The empire resides behind a couple of deceptively humble storefronts on East Hennepin Avenue between Fifth and Central Avenues.
But it’s there that Shad Petosky and his design/illustration/animation/etc./etc. company, Puny Entertainment, produce an amazingly vast trove of design hilarity: posters, animation, video games, TV shows, comics, art installations, augmented reality, screenprinting, Web sites, even New Yorker illustrations. (Puny also created the graphics for the freshly opened Haute Dish restaurant, as well as both the name and graphics for the très cool Black Sheep pizza emporium.)
How can so much come out of a shop of about 20 or so people that’s been open only since 2007? Talent, absolutely. But founder Shad Petosky implies another reason: No plan. Well, at least that’s what I’m inferring. Puny seems to run on a high-density fuel of pure inventiveness. (The company also runs one of the most entertaining blogs in town.)
“I do a lot of different things poorly,” Shad jokes. “My main skill is in being distracted.”
He started out with one hand in computer programming, another in comics. He freelanced for the fun-loving interactive gang at Ham in the Fridge, then decided he wanted to pursue the mobile content realm, which looked in the mid-zeros as if it would be a next big thing. Thus the name “Puny,” for “puny screens.” Smartphones put the kibosh on that, but Shad took all that he had learned (mostly on his own)—interactive, animation, marketing, graphic design—and mixed it up into a new business.
What has really made Puny huge locally (and beyond) is its animation and Web design for the intensely hued Nick Jr. show Yo Gabba Gabba!. Shad credits networking in the rock poster scene and designer Jess Ledoux with networking Puny into the show. It was a major gig, but like all of Puny’s work, it never occurs to Shad to be daunted by an opportunity.
“Clients call us and ask if we can do something—games, augmented reality, whatever,” he says. “And we say, ‘Yeah, we can do it.’ Then we go figure it out. That’s always how I’ve done things. We’ve always had that do-it-yourself attitude.” Sometimes he finds out that people on his staff actually know how to make a project happen. “I always forget all that we can do,” he says. (Here’s an example of a gaming/Web/advertising hybrid it developed for General Mills—Trixworld.)
These days, “I just run the business,” Shad says, “so I don’t do anything.” (I’m betting that’s not completely the case.) That business has, as always, innumerable irons in innumerable fires. Shad says that he’d like to do more game development and more TV work. (The company has developed and pitched a couple of pilots.) He also expects Puny to put together branded entertainment for corporate clients.
Puny remains the center of the empire, but there are a couple of other territories that add their own buzz, both connected to the Puny work space. There’s a storefront gallery called Pink Hobo; when I was visiting some weeks ago, Pink Hobo was showing an exhibition of QR code art. More recently, friend-of-Puny Kristoffer Knutson moved his designer toy shop RobotLove into an open storefront next door. (Thanks to Shad and RobotLove, I now know about the, um, unconventional art mag Hi-Fructose, which I really dig but/and don’t understand.)
The gallery and the shop add a certain noise and distraction to Puny’s offices. But to Shad, it all adds to the energy that makes Puny go.
In any case, if in the past few years, Minneapolis somehow seems more fun, it’s partly that massive Puny energy you’re feeling.
P.S.: Shad recently sent an e-mail updating Puny’s latest entertainments: “We just put the finishing touches on some work on a second feature film. Director James Gunn had us hired back-to-back, first on Super, starring Rainn Wilson, Ellen Page, and Liv Tyler, and then on a we-shouldn't-talk-about-it Farrelly-Wessler comedy starring everyone in Hollywood.”