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I remember on the plane sitting on the plane, I remember physically putting my forehead against the seat in front of me and crying. Because I was like, what am I doing? It was a big leap of faith, pun intended.

Episode 20

On channeling Don Draper, the fine art of CGI, and all things Kosher.

Andrei Dolnikov | Founder & CEO | Binyan

Andrei founded BINYAN in his Sydney living room with the ambition to do nothing short of shape the future of architecture. After bartending at the Sydney Opera House while studying at the University of New South Wales, he spent his first professional years in the United States working as a designer and 3D technician at a range of architectural firms in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. It was during this stint that the part-time rabbi developed a yen for humanising architectural images. While helping a client create visuals for a local synagogue, rather than inserting eerie avatars, Andrei introduced lifelike details, which gave traditionally cold, flat drawings a real sense of how people would occupy the space and make it their own. This approach to architectural imaging would go on to define and differentiate Andrei’s aesthetic —as well as BINYAN’s.

Returning to Australia, he completed his degree in interior architecture and struck out on his own, committed to a new kind of business, where ego takes a back seat to genuine collaboration.

Andrei built BINYAN on seven pillars: ethical transparency, entrepreneurial experimentation, authentic relationships, lighthearted spirit, knowledge sharing, thought leadership, and humility. Today, BINYAN is a leading architectural 3D rendering and animation studio with an international portfolio full of industry standard-setters with offices in Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne, New York, and London.

Originally a Sydney boy, Andrei is now based in Melbourne with his wife, Miriam, and four children, moonlighting as a Rabbi when called upon, and once in a while zipping around Capri (pre & post covid) with Miriam on a yellow Vespa.

In this episode Andrei shares his thoughts on channeling Mad Men’s Don Draper, the fine & mysterious art of CGI, and all things Kosher. Enjoy.

Showreel
Transcript

Anthony Denman:
Andrei welcome to the Property Marketing Podcast.

Andrei Dolnikov:
Thanks Anthony. Great to be here.

Anthony Denman:
How good is zipping around Capri on a yellow Vesper?

Andrei Dolnikov:
The best part about it was that when I had my own Vesper in Sydney for a few years, my wife would never, ever get on it with me, despite all of my efforts to take her for a ride on it. She said, “No, we’re never doing that.” But I guess when you’re in a place like Capri and you’re in a different head space, and even though it was much scarier, first of all, I hadn’t ridden for a couple of years. And then the road that – for those who have been there, that winds around the island as you’re scaling up towards the top is hectic, very scary. And yet there, we sat together in a very romantic sort of pose and looking at the beautiful view. It was the best. I just remember it vividly. So, it was great.

Anthony Denman:
Yeah man, Capri I’ve been there. The good thing about it is you don’t have the crazy Italian drivers. They’re not fanging around in their Ferraris at 120 kilometers an hour.

Andrei Dolnikov:
No, but we were going so slow. You don’t have to be going very fast to zoom past us, because it was very much a cautious ride.

Anthony Denman:
Is that the number one thing you miss about international travel?

Andrei Dolnikov:
I miss a lot of it. I love being on the plane. I love arriving in a new place. I love hitting the ground running. I had a whole routine down at the various airports. How to get off the plane, find something kosher to eat, have a shower in the lounge, whip myself into shape. I also would typically do my morning prayers there as well, so it would be a whole thing and then I’d hit the meeting and like back to back, that energy. And then I’d get to the end of the day and catch up with friends, do something cultural. I just love that whole thing and then get up and do it all again. So I don’t know, that I miss a lot of it. The Capri thing only happened once.

Andrei Dolnikov:
That was definitely cool. And I made a decision at one point to include my wife more in my travel because it’s like, I just don’t believe that idea, wait till you retire to do that sort of stuff, you just got to start doing it. Retire in the middle of working. Whatever you want to do when you retire, do it now. So I made a thing. So that’s definitely something that we’ve missed because we did that trip to Italy, Miriam and I, two years in a row right up to COVID. And that was just the best.

Anthony Denman:
Without the four kids.

Andrei Dolnikov:
Exactly. No kids. Two week, middle of the year vacation. It was usually connected to some business stuff, like a conference in Italy or in Vienna another year. And then we just disappear from the face of the earth. It was amazing.

Anthony Denman:
How’d you fall in love with jazz music?

Andrei Dolnikov:
I had a sort of cultural and spiritual awakening when I was like 14, when I basically put down video games. I met a group of close friends who are still my best closest friends and brothers really. I’m an only child, so I don’t have real brothers or sisters. So these guys are my brothers in arms. And when we kind of this little group of misfits, we got together, we started reading Franz Kafka and Carlos Testa Nadir and Albert Camus and just, we had trippy stuff. And at the same time, quite a few of them were already musicians. And we all kind of got into jazz. I can’t remember who started it, but the guys I think were already into it. And then what happened was we decided let’s make our own band.

Andrei Dolnikov:
And I didn’t play music even though I’m Russian and you know, every Russian must play the piano. Must’ve been a pretty disobedient Russian because my parents never forced me to do it and I never let myself be forced to do it. So I said, okay, David already plays the trumpet. Another guy plays double bass. This guy is like, “So what’s left?” Saxophone. So I picked up the saxophone and I started learning at 14. And when I started learning, I also just completely immersed myself in like reading about jazz history, about all the musicians, like the essence, the folklore of jazz music, its history, its origins, some of the music theory stuff. So I just became an insanely kind of geeked out jazz head. And we would go to… At the time in Sydney, there was still really good jazz venues.

Andrei Dolnikov:
Now there’s only like one or two left sadly. But at the time there was places like Wynyard Hotel, which would just play kind of very traditional old style jazz. And there would be like four, five, six, like 16 year old or however, I guess it was a bar it must’ve been 17, 18 by then. And everyone else in the place was like at least 55, or so we thought, they were probably 40, but from our 15 year old viewpoints, they were probably 34. But we thought they were 78 and they were dancing and we’re like this is so cool. It was like literally the geekiest thing. But we thought it was the coolest thing. And we’d go to all these like wierd places hotel, the basement. We couldn’t afford to go to the basement, that was a nice place.

Andrei Dolnikov:
Then we started playing. We made a band in our school and we played at like the school fashion show and the school, some other events. And we got our English teacher this also amazing… Somehow we thought was 68. I reckon she was 44, Mrs. Robertson. She was a piano player and we’re like, you’re playing jazz with us Mrs. Robertson. So she played out. And we would like go crazy free jazz psychedelic stuff. And she would be sitting there like, ooh. And she would play with us.

Anthony Denman:
You did say Mrs. Robertson, did you not Mrs. Robinson?

Andrei Dolnikov:
Close, yes. It was Robertson. Not, but yes, this is-

Anthony Denman:
You may not be familiar with, what was it? It was the…

Andrei Dolnikov:
The Graduate?

Anthony Denman:
Yeah, was that it? The Graduate.

Andrei Dolnikov:
Yeah, the Simon & Garfunkel song.

Anthony Denman:
Right, okay. There was no kind of extra curricular activities taking place here, I hope.

Andrei Dolnikov:
Considering this is a publicly aired thing, Mrs. Robertson was the most lovely person, and she was more like a grandmother figure let’s just say, Anthony. I hope she’s listening. She was awesome. So jazz just became like part of the DNA of my whole way of thinking. 18 I went to the U.S. for the first time and I’d see like four jazz shows per night. So you’d go to the seven o’clock show, that would finish. There’ll be a nine o’clock, a one o’clock and a 4:00 AM jam. And you would just go all around Manhattan, finding these places to go see jazz. And actually where we had our office in… When I set up the New York office, I made sure to be somewhere near the jazz district.

Andrei Dolnikov:
So places like Smalls and Blue Note are all walking distance. So I log off work and I’d typically go catch a show. Even now when I go, that’s another thing I dearly miss about traveling. So yeah, I’m still tragic in it. And then I picked up, long answer, but I picked up the sax during COVID after not playing for 20 years. And I’ve got myself a really, really cool saxophone teacher. I play every day. And I’ve even started going to a jam session in Brighton here that happens once a month. Getting out of my comfort zone, getting up and play in front of people.

Anthony Denman:
That’s so cool man. What was the name of the band?

Andrei Dolnikov:
In high school, The Howling Seven.

Anthony Denman:
I like it. And there was obviously seven of you, right?

Andrei Dolnikov:
Why would you think that? No. I don’t know. It must’ve been, it was called The Howling Seven, but somehow at our peak maybe there was seven, but we was always The Howling Seven, even if it was four of us.

Anthony Denman:
Why did your family move from Russia to Australia?

Andrei Dolnikov:
Well, look, people ask me that question and I think the question comes from not understanding what it was like to live… Imagine you talk to someone from North Korea and you go, “So why did you move from North Korea?” Not everybody moved of course, but many, many people wanted to move, particularly for Jewish people in the Soviet Union. There was institutionalized antisemitism. So you’re living in a country that efficiently, politically bars you from all different things, all different ways to advance society. Now of course, people found ways around that and people still… There was great culture and art that was… When you’re not allowed to do something, actually in a way, it inspires you to rebel and do great things. So there was lots of that, of course. But for my parents who were 34, 35, 36, that had grown up in that, had seen university admission quotas, had seen… My mother, I remember she said she was reading soldier knits while riding on the Moscow subway, and someone gave her a look and she’s like, “Oh my God, that might be a KGB agent.”

Andrei Dolnikov:
And she was worried for her job, and if not more. They wanted to get out of that. So there wasn’t much, why would you? It was like, where can we go? And wherever it would take us, they just kind of found what the opportunity was Australia at the time was kind of open and welcoming and they went. Without having ever been here. And I was a 10 year old kid, so I just went wherever I was told. I kept telling my friends that we immigrated to different countries every six months because my parents would go through Israel, America, somewhere else. I’m like, “We’re going to Australia!” And then they’ll believe me, because they’ve never heard of Australia.

Anthony Denman:
What was it like as a 10 year old kid? What was the most noticeable difference arriving in Australia from Russia?

