artist at several different printing companies, and later the Graphics Coordinator for Albuquerque Public Schools. I was grateful for the education I received at UNM, as it expanded my awareness and knowledge in many regards. But, I still didn’t know what I wanted to be when I ‘grew up’. I knew I thoroughly enjoyed graphic design, and had strong natural abilities in this area. I made the decision to further my education in the field of graphic design at The Art Institute of Colorado.

After graduating, I moved back to Albuquerque and served as Art Director for two different ad agencies before going out on my own. An interesting thing started happening in the early 90s—technology and the convergence of media. Though I would have never guessed it at the time, my two degrees were now a match made in heaven. The ability to program and the ability to design are a rare, but valuable combination. Maybe it was fate. I feel very blessed—I am one of the lucky ones. I never had to work in different fields—I have always worked in design.

BeckyBecky: I’ve always been an artist. As a young child growing up in southern California, I experimented with various methods to express myself visually. Over the years I’ve used combinations of drawing, sculpture, photography, printmaking, mixed-media, video and audio. Bold colors, simple shapes, typography and spontaneity inspire my design.

I attended Arizona State University and graduated with a Bachelors Degree in Art/Design – with and emphasis on 3D. Even though most of my work today is 2D, I continue to be intrigued with 3D and love exploring 3D technologies.

I love to “doodle” while I’m on the phone. It’s always fascinating for me to put the pen to whatever piece of scrap paper is available and ultimately be amazed at what it becomes—usually something intricate, beautiful and odd at the same time. I love that!

I have been a professional designer for 20+ years. My forte is print, website and motion design. I’ve worked at large corporations, small design firms and higher education institutions. I’ve owned two businesses and just finished the successful first year of Best in the SW.

Question: The NM Adobe User Groups (NMAUG) is recognized as being one of the best user groups in the country. How did you make that happen?

ElaineElaine: Through hard work and listening to the needs of the community we serve. I took over the organization about 5 years ago. It had gone through its heyday around 1997/98 but then was in decline. User Groups nationwide experienced this phenomenon, so it was not unique to our organization. We believed it still could play a valuable role in our community, and that it was important for our community to define that role.

Each year, we have been tweaking, and modifying to fit the needs of our community. After the Macromedia and Adobe merger several years ago, we saw a need to expand into print design, and AdobeQuerque was born. At the same time, due to the rapid growth in the film industry in NM. We made the decision to launch Motion Graphics ABQ. Currently, the NM Adobe User Groups serves as the parent organization. Our programs serving the web-development community are co-directed by Damian Taggart of Mindshare Studios in Santa Fe, and myself. Our programs for print designers fall under AdobeQuerque-which Becky coordinates. And our motion graphic and animation programs fall under Motion Graphics ABQ, which I coordinate.

The people we work with at Adobe are wonderful. Ed Sullivan, from the Boston office is in charge of the Adobe user groups worldwide. He has been very supportive of our efforts, and has recognized us along the way. Additionally, two years ago I was selected by Adobe to be an Adobe Community Expert. This program is run by Christine Lawson, also in Boston. She too has been very supportive of my efforts in the community. Without their help, NMAUG, AdobeQuerque, Motion Graphics ABQ and Best in the SW would not be what they are today. I am very grateful.

BeckyBecky: I think by approaching the user group concept from a different direction, we have been able to make it is what it is today. Instead of adhering to the traditional concepts of what a ‘user group’ is, we have taken it upon ourselves to re-create the concept to fit the needs of our community. Our focus has been on partnering with existing organizations in our community—from local universities and community colleges, to local retail vendors. From our AdobeQuerque educational series we offer through UNM Continuing Education, to co-sponsored events with the ARTS Lab or our local Apple store, it widens the scope of what a user group is. We have found by working together, both the NM Adobe User Groups AND our partners, are able to better serve our community.

Question: I know you participate in the SXSW Film Conference. What other conferences do you attend or enjoy? Do you learn any tricks as a conference participant that help you when you’re the organizer?

BeckyBecky: We have attended a variety of conferences over the years. Our favorites have probably been FlashForward, Adobe MAX, FITC and NAB. We attended the first FlashForward conference in 2000, which I would have to say was my overall favorite. It was a great event! The excitement around Flash at that time was huge, and to be caught up in it was thrilling.

This year it seemed like we attended a conferences a month all over the United States. The travel became very tiring. But we watched, we learned, we saw what we liked, and what we didn’t like. We saw what worked and what didn’t work. Since neither of us had a background in event planning, this served as our education.

But the truth is, we learned most everything by rolling up our sleeves and just doing it. There is no experience like first-hand experience!

One of the questions we were asked repeatedly at this year’s Best in the SW was why we decided to start Best in the SW. While we enjoyed many aspects of each of the conferences we attended over the years, none of them were our ‘dream’ conference. Most of them focused on technology, or on skills, with very little emphasis on creativity—or as we call it, ‘the art of it’. Our hopes were that we were not alone in this—and that there were many others like us out there who had a passion for the creative. We believe it is a unique niche and from what our attendees told us, it was something they had been waiting for.

Question: What do you do to relax and have fun?

