Axis Animation: Perfect 10

Axis Animation: Perfect 10
Will Freeman

By Will Freeman

August 27th 2010 at 8:00AM

After a decade in the business, Axis Animation has learned a thing or two about how to thrive in tough economic times

It’s hard to believe that when Axis Animation began business at the dawn of the new millennium, the industry–spanning studio barely had a strategy for expansion in place.

With BAFTAs and Imagina Grand Dury Prize gongs now sitting in the Glasgow company’s trophy cabinet, the last decade has clearly gone well for the studio, but at its inception things were markedly more humble.

“In our early years strategy wasn’t something we discussed too much as everyone was knuckling down and doing a bit of everything,” admits managing director, executive producer and founder Richard Scott, who formed Axis with three fellow artists and animators in his home town.

“As we’ve grown we’ve become much more strategic, you need to if you want to keep growing and moving forward.”

ROOM TO BREATHE
Expansion and progression are clearly instinctive things to a firm like Axis, which has quickly built up an impressive client list across the game, film, television and advertising sectors, recently contributing to Mass Effect 2, Singularity and Killzone 2. So what’s the secret?

“I think our success lies in being able to always strive for the highest quality in our work and have the best people possible working for us,” suggests Scott.

“Alongside that we are flexible and have a personal approach. We’ve also adapted a lot during that growth and not been afraid to try new structures and work in different ways and for different clients.”

With international business development underway and an ever-expanding client list across the entertainment industries, it’s impossible to refute Axis’ accomplishments, but the firm’s model does beg one question. In taking on board projects from the silver and small screens, is there not a danger of spreading too thin?

In fact, reveals Scott, Axis’ broad focus has a twofold advantage: “First we get a range of exciting projects to consider. This keeps our portfolio fresh and the team excited, as they love the variation of tasks.

“The second advantage is the ability to not be pigeonholed as only doing certain work. Recently our focus has fallen on the video games and commercials work, which gives a range of projects from stylised to photo-real.”

RISING TO FACE IT
Still, Axis’ history has not been one without challenge. Aside from having never been in business before the studio’s conception, Scott and his co-workers have had to tackle the problems all developing businesses face: recruiting the right people, knowing when to hire at the top level, knowing when to add support resource, maintaining client relationships and most importantly, balancing creativity with profitability.

“I think we have overcome them with dogged determination, passion and the need for creativity to be at the core of everything; we definitely never let money get in the way of doing the best job. And of course we have a lot of laughs along the way,” says Scott.

Overcoming those hurdles has of course defined Axis’ triumph, and in its ten-year history its client list has become something it is extremely proud of.

“We are delighted to have grown into an international animation studio from our Glasgow base which – let’s be honest – has never been a big hub for animation,” states Scott. “Our ability work with some of the biggest names in entertainment is a testament to our people and our aim to produce the best work no matter what.”

In its position as a leading animation studio, Axis is also well placed to spot trends that will continue to dictate the development of the animation sector.

According to Scott, real-time graphics are going to influence the animation sector dramatically. Axis has already seen real-time solutions being used in pre-visualisation of features, television and commercials, and the lighting and rendering pipelines of animated features and VFX.

“As computer power increases we will see these technologies become more common and the convergence with the games industry won’t stop,” asserts Scott.

Scott is also quick to defend the work by Axis and its contemporaries, which on occasion is criticised by consumers suspicious of footage that isn’t gameplay.
“I think what we do is part of the shift in video games evolution into mainstream entertainment. Games need to compete for everyone’s entertainment dollar and trailers and all marketing materials are a big part of that.

We’re proud of the trailers that we make and the excitement they create for lots of different titles,” he says.

In typically friendly fashion Scott concludes with some advice for aspiring animation studios looking to enjoy Axis’ success.

“One of the things we found difficult in the early years was that we all came from similar creative backgrounds, which is great when you’re really small as you need the ability to do the work and run the business. Eventually though, you need different skill sets at a management level and the best case scenario would have been to have those in the original founders of the company and have them take that through every area as you grow.”