The driving principal is to democratize the creative economy in the sense of bringing opportunities to guys like Lucas, guys who would probably be shut out of work like this in the old model."

Some days Lucas Ridley has a tough decision to make: Should he spend his time at the computer, working on his latest computer animation project, or should he go hang gliding or maybe rock climbing?

It's an ideal dilemma to have in Chattanooga, he admits.

"I love the town," he says. "I love to hang glide and rock climb, and it's the Gig City. With the work I do, it all fits perfectly."

It wasn't always so, however. When the website went online in 2009, it changed the work environment and opportunities for creatives like Ridley, who specializes in 3-D animation and computer-generated imagery. Billed as the "world's first studio on demand," Tongal offers businesses a place to post their needs for digital projects and for creative types like Ridley to go looking for work they feel fits their skill set.

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Lucas Ridley is a local filmmaker who works primarily with 3-D animation.

On Tongal, for example, Mattel's Hot Wheels is paying $18,000 for a YouTube video that "gets boys excited to play with Hot Wheels in super cool and exciting ways." Stephenie Meyer, author of the "Twilight" series, is offering $100,000 for a short film set in the "Twilight" universe "so that the voices of female writers and directors can be heard."

Anheuser-Busch, Lego, Women's Rogaine and Lenovo, among many others, also have posted requests on Tongal.

Once creators submit their ideas, the companies choose the proposal that best suits their needs. Along with the budget amount listed on Tongal, the creator of the chosen project also receives an additional financial bonus.

A single project may have several people working on it; one person doing the concept, one doing the filming or creating the computer animation, another providing the on-camera or voice actors.

The key for Ridley is that, rather than spend hours and weeks working on a project and hoping it might win a contest, with Tongal, if his proposal is accepted, he knows he will be paid for the work he does with the chance to make more if his project is the ultimate selection.

"Any project that I pitch to Tongal it's because it's something I think is unique to my skill set. I do most of my work in Chattanooga," the 30-year-old says. "The beauty of animation stuff and the reason I got into it is that, if I need a tropical scene or whatever, I just make it. I don't have to go anywhere."

Ridley's work has been included in projects for Lego, Bud Lite and His spots run from 15 seconds to two minutes long and take about a month to produce, he says.

Tongal, which has doubled revenue nearly five times in the last few years, was co-created by Rob Salvatore, Mark Burrell and James DeJulio, a former vice president of production with Paramount Pictures.

"The driving principal is to democratize the creative economy in the sense of bringing opportunities to guys like Lucas," DeJulio says, "guys who would probably be shut out of work like this in the old model."

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Most of Ridley's work for Tongal has been 3-D animation. He has worked on projects for Lego, NASA and Anheuser-Busch.

That "old model" of production, marketing and even who can be involved in the creative process is changing rapidly, he says. Old styles of advertising are still around, but new ones are coming along that must be taken into consideration by marketers and product makers.

With streaming, on-demand and DVRs, for instance, people don't watch television in as linear a fashion as much as they did, so marketing campaigns designed to run in the familiar commercial breaks don't work on Facebook. And what works on Facebook doesn't work on Instagram or Twitter.

DeJulio says the challenge now is to figure out what type of advertising works best on those platforms but that essentially it is a wide open arena. The final product could be a 30 seconds to 30 minutes long; it could be all 3-D animation, a video or a series of photos; nothing is out of bounds.

Over the years DeJulio found that, too often, the people enlisted to create ad or marketing campaigns were the same ones each time, but in the new model, there are lots of talented people like Ridley with the tools to make quality content.

"We don't care if that person is 13 or 87, as long as they deliver the product," DeJulio says.

He says he actually reached out to Ridley after seeing some of his work on a blog. "He is a level-headed, hardworking guy who does good work."

To date, Ridley says he has earned about $140,000 from the work he has done through Tongal. In addition to his animation work, Ridley has started Key Float Center, which focuses on flotation therapy.

"The beauty of doing freelance is that it enables you to do other things," he says.

Ridley describes himself as a "generalist," someone who can complete a video project from start to finish without relying on others.

"I wouldn't have the niche I have at Tongal if I wasn't a generalist. It allows me to have a quick turnaround and not be reliant on others," he says.

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James DeJulio, president and co-founder of

All of the work can be done on his home computer, which means he could be located anywhere in the world. Born in Bowling Green, Ky., Ridley first came to this area to attend the University of the South about seven years ago. Early film work took him to Canada, Los Angeles and Louisiana, "but it was hard to stay away from Chattanooga," he says.

Ridley moved here from Shreveport, La., where he was doing essentially line work for Moonbot Studios, working on a single part of larger projects. One was a short marketing film for Chipotle Mexican Grill in which a scarecrow is followed through a dystopian world. It won two Emmy Awards: Outstanding Directing in an Animated Program and Outstanding New Approaches Original Daytime Program or Series.

While Ridley is proud of the work he did with Moonbot, it was there he decided he wanted autonomy — and the freedom to hang glide when he wanted.

"I feel fortunate to live at a time that this is possible," he says. "Even five years ago, it was not a possibility. It's pretty amazing."

Contact Barry Courter at or 423-757-6354.