Paul Budnitz is the founder of Kidrobot, the world's premiere creator of art toys, fashion apparel and accessories.
The son of a nuclear physicist and a social worker, Paul Budnitz was professionally coding safety analysis software for nuclear power plants by the time he reached high school. He also created video games for the now-legendary Commodore 64 home computer. By the time he reached college he swore he'd "never touch another computer again."
Budnitz studied photography, sculpture, and film at Yale University, earning honors and a degree in Art in 1990.
His first two films, 93 Million Miles from the Sun and Ultraviolet won awards in Berlin and were distributed worldwide. Artforum magazine hailed 93 Million Miles as "one of the best films of 1997."
As Budnitz's energies became increasingly devoted to moving images he became aware of gaps in existing technology. "Since there weren't any affordable ways to edit a film on a computer in 1995, I hacked my own hardware system to edit my films," he says. He made the first feature film to be edited on a home computer, an achievement chronicled in Wired magazine in 1996.
That combination of entrepreneurial spirit, a keen aesthetic sense and encyclopedic love for global popular culture, and a well-developed talent for hacking would characterize all of Budnitz's future ventures, including Kidrobot.
"My grandfather was a small-town doctor and he used to say that I was missing a gene that told me that some giant risk I am about to take with my life is both stupid and dangerous. I'm grateful for this. Everything beautiful that we create in life requires a leap of faith."
For Budnitz, one venture led organically to the next. He started his first business, M.O.B., while still in college, selling clothing he co-designed to museum stores worldwide. This soon evolved into collecting, selling, and modifying vintage Levis and other wearable cultural artifacts, such as classic Air Jordans (which Budnitz sold in Japan for as much as $16,000 a pair).
In 1997 Budnitz began recording sound for his 16mm films on MiniDiscs, a new audio format that he'd run into while on a trip to Tokyo. Soon Budnitz was hacking and customizing MiniDisc players for film and sound recording and selling them on the then just emerging Internet. By 2001 Minidisco.com had become an $7 million business run on software Budnitz had written himself.
Budnitz's career took another unexpected turn in 2002 when he came across images of edgy vinyl toys that were coming out of China and Japan. These toys included "vinyl toys based on cereal box characters, and remixed GI-Joes turned into stylized B-boys."
He recognized the quirky, intricate toys as works of popular-art, pieces that mixed many aesthetic movements he loved -- including fashion, cartoons, graffiti, comics, music, and fine art. Budnitz sold Minidisco and sunk the proceeds into founding Kidrobot in a California garage in 2002. Leveraging the technology he'd developed for his older businesses and moved the new company to New York City in 2003, and then to Boulder, CO in 2010.
"When I first started this company is was really hard to explain to people what I was doing. People would ask, 'are they art or are they toys?', and I'd say, 'Both, and selling them is part of the artwork too.' That question has always driven me a little crazy. Now the toys are in museums AND they're for sale in stores."
Budnitz called upon the talents of friend Tristan Eaton, the illustrator he'd worked with on his previous animated films. Together they created Dunny and Munny, two of Kidrobot's best selling characters. With a philosophy of collaboration, Budnitz brought in dozens of other fine artists, graffiti artists, and illustrators to work on toy projects with him. Kidrobot produces roughly 60 new toy projects each year and its toys are sold in thousands of stores worldwide.
In 2006 Budnitz co-designed much of Kidrobot's acclaimed limited edition apparel line. With clothing pieces priced between $175 and $3000, Kidrobot apparel can be found in Barneys New York and many other high-end retailers worldwide.
In December 2007, 10 Dunny toys and 3 Munny toys created by Budnitz & Eaton, with paints by various artists, were accepted into the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. Kidrobot's innovative toys were also the centerpiece of the 2006 Cooper-Hewitt Smithsonian Museum Design Triennial.
Budnitz has designed or art directed virtually every product created by Kidrobot since the company's inception. Budnitz's original creations include Dunny & Munny with Tristan Eaton, Zoomies, MoochyPooty (animated for Wildbrain's brilliant Yo Gabba Gabba on Nick Jr.), and many others.
Budnitz has worked with many of the world's top artists, designers, and fashion brands. A short list includes artists & illustrators Frank Kozik, Dalek, Doze Green, Tara McPherson, Gary Baseman, Huck Gee, Tristan Eaton, David Horvath, Shepard Fairy, Eboy, Tilt, Mist, Joe Ledbetter, and Paul Pope; Designers including Heatherette, Lemar & Dauley, Jil Sander, Dries Van Noten, Marc Jacobs, Visionaire, and Paul Smith; Musicians including Swizz Beatz, Paul Durham and Black Lab, DJ QBert, and Gorillaz; and brands like Nike, Barney's NYC, LaCoste, Burton Snowboards, The Standard Hotels, Siemens, and Volkswagon; and many, many, many others.
Budnitz has also co-designed all of Kidrobot's retail stores and the Kidrobot Room bar (within Peter Gatien's CIRCA mega-nightclub in Toronto). He has authored I AM PLASTIC: The Designer Toy Explosion and I AM PLASTIC, TOO published by Harry Abrams Press.
Budnitz still occasionally photographs, including a center spread for Readymade Magazine and album covers for Black Lab. Budnitz frequently appears as a speaker at conferences on business innovation and creativity worldwide. He posts regularly on his blog at paulbudnitz.com.
Kidrobot runs a website and retail stores in New York City, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Miami, and London.
Paul Budnitz lives and works in Boulder, Colorado, and owns 80 pairs of size 13 sneakers.
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