Frequent visitors to the Frame.io Insider might know Oxcart Assembly’s name from the impressive work they’ve done for NASA for the Artemis 1 and Launch America broadcast graphics and apparel. But what you might not realize is that Oxcart Assembly is actually a really small company whose ability to take on some of the world’s biggest clients is born from their “just say yes” ethos. Of course, they have to back it up by delivering—but in every case they go above and beyond in strategic insight and creative execution for their clients.
This Made in Frame highlights their hard work for other clients—most recently the AC/DC dive bar takeover during the Power Trip Festival—and how they run their remote-first business using Frame.io as their virtual office (their words, not ours).
Reaching for the stars
Even if Oxcart Assembly isn’t a household name, co-founder Tony Gardner’s work as a Hollywood special effects and makeup artist is iconic. From his first job on Michael Jackson’s Thriller to Child’s Play’s Chucky to the Geico cavemen, the Jackass universe, and the Daft Punk robots, his imprint on movies, TV, and music is indelible.
The genesis for Oxcart Assembly came when advertising creative Jeff Jetton cold-contacted Tony via LinkedIn. He’d been talking to the principal builders of the James Webb Space Telescope at Northrop Grumman and wanted to see if Tony and Daft Punk would be interested in participating in a project marking its launch. That initial outreach led to Jeff visiting Tony at his SoCal studio and persuading him to ride along to the pitch meeting at Northrop Grumman. On Tony’s birthday. For which Tony promptly rescheduled his birthday plans.
While that particular project didn’t come to fruition, the like-minded duo discovered their mutual affinity for reaching for the stars and Oxcart Assembly was born.
Building a virtual office
As Jeff himself states, Oxcart Assembly is “not your typical brick and mortar agency.” To say the least.
With Tony based in California and Jeff in Miami, there was already a full continent’s distance between them. And both frequently find themselves on the road—Tony for the commercials, music videos, TV shows, and movies he’s involved with, and Jeff for his Toki Underground restaurants in Baltimore and Washington D.C.
That was the coolest part of it—it set a foundation for how we could be a business.
“We all have careers and identities in different places, and we were trying to find a way to have a common meeting place. We had formed a company and we needed to put together a reel. The meeting place turned out to be Frame.io,” Tony says. “It was the place where we could share all our information. We could put all our assets on Frame.io. We could edit using Frame.io [with Adobe Premiere Pro and After Effects]. We could leave notes for each other, and the time differences didn’t matter. We could jump in and out of it whenever we wanted from wherever we were. And that was the coolest part of it—it set a foundation for how we could be a business.”
The newly formed company, energized by the Webb telescope meeting, decided to pursue working with NASA, and quickly won two contracts within three months of their first meeting. That was March 1, 2020. Days later, the world shut down.
Jeff accurately points out that those who had already been working remotely had an advantage over those who had to scramble to pivot to the new paradigm. And as they worked on the Launch America broadcast package—entirely from their homes—they relied on Frame.io. “Necessity is the mother of invention, and we used it as our virtual office,” he states. The Oxcart team ended up taking 60 years of NASA’s entire video library, putting it onto Frame.io, and condensing it into a 60-second broadcast open—in six weeks’ time.
From the heavens to hell
Nothing about the way Oxcart operates could be considered typical or business as usual. If you look, for example, at what Tony’s done with special effects makeup and prosthetics, it’s all about finding new ways to create impossible characters or effects from inanimate materials.
Jeff, whose own projects include creating viral moments on social media (maybe Google “Wall Street Bull Jeff Jetton”) to running two successful restaurants—while creating videos and apparel for NASA broadcasts—knows no creative boundary that can’t be bent or broken. Nor is there any task he considers too menial in order to get a project over the line. If packages containing custom-fabricated versions of Bitcoin destined for the moon need to start their journey at FedEx, Jeff’s the guy to take them. If NASA decides they need 2,000 customized jackets for their on-air broadcast talent and retail Exchanges, Jeff figures out how to get them manufactured. In America.
So when Oxcart got the call from Sony Music’s Ceremony of Roses about “figuring out something cool” for AC/DC’s appearance at the Power Trip Festival in Indio, California (which marked the fiftieth anniversary of the band’s formation), they said “Hell, yes!” And the project was launched…
Early in his Frame.io journey Jeff discovered that it isn’t only a place to work on video assets. For the Artemis 1 project, for example, the Oxcart team stored everything from recordings of the introductory phone calls with the many creatives and stakeholders to mood and inspiration boards that were created in Photoshop.
With the apparel designers and manufacturers spread across the US, a process that would once have been supervised in person took place in the cloud through Frame.io. The team created fashion “tech packs” in Illustrator that contained the mockups and design specifications from Tyler, the Creator’s streetwear company GOLF WANG, that were then shared with fabricators including Converse, Velcro, and Ebbet’s to create the sneakers, hats, and jackets worn by the on-air talent.
From working with clients who aim for the heavens to ideating a physical manifestation of a highway to hell for AC/DC, Jeff and Tony began sharing reference materials and sketches in Frame.io. And then lightning struck. They would take over a dive bar and the surrounding property and turn it into an immersive installation. After a Google search for “shittiest dive bar in Indio, CA,” Jeff texted the mayor of Indio, and he responded enthusiastically. The team prepared for liftoff on a new adventure.
An iconic experience
In true Oxcart fashion, it was also incredibly ambitious, growing in scope as the ideas flowed. “Outside the bar we worked with our partners at Black Sky Creative and Ceremony of Roses to build out a 10,000 square foot venue with merchandise areas, a tattoo parlor offering free AC/DC tattoos, an eating area with food trucks, and one more large open bar. “We built a giant utility pole—installed by the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers—that we hooked fake power lines to,” Tony says. The huge AC/DC neon sign they mounted to the facade of the bar could be seen from a distance of about two miles (if not from space).
