Design

Sydney agency S1T2 on how they use new tech to tell amazing stories

Much like their creative agency S1T2, co-founders Tash Tan and Chris Panzetta’s friendship is based on good stories.


The two met at the University of South Wales, instantly developing a mutual dislike for each other. Tan only knew Panzetta as that “girlfriend guy”, while Panzetta knew Tan as that “soccer guy”.

But as good stories go, the two eventually found a mutual interest in storytelling and technology, which later led them to founding their successful interactive digital agency, S1T2.

What’s with the odd name? S1T2 stands for ‘storytelling first, technology second.’ Essentially, their ethos is that storytelling is the best form of communication. And to tell their tales, they use technology in all forms; some of their many services include film production, animation, virtual reality and so on.

Storytelling first, technology second

Like most, if not all startups, S1T2 had it rough in the beginning. Tan and Panzetta had to borrow money from their parents to fund the business. They also had to work their arses off during the crazy holiday season just to get their first client, Visa.

But fast forward a few years later and the agency has grown between 80 and 150 percent year on year. They now employ 20 staff and have clients such as Dior, Kellogg’s, Samsung, Vivid Sydney and Adobe.

I told you this is a great story.

We recently spoke to Panzetta to find out more about their work and discover how technology plays such a huge role in creative expression.

Tell me a little bit about S1T2. What do you do and how do you use technology to brand stories?

“S1T2 is a creative technology agency or lab. We basically believe that technology can help enhance the way we tell stories. It stemmed from the idea that interactive storytelling can help us understand things better.

“What we essentially do is kind of explore new technologies that come out and see what affordances they might have for storytelling, and that means a lot of research and development and things like that, which is an exciting part of the job here.”

Where does the name S1T2 come from?

“S1T2 stands for ‘Story First, Technology Second’, which is kind of the whole ethos of what we believe. The idea is we’re using technology to tell stories, which are the most ubiquitous and most understood ways to communicate. They always have been. Technology’s always changed how that happens, and how we respond to them, so we
want to be part of inventing that future rather than reinventing the past.”

What would you say are some of the tech advances you’re looking out for? Are there any that have just come into play that we should keep an eye on?

“It’s not so much specific technology core advances we’re excited about, it’s more three key technology trends we just see developing and emerging to that: artificial learning or machine learning, real-time engines and systems and then a whole array of human-computer actions sensors.

“As to what you’re always trying to do, the best method we have is conversation, so what you’re trying to do is create a seamless conversation with machines or brands and all those three technological advancements are allowing us to do that in a much more seamless and intuitive way, which is really exciting.”

Who are some of the technologists that have inspired the work here?

“The main technologists that inspire us are almost the original technologists. The guys that worked at Bell Laboratories, like Shockley or even like Walt Disney – animation was totally new technology right then – or even Ed Catmole for Pixar. These are guys who looked at a new technology and thought, ‘how can we advance storytelling’.

Things that seem everyday today always started as an innovation yesterday

“We really like what teamLab is doing and how they take a much more artistic approach to technology. That’s really exciting, but it’s kind of the guys we look to the past for and the ones that took these giant leaps. Things that seem every day today always started as an innovation yesterday so it’s cool.”

What are some of the fundamental creative principles guiding the work you guys do?

“One of the huge – I guess practical – elements of what we do is that good ideas can come from anywhere. We have technical and creative experts always contributing on the brief and there’s always a multi-disciplinary team across a project, so even if a technology involved isn’t one your useful or proficient at, you can still jump on and creatively contribute to the brief. So that’s a key cornerstone of what we believe in.

“Another one is to always be learning. We want to make sure that we’re always doing something new. We don’t repeat something we’ve done before in a project. We’re looking for that innovative aspect in any project we take on.”

How do you think brands can bring depth to an immersive experience or create an authentic experience using something like augmentative reality or virtual reality?

“The best way for brands to look at these immersive technologies is to think of them as ‘storymaking’, not storytelling. Brands usually want to say a lot but the idea here is that it’s exponential learning; it’s about learning through experience, which is the fundamental way we learn in real life. So I think once brands comprehend that, then they can achieve more authentic results.”

You’ve spoken a lot about some collaboration with your team. How would you say that Adobe sort of helps that collaboration process?

“Well, the Adobe Creative Cloud for teams is really good because it’s basically a standard platform that everyone can contribute to in real time. Even though everyone is used to working with different tools and platforms, we can use Adobe as the platform or language that everyone understands, which is great.”

What would you say is a recent project that really epitomises S1T2’s ethos on how you work?

“The Adobe remix project was a really good one for us. It was really the idea of just ‘tell any story in any way’, so it was just an open brief and it let us get.”

Tell us how Adobe helps S1T2 collaboratively create

“The best thing that Adobe does for us here is it’s a universal language that all the creatives and all the technicians understand, no matter their discipline. So it’s a really good place to come together and work on different facets of a project in real time.”

You can find out more about S1T2 here.