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Phantom’s Ethan Ruffles on bringing creative ideas to life

Talk us through a typical day on the job.
I’ll be in the office at the crack of dawn, usually around 6.30am. I’ll grab a coffee and chat with the team about what we’re doing that day. Then two of us will load up the van with frames and head out on site. We’re responsible for building and maintaining all the Phantom frames across Auckland, and we often spend a few days in places like Whangarei or New Plymouth too. We also spend a fair few hours in the workshop, building new frames and getting them ready for installation. I reckon we’ve mastered the art of frame making over the last few years. If you look at Phantom sites, we’ve moved on from polystyrene to wooden frames that are durable and good-looking. It’s a long way from the old days of fly posters.

How did you get started in the business?
I always liked making things and I prefer hands-on work. I used to work in the film and TV industry, initially as a runner, but with the goal of working in the art department. I saw how props were made and learned how to solve problems. After a few years overseas I came back to Auckland and was looking for full-time work. I knew about Phantom, and this job came up, so here I am.
What do you love most about the job?
At Phantom, we can use our initiative and come up with new things. There might be a new location that has never had street poster frames, so we’ll have to work out how to turn it into a site that works for street poster campaigns. It might take half an hour, or we might spend a few days putting in fence posts, painting the wall and installing lighting. The workshop team are always first on the scene so we have a certain level of creativity. We’ve painted pink camouflage walls, made planter boxes, installed rainbow frames, taken inspiration from South America.
What did you take inspiration from?
I was travelling in Latin America and loved the cool buildings and colour schemes. I wanted to do something similar in New Zealand.?

Flora for the urban jungle…
Exactly! We reckon that our first task is always to create an attractive space that people will want to look at, and then encourage companies to fill it with cool posters. First, you see the wall, then you see the frames, then you notice the posters.
Are there any campaigns you’ve been involved with that stand out in your mind? 
A few years back Beck’s Bier did a campaign where they had an interactive, playable poster. They were so popular, they didn’t last long on the street. One of our account managers estimated that 80 percent of the posters were ‘souvenired’, which says something about their appeal.

I was also involved in this year’s Game of Thrones posters for Sky, with the theme “Winter is Coming.” We worked closely with specialist prop builders who made the moulds and resin frames to resemble icicles. The campaign needed something that looked amazing and was also practical to install. Definitely eye-catching stuff.
Is there an idea or brand you’d love to see on street posters?
I always thought it would be great to do more street-level interactive puzzles, like Sudoku or crosswords. What about an eye test for an optician brand or prescription glasses?
Any advice you’d give clients thinking about a street poster campaign?
The more outrageous the better. I love the really creative stuff that stretches us, and the special installs that turn a poster into an event.

  • This interview originally appeared in the Phantom Billstickers newsletter. 
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