Paul Budnitz is an American artist, designer, and entrepeneur. He is well known as the founder of Kidrobot, the world’s premiere creator of art toys. He is also the founder of Budnitz Bicycles, a luxury city bicycle brand, and co-founder of Ello, the social network for creators. Over a dozen of his designs are in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art. Current projects include Superplastic, which is launching in mid-2018.
Budnitz is the author of several books, has founded over a dozen companies, and lectures on creativity worldwide. He splits his time between Burlington, Vermont and New York City and wears size 13 sneakers.
Full bio below.
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.
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 and Ultraviolet won awards in Berlin and many other film festivals and were distributed worldwide.
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 1996, 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 1997.
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.
“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. Everything beautiful that we create in life requires a leap of faith.”
For Budnitz, one venture lead organically to the next. He started his first business, M.O.B., while still in college, selling clothing he created 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 had become a $10 million business run out of a garage on software Budnitz had written himself.
Budnitz’s career took another unexpected turn in 2002 when he came across images of cutting-edge 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 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. He moved the new company to New York City in 2003.
“When I first started Kidrobot is was impossible to explain to people what I was doing. People would ask, ‘are they art or are they toys?’, and I’d say, ‘Both. 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 the brand.
In 2010, 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 2008 Cooper-Hewitt Smithsonian Museum Design Triennial.
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, Shepard Fairy, Eboy, Tilt, Paul Pope; Designers including Heatherette, Jil Sander, Dries Van Noten, Marc Jacobs, Louis Vuitton, and Prada; Musicians including Swizz Beatz and Gorillaz; and brands including Nike, Barney’s NYC, LaCoste, Burton Snowboards, Standard Hotels, Siemens, Swatch, and Volkswagon; and many, many, many others.
Budnitz has also conceived of and co-designed all of Kidrobot’s retail stores and the Kidrobot Room (within Peter Gatien’s Circa mega-nightclub in Toronto). In 2008 he authored the book I Am Plastic: The Designer Toy Explosion, published by Harry Abrams Press. This was followed in 2012 by I Am Plastic, Too, and his children’s book The Hole in the Middle.
In 2012 Budnitz launched Budnitz Bicycles, following his lifelong passion for cycling. Often called the Aston Martin of bicycles, Budnitz uses titanium and bespoke components to create the fastest, lightest, and the most beautiful city bicycles in the world. Budnitz Bicycles have been featured in Vogue, V Magazine, Forbes, Coolhunting, and many other online and offline publications. In 2012 Phaidon called Budnitz, “The man who made bicycles beautiful again”. In 2014 Budnitz Model No.3 was named “Best City Bicycle” by Bicycling Magazine.
Budnitz co-founded the creative social network Ello in 2014. With millions of users worldwide, Ello has received acclaim for its positivity and transparency from both arts and mainstream press worldwide.
Upcoming projects include Superplastic, a new product/media brand launching in 2018
Paul Budnitz splits his time between his home in Vermont and New York City, where he rides his bicycle and wears size 13 sneakers.
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