SNDLOU: Meet Jody Surgrue and Mike Schmidt of National Geographic

In case you haven’t heard, SND Louisville starts Thursday (don’t worry, you can still register here). As we count down the hours, SND will continue to introduce some of the incredible speakers you can look forward to hearing. Today, we meet Jody Surgrue and Mike Schmidt of National Geographic. (Photograph by Michael Nichols from National Geographic’s interactive story The Serengeti Lion.)

Emma Grdina: What are your current positions? 

Jody Sugrue: Mike Schmidt and I both work at National Geographic. I’m the Creative Director of Digital where I dream up and build new approaches to the web with my interactive team. Mike is the Multimedia Director primarily focused on leading the video group.

EG: Can you share a little bit of background about how you got where you are today?  

JS: Mike has been making videos, animations and designing for the web since before the Y2K bug nearly annihilated the planet.  Most recently he was an Associate Creative Director at the innovative-andidoomed tablet publication, The Daily. I have been making creative mayhem since I wormed my way into a newsroom by slightly exaggerating my almost non-existent After Effects skills, which I then learned so fast nobody even noticed.  More recently I was an ACD at Frog Design and a Creative Director at Showtime.

EG: What has been your favorite project you worked on while at National Geographic?

JS: That’s a hard question because the content at National Geographic is so amazing.

My main project has been working with the magazine to help translate the iPad app into an online experience. It has been such a cool opportunity to look at the new features we could introduce and have conversations around how storytelling will be different for each platform. We’re just beginning and the potential is huge. Working with teams on projects like The Serengeti Lion show the range and potential for National Geographic’s digital space.

On Mike’s first day at National Geographic he learned that one of our amazing explorers, innovative storm researcher Tim Samaras, was killed in a massive tornado. The first video he helped produce was a brief homage to Tim’s life’s work. For the November issue, we dove deeper into the story over a few months to create a series of videos detailing Tim’s work and the events of the El Reno Storm. Mike worked closely with Shannon Sanders on the videos and our iPad team built a special interface for navigating through the path of the storm. All the projects at National Geographic are a team effort, and it is great to be part of a team that values the integrity of a story to such a high regard.

EG: Where do you look for inspiration before embarking on a project?  

JS: We look at what other people in our industry are doing – luckily there are a lot of talented people and cool projects. We also look at the fashion industry, film, photography, art, and really anything visual.  We are a tribe of visual storytellers and inspiration can come from anywhere.

EG: I saw that “Do Robots Dream of Electric Lions” is a Workshop session. What should SNDLOU attendants expect from your session? 

JS: We originally had it scheduled to be a “prancercize” workshop complete with branded ankle weights from the National Geographic store; but we wouldn’t have enough time to adequately explore such a topic. So we’ve decided to focus on some of the things we’re working on in this new era at National Geographic online. We’re looking forward to giving folks a sneak peek at a new product we’ll be launching soon and show a few things we’ve done in the past year. 

EG: Why are you excited to speak at SNDLOU?

We have both been to SND conferences in the past so we know what great events they are. We are excited to share what we’ve been working on and share some of the lessons we’ve learned. But mostly we are hoping to see some great speakers and get inspired by great work and great people in our community.

Plus we love Louisville Slugger baseball bats!