Making things move with character: animation studio Animade
Animation studio Animade was set up by childhood friends and co-founders Tom Judd and James Chambers in 2011, with aspirations of meeting interactive design with animation. TV ads, games, social media campaigns and their own sister company, Boords have since followed. Used for both teaching and promotional tools, a plethora of passion projects has earned them fans and clients in the shape of Dropbox, Airbnb and Facebook – all looking for a dose of characterful and well-crafted animation. Their premises, near Old Street in east London, sees them well-placed alongside like-minded animation talent. But much work has also been spent on building a positive and experimental working environment for a close-knit team of 18. Their over-subscribed internship programme is also testament to the studio’s commitment to nurturing talent, with many of their full-time staff starting out in this way. Tom tells us how it all happens, their friendly studio culture and what they look for in new team members.
We make animations for clients of all sizes. Since the beginning, we have strived to set up a working environment that makes us smile each and every day we walk through the door. This means a friendly, close-knit team, a nice environment to work in, and projects that get the whole team excited.
I set up the company seven years ago with my business partner, James Chambers. We have known each other since we were kids, and had worked on a few projects together through university. We knew at some point we wanted to try and set something up, although we didn’t really know what that might be, or become.
“Over the last seven years, things have changed a lot and our approach to the business has matured along the way.”
James studied Design Interactions at the Royal College of Art whilst I studied Animation. We enjoyed the way that interactive design and animation could play nicely together, and wanted to maintain this idea of innovating around that crossover when forming the company.
This explorative stance led to the production of our games, Ready Steady Bang and later Ready Steady Play, as well as a plethora of client work that brings animation into an interactive space online. It also sparked our latest side venture, Boords: an online storyboarding tool for creative teams. Over the last seven years, things have changed a lot and our approach to the business has matured along the way.
We love a project where we can be involved from the very start. We recently teamed up with Dropbox to help them produce over 40 illustrations and animations for their rebrand. It was a really fun gig that let us explore wacky and surreal notions, such as a ‘man bus’ with a big floppy tongue. Facebook also asked us to construct a series of short films around a bunch of crazy machines for a campaign they were running (Feed Factory). Again, this project let us roll up our sleeves and get creative.
Each project will be assigned a creative director (myself or Ed), who is responsible for the overall quality of the output. We get involved in as many calls and meetings as possible. A project lead – one of our senior animators – will be in charge of directing the project and responsible for the day to day creative output. They are the voice of the project and will communicate its creative progress with the client, finding ways to hit a brief whilst creating outstanding work. The creative lead (any of our creative team, who may also be acting as project lead on a project), is responsible for the visual styling and heavily involved in concepting the creative side of the project.
“We enjoyed the way that interactive design and animation could play nicely together, and wanted to maintain this when forming the company.”
The rest of the creative team grows to fit a project’s needs. It will be made up of freelancers or our internal team members, who follow direction from the project leads and creative leads to produce the job at hand. Each project is also assigned a project manager and account manager to make sure everything runs smoothly and we hit deadlines, whilst maintaining a healthy relationship with the client.
We work on loads of self-initiated projects. In fact our entire studio is built on it; we probably invest 25% of studio time into passion projects. It’s a big part of the studio culture and its benefits are soon missed during the busier spells. We did a talk recently at Blend Fest where Ed and James outlined exactly why self-initiated projects are so important to us. In brief the main gains are: innovations (being able to fail but not on client time), marketing (showing the world what we like doing, which brings in the jobs we want to do), team building (bringing together unlikely partnerships) and learning (trying out new processes and techniques or picking an area for improvement).
We are a group of 18 at the time of writing, with 11 creatives (who all boast great design and illustration skills along with animation talent), an administrative team made up of a managing director, an account manager, two project managers, one head of new business, one head of marketing and a studio manager. We normally have one or two animation freelancers in the studio, but this varies depending on what projects are running. On occasion we bring in freelancers to cover project management.
We take hiring very seriously. The team is so close-knit that it’s key to find the right sort of person for any role across the studio. We are always looking for people who are great team players, motivated and trustworthy.
“Internships are a big deal for us; we pride ourselves on giving our paid interns a complete crash course during their three months.”
We also run an internship programme each quarter. It’s a big deal for us and we pride ourselves on giving our paid interns a complete crash course during their three months with us. They are assigned a mentor and are given animation projects to run in downtime, between guided experience on client projects. Last time we opened applications, over 120 applicants got in touch, which goes to show it’s working. In fact five of the creatives on our team started as interns!
Environment and Culture
We run the studio from 9am to 6pm with a stand-up each day to kick things off at 9am. We all gather at the front of the studio and in turn mention briefly what we did yesterday and what we will be doing today. It’s a really useful initiative, giving everyone a view on what each person in the team is doing. We have a set lunchtime of 1pm to 2pm. It’s very much a communal time where we can catch up with each other, maybe over a game of foosball or Mario Kart. We finish the day at 6pm. This is key to a healthy work-life balance. We manage all our projects to avoid overtime or situations that push our team past 6pm.
Alongside an annual profit share, we also take the team away on an extended weekend each summer. This summer we lucked out with a super-sunny week in Cornwall. The year before we hired a villa in Tuscany with its own pool and games courts. We also have two culture captains who are given a budget each quarter to organise trips and events for the team.
We are based near Old Street in East London. Our studio is a lovely open plan space with exposed eaves and brickwork. We have lots of plants, making the space feel relaxed and calming even when the team is under pressure with deadlines looming. There are about 20 other animation studios located a stone's throw from us, including Golden Wolf, Cub Studio and Nexus. It’s a great spot with lots going on!
Written by Marianne Hanoun
Photography by Andy Donohoe