Andrei Dolnikov:
It was nowhere near as rough. Where I grew up, I was in the outskirts of Moscow, very outskirts. I was born in the center, but we all lived in one apartment. So it was like three generations in one apartment and multiple families. So my grandparents… That apartment still exists and my grandfather and my aunt still lives there. My grandfather is over 90. So there was them, my aunt and her family and my parents and me, all in one. Like you would call it a three bedroom apartment. So each family had a room. So my parents wanted to move to the outskirts to get their own place, the only place you could get it, and you could only get it through special connections which my grandmother had, she was a university professor, anyway, she got them this apartment, but it was like living out in the sticks.

Andrei Dolnikov:
There was kind of like gang type people in the street. As a kid, just walking around, you had to have your wits about you. You felt like dangerous in many ways for me. And then I come to Australia, we moved to the eastern suburbs of Sydney. It felt very safe and warm and welcoming and just the whole vibe was less depressing from what I remember, even though I had a really good childhood in Russia too because dangerous is synonymous with adventure, so that was fun for me as a little kid.

Andrei Dolnikov:
Plus they had Fanta which was a rare delicacy. I remember first morning, woke up, I had a dollar, I had an American dollar. In Russia we thought American dollars are currency anywhere. So I went to the corner shop and I go, “One Fanta please.” And they’re like, “Mate, you must be joking.” And I couldn’t buy the Fanta, it was a tragic event.

Anthony Denman:
It shaped you. Made you the man you are today. Talking about the eastern suburbs, I used to go up and watch the fireworks from, I think it’s Christensen Park, it’s a beautiful park up there in Dover heights right. So little sort of unbeknown to me your first office, it was right across the road from there, yeah? Sorry, sorry Andrei. I think you called it suite nine, 150 Old South Head Road Vaucluse actually, it was Vaucluse. Not a bad address.

Andrei Dolnikov:
Yeah. It was not quite Vaucluse, close by. Let’s just call it…. Yeah, it’s Bellevue Hill, that area that’s correct. That was my first… I’m doing air quotation marks here for radio office, which was just our two bedroom apartment, basically anybody-

Anthony Denman:
So it wasn’t really an office. It was an apartment masquerading as an office.

Andrei Dolnikov:
Yes. 15 years on, I hereby publicly confess that that was not a real office. And those clients that thought it was and said, I’ll come meet you at your office, which I said, no, no, no, I’ll come to you. I think the jig is up.

Anthony Denman:
Very good. How hard was that? Because you were also moonlighting as a rabbi, of course earning some tax free dollars I believe, which is great. And also studying at the same time.

Andrei Dolnikov:
It was intense. We basically just came back after. So we were married… We lived for a year in Melbourne, then a couple of years in Pittsburgh, then I kind of schlepped the family back to my homeland of Sydney and I was studying full-time, interior architecture. So that was like doing work at night, on weekends with my wife on the floor building the physical models, it was all hands on deck. Two little kids, literally little, and Centrelink and teaching classes in the evenings at one of the local synagogues and kind of also calling people up. Cold calling and go, “Hey, come to our class this evening, it’s a topic that you’ll find very interesting.” I think that was developing my marketing business development skills there. It was intense, it was just all consuming.

Andrei Dolnikov:
I can’t even imagine. I can’t figure out how I did it, but I managed to do it. And there’d be times where I would stay up all night, have a presentation, a uni presentation in the morning. I went to the presentation, forgot my model at home. This was one of the final major presentations. Called Miriam from the car. Can you bring the model please to uni, because otherwise I’ll fail. So she gets the kids into the car, the model into it and drives. And then in the middle, I’m already presenting before the board.

Andrei Dolnikov:
And then my kids walk, they were a bit bigger by then. So they walk in carrying the model and the project was actually a project about a childcare center. So I promise you, I did not plan this out. So in the middle of the presentation I was talking about children, children’s needs, and play. I’m like and here are some I prepared earlier and my kids walk in and everyone was just like… It was amazing. It couldn’t have been planned better. That was basically representative of everything like that in my life. Everything was by the skin of its teeth, like going, okay, show up and go and do that. And it was epic. I think it taught me though that you can achieve a lot if you don’t put limitations on yourself.

Anthony Denman:
Do you know what the acronym DILDO stands for?

Andrei Dolnikov:
No Anthony, what does it stand for?

Anthony Denman:
Well, I think you’d probably recognize it when I say it. It’s a quote or an acronym that was created by Matthew Bannister of DBOX fame in New York. For those of you who don’t know, DBOX is kind of one of the more successful brand and CGI companies worldwide. It stands for design, imperfection, lighting, detail, and organization.

Andrei Dolnikov:
Okay. Is there any question there?

Anthony Denman:
There’s a question coming. There’s a question coming. So I think like really Andrei, in Australia, you completely reshaped the way we think about CGI in this country. And I mean, until you came along, it was pretty basic. It was just two point perspective, elevated camera, kind of just showing the space. Like turning a floor plan into a 3D room. It really wasn’t much more than that.

Anthony Denman:
Like honestly, I mean sure, there was some good operators around, but traditionally, most of the businesses that’s what they are doing. And until you came along, I think no one was really thinking about what a person felt when they viewed an image. And I guess I’m just interested in sort of like it was rational and you made it emotional. And when I look at that, that DILDO design, imperfection, lighting, detail and organization, that’s kind of like a rational way of describing how to make those images more emotionally inspired. My question to you is, because you had spent some time in America, where did this inspiration come from? Did it kind of just evolve through your working as a rabbi, and wanting to kind of create beautiful images for synagogues? Or had you seen what Matthew Bannister was doing overseas at DBOX and thought, wow, I should introduce that into Australia.

Andrei Dolnikov:
It’s funny when you talk about these things, going back in history, you put a frame around it, it seems to create order maybe where there wasn’t as much order at the time, but looking back it is, I think, valuable to join some of the dots, even though how intentional they were is hard to say at the time. Now absolutely, I did my research and was very immersed in the industry as a whole.

Andrei Dolnikov:
Like companies like DBOX and Hayes Davidson and others, and Neoscape, FloodSlicer here. There was a lot of people to learn from. I thought a lot. Now there’s like five times as many companies, 10 times as many. And so certainly I had a… Like I was informed about what was happening, but I think for me, I relatively early on basically brought in people into the business that were, I felt were better than me at the artistry of it, rather at the technical components and sort of the craftsmanship.

Andrei Dolnikov:
So my thinking pivoted to how our work is going to impact the audience, not only my clients, but my client’s clients. And thinking along those lines and not having to focus as much on the technical execution side as I have incredible people who were kind of looking after that, opened me up to think about it in a more broad way. I think that’s where my… That created the space to do that. And that also is where kind of my passion for… We call it moving content, not only literally moving, but also moving, like it moves you. That to me was a major goal. Like seeing someone respond sometimes being brought to tears or smile or feeling that kind of feeling of nostalgia when they look at an image, when I would see that manifest through our work or through the work, or myself feeling, looking at other people’s work far beyond art because having that feeling, that gave me an incredible thrill and like that’s what I want to do.

Andrei Dolnikov:
I want to do more of that, that is creating that response. That’s massive because then it’s not a technical exercise anymore. It’s an exercise in creating some sort of, it could be happiness, some sort of connection, some sort of depth within. This is going to sound geeky. There’s a scene in Mad Men, you know the show Mad Men? Don Draper? There’s a scene, one of the early episodes where he talks about the carousel, it was a Kodak wheel of slides.

Andrei Dolnikov:
That is a classic scene there, where he talks about it and he talks about what that… They couldn’t sell the carousel, they didn’t call it a carousel, they called it a… Something like technical. And he explained to them how this… And he would put slides of his own family and he would talk about it with yearning and nostalgia and hope and all these suits stitched, these stitched up men, businessmen chewing on their cigars in the room, they were brought to tears by him talking about this product in a completely elevated way. And that to me was like, wow, I want to do that. I want to be Don Draper. And that was massive. So I think that’s where it all began.

Anthony Denman:
That’s fantastic. I love that you’ve recalled that scene. I do remember that scene, yeah. He put so much passion on that, in the way he verbalized that story, couldn’t help but be moved by it. And yeah, I recall that really, really easily too. So very powerful. Very-

Andrei Dolnikov:
I think there’s a line there, he says, what is happiness? I maybe ruining it, but happiness is feeling that you are okay. When you look at that image, look at that product, it’s telling you something about yourself, that living room, that building is talking to you about you and that’s when you go, I belong and that creates happiness.

Anthony Denman:
Yeah, he had to really dig deep for that one, I think, because he was just straight out of having an affair the night before or something.

Andrei Dolnikov:
So yeah, his whole life was like a complete mess and then he… Yeah, it was beautiful. Beautiful.

Anthony Denman:
Okay. So I’ve got a few quotes and I’m going to drop them in as we go. And this is one of them from you, “to be a quality 3D artist. You literally need to be a fine art photographer” And then you’ve got some inspirational artists and quotes from those artists. One of them is a fellow called Ansel Adams. He says “a good photograph is knowing where to stand” and you say, and why they are standing there. And then Gregory Crewdson, you described as being a very subtle and psychological visual storyteller. How did you discover these artists?

Andrei Dolnikov:
Look Ansel Adams, I was into when I was at college of fine arts studying design and there was a black and white photography course that I took, and I absolutely loved it. That was still back in the days of dark rooms, shooting on my own, manual camera developing and being in the dark room making sure when you open the camera, there’s no light to overexpose the film. So I did a few series of my own work at the time. I also traveled around Israel and I shot stuff. I kind of just went back to it, but pathetically on my phone, on my Instagram account, when we were as a family in Israel a couple of years ago. I did a series of fire hydrants, basically. What’s the word, anthropomorphic fire hydrants.

Andrei Dolnikov:
The fire hydrants in Israel for some reason looked like people, they have eyes, anyway, I’ll show you another time. But anyway, so Ansel Adams, I was into back then, because he took these just amazingly beautiful photographs of landscape. And so he was an inspiration from early on. Crewdson I discovered more recently. I can’t recall now who introduced me to him. Oh, I think I actually might’ve heard on a podcast from someone. I want to say Mike Golden, but maybe somebody else. And then when I looked at his work, there’s a documentary about his work that was made, which I recommend everybody to watch. And that was amazing. So for those of you who don’t know Crewdson, he basically goes to these kind of rundown semi ghost towns around the east coast of the United States, what used to be like mining towns or industrial towns, which are now just like half empty and very poor.

