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Ame Franceschini photo
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Ame Franceschini's love affair with the Web may soon come to an end. For more than a year, the creative force behind the Future Farmers Web-design group has been threatening to call it quits. "I want to buy a farm and maybe have an artist in residence," she says.

Ok, so the farm would have a satellite Internet connection, but that's a detail. "The Web is just not very tactile," she says, grasping for an explanation.

Design is making dull things interesting. People either seem to like what we do, or they respond with an interested 'huh?' That's all you can hope for.

- Ame Franceschini

Climb the steps to her San Francisco studio, and you'll see what she means. Franceschini is into things she can touch. Her studio bristles with soldering irons, drafting triangles, and sheaves of fabric. Crowding a small room is her latest project: a chandelier installation destined for the city's Yerba Buena Cultural Center. The chandelier's seven white bulbs drape downward; inside each, a robotic bird will soon flutter to the pulse of city traffic.

When not building robotic birds, Franceschini forms the center of an art collective known as the Future Farmers - not your average hipster Web shop. "We've never drafted a proposal or written a contract," confesses Franceschini. Her studio contains no space for hosting clients or pitching projects - in fact, spare chairs for visitors come courtesy of an obliging neighbor. But that's also a detail. Franceschini is so successful, she accepts only mega-clients like Nike, Levis, and Lucasfilms (for which the Future Farmers created the Star Wars Episode I site).

The child of real farmers, Franceschini attended San Francisco State, where she majored in photography. Even then, the tactile formed a big part of her creative output. For ordinary assignments, she wrapped her photographs in cloth bindings, arranged them in elaborate foldouts, and swathed them in vellum.

"I think people didn't get it," she said. "They just thought it was overboard."

Franceschini began designing commercial Web sites almost as soon as there was a Web (her first client was NEC, her second Autodesk). Then, as now, it was her personal projects that built her reputation. In November, 1995, she launched Atlas Magazine, an online forum for photography and art. Winner of two Webby Awards, Atlas Magazine serves as a forerunner for many other Farmers projects, including work for Hotwired's RGB Gallery and the Remedi Project.

Franceschini's calling card is her three-dimensional characters. Whether bird, human, or fish, she painstakingly models them in Metacreation's Infini-D 4.5, captures them as screens, and then painstakingly renders them either in to Adobe Photoshop images or as Web animations. "They take an awful lot of time," she admits. "But it's great when you finally make a character give a little wave. Then you think, wow, it's alive."

Franceschini has also consistently sought out the best technical people for Future Farmers' projects, including the musical design firm Air King, and multimedia programmer Sascha Merg of SAS21.

In the end, though, Franceschini is modest about her success. "I don't have a design philosophy," she explains. "Design is making dull things interesting. People either seem to like what we do, or they respond with an interested 'huh?' That's all you can hope for."

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