Founded seven year ago by four CG artists and animators, Glasgow-based Axis is now one of the biggest CG animation studios in the UK. The team is currently working on three video game promo movies for next-generation PlayStation 3 titles with top UK publishers Sony and Codemasters, as well as on broadcast titles and programme content for the BBC.
“We don’t exclusively work in the commercials sector,” says founding director Richard Scott. “We work for video game, broadcast TV and online clients – it’s this combination of experience and styles of work that draws people to us.”
Among them was Blinkink, the London production company responsible for Codehunters, an animation project which Axis helped produce for MTV Asia. Blinkink was looking for a production partner which could achieve a unique style influenced by comic books, video games and anime films. “One of the most important things for Blinkink and MTV Asia was that we could produce something with amazing production values,” says Scott.
These values were recognised when Axis Animation graced the red carpet at the Baftas as its animated TV series Colin and Cumberland scooped a host of top awards. “That has been a fantastic project for us,” says Scott. “We’ve won a Welsh Bafta for the TV series and a Scottish Bafta for Fetch – a short film starring the two main characters and written and directed by Axis’s Dana Dorian.”
Commercials remain a big part of the Axis output, with the team working with The Bridge and Newhaven on two separate projects. “There’s no doubt that animation is a key part of commercial production,” says Scott. “It allows you to create a commercial that can stand out in terms of style and design, and there is an ability to send out a message or tell a story that may be more difficult to convey using live action.
“What is interesting about animation is the flexibility you can have. It’s a lot easier to change a character’s performance during the animation process than it is to fly back to the Caribbean to retake that shot on the beach. Ultimately, though, it’s a great idea that makes a great commercial.”
The animation industry in Scotland has started to produce some outstanding work and is beginning to gain some deserved recognition both locally and internationally. It is still overlooked sometimes by the commercial communications world, but Scott understands why.
“Scotland hasn’t really been a hotbed of animation in the past,” he says. “So it’s easy to see why people look to the more traditional places such as London and Bristol. But Scotland is now producing work that can easily compete with and surpass what is happening down south. We need the support of the connected industries to keep growing.”
Another company helping to cement Scotland’s creative reputation is Screenmedia. The Glasgow-based agency combines traditional media production – advertising, film, TV, audio and video – with interactive design and technology skills to create rich, engaging design for screen-based media.
Founding director Kenny Shaw previously worked client-side as corporate marketing manager at Scottish Amicable. Turning his attentions to new media in 1996, he joined Black Graphic Design as creative director, before moving to WarkClements in 2000 where he produced interactive and film projects. He left in May 2004 to set up Screenmedia.
“We are unique in having the in-house expertise in interactive design and technology, alongside broadcast production skills for audio, video, animation and games,” says Shaw of his company. “At a time when broadband is pushing the demand for richer and more engaging content online, we are well positioned to deliver rich media solutions.”
Screenmedia now employs 10 staff – working for the likes of George Wimpey, National Archives of Scotland, The Lighthouse and the Scottish Executive – and recently won a Scottish Bafta for mysusthouse.org, a website of animated movies and games about sustainability, aimed at primary and secondary schools, challenging pupils to change the way they live to help the environment. “It teaches children about the positive choices of being energy efficient, reducing waste, recycling, and using more sustainable materials,” says Shaw. “By design, it aims to be attractive and engaging, and that’s why the design, animation and games element is so important when attempting to captivate a young audience.
“Most of our interactive designs involve some element of rich-media content such as audio and video, animation and games. And with some roots in broadcast media, we have always been lucky enough to do rich-media work with broadcasters and independent film and TV production companies such as the BBC, Channel 4 and IWC Media.”
Screenmedia is now working on a couple of online projects for the BBC – including a takeover of BBC Three’s bbc.co.uk/three/cowards – creating an interactive touch-screen exhibit for Scottish Natural Heritage and developing interactive football games for Learndirect Scotland.
“Broadband has made the internet more dynamic, exciting and ultimately useful,” says Shaw. “Acceptance and trust play a large part. The media, and now the majority of businesses and consumers, accept the internet as a safe place to buy and sell and notice its enormous economic benefits.”
Client demand for interactive media and communications is, of course, fuelled by this growing audience. It may have taken a while, but marketers now understand and accept the need to communicate online. Poor online communications, says Shaw, will leave many businesses at a disadvantage.
“As the audience grows, businesses and marketers will use it more. And as the platform continues to change, there are new opportunities for businesses to get their heads around. A good example is the sudden emergence of services like MySpace and YouTube and the challenges or opportunities these present to media companies.”