Andrei Dolnikov:
And he will shoot these elaborately staged, still photographs, but have like the production values of a movie, each shot. And he’ll create these kind of almost hyper real, but slightly mythical and mystical images, always with people, but looking super sad or something like very disturbing, but beautiful as well.

Andrei Dolnikov:
And it’s almost like you don’t know what the story is, but you feel the presence of the story. So he was a big inspiration in terms of thinking about the work in that way, that every image he always talks about… There may have been something that happened a second ago and something could happen in the next second, but it doesn’t matter. It’s about that particular moment, which then you can think about what happened before or after, but that particular moment has a resonance and a narrative even though it’s in the simplest of images, you know a bathroom render. I love his stuff. Love Crewdson.

Anthony Denman:
Photo realism, it’s a bit of an oxymoron really because so much effort and artificial light settings go into lighting the scene and make it look photo realistic and to make the materiality of the space and finishes as kind of emotionally compelling as possible. What does creativity and photo realism look like in your world?

Andrei Dolnikov:
Well, talking about photo realism in and of itself, I don’t think it’s necessarily a goal to pursue, just photo realism for photo realism sake. I can take a photo with my iPhone now and it’s by definition a real photo, but it’s meaningless. If it’s not done with artistry and intention and some sort of goal and through injecting all the principles of design, then it’s just a crappy thing on my iPhone.

Andrei Dolnikov:
So similarly, the fact that these tools of simulation, and that’s what we do, we simulate reality through our work. They allow you to create a very realistic texture and they allow you to emulate the way the sun illuminates a space a particular time of day.

Andrei Dolnikov:
Those are all great, and you have to be really good at using them, but at the end of the day, the creativity part comes into it when you talk about, again, how do I want that image to make someone feel? What is the historic period I want to emulate through my work? What inspiration am I drawing into it? Is it fromfil noir or is it from like a future scape that’s hyper real and saturated…

Andrei Dolnikov:
…scape that’s hyperreal and saturated. Is it from Barry Lyndon, Kubrick’s film Barry Lyndon, which he lit, the interior scenes, which was set, I think, in the 18th century. He lit it all with actual candles. He had to develop his own camera, a unique camera lens, to be able to work without lighting. It looks incredible to actually see that film. So, to me, the photo-realism isn’t just getting things looking realistic. It’s to create a real experience for the viewer, for the viewer with that space, right? An intentional experience, one that isn’t just another, like we all skate through life, all this stuff is going on around us and we literally capture, what, a tiny fraction of anything, right? You asked me earlier about a trip to Capri. How vividly I remember so much of that is amazing. I remember details. I remember what I was wearing. I remember the streets. I remember arriving and it was actually a bit of a disappointment, looked like Double Bay.

Anthony Denman:
I was going to say that, I was going to say, “It’s like the Double Bay of Italy.”

Andrei Dolnikov:
Exactly. I’m like, “Okay.” So we’re like, “We’re going to have to go out.” You know who I saw? Kevin Durant.

Anthony Denman:
No.

Andrei Dolnikov:
The real Kevin Durant, the basketball player, walking towards me. I’m, “Here I am ,” and I’m with our suitcases, “It’s Kevin Durant.” That is so clearly in my mind because I was tuned into that experience, in a way, but so much of the rest of our lives just goes by without us even registering. So when I’m creating an image, that image, when I want my client’s audience to view it, connect to it, remember it, end of the day usually sell them an apartment, or a condo for those Americans listening, I want that to burn into their consciousness. I want that to be a real experience, photo-real, not in the sense of accurate texture or detail, photo-real as in something that creates a real experience and realism of note that something that is a moment in your life. I’m probably overstating it a bit but something that you connect with and hits you. Right?

Andrei Dolnikov:
That hits you and becomes part of those things you do recall, part of the things you feel something towards, you’re excited about, or you’re horrified by it, or you’re envious, “How I wish I could have that.” Where you’re saying, “Wow, that really looks like me, that hipster kind of Los Angeles, Boyle Heights sunset is exactly the vibe that I’m going for in my tattoos. And like, I would totally want to be in that apartment.” That’s the creativity, it’s to create a real experience, not just to achieve a photo-real simulation of a living room.

Anthony Denman:
That’s brilliant. I want to talk about furniture and styling, some ways I hate to lower the tone of the conversation, because I want to know two things. So I’ll just ask the first question and then I’ll ask the second question. The first question is how did Binyan get so good at styling furniture and styling? Where did that expertise come from?

Andrei Dolnikov:
I think it does have an origin in my own background. What I studied at uni was interior architecture. So interiors have always been a passion of mine. I’m not saying I’m the best stylist in the world, but it’s something that I always had a passion and interest for in really, really getting right. And when we came up, when we started out, that area of expertise, it’s funny, today, oftentimes that’s done by the interior designers who have become experts and partners with the CGI rendering companies to collaborate, to pick new, unique pieces and so forth. But back in the day, it was up to us and we had to be good at it because like, “I’m doing you a living room render, which, 90% of what I’m seeing is furniture and styling,” so we had to become good at it. Chris Worsfold, who is now a senior director in the business, who also is off the tools to some extent like myself, he was our first artist and he just is naturally amazing, he has such good taste for styling furniture.

Andrei Dolnikov:
And he, I think, also made a big impact on that. That was just his thing. And everybody who we’d recruit after that, we made sure they have those capabilities as much as possible. And since then it has become one of our major, major, major pillars. In fact we had our recent strategy offsite. We do once a year, we get the whole leadership team, we take them somewhere cool. This year was just Daylesford, in Victoria, because of COVID, and we set a few initiatives, focus areas for the year ahead and we actually said, “We’ve got to take another step forward in styling this year,” because you don’t want to kind of focus on new shiny things and ever forget one of your fundamental ingredients that got you to where you were, because if you’re not moving forward, I believe, in life, in business, in everything, you’re going backwards.

Andrei Dolnikov:
If you stay still you’re going to get left behind. So it’s something that we’ve periodically come back to time and time again to make sure, “Hey guys, when was the last time we raised the bar on our styling capabilities? When was the last time we added a whole set of fresh new assets of the most contemporary up-to-date styling into our asset library? Let’s do it again.” And we keep kind of coming back to it now and it’s going to be a major focus area for us this year. I think the bar has raised for that, has been raised for that over the last couple of years. And it’s when you see other companies, like it could be a really cool boutique firm in London like, I don’t know, the guys like the Recent Spaces, I love their work.

Andrei Dolnikov:
It’s amazing and they raised the bar for everybody else and you’ve got to keep that as something that you really, really focus on, because if you’re not good at that, half, two thirds of your images, interiors, are going to suffer. So for us, it’s just something that is so fundamental. I think styling oftentimes is the most important thing in achieving what we were talking about earlier in terms of getting that response from the audience. It’s oftentimes that the way that the throw rug is draped on a chair, that a particular artwork, a particular piece of furniture that’s in the foreground out of focus, that’s what makes people, on a gut-level, respond to the image.

Anthony Denman:
I reckon probably the only place you could have stayed in Daylesford was the Lake House.

Andrei Dolnikov:
We found it.

Anthony Denman:
That’s a nicely styled place to stay at too.

Andrei Dolnikov:
It was. We found it a very nice place and it was beautifully styled but, like the Rolling Stones, we trashed it of course.

Anthony Denman:
Second question about styling and it’s a different sort of question and you’ll have to really think back to your early startup days when you were across everything, across all the detail. And I’m not saying you’re not across the detail now, but actually doing the work yourself. How did, or how do you, and you don’t have to answer this personally, you can answer it in the modern context, knowing that you’ve got people that do this for you, but how do you handle it? Because styling furniture is such a subjective thing and whenever we launch a project, there’s a whole lot of different stakeholders and they’re not always across the narrative. Okay? They haven’t been there from day one so they don’t know what it is that the team’s trying to achieve in every instance, yet they are still weighing in with comments about styling.

Anthony Denman:
It might be that they want a barbecue in the scene because they want to tell the narrative of you’ve just had a barbecue lunch, or they might not like a particular style of couch because it doesn’t suit them personally so they might want to put something else in. There can be literally 10 or 20 or 30 comments like that and they can just keep coming at you. And then when your account manager’s in the moment, and they’re trying to placate a particular vendor who’s determined to have this barbecue in the scene and everyone’s on a tight deadline and running out of patience, how do you handle that? How do you push back and how are you able to, in that moment, convince a client that placing a barbecue in that beautifully styled scene, stainless steel barbecue in a beautifully styled scene, may not be appropriate in this instance?

Andrei Dolnikov:
Look, there’s a few things that come into that, to answer that question. Number one, I would say is even though, you’re correct, it’s a matter of taste, right? It’s a subjective preference that different people have for what they think looks good, what works, what doesn’t work. So to some degree you can’t completely make it objective but you have to make an effort. So, for example, one of the things we do is we don’t just start out a project with, “Okay, who’s your demographic and give us the textures and the materials.” We also say, “Okay, let’s create a clear aesthetic vision for your project, that includes composition.” So we’ll say, “Here is a few references, always think in reference outside of architecture.” I think is one of the biggest mistakes people can make is referencing renderings to make new renderings, other CGIs, so that you become derivative. It’s like you’re in your own… like an inception. It’s a rendering inspired by rendering inspired by… You lose touch with reality, like an inception, you’ve got to have the little thing that he spins, you know?

Andrei Dolnikov:
So, number one, you say, “Okay, compositionally, let’s just say the project is about beautiful interior design and craftsmanship. Composition? I’m going to do this. We’re going to have one point perspective. We’re going to have a lot of detail so you say, “This is our compositional approach,” and give people a chance to feedback on that. Similarly, lighting, what time of day or times of day and how they interrelate. And then styling, so this is the look and feel of styling. We’re going to be going for it and we give people an opportunity to feed back at that point and then we get them to sign off on it. Now this is, by the way, all the scenario when there isn’t an interior designer leading the styling, then it’s their job to do that. Most of the time that actually makes it easier because the client is trusting them to pick what’s going to work.

Anthony Denman:
Yeah, totally, a hundred percent, right? Once they commit to having an interior designer on board, the interior designer will tell them, “No fucking barbecue,” and they’ll go, “Yeah, okay. You’re the boss that’s why I’m paying you. You know what you’re doing.”