Once again, Oxcart organized all the sketches, photos, props, and merch they had to assemble for the project in Frame.io. There were files in all different formats: jpeg, psd, png, mp4, HEIC, and more. As they designed what Jeff refers to as a “traveling museum” they shared ideas with Sony Music and AC/DC’s management on Frame.io, which helped them through the exploratory process.
“We’d put all our ideas into Frame.io files,” Tony says. “We had all kinds of crazy things we considered, and even if we thought that some of our ideas might be stupid or silly at first, you’d read three comments into people’s responses to that silly idea and that silly idea would spark a really great idea. It was a meeting place where we could throw ideas around and revisit them later because, you know, we all have kids and lives and whatnot.”
One such idea: one of AC/DC’s team tossed out the possibility of having a deer head trophy on the wall. “That seems like something you’d have in a dive bar,” Tony says. A few weeks later, Tony showed up with not just a deer head, but one in which he’d replaced the deer’s eyes with glowing red eyeballs. Because Tony is a guy who knows how to make real things unreal.
They’re also a team that knows how to be responsive to new or last-minute ideas because they can work so quickly and efficiently. One of the team members had mentioned that it would be funny to have the mummified Peruvian alien currently in the news actually inside the bar. “I own a special effects company,” Tony says. “So we designed the alien in ZBrush, 3D printed him, and a few days later brought him out to Indio. We thrift-shopped a curio cabinet to put it in, put little AC/DC demon horns on it that flashed, and installed it in the bar. It was a last-minute idea that we just threw in because we thought it would be fun, and a unique photo opportunity for fans.”
Another opportunity they seized was to take the fly from AC/DC’s Fly on the Wall album and create it as a three-dimensional character, which they sculpted into different poses and placed around the bar.
Before the bar opened on the first day, there was already a line around the block. Over the course of the weekend-long installation, approximately 20,000 people visited it. “So, we thought maybe we’d gotten it right,” Jeff says.
The highlight of the weekend? When AC/DC guitarist Angus Young decided to make an appearance at the bar. “Hundreds of people immediately mobbed him,” Jeff says. The video of him exploring the installation shows his obvious delight, and many (many) selfies were taken. But the big moment is when Angus discovers the AC/DC mural painted on the side of the building. The photo they captured of him pointing up to his image is yet another iconic moment in the band’s 50-year history.
Chaos ignites progress
The thing about Oxcart—and the results they achieve—is that when they say yes to a project without being given more than the briefest of briefs, they regard it as a challenge. And that kind of opportunity is, creatively speaking, the most fertile ground.
“We’re always really collaborative with the client,” Tony says. “ We have no agenda other than to take on challenges and run with them. Even when we designed the Daft Punk robot helmets 20 years ago, we didn’t have any idea how to realize all of the LED lights and the electronics required. But we hunted down the right people to help, and we figured it out. We react to challenges and find ways to solve problems. There’s a fear factor, for sure, but it always turns out.”
It’s also how they keep themselves excited and creatively engaged. But there’s even more to it than that. It’s a testament to the group’s ingenuity and resourcefulness that they did the AC/DC installation on a budget. Jeff so thoroughly scoured ebay for memorabilia that he even drove up the prices because he had basically cornered the market.
But the most satisfying part for Jeff and Tony was the experience they gave the fans, who had paid upwards of $1,500 for tickets to the Powertrip festival. At the AC/DC bar, with no cost for admission and $5 beers, the family-friendly event was, by most accounts, one of the most memorable things the fans had ever seen. When Angus appeared, the fans got even more than their money’s worth. Hanging out in a dive bar in the desert with your idol? Priceless.
Finally, the team left their mark on one very special person—the woman who owns the bar. Her husband, who’d been running the place for decades, had passed away the year before. Jeff found a framed photo of him while they were doing the installation and decided to make an ofrenda (a Day of the Dead shrine) to honor him. They filled it with candles, and when she saw it for the first time, she burst into happy tears.
Shared visions and values
To hear Jeff and Tony tell it, every day since they connected in person has been nothing short of amazing. The work, the clients, and the stories they’ve amassed could be made into its own movie, filled with moments that seem impossible—except that they’ve all really happened. From working on moon missions to creating indelible memories for millions—or for just one person—they share visions and values. Because, as Tony says, “The thing we do is share ideas versus selling them.”
But it’s not only about creating images that engage those who experience them—it’s also about doing work that captures their own imaginations and pushes them to uncharted territory, including bringing in collaborators whom Jeff and Tony have previously worked with—or have never even met. “Jeff is the king of the cold call to seek out the right people to partner with to achieve the vision,” Tony says, based on first-hand experience. “He always does his homework, so when he calls someone he has a very high success rate.”
Doing his homework means not only knowing all about who he’s calling but also having pitches quite fleshed out. In Frame.io they can aggregate all of their ideas into one project that’s easily accessible to clients. Once the project starts, the clients continue to work with Oxcart in the Frame.io space—and often become Frame.io clients themselves.
As for their shared values, absolute honesty with each other is high on the list, as is their clear mutual respect and their commitment to leaving their egos out of it.
Which brings us back to our values at Frame.io. Starting with yes, making it real, and leading with ideas and not ego are core to our company. So as we see our clients using our products with the same kind of intentions, it feels a little bit as if we’re spreading our values—whether to a desert dive bar, or to the moon and beyond.