It’s no secret that the city of Atlanta has become an entertainment industry hub in the heart of Georgia. But if Atlanta has come to feel a bit like Little Hollywood in recent years, it’s more “like Little Hollywood with a real dose of southern hospitality,” said James Von Gravely, producer for Atlanta-based design-centered creative agency Creative Mammals. “Southern hospitality really exists in the culture down here.”
Von Gravely is part of Creative Mammals’ leadership team, which also includes creative directors Robert Burroughs and Masha Rastatourava, that embodies the culture he describes. Warm and easy-going in person, the trio is generous with its talent and flexibility, as evidenced by work that has shown up on networks such as TBS, Discovery and Cartoon Network. And it’s generous with its employees, including making interns feel like part of the team by assigning them “a one-hour-a-day sketch where we give them a bit of creative direction and see where they take it,” Burroughs said. The results, which frequently feature quirky takes on different animals, double as content for the company’s social media feeds.
Generosity is even baked into the company’s very founding, which saw Burroughs converting his freelance career into a full-fledged small business that operated out of the second bedroom in his house. That was where he and Von Gravely and Rastatourava showed up for work in the early days of Creative Mammals, until one day it was decided “that that we needed to have a space that was a little bit more official and [where] my life would be siloed off,” Burroughs said.
There was also the small matter of Creative Mammals, like an adolescent animal growing into adulthood, experiencing a sudden and rapid growth spurt. In March of this year a massive project for Home Depot’s internal marketing efforts came down the pipeline on the heels of working with Turner on the spring upfronts. This combined with work that was taking shape with Discovery and Sony, and it was clear the company had become too big for its humble origins.
Now, approximately two years after its formation, Creative Mammals has settled into its own building, blocks away from Atlanta’s shiny new Mercedes Benz football stadium. The location seems like kismet, and not just because it is open and airy with cool reclaimed wood. Off-beat details seem to be in a kind of synchronicity with the company’s off-beat name. Chickens and roosters roam the neighborhood, wild remnants of when the area used to be farmland many years ago. Meanwhile, the office itself was previously occupied by a business that conducted city tours by horse-drawn carriage, keeping the animals on the premises in between rides. “We moved into a space that used to be a stable,” Burroughs said, “so that’s kind of kept with our theme.”
The story behind Creative Mammals’ creatively animalistic name is not nearly as interesting as the name itself, which is probably preferable to if the opposite were true.
“The name just kind of came to me,” Burroughs said. “We need to come up with a cool origin story.”
Still, Creative Mammals has fun with it, with website copy such as, “Bring us your idea and we will help you free the hairless, curious thing from it’s cage, empower it to grow and realize its full potential in the real world.”
To that end, “the name is sort of bottled lightning,” Von Gravely said. “It describes what our voice is. We have a playful tone. We’re not all work or all fun. We like to have both, and we like the idea of taking this small animal and evolving it into something bigger.”
Through meticulous ideation and process, Creative Mammals has evolved quite a few concept into something enormous. Prepping for a recent collection of promo elements it designed for TBS’ upcoming Snoop Dogg-presented game show The Joker’s Wild (October 24 debut), the agency dug deep into the show’s source material (the original Joker’s Wild aired in the ‘70s) and into the rich history of game shows themselves.
“Game shows really caught the interest of a radio audience even before people had televisions in their homes,” Rastatourava said. “It was a part of the American culture that I didn’t really know existed.”
Drawing on vintage casino graphics such as slot machines, playing cards and velvet, the ensuing spots have a “soft, sultry feel,” Rastatourava said, evoking a world in which Snoop and his associated haze of perpetual smoke fit like a glove. “It’s an interesting contrast,” she continued. “You definitely don’t think of Snoop Dogg as being the frontman for a game show from the ‘60 and ‘70s, but the two merged together and it’s fun.”
The Joker’s Wild is not the only project in Creative Mammals’ portfolio that showcases the company’s ability to make contemporary programming feel fresh again with retro-cool design. For a series of spots hyping a series of upcoming Conan episodes at Harlem’s legendary Apollo Theatre, the agency took inspiration from old concert posters and the venue itself.
“There’s something about the colors of the theater—the red, that off-white eggshell—that created this vibe of the glory days of the Apollo,” Burroughs said. “Those elements could have been easily screen-printed as posters, and the fact that it was a reduced color palate also helped give it that screen-printed look. The cream would have been the color of the paper and then it would have been just red and black as your two process colors.”
From that conceptual baseline, Creative Mammals proceeded to explode the spots outward, layering in surreal Conan-centric imagery and patterns to create promos that veer from the bizarre to the eerily beautiful. They could hang in a modern art gallery and no one would complain.
But if Creative Mammals is adept at piling on imagery, it’s just as nimble when it comes to taking it away. The agency’s recent abstract set of teasers for TBS’ run of The Big Bang Theory breathed new life into the syndicated show through an almost shockingly minimalistic approach, scaling its familiar characters down so rigorously it literally took their breath away – or at least their mouths.
“We took those characters and we just kept reducing them down and started playing around with animation and realized we could get a lot of expressions with their eyebrows,” Burroughs said. “We ended up at this weird, weird place.”
Added Rastatourova: “It was almost sculptural. We took a lot of elements away and were like, ‘how much do we need to make this stuff work?’ Then we added a bunch of whacky stuff back in.”
Like any infant animal, Creative Mammals began its life in a small, enclosed space. But being full grown now, with brand new digs to frolic in, hasn’t changed the core trio’s penchant for close collaboration.
“We don’t have offices that are broken up from each other,” Von Gravely said. “We work right next to each other. As producer I’ve never felt more part of a process than with this studio because it honestly feels like I’m side by side, working with everyone to create something great.”
For some groups, such close quarters would spell disaster, but for the hospitable Creative Mammals it only makes them stronger.
“A lot of creative shops are taking the same approach, but we want to stand out, and I think that people have a lot to do with it,” Rastatourova said. “I didn’t know that at first. I think I was more intrigued by not being a starving artist, doing art for money. That was one of the reasons I got into the design industry, but as I started working I realized what I really enjoyed wasn’t really the money part. There is a tricky balance that’s not all about the dollars but it’s definitely about the community, the collaboration and the people you’re with. I’m happy to come to work each day because I really like the people I work with.”