Andrei Dolnikov:
But when there’s no interior designer then we have to… So then, firstly, if you have that established upfront, of course it doesn’t solve all the problems you mentioned, but at least you have something to refer back to like saying, “This is what we agreed upon because it fits your strategic objectives and it’s going to help you, as one agent told me, it’s going to help you flog flats, sell condos. Okay? It’s going to help you flog flats.”

Anthony Denman:
Flog flats, okay. Okay, Peter Chittenden.

Andrei Dolnikov:
Close.

Anthony Denman:
Or David Milton.

Andrei Dolnikov:
Closer, closer, closer. Getting warmer. Tim Rees. Give it up.

Anthony Denman:
Ah,Tim, yeah, he can say…

Andrei Dolnikov:
It’s like you said we were sitting at a meeting and waxing lyrical about some highfalutin creative concept. And then it’s like, “Guys, time out, time out. Remember what we’re doing here. We flog flats.” And he’s right. So you go, “This is going to help you.” You try to not only make it a set of I like this, you like that. It’s like, “This is going to talk to your audience. This is what we agreed upon, it fits in the brand.” So you try to make it less subjective so, “Yes, you may want that. But remember you’re not the one buying the apartment. It’s your demographic and they live in this place. This is what they love.” So you make it feel like there’s a reason behind it beyond just a matter of taste. I would say that’s the first thing.

Andrei Dolnikov:
The other thing that I would try when that doesn’t work, this is our various superpowers that we use, like the Avengers. Now we love our clients, I’d never say clients are villains they’re partners. But once in a while a client is like, what’s that guy that they all try to kill, what’s the main villain?

Anthony Denman:
I’ve known them to be referred to as one-eyed monsters.

Andrei Dolnikov:
One-eyed monsters, okay, so you tried it. So the next thing you try is you say-

Anthony Denman:
Not that I think that way about any of my clients, please.

Andrei Dolnikov:
Some of my best friends are clients, as they say. So you try to say, “Look, guys, often times show don’t tell is better.” If you can’t talk them into it, we’ll say, “Look, you know what? We’re going to take this offline. We’re going to show you how it looks with what you want and how it looks with what we think will be more successful.” Show. Honestly, that takes more time, but often times solves the problem. We would then advise something that… Sometimes we also go on the whole…

Andrei Dolnikov:
I think over the years as our brand and reputation has grown, and it may sound a little bit arrogant but it’s true, and I think this is part of the brand building of any company, when they come into us through the portal of having seen our work and appreciating our work for a certain reason, we say, “Look, guys, you got us because you like this. Now you’re asking us to do something different.” I’ve said this, “Do you want these images to be portfolio worthy? We’re doing this not just to be difficult, and we usually are not difficult with clients, we work with it, but we’re trying to save you from yourselves to a certain extent. If it’s going to make it a little bit ugly, it’ll be a problem. It’ll just be a disappointment to you in the end. And we know from our experience, from having done this many, many years, all over the world.” Blah, blah, blah.

Andrei Dolnikov:
So it’s almost like you try the initial strategy approach, “Let’s stick to the strategy.” Second is, “Let me show you how it won’t even look good.” Show, don’t tell. Then looking at the work that you love is like this, and it’s not like that, therefore do it.

Andrei Dolnikov:
And then you keep going down the… And then you cry and beg and, I don’t know. And then eventually you apologize to your team and say, “Could you put the barbecue in?” But we have to fight the good fight. Jokes aside, everyone who runs a creative business has this issue. Clients call you up, “Come on, Andrei, come on, mate.” It could be about timings. It could be about something else that they want to squeeze you on. And your team is like, “We’re already working overtime for these people and they…” And you have to go, “Wait, I got to back up my team. On the other hand there’s the client that’s…” So you balance that. However, you need to show your team that you worked your arse off to protect the creative and to protect their wellbeing, and you fought the good fight.

Andrei Dolnikov:
And more often than not we do win, and I don’t call it a win and the client loses, everyone’s happy in the end, but you put your force behind it. Or they’ll wheel out me, as the CEO, because of my business card, I guess clients listen to me a little bit more. I’ll go, “Guys, it’s Andrei calling,” then they’ll often times change their mind, but I need to be very selective with using my superpower otherwise I get dragged into the projects and then I make everybody nervous and nobody likes that.

Anthony Denman:
Speaking of barbecues, did you know that Porsche now make barbecues?

Andrei Dolnikov:
No, I didn’t but just-

Anthony Denman:
They go from zero to a hundred degrees in three seconds.

Andrei Dolnikov:
That’s amazing. Just like I probably wouldn’t buy a Porsche, I wouldn’t buy a Porsche barbecue.

Anthony Denman:
It’s a dad joke. Was that a dad joke?

Andrei Dolnikov:
Yeah, it’s a good one. It’s good.

Anthony Denman:
Jeez, I’m glad you brought up that Don Draper story because I do want to ask you, do you see yourself more as an ideas man and storyteller, as opposed to a 3D artist?

Andrei Dolnikov:
The company that I’ve had the privilege to create and run and kind of keep building, I think we see ourselves, I would say, more as storytellers, that’s the foundation of it. These days I would be disingenuous to say I’m myself at the forefront of the creative arts, I’m certainly not. I try to keep the vision clear and aligned for where we’re going, what kind of company we are, making business decisions that lead us down a particular pathway. When you have a trade off between efficiency and creativity, which way do you go? And the messages you send to your team about the kind of creative culture you want to have. So I still, I guess, drive us in that direction, but not necessarily in a direct way. So I, myself, yeah, I’m passionate about storytelling, but I’m not the main storyteller in our midst. We have incredible creative directors that look after that. And that is what they are, at their core, so yes.

Anthony Denman:
Have you ever considered, you yourself said that you want to be Don Draper, you might have to do something about the beard, have you ever considered branching into brand identity and marketing collateral work?

Andrei Dolnikov:
That’s been asked and suggested and even offered over the years, but as you know, I’ve stayed away from that in the sense of becoming a full service agency, the D-BOXes of the world, and yourself, I have a lot of respect for that. It hasn’t been something that we’ve chosen to do. A couple of reasons. First of all, for me, whatever you do, I want to be world-class at it and it’s not as easy as it looks. It goes the other way around. There may be some ad agencies that over the years have tried, “I’m going to set up my own 3D team,” and some have done it successfully but most have not because, we make it look easy, it’s not that easy. You know.

Andrei Dolnikov:
So for me, number one, it’s not about hiring a graphic designer and you go, “Oh, now we have a graphic designer. We are now a full service agency.” That’s complete nonsense because you’re going to be a crappy full service agency. I worry that it will tarnish the brand that we’ve built, which is built on excellence and being world-class at whatever you’re doing. So that’s, I would say, reason number one. Number two, we see the creative agencies as our partners so, therefore, pissing in the backyard of our best friends, partners, literally friends, they are the ones that are behind our most successful projects because we work together and so in a way it would be like, I don’t know, I’d just be undermining so much of what I’ve built in that space. What we really enjoy doing is working on landmark projects with the best architects, the best around the world, best designers, best everybody, best teams.

Andrei Dolnikov:
And oftentimes the creative agency is a core part of that team. So once you compete with your own clients, it can be a bit problematic from a business perspective. So part of it is that, I would say. And finally, it’s not like we have a lack of opportunity to be more creative. We’re definitely more than just a rendering company, that’s for sure. The way we present, we do present ourselves as more of an agency, even though we’re not a full service agency, but our agency-ness expresses itself in the way we think about the content. So when we think about images, it’s not as just a set of images. It’s, again, a story, a creative vision that we’re trying to realize through the work that’s aligned to the brand, that’s an expression of the architectural essence of the project.

Andrei Dolnikov:
Then we do a lot of work in sales gallery activation. So how our content is actually experienced by the client’s audience. When they enter the space, is it a projection environment experience around that that’s picking up on their movements and projecting cool artworks or watercolors around them? We do that in collaboration with the creative agencies. We bring in awesome tech. So we’re ideating cool stuff all the time. That is similar to what an agency would do, but in the realm of content. So I would say a company that we look at as a bit of a model for who we’re trying to become would be more like The Mill, if you’ve seen them. They’re a mainstream CG animation… I think they did Gladiator. They do, not real estate and architecture, they do animation for all sorts of other advertising, and film and TV series stuff.

Andrei Dolnikov:
And they work with agencies but they’re extremely creative in terms of the content that they bring to it, to the agency’s actual leverage of them. They go, “Hey, we’ve come up with a campaign that’s about a new Nike shoe that we need to create a brand activation experience in this warehouse for.” And then, “Hey, Mill, can you come up with a few ideas how to create that brand activation experience?” And that’s what we are doing more and more in the realm of architecture and real estate and our brand agency friends and colleagues and partners they appreciate that we bring something extra to it, we’re not just another render company. Very long-winded answer to that question.

Anthony Denman:
Yeah, mate, a very good one, thank you for that. Do you think, and this comes back to the flogging flats line, do you think that property visualization is more aligned with sales than art?

Andrei Dolnikov:
I don’t think it’s binary. At the end of the day we’re not fine artists and we actually encourage our guys to do their own personal projects. We sometimes have their end of year event, like an exhibition, of people’s personal work that they do because they’re artists, they’re craftsman. So on the one hand, our work is at the service of the business objectives, but the best version of our work is when it’s as close as possible to art for art’s sake within the parameters of the brief. For example, I took a lot of inspiration from my cousin. I’m an only child. I have two first cousins, each one also an only child, typical Soviet families.

Andrei Dolnikov:
One of my cousins, her and her partner are really awesome fashion photographers in New York and they shoot celebrities and non-celebrities. They told me about how they work. A magazine comes to them, they say, “We’ve got to do a shoot for, I don’t know, Adam Driver or Tim Cook.” And I said to them, “What about, like, did they give you feedback? Do they mark-up your work?” No feedback, no mark-ups. “What, how do you do that?” Like, “Because they come to us because they want us to do our art at the service of their campaign for a week. So we’re doing our art at the service of that campaign. Right? So that campaign is going to be a rockstar, awesome, super-successful campaign because they’ve made a decision to deploy our artistic activity towards it for that week.”