ElaineElaine: We are both into cycling, and that is pretty sweet. This year, I celebrated my fifth year as a breast cancer survivor. Cycling is something that makes me feel healthy, strong, and psychologically it makes me feel like I can continue to beat cancer. Not to mention, I love it! I also enjoy reading, painting, piano, eating at great restaurants, watching movies (especially animated features) and wonderful spa treatments!

BeckyBecky: I LOVE to relax! But I find it difficult to do on a regular basis because I’m working a lot on many projects at once. However, my daily highlight is to walk my Akita, Zephyr. The walk gives me time to ponder the natural world and to drain my brain of superfluous stuff. I like to read both fiction and non and watch DVDs on the big screen TV at home. For fun…I like to ride my road bike, “the red rocket!” I love the way I feel when I’m going fast and it’s my body that’s making that happen. I enjoy yoga, acupuncture (I know, weird) and spa treatments.

Question: What question did I miss that you want to answer? Ask yourself the question and answer it, too!

ElaineElaine: The question that comes to mind is . . . what’s in store for 2008? I am glad you asked.

First, for the NM Adobe User Groups, Kevin Hoyt from the Adobe Platform Evangelist team will be presenting on Adobe Flex and AIR. We are very excited that Albuquerque was selected for the spring Adobe Flex/AIR tour. This is a great opportunity for developers, designers, and students throughout NM to learn about these remarkable new technologies, and new opportunities that are being created. This is a free event, and everyone from the region is invited to attend.

NMAUG, AdobeQuerque and Motion Graphics ABQ, will continue offering our AdobeQuerque Expert Series through UNM Continuing Education. Topics cover many of the applications offered in the Adobe Creative Suites CS3.

We will be ramping up Motion Graphics ABQ starting in 2008. Meetings will consist of demonstrations, or tutorials in the area of motion graphics, animation, broadcast design, film, or video; networking with colleagues; discussions on business aspects including pricing and setting standards for our community; and show-and-tell, where individuals or students can show a project they are working on, or their reel. With the rapid growth in the motion picture industry in NM, we hope Motion Graphics ABQ continues to grow and become a valuable community resource.

Code for the Cure web page

Finally, we are very excited about a new program we will be offering this year, Code for the Cure. Here’s the basic concept: Teams consisting of one designer and one web-developer will be established. Ad agencies, design firms, and in-house companies are encouraged to put together a team. The goal for each team is to create a website for a local non-profit or ‘qualified’ new entrepreneurship in one week. Through our partnership with a local non-profit business development organization, they pre-screen companies and/or non-profits that are eligible to participant as a ‘website recipient.’ Each recipient is required to pay a nominal fee to participate, generally, much lower than they would be paying if they had to pay full price. All monies received will be donated to the Lance Armstrong Foundation, to support their cancer survivorship initiatives. One design/development team will be selected as the grand-prize winner. The team developer will receive the Adobe Creative Suite 3 Web Premium, and the team designer will receive the Adobe Creative Suite 3 Design Premium. The event is scheduled to take place in May.

Secondly, what’s in store for Best in the SW? We’re already working hard on plans for the 2008 Best in the SW! We have been talking with many of the speakers who will be presenting at this year’s event, and will be sending out our official call for speakers in January. Starting February, our Call for Entries for the 2008 Awards will begin.

We are excited about this year’s event! We’ve taken everything that made the 2007 event a success, and combined it with valuable suggestions from attendees and sponsors, to put together another outstanding event. The format will be a bit different than the past and some new content areas are being added. We still plan to keep the event small so that we can maintain the high-quality, and intimacy.

We also hope that more people from NM take advantage of this year’s Best in the SW. Surprisingly, in 2007, 85% of our attendees were from out of state. Attendees represented a variety of companies including American Greetings, NFL, Apple, and Verizon. Hopefully, more NM companies and residents will take part in this opportunity right on their doorstep.

Our website is in for a lot of changes. We will be adding online content starting the first of the year. Topics covered will include animation, motion graphics, broadcast design, title design, sound design, Flash video, podcasting, and much more. Subscribe to our newsletter if you’d like to be aware of the latest news.

BeckyBecky: So you want to know how to get involved?
– Attend the NM Adobe User Groups sponsored events, including AdobeQuerque and Motion Graphics ABQ. Check out to find out what’s going on.
– Volunteer to present to one of the group. We all like to see what people in the community are doing. You can email me ( or Elaine ( if you’re interested.
– Tell your peers, co-workers and friends to become involved. Learning new things only enhances our skills individually and collectively.
– Share your reel or the current project you are working on at Motion Graphics ABQ.
– Put a team together to participate in Code for the Cure. It’s a win-win situation for all involved, and a great way to give back to your community.
– Last, but not least, the odds are high that you will come away with some pretty decent swag in addition to the new skills you’ll learn.

As for Best in the SW:
– Go to the website and create an account to receive news on the great lineup of presenters and sessions.
– Learn from our online content that we will be offering starting 2008.
– Interact in our online discussions.
– Get your work shown through the Best in the SW website.
– Share your skills with others by providing content, and/or applying to present at the 2008 Best in the SW.
– Register early to attend the 2008 Best in the SW. Attendance will be limited to 360 attendees!

Cross posted at BlogHer.

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