Computer Cafe owner-president David Ebner is used to being the youngest person in the room. Hired at the ripe old age of 17 by his hometown’s local CBS affiliate to create graphics, the mostly self-taught CG artist knew as a kid that he wanted to follow in him mother’s footsteps and be an artist.
“As a kid I drew all the time, and I liked to program on my PC Junior, so it seemed to be a perfect fit,” Ebner says. “The station hired me after they saw some graphics work I had done for some video projects. It turns out I was the only one in the area who knew anything about electronic painting on a Paint Box at the time.”
While working at the station, Ebner met his current partner, Jeff Barnes, an established editor.
“We asked the general manager at the station if we could do some freelance animation projects for their commercial clients,” Ebner explains, “and he said that was OK because they didn’t have any facilities for it.”
Ebner borrowed $10,000 from his mom to rent a one-room office and buy the bare necessities to start Computer Cafe. “I lived with my folks, and worked full-time for two years putting everything back into the company before I knew this was something that was going to be more than a sideline for me. We were also very lucky because, about three months after we opened, we got the Fosters Freeze contract for a year.”
Ebner’s advice to young entrepreneurs is not to borrow too much or hire too many people when starting out.
“Even with the Fosters account, we started out by laying the animation frame by frame to a Beta B tape, renting out the TV station’s editing room and bringing in our portable computer and a whole bunch of external hard drives, which we chained together,” Ebner recalls.
In just five years, the business has grown to 19 employees in offices in Los Angeles and Santa Maria, with $2.5 million a year in revenues.
Clients have included major studios, ad agencies, commercial houses and television stations.
Computer Cafe’s work was used on the features “Flubber” and “Armageddon.” Most recently, the company produced more than 200 visual effects for Trimark Home Video’s “Star Kid.”
The company has been so successful that Ebner’s father now kids him about coming to work there.
“Growing up, my dad always wanted me to follow in his footsteps and become a doctor, but I said I didn’t want the late nights.” Ebner says. “My father likes to point out to me how ironic it is that I’m now working longer and harder than he does. But I love what I do.”