Andrei Dolnikov:
Now, of course, it’s not quite like that in architectural rendering but the closer that can be to that, I think, in a way, that’s the ultimate, when clients… Those are the real triple A, awesome, awesome, awesome clients that just understand what you do, love, what you do. You understand what they do, and you know how to make them better and elevate their brand. Then the two things aren’t even a contradiction. So, I don’t know. No, look, I’m not accepting the premise of your question, Anthony. I’m not accepting it, no. No, no, no, no, no. No, no no.

Anthony Denman:
Okay. Maybe I’ll put it a different way then.

Andrei Dolnikov:
Maybe you should change your paradigm, thought about that?

Anthony Denman:
Okay. I might have to go away and sleep on that question Andrei. Why do, talking about shifting paradigms, why do Americans pay a lot more, and we’re talking circa 30% more, for CGI than Australians do?

Andrei Dolnikov:
I don’t 100% know why. Probably the same reason, to get a graphic designer, to make a website for you in New York City, is going to be a lot more expensive than a graphic designer in Melbourne or Brisbane. Their rent is higher. Their dollar for dollar salaries are higher. The market perception of the value that that brings is higher. Projects are bigger, more complex, they take much more TLC, always weekly meetings. A lot of personal, on the ground, relationship building, client group management projects go for a lot longer so they require a lot more commitment from the company that’s delivering the work. So you do put in a lot more into delivering that and, I think, to value that, the pay is somewhat higher. I think part of it also is, like any market, the fees that the original companies that started the industry put forward still become some kind of reference point, even 10 years later, to what ballpark people think about when they think about that product, if we call it very dryly a product.

Andrei Dolnikov:
So if the original companies in Australia had charged $20,000 per image, we’d all be living in Capri right now, Anthony. But they didn’t. Where in America, they did. They set their hearts, sights, higher, so that’s effective too. But since then there’s been a lot of other things that flow into it. But I think genuinely it’s just more difficult to deliver it and the level of… Often times interior designers and architects in Australia also have quite strong opinions but it’s a whole other level. Then a lot of times interior designers or architects are like minor celebrities in their own right so the level of expectation when you’re working with Kelly Wearstler on the west coast, it’s intense. You have to be at a very, very high level of ability to achieve the brief, let alone before you get to the more aspirational stuff, and it’s a challenge.

Anthony Denman:
Part of the answer to your question was the perception of value and I feel like CGIs, when it comes to off the plan marketing-

Anthony Denman:
I feel like CGIs, when it comes to off the plan marketing, especially in the new digital marketing landscape where, essentially, a good CGI or a little bit of an animation can make the difference between a hundred qualified leads and twenty. Quite literally can be that significant. And that’s just the lead generation component, let alone the lead conversion component, when it comes to actually converting those sales and getting signatures on contracts, most people aren’t signing on the dotted line because you’ve told them a good story through your brand identity and copywriting and photography components.

Anthony Denman:
They really are landing on the quality of the perception around what the real estate is going to be like when it’s finished. So you could argue that if you had a $5,000 budget for marketing a project, clearly you’d be better off spending that entire $5,000 on one good CGI than anything else. You wouldn’t even consider a story, you wouldn’t even consider a brand identity. If you only had $5,000 to spend, you’d spend it on CGI. So my question is, why doesn’t the Australian market value what can be created through the craft of CGI more so than they currently do?

Andrei Dolnikov:
Yeah, I’m not usually one to complain about these things. It is what it is. You choose to be in a particular business you got to be successful within that framework, so I don’t have any issues with it, per se. If you’re asking for the reasons behind it, part of it is supply and demand, I would say. Every two minutes, there’s another little one-man band that can make, or two-man or three-man band, half the time former employees of mine or Daniel’s or someone’s, that are doing their own-

Anthony Denman:
We’ll get to that in a minute.

Andrei Dolnikov:
We’ll get to that in a minute. Hey, all good, all good. All’s fair in love and war. And therefore, some clients, while the quality may be 20% lower when the price is 40% lower, many clients choose to go for that, and they don’t appreciate that and thy won’t be able to tell the difference in the value that you’re bringing. So this is actually a deeper question that you’re asking here. Who’s to say if the value is really there?

Andrei Dolnikov:
So let’s just say a bathroom image that is 20% more photo real, just looks more convincing, is that going to help you move more apartments than the same image, but 20% less real? And you’re paying X for this and X minus 30% for that. Will it? I don’t know. It’s a question I probably shouldn’t be discussing on a podcast, but that is a question that I don’t think it has a straight answer. For me, this is also why our focus is, on the one hand, the core images and the craft that goes into that. First of all, making that image 20% better is extremely difficult.

Andrei Dolnikov:
So firstly, achieving that is in and of itself hugely important as the foundation of everything we do. But then thinking about how can we extend it a little bit beyond just the photo realism to where the client now, all of a sudden does see, hold on a second, when that image is also related to an animation or a film or to other social media content, to an immersive experience in the sales gallery, all of a sudden, maybe I’m spending quite a bit more money, but I see the value all of that brings together for me, and I’m not comparing apples with apples, then I do begin to see the value. Whereas, if it’s just the core thing, I have a feeling, my prediction is, the core render price, the commoditized product could end up becoming cheaper and cheaper.

Andrei Dolnikov:
When I started in the industry, every year would become more expensive. But now because there’s so many small players out there that are purposely, their business plan is to be cheaper, that’s the whole thing. I’m an ex from company such and such, and I can do what I did there for you, but cheaper. So, they are purposely, it’s like a fight to the bottom. We, and I think the companies that are responsible for employing the vast majority of industry, we have to think bigger. We have to strive higher and deliver additional value to our clients. First of all, they, they will pay you more because it’s the experience, it’s the brand value. Even being associated with a project, the best vendor companies, when we’re part of the project, it elevates the brand or the project itself, because it’s like having a great architect, having a great creative agency.

Andrei Dolnikov:
In other ways, it’s adding a lot more value that you can’t just get from the cheaper, generic version of the the basic product, if you call it. I don’t know where I’m going with this, but that’s the reason I think is just supply and demand, honestly. And also people choose, and I think, I wouldn’t want to complain, but it’s something that, it’s a bit of a shame, I think, when companies choose their business strategy, when you’re creating, this is my appeal to the small guys out there, when you’re creating, don’t undervalue yourself. You’re creating something that’s so hard to do, you’re world-class, these people are, all of them are, you undervalue it and, not to say we should charge our clients more, we should add more value, bring more value to clients.

Andrei Dolnikov:
And it’s not about overpaying, it’s about going, Oh my God, I spent an extra thousand dollars for a few images and it helped my campaign be half a percent more successful in terms of raising the perceived value of my product, the apartments, the office tower, whatever, by half a percent. That a hundred times pays for the extra tiny bit of investment. So I just think we have to be proud of ourselves where we can achieve, and then maybe the market will value it at a higher level.

Anthony Denman:
How do you feel about, and it never ceases to amaze me actually that your client, developing a project for a number of years, and then they see the first, round one of their, inverted commas, photorealistic CGI and they don’t like the design of their building and that they then begin to blame it on the poor old CGI company. Because they think it’s a shit CGI, but it’s actually the design of that building looking as photorealistic as possible.

Andrei Dolnikov:
Yeah, I know that experience. I talk about it when I train our project managers and account managers and the creative directors, how important it is to get that first image looking really great. It’s like a person’s like expecting a birth of a baby and they’ve been waiting with bated breath for it for years, it’s a three-year pregnancy, and finally the baby’s delivered and, Ah, it’s a little bit ugly. Oh no, it looks like the milkman. That’s a problem. So, yeah, it can happen. It happens, I must say, much less frequently than it used to, for a couple of reasons. I think the level of, particularly the Australian market, the quality of design of the architecture interior design has really risen in the last two, three years as the market has pivoted from investor product, which is essentially just a box, a tower, copy paste, copy paste.

Andrei Dolnikov:
It looks ugly half the time to our clients, because they’re selling more to own occupiers, people that have the time to appreciate the design, that will live in it. The level of design as written such that it’s much less frequent these days that that happens, because the design that the architect and designers doing, I think, a really good job, because they’re being tasked to create quality. Now, when that does happen… So firstly, how do you avoid it? You make sure the client really understands your process, and therefore there shouldn’t be a big aha moment in the negative sense. They would have seen it in the low res, sometimes we do cover low res drafts, not just wireframes, So therefore it’s not a shock to them. We give them so many references and so many… like the wire frame, a lighting field, so already, hopefully their mind have put together…

Andrei Dolnikov:
So, if there’s an issue they would have picked it up earlier, so when they see your image, they’re not going, Shock, horror. Now, if that still happens, despite all the precautions and all the processes and all the client education, then you have to politely and delicately point out that that’s to do with the design. And maybe what we can do is, if that’s an important feature of the design that cannot be changed for whatever reason, maybe we can think of a different angle or we can find a way, through misdirection, to attract as a view to something else in the image that takes emphasis away from that. I don’t know, the facade that is not very attractive, for example. Let’s make sure we activate the foreground with landscaping, put a beautiful car… There’s ways you can get around that, but clients are becoming more savvy and they get it. So it’s not a major issue for us these days.

Anthony Denman:
In terms of scaling your business, I’m interested, the only thing you can be sure about in our business, and when I say our business, I mean off-the-plan project marketing, the only thing you can be sure about in off-the-plan project marketing is that you can be sure of absolutely nothing. You might get a phone call from a client saying that a project is going to, we’re going to launch in three months. I want all your best people, I want you to mobilize them. Can you do it? What else have you got on? You make sure we can get this done. Right, excellent. All right. So then you go away, you commit all your best people, you make sure it can be done. You’ve got them all ready to go on Monday and you get a call on Friday to say that they’ve been delayed another six months. How do you handle that stop-start nature of the business in terms of allocating resources and planning your business?

Andrei Dolnikov:
There’s a couple of details to your question. So, scaling is more of a long-term thing and then resource planning on a month-to-month level is a more short-term thing. Let’s start with the second one, with re month-to-month resource planning. We’re a company of close to a hundred people these days, so we must plan ahead, we cannot be eating what you kill yesterday. You have to schedule, you have to plan, you have to talk to clients to make sure you get a sense of forecasting about what they have coming up so we can do our best for them when they’re ready to start. So for me, number one is transparency with our clients, about the times we can achieve and, I must say, that does cost us jobs. We’ll say, “You want those images? That’s seven weeks or that’s 12 weeks,” if it’s many more images.

