Many of today's most successful adult production companies have a direct connection to Art Attack, the design firm that has been turning out packages and ads for 20 years. The company could hardly have been more successful if they'd planned it that way. But, like so many successful entrepreneurs, Art Attack wasn't so much planned as it was something that came about as the result of remarkable timing and the consistent ability to be just in front of their competition.
For Kenny Small, who founded Art Attack with partner Palle Jensen, the company's creation came from a loss. In need of some quick money after a breakup with a girlfriend, the computer design-engineering student decided to take a semester off and found a warehouse job not far from where he was living in the San Fernando Valley. The legendary Reuben Sturman, who moved to the area a few months later, owned that company.
"Ruben came in and decided he was going to push the company and within about a year and a half I was the production manager and I had about 40 people under me," Small said. "I was making so much money that I couldn't justify going back to school."
Eventually Small and Jensen decided to venture on their own, establishing Art Attack. Small, who describes himself as "a computer guy and kind of a business guy," is quick to point out that he is not a designer. Jensen serves as the company's lead designer and is described by Small as an artist with a "strong comic book background, playful with art, a great illustrator and airbrush artist."
The combination proved to be symbiotic. For two decades they have created VHS and DVD packages for some of the biggest companies in the adult business: Evil Angel, Jules Jordan Video, Exquisite Multimedia, Bruce Seven, Evasive Angles and Pleasure Productions are just a few of the companies that have depended on Art Attack for their designs.
"We just kept building our client list," Small said. "We were working with Bruce Seven, who was partners with Patrick Collins, and Evil Angel was in the back. Everything was right there. I've never once had to go out knocking on doors looking for business."
Computers turned the graphic design world upside down. The current generation of designers may think of things like paste up as quaint, but until the early 1990s, there was no other way. The transformation into computer-generated graphics caused a revolution, and Art Attack managed to turn the technology into an enormous market advantage.
"We were the first company to go digital," Small said. "We took all the money we had and invested in a big work station. [We] went from doing digital film, which would take weeks, to being able to produce a job like that in a couple of days. We ended up basically cornering the market because we could produce complex packaging in days as opposed to weeks."
The move not only allowed them to turn around jobs in a fraction of the time, the new technology allowed artists to create packaging that previously had only been a dream.
"We started putting out packaging that had insane colors and gradients and wild graphics that you couldn't get conventionally," Small said. "We held that edge for two years, so we picked and chose the clients that we wanted. We had John Stagliano, Patrick Collins, Bruce Seven, Arrow Films, Dreamland and then any other client that we wanted at that point."
During that time Art Attack undertook a controlled expansion from the two founders to five employees.
Today, their Chatsworth, Calif., studio houses seven people including five designers who are each responsible for designing a package a day. From their first graphics station, which by today's standards had a laughable 700 megabyte hard drive, the company established itself as what Small called "the most experienced graphic design studio and digital in this business."
"We were working conventional during the day and digital all night long," he said. "It was a lot of fun and no one else was doing it.
"This is a job that you come to and you love doing and at the end of the day it's just porno," he said. "It's a fun business, where we have a lot of creative freedom and a steady stream of work. It's really been a fun ride."
Like VHS before it, DVD appears to be next on the technological hit list. For a company that brings in the bulk of its revenue through designing DVD packages, the eventual demise of the DVD could paint a foreboding picture for Art Attack.
"Things change and you have to change with the market," Small said. "I see [branching into web support and direct marketing] as a whole new level of opportunity to basically just go out and conquer again."
Small speaks calmly, even confidently, about the upcoming transition despite not having a concrete plan in the works. He said he looks forward to the challenges the changes in the adult business will bring.
"We're really not competitive with anybody," Small said. "We have our people; we didn't feel the need to build a huge company and take on all the business.
"At seven people we kept our overhead low and rather than take on all the business that we could, we took the people that we wanted and decided to grow to accommodate them," he said. "And that's worked out pretty well. I expect to be around a long, long time and at the forefront of marketing this product, wherever that is."