Andrei Dolnikov:
And then they go, “But this guy can do it for me in four weeks.” And then it’s some conversation like, “Are you really sure they can, because it doesn’t seem possible?” And try to still help them understand why they should go with us, but if they make a decision not to, I always make a mental note to give them a call after the project is done. How did the four weeks go for you? Yeah, it was 14 weeks. Ah, okay. And I’m pissed at that.

Andrei Dolnikov:
But I can’t be disingenuous with clients, because then I let my team down. I put them under undue pressure. They’re already working so hard, they’re so awesome at what they do, we’re so careful at recruiting the best people, we want them to stick around, we want them to be happy and feel supported by the company. Sometimes you have to make tough decisions and say, We cannot deliver this at that time. And the good thing is, more often than not, clients still go, Okay, fine. I’m okay with your timings. Which is great, but sometimes they’re not and you just have to be comfortable with that. And I don’t impose the clients… What is it? That your problem isn’t my emergency. It’s a bit crude way of putting it, but-

Anthony Denman:
No, I think you’re right. No, it’s your lack of organization should not constitute an emergency on our behalf.

Andrei Dolnikov:
Correct, and it may not be lack of organization, I do not ascribe negative motivations to anybody. Everyone’s trying to do their best and everyone’s trying to be successful and you push and pull. That’s all good. I can only tell you what my team can achieve. And I can stand by knowing that if my team, which is the best resourced, one of the largest, most experienced, we know how long projects take. If I tell you it’s a seven week thing, then if you feel it can be done in three and a half, that’s your call. I can stand by what my team is telling me to do. And we never, we never, ever, I never give one quote out without running it by the specific team that will be delivering it. And that team, we have an amazing studio managers who do all the resourcing, planning, their spreadsheets and forecasting charts, which melt my brain when I look at them, they will tell me when we can deliver it.

Andrei Dolnikov:
For me, it’s like taking the medicine. Like, Okay, yep, Sandy, Elise, that’s what I can do and that’s what I’ll tell the client. And I have to stick to that, because as soon as I go, basically I’m too optimistic to a client and I say, “Look, we can do this,” even though my team told me we can’t, I’m probably going to disappoint the client, I’m going to really piss off my team, which will only harm me, and it’s just unethical. So that’s number one. So, resource planning is just, you have to be good at it and you have to be honest, so that’s number one. Now, in terms of your question about scaling and the cyclical nature of the market, that’s why we, early on, took that we wanted to diversify both in terms of geographic diversification as we work in so many different markets these days, all around the world.

Andrei Dolnikov:
So when one goes down, another one hopefully comes up. Now it’s still not perfect and you can get smashed, but it helps us ride those ups and downs a lot. Secondly, we also diversified in terms of what we do. So, animation being our first thing, and that’s such a core part of what we do these days, we do it at a very high level, I’d like to say, we really look like a full production company, storyboards, directors, green screen shoots, visual effects, that is a big part of what we do, so we’re diverse in the product that we offer. So even though there may be fewer clients wanting work when the market’s down in particular area, hopefully there are ones that do want more work, so you’re getting more work from fewer clients. Now this is old theory and, again, things can still go, not according to plan, but do your best as a business owner to try to navigate those things and be there for the team to get them through each year and do good stuff.

Anthony Denman:
Talking about talent, and I personally need to really thank you for this, because before you came along, it was almost impossible, in fact, I’ll go so far to say it was impossible to build a team of really capable CGI artists in Australia, because none of them really ever existed. What you did, and Chris, in terms of changing that landscape within this country, each and every one of your competitors should pick up the phone and give you a call and say, Thank you, thank you very much because, man, you found a way. And so I’ll ask you this question and then you can put some framework around it, is Peter Dutton as stoic, I was going to use the word boring, but I won’t say that, I’ll say, is Peter Dutton as stoic in real life as he seems to be on the television?

Andrei Dolnikov:
He is. Now, disclaimer, I didn’t go to see Peter Dutton myself, I sent Shays Brown. He’s been general manager, studio director, creative director, my colleague and partner in arms. At that time, we were running the business together, now he’s going more into a creative role. He’s an amazing, amazing guy, very, very blessed to have him in our team. But so what happened was… Do you want the whole story now? Is this a segue into the whole story?

Anthony Denman:
Tell us how you did it. I want to know how you got it to happen

Andrei Dolnikov:
I can’t give you all my stuff. There are already a few questions here I’m going to ask you to edit out anyway.

Anthony Denman:
It’s really easy to tell us how you do it, because you’ve already done it. And I think, like you said, those people have already gone on and become your competitors. I think you’re well past that point anyway.

Andrei Dolnikov:
There’s stuff I haven’t shared widely that I may choose to share. So, Peter Dutton, yeah, great bloke. We had dinner with him and he was very helpful at that particular point in time where they changed some of the visa regulations that made it more difficult to get visas for skilled workers, which you were alluding to that. Yeah, we early on realized we’ve got to recruit from all over the world, it’s impossible to find people here. Otherwise it just becomes musical chairs and yes, everybody hires from each other, I’m certainly pot calling kettle black or whatever. It’s a competitive marketplace as far as I’m concerned and you’ve got to do the best by your team. It’s not pleasant when that happens to you and it happens to us relatively frequently too, but you got to constantly work on that.

Andrei Dolnikov:
So we decided that we got to find talent wherever they may roam in their natural habitats. And that worked well for us, but then they changed the rules. So we had to work the problem. And we did work the problem through people like former prime minister, Tony Abbot, and then eventually through Peter Dutton in the immigration department where they were able to offer us very significant support and assistance to overcome some of those hurdles, let’s just say. I must say I even outdid myself in terms of my relentlessness or, No, we’re going to solve this problem, we’re going to solve the problem. We were in the press, it was a whole extravaganza and it was a big talking point at the time, generally in Scott Farquhar from Atlassian was going on about how they can’t get top IT developers and programmers.

Andrei Dolnikov:
So it was an issue that we rode that we were a tiny little speck riding a much bigger wave, but it helped us make sure that we don’t prevent the growth of our industry from continuing. And so, we managed ,essentially, to go, We need to speak to Peter Dutton, Immigration Minister directly. And a friend of mine that, just completely serendipitous, I don’t believe in accidents at all, but this was… It wasn’t an accident was just quite amazing that my across-the-road neighbour, we were living in Sydney at the time, happened to be a pretty big insider in politics. And I said to him, “Can you help me out? I need some access, otherwise I’m hitting a brick wall here.” Eventually, through this introduction one random Friday morning, I get a phone call from my friend, “Go to Canberra, I’ve got you a seat next to Immigration Minister, Peter Dutton this afternoon.”

Andrei Dolnikov:
Now, it was Friday, so for me it was problematic because of Sabbath. I wouldn’t be able to make it back in time, so I couldn’t go to it, even though how much that I would have loved to. So I call up Shays, I’m like “Shays, how quickly can you be in Canberra? And he’s like, “I’m suiting up.” He went home and put on a nice suit, flew to Canberra, sat next to Peter Dutton and explained our situation. A few weeks later, we get a call from his office. They read me the riot act about all the noise I’m making in the media and the press and how inaccurate my portrayal of their policies was. And I was like, Okay, sorry. I didn’t know what to say.

Andrei Dolnikov:
However, we believe we can be of assistance to you, sir. Here are some forms to fill in and they helped us essentially arrange a unique agreement that, because of our scale, and it was actually weeks, if not months of work to prepare the application for this. But essentially we were able to, because of our scale, portray to them, explain to them that our needs in terms of bringing talent in and the contribution that gives to the Australian society is significant. And they should essentially make an exception for us, which they did. And for that reason, we are able to bring people on a visa that provides pathways to what’s permanent residency and citizenship, which don’t otherwise exist. And we’re very, very lucky to have that.

Anthony Denman:
Yeah, we all are. I’m grateful, a number of my team members have arrived here through that process and been trained by yourselves. So I’m very grateful and I think everyone that’s here, well, that’s benefiting from that work, should be very grateful as well. So, thank you.

Andrei Dolnikov:
Oh, I had help.

Anthony Denman:
I want to talk to you about spirituality. I love this quote and this one, I’ve got to say, I’ll give credit to the podcast you did with Vince Frost, who, by the way, I’m getting on this show. So I’m looking forward to Vince attending, doing this sometime in the future, but I got this one from his podcast and I absolutely love it. So again, it’s a quote from you. I spent six months living the Jewish equivalent of being a Buddhist monk, but with bagels.

Andrei Dolnikov:
That’s right.

Andrei Dolnikov:
You want me to elaborate, or is there a question?

Anthony Denman:
Well, well, well, there is. There’s a number of questions, probably the first one is-

Andrei Dolnikov:
What was in the bagel?

Anthony Denman:
…the circumstances around that? So that’s because you decided, and correct me if I’m wrong, but to pursue another mode of Judaism, which is the Hasidism version of Judaism, and that’s a choice that you made on your own, so the first question is, why did you make that choice?

Andrei Dolnikov:
So, just to explain a little bit, so it wasn’t that I made a choice to pursue a different pathway within Judaism. I was brought up, while ethnically and historically from a Jewish family, we were completely secular. So in Soviet Union there was a small handful of synagogues in Moscow to which, if you went, you would get an automatic file with the KGB and you might lose your job. And so a lot of people don’t know that, but basically religion was banned, even Christianity by the way, in Soviet Union, and certainly practicing Judaism. So therefore there was very few opportunities, and only the most heroic and amazing people would still do it, despite all that. Many left, of course, if they could. So I come from a background, I’d never set foot in a synagogue till I came to Australia, and only then to have a corny bar mitzvah, because everyone else was doing it to get the presents.

Andrei Dolnikov:
So I had no idea or connection with it beyond largely a negative one through my family’s antisemitic experience. Like having, again, as I mentioned before, like being barred from certain opportunities, I was called dirty Jew at school in Russian. I remember a fistfight I had as a nine year old, like, Don’t call me that boom, boom. Even though this was right at the tail end of Soviet times, I left literally months before the fall of the Soviet Union. And then coming to Australia, everything I saw… I went to a nominally Jewish school, but it was all quite superficial. Only when I began to think about spirituality more broadly in my life, generally, then I realized, Hold on, there’s a spiritual heritage that exists within the tradition that I come from, although I’m completely unaware of what that is.

Andrei Dolnikov:
And then, once your eyes open to a spirituality even being a thing, so it’s not only pragmatic pursuits that are be-all and end-all of life. I was in school, this is talking 15, 16, 17 year old, everyone’s going to get their HSC and become an accountant and make lots of money and buy a nice house in Dover Heights. And then do exactly as their daddy did, which most of those people did end up doing. For me, I was like, No, no, no, no, that’s not… That sounds way too boring, way too meaningless. I don’t want that for myself. And I was very fortunate to have that group of really close friends who we went on this journey together. So we started reading. We connected with a few off-the-beaten-track rabbis and rabbinical students that happened to be living and studying in Sydney.

Andrei Dolnikov:
We would cut school and go and learn with them. We’d be learning about spiritual texts that originated in Kabbalah and all those people there were, as you said, they were Hasidic Jews. Hasidism essentially is a branch within Jewish orthodoxy. It’s not separate, but it’s not like Protestant and Catholic, they’re all still under the same tent, just different flavours. And this flavour emphasizes more the mystical component of our traditions. So Kabbalah is a big part of Hasidism. Studying the esoteric part of the tradition, it emphasizes more prayer, also music and emotive connection, not just dry and legalistic components of the faith, because our faith is very based on laws. There’s many, many laws, do’s and don’ts, and you have to do those, everyone within orthodoxy does those, but the Hasidic approach is to infuse them also with spirit, life, energy, vitality, and a deeper spiritual meaning. So, I liked that at the time, it gave me a lot of… I still like it. It gave me a lot of like, Wow, I want to…

Andrei Dolnikov:
I still like it. It gave me a lot of like, wow, I want to go deeper and deeper and deeper into this. So what I ended up doing after two years of uni, I already was studying a lot independently and keeping the Sabbath Shabbat as much as I could at the time, but I would still have half and like, oh, there’s a really good gig on Friday night, I’m going to walk to the gig. I won’t drive a car, but I’ll go still see that band to a bit of that. Then I said, “Look if I don’t go now on my quest, I’ll never go.” Okay, I know I’ll go. I was studying design, enjoying myself at uni, but I was like if I don’t do it, I’m never going to do it. And I basically got on the plane.

Andrei Dolnikov:
Also a couple of my friends had already gone. So we’re like, we said we’re going to do it together loosely. I remember on the plane sitting on the plane, I remember physically putting my forehead against the seat in front of me and crying. Because I was like, what am I doing? It was a big leap of faith, pun intended. Also on the way I went, but typical me style, I’m like, well, while I’m going to Israel, I may as well go on the way to London to apply to this really prestigious architectural school, which I was dreamt of going to. Call the architectural, which was like Zaha Hadid was a lecturer there. Rem Koolhaas, who was my idol in architecture school, it was great.

Andrei Dolnikov:
They were lecturing there. This is called the Architectural Association School of Architecture, very Britishly bland named the AA, the AA as a different AA, but it’s still called the AA. So I went there for a scholarship interview. It was like 30,000 pounds a year to study and I’m not British, so I had to pay for it. So I went out and I did the portfolio interview, did interview and then I was in Israel, on my monk on a mountain top with bagels thing. And then I get a letter from them going, you’ve been accepted and you’ve got two thirds scholarship, and I’m like, “Oh my god.” And I’m like, I’m going, I’m going. But then that year started about six months later. And by the time it came time to actually go, I was too deep down the rabbit hole, basically.

Andrei Dolnikov:
I was enjoying myself and just I didn’t want to leave. And I chose not to go. I deferred it by a year and then I couldn’t keep deffering, eventually I chose not to go down that pathway. Now it was one of those moments, like a pivotal fork in the road moments, that I think I would have turned out to be quite a different person. I probably wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing now as well. And I wouldn’t have met my wife and I wouldn’t… There’s so many things that wouldn’t have happened even though, obviously, that was something I wanted. But that’s part of life, like making decisions that define you. And that for me was a big pivotal moment. I stayed in Israel for over two years starting literally from scratch.

Andrei Dolnikov:
I couldn’t read, I could barely read Hebrew and all the crazier texts written in very small font. So the reason I wear glasses is because of spending six years pouring over tiny little letters in different weird fonts. And I went all the way to eventually being ordained as a rabbi over… That went from Israel to America to Canada when kind of few different religious seminaries, or Yeshivot, as they were called. And it was just like waking up at 6:00 in the morning and go to bed at midnight without almost no phone, no enough, just like completely immersed in it. I made great friendships. Had just an amazing travel all around the world in pursuit of that. Lived with no connection almost to the physical. It was amazing. I don’t know if you could do it anymore because there was no proper smartphones and social media, all that nonsense. You could still unplug, and that was you know, amazing. And today it’s obviously… It’s the foundation of massive part of my life.

Anthony Denman:
I want to talk about Buddhism and being a Buddhist monk, oh don’t know, like I’m not an expert in any of these fields, but what I will say is that I do know that part of the kind of becoming a Buddhist monk thing is they ask you to go out into the streets and to literally beg for food, right? And the reason they asked you to do that is to instill humility. And one thing I’ve noticed through doing my research on you and talking to you and in this podcast, is that you do have a high level of humility. And I’m just wondering if your faith and your spirituality somehow contributed to that happening?

Andrei Dolnikov:
Nice of you to say, I think it’s a high compliment. No doubt my wife would debate you on how humble I really am. But I’m in this podcast and she’s not. Look, it’s an aspiration, I think. So the value of humility is definitely… So to answer your question direct, absolutely, I mean, every faith requires, I think a certain sense of self, I think obligation. Because ego is just like in a relationship with people, with other people, the more there is ego, the more there is you. If you’re feeling the space, there’s no space for anybody else. So in order to create space for another be it enough relation with a human or with God, with the divine, with a higher energy, whatever, however we want to describe it, it has to be a degree of submission of lowering your ego and realizing that you are not the center of the universe.

Andrei Dolnikov:
You are not the be-all and end-all, and that creates space for you to arrive at some sort of higher consciousness to some extent. So humility is one of the most highest virtues, highest compliment that you can be paid. In fact, if I may quote from the Old Testament, Anthony, it says about Moses, which is very rare that the Bible was the Torah as we call it, would give a personal compliment to a one of the characters within the narrative there, it says, “And Moses was the most humble person in the face of the earth.” So it’s quite an unusual for that to be any kind of compliments, let alone that one. And it makes you think about, well, Moses, if those are familiar with story, like seeing Cecil B. DeMille 10 commandments, he was a high achiever, he was a guy that did a lot.

Andrei Dolnikov:
He spoke to God, so to speak face to face. He was brought up in the Royal palace. Led the Jews out of slavery. He was in no way a humble in the sense of quiet meek unfulfilled person. He was a massively a huge accomplishments, which certainly he had to be aware of. But that’s the thing. He was able to on the one hand, be a great person. On the other hand, realize that his great achievements are not really his own. He makes the vessel for them, but the blessings that come into them are a result of something higher than yourself. The result of the people around you, the result of the gratitude. And you feel the gratitude to the people around because they have filled your vessel. You have to make a good vessel.

Andrei Dolnikov:
The vessel has to be whole and it has to be substantial. I’ve always believed that. If you’re going to do something, do it well, don’t leave any stone unturned, be ambitious, create the opportunity, but the success or lack thereof for that opportunity is really out of your hands. It’s something from beyond you. Again, whether you think that’s for me, that’s beyond me in a sense of it’s a blessing from a higher place, from God. But you don’t have to be religious I think to appreciate this. You can feel that if you just step back and think about, close your eyes and think about, you could know a person who may have made exactly the same actions, exactly the same efforts and yet not succeeded, and here you have. Or you yourself you may have tried something very similar, in fact, done it even better and still failed, and here you succeed.

Andrei Dolnikov:
You realize that your success is something that you need to be grateful for for those around you and things beyond you, which then that’s what causes you to be humble in my opinion. Because gratitude, humility, that’s all part and parcel of it. But if you can’t realize and feel the gratitude, you can’t be humble because you think you did it all. But I just don’t think that’s the case. So for sure, religion… And part of that, my faith, I mean, when I was in those that we did, not stuff like that, begging, definitely not that. It’s not our way. You’re encouraged to just not focus on the physical.

Andrei Dolnikov:
Not having three desserts. Maybe eating a meal a little bit later than you would want to kind of be in control of your physical being as well. Definitely meditate and pray at length. Approach strangers and invite them for the Sabbath when it’s really going out of your comfort zone. So you’re definitely taught to put your ego aside and do what needs to be done. And that does steal you to I think to also, if that’s part of what has helped me have the whatever success I have.

Anthony Denman:
We got another quote here from yourself, “I want to be a much more open-minded rabbi.” What do you mean by that? Is that you trying to reconcile being a rabbi with being an entrepreneur?

Andrei Dolnikov:
Absolutely. That is me trying to, I wouldn’t say reconcile, like there’s some sort of conflict. I don’t see it as a conflict. The way I’ve been taught also going back to the Hasidic approach that our master who is rabbi, who was this great sage, actually it was his anniversary of his passing 27 years ago, a couple of days ago, which is like a big day in our community. So he basically himself was a university educated engineer. Very learned, very kind of like well-rounded if you will, person. And he taught Hasidic philosophy for this generation which has to be able to integrate those two things. There’s other types of Hasidic communities, and they were getting to a little bit in the weeds here, but that will be secluded.

Andrei Dolnikov:
Everybody watches Shtisel. Those are also Hasidic Jews on Netflix, but that’s a different flavour within the Hasidic tent. That they are much more separate, that’s why the whole crux of the story is that Akiva, the main character is an artist and that causes a massive conflict. In our community we are taught that these things can be integrated, right? There not necessarily set up as a contradiction to kind of quash one in flavour of the other. Now you have to keep yourself connected. You can’t get pulled down by the pragmatic material goals, but then you’ll just be empty. You won’t have a spiritual life. But for me, I guess a different kind of rabbi, as you put it. I have a unique gift that I have this business and this part of my life.

Andrei Dolnikov:
And when I’m communicating that to people I’m teaching as a rabbi or connecting with, or invite into my house for Shabbat, which we host all the time, I’m talking through our prism. So maybe in some sense, when I explain an experience that shows them that you can be a practicing Jewish person while still living in the real world. Real, quotation marks, what is the real world? That resonates more than a rabbi who’s 24/7 just doing rabbi stuff. Now, of course, those 24/7 rabbis will be much wiser and more learned than I am. But I’ve got my unique thing, my unique flavor, and I can talk through that. I can talk their language if you will. I mean, I’m not seen as much of a foreign entity, even though I look the way I do. And I think as long as you remember what the real thing is and what serves what. For me the physical has to ultimately be at the service of some sort of deepest spiritual meaning and not the other way around. And as long as you keep that priority and a balance right, you can integrate and navigate both those things.

Anthony Denman:
So is that what ancient wisdom in a modern context looks like?

Andrei Dolnikov:
Yeah. Because ancient wisdom isn’t ancient in the sense of archaic or in like a museum, it’s ancient in that it’s timeless. It’s taught. In other words, it has resonance, absolutely resonance today. So that thing I told you before, I mean, if someone says, “If I’m such a high achiever, how can I be humble?” Well, just maybe look at Moses who was, I doubt that you’ve done more than he did. And he was able to be super humble person. Can you learn about that? And when you’re humble, it refines your character. It makes you a better person for people around you. And that’s a bit of ancient wisdom that can inform, today it’s massive. And I try to bring that into everything in ways known and unknown even to me.

Anthony Denman:
Now, the quote, it’s a quote from you, “I believe in a higher power whereby what is meant to happen is going to happen.” End of quote. I should put some context around this. I think we’ve spoken previously when we were setting this up. I may have told you that I was brought up a Roman Catholic, but I’ve kind of I’m an atheist, but I do believe in a higher power, like a universal energy. And I do believe that it is guiding me in a particular way, even against my kind of self-sabotaging conscious mind. When you say that, I believe in a higher power whereby what is meant to happen is going to happen. Is that as simple as the idea of fate and the universe having your back?

Andrei Dolnikov:
It’s not as simple as that because not always what you want to happen is what’s going to happen. On the one hand I definitely believe that positive regard for the future is one of the inputs that goes into making positive future eventuate, right? That trust. There’s two different words in Hebrew for the concept of faith. One is like means XXXXXXXX which literally means more faith in English, but the other one is XXXXXXX which means more trust. XXXXXXXXX] also can be security, like security guidance called someone who looks after the… So knowing that if you’ve done the right things and you live life the right way and you behave yourself both personally and in business in an ethical manner, that the outcome that is good will happen, is a massive contributor in my experience and opinion and what been taught.

Andrei Dolnikov:
And I see it in that positive thing eventually. Now, not always, of course, because you don’t know everything there is to know, and that that’s the reality. And the joke goes, “I’m praying to God, why isn’t He listening?” He’s like, “God is listening, He’s just saying no.” Sometimes you have to get the message. And that is part of faith and humility as well. The acceptance as an element to accept acceptance and knowing that finding a way to see a negative outcome, and then hopefully eventually seeing that’s happened to be timeless times, what I think many, many times. Where I see something in the moment is causing me pain, or something that I didn’t want let a couple of months go by, but oh my goodness, if that hadn’t happened, these five things that wouldn’t happened that are super positive.

Andrei Dolnikov:
And I’m sure in business, we can all relate to this. A businessman is like today it’s like people don’t understand that when they just have a job, job. This is like a farmer, like we go out and like, “Will they be rain this year? What will the harvest bring? I don’t know.” I think you have a higher connection to not being fully in control of everything that’s happening. So often things that I with my small human brain think are not what I want or negative one, or not getting what I want have led to positive outcomes and different types of blessings that has just been reaffirmed to me time and time again. I guess it is in the grander of scheme of things, everything happens for a reason.

Andrei Dolnikov:
I may not understand all the reasons. I hope to, and that’s part of things you hope for, you pray for, whatever you do. I hope to be able to see why something happened. And some of this is very obvious, like great, that happened because I wanted it. And everybody’s “Yay, success.” Other times, I don’t know, doesn’t look like a good thing right now. But give it a month, a day, a year or a decade, hopefully you’ll see why it was there and that door closing, open another door. And you couldn’t walk through the second door if not for the first that maybe that second door is really doors meant for you. So to me, it’s a big, big topic that I think about like all the time.

Anthony Denman:
You may be at the same vintage here. I think you might be. I grew up in Bondi, when Bondi wasn’t such a fabulous place to grow up in. I grew up in South Bondi, but occasionally I’d make my way to North Bondi, to the way the bus terminus, I guess it’s still there. I’ve since moved out of Bondi. And they used to be this great or oporto, Bondi place. There used to be these people kind of that lineup all up and down the street to get into this joint. I actually think it was, and I could be wrong, but I think it was Allen Linz’s brother who kind of got a hold of this concept and turned it into a franchise, the oporto franchise, that is. The reason I’m mentioning this is because I’m guessing that isn’t kosher food. I want to know what is kosher food and how hard is it to find good kosher?

Andrei Dolnikov:
Did you bring that up just randomly? Because I used to live around the corner from there on O’Donnell Street, this is before I started keeping kosher. I would almost every day go to that place to oporto chicken, best burgers, oh my god.

Anthony Denman:
How good was it? And you get the chips. And you just getting to spoon that chili into the chips?

Andrei Dolnikov:
Yeah. And just be down the beach, oh, that is some of my most-

Anthony Denman:
Stop it.

Andrei Dolnikov:
Sorry.

Anthony Denman:
The franchise oporto hasn’t got a patch on that.

Andrei Dolnikov:
Not exactly. As soon as it went mainstream, I’m like, “Nah, I’m not.” Anyway. Yes, but I know exactly kosher food… Look in Australia, it’s limited. In Sydney, more limited. In Melbourne there’s a few nice places. There’s good cafes and pizza places in some dinner places. But in America, it’s like on every block. It’s amazing in New York and LA. So look, if you know where to look you can find it. But I wouldn’t say the kosher seen in Australia, it’s not exactly attracting people to start keeping kosher just because how amazing the restaurant sites, has to be something that you kind of commit to for a deeper reason. But in New York, I reckon half the people, not half, but quite like there’s so much awesome food. And oftentimes when I’m in New York, I’ll try to invite someone for dinner. But even if there isn’t any, I’m going out for dinner by myself, just taking selfies and send it to my wife.

Anthony Denman:
Mate we’re almost done. I just want to finish with this final quote. This is taking you right back now to the very beginning of our conversation and talking about setting up shop in your suite 950 Old South Head Road and your new home there, starting out and you quoted a saying, “I want to shape the future of architecture.” End of quote. Has that always been your purpose? And is that still your purpose today?

Andrei Dolnikov:
I think at the core if you boil it down, that is literally what we’re doing. We are shaping, showing, visualizing, creating, helping people see the future of architecture and by extension the future of our cities, the future of our world. That is by definition what we’re doing. If it existed you wouldn’t need us to create the imagery and animation to show it. So yes, that is at the core what we do. And I look at it slightly on a deeper level. To some extent, it also creates an opportunity to have an impact on what that will be.

Andrei Dolnikov:
So one of the things that I’m of this kind of passion, I think I’m going to do it over the next couple of years, but stay tuned, I’m going to give too much away. Using the tools that we have within that our fingertips to create these incredibly detailed photorealistic environments, to actually show to a broader audience, not just developers and people buying apartments and flogging flats. What possible decisions… What the decisions that society makes today around the environment, technology, social issues, racial equality, in the future of cities how that will shape possible alternative futures of our world.

Andrei Dolnikov:
And I actually got a bit of an idea to make like an exhibition or maybe a book around this kind of stuff to show to a broader audience that the decisions that society makes today have impact. And when you read about it, like as some statistic, if we keep doing this, this is going to happen. Or if we make this positive decision, that’s a positive outcome. It sounds like airy fairy, but sometimes if you just show people like vividly, evocatively in a photorealistic media what it will look like this alternative futures, I think that can have a big impact.

Andrei Dolnikov:
I love the idea of that because it’s almost like taking the craft that we currently use for a very commercial purpose and having a broader resonance and having an impact hopefully on people outside of our bubble and maybe sparking some conversations that actually will help positive decisions to be made. I’m not saying we’re going to necessarily heal the world here, but could do out a little bit. And I think once we put the framework around this, something I’m working on, there’ll be a lot of people who will get behind it, both in the industry and even our clients. And it could be super creative, awesome, and very, very relevant and powerful and impactful. So it still drives me for the future, but it keeps being redefined for me what it means.

Anthony Denman:
When you do it, just let me know, because it’s great to share it. Somehow maybe do another podcast or whatever, because that sounds really interesting. Andrei, you’re an absolute gentleman. And I think the work that you’ve done for our category is nothing short of outstanding.

Andrei Dolnikov:
Thank you.

Anthony Denman:
And you’ve really helped completely reshaped the way we think about around CGI and animation in our industry. So congratulations my friend.

Andrei Dolnikov:
Thank you.

Anthony Denman:
Thank you. And thank you so much for all this time. Look, if anybody wants to get in touch with you, what’s the best way they can do that?

Andrei Dolnikov:
Either on LinkedIn or just A Donlikov. You can find my contact on LinkedIn too, but my email is A-D-O-L-N-I-K-O-V @ B-I-N-Y-A-N.com.au. And I just want to say also to you, like you were one of the people with our vision, I remember looking at your guys’ work and like going, “We got to get to this level.” So, you were one of the people that were a bit of a lighthouse, I’m serious.

Anthony Denman:
Stop it, no way. No, no we don’t. The lighthouse setting, lighthouse is the right word. Probably more like a little torchlight maybe.

Andrei Dolnikov:
Well, we were a little mouse and the torchlight looked like a big lighthouse.

Anthony Denman:
It’s been great. I’ve learned so much from you during this chat. So really appreciate it. Take care of yourself.

Andrei Dolnikov:
You too, man. Thanks very much.

About Us

The Property Marketing Podcast is an original podcast hosted by Anthony Denman, co-founder of Our Agency. In each episode Anthony talks to Australia’s most experienced property professionals, unearthing their tips and providing insights on how to create the most successful place, property, corporate & personal brands possible.

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