The XYZ of Animation
Taking its name from the possibilities of cartesian space, XYZ is a studio specialising in the art of commercial animation. Based in South Melbourne and founded in 2003 by Tim Kentley, the studio is defined by its directors and their commitment to exquisite storytelling.
With a strong ethos on “original story” taking the lead, it motivates the teams on everything from technique, tone and tempo. The company also has sister divisions, with Crayon dedicated to live action post, and Wheelbarrow that focuses on turning children’s books into interactive iPad experiences.
Taking some time out, executive producer Garett Mayow catches up with LBB to discuss inventing fascinating worlds for characters to live in.
LBB> What kind of skill sets do you look for in your directors?
GM> We look for a range of skills, and not just technical. Good communication skills are crucial. They need to be able to relate their creative vision to both our team and our clients – many of whom can be new to animation. An ability to adapt and evolve is also highly valued.
We as a studio are always trying to push the envelope creatively, so need to have directors on board who share that thirst for evolution. In terms of technical abilities, our directors tend to be quite hands-on during the project, but this will vary from script to script. Skills in character design, animation, and compositing are all encouraged, but tertiary studies and their own inquisitive mind have mostly looked after that before they join the studio.
LBB> I've read that XYZ founder Tim Kentley’s saying is '“Put yourself into the work and no one else". How do you instill this ethos in all the directors?
GM> Absolutely, it’s the foundation of our studio and will continue to be so. We don’t want to be derivative, and we try to avoid common thinking and obvious solutions. There’s an abundance of content to draw inspiration from, and it’s easy to just replicate – we instead look for directors who are willing to go out on a limb to attempt something innovative. There’s any number of studios that will pitch you something safe and tested, we take the path less travelled.
LBB> How do you present and sell in animation to agencies and clients who may not have had much experience with the medium?
GM> One of the strongest aspects of animation is that it allows us to create a world from scratch – with only our imagination to limit us. I’m constantly surprised by how little this is understood and utilised – it’s truly a trump card. This enables a client to own the look and feel of a campaign; it’s instantly recognisable from the opening frame of the TVC.
Live action doesn’t have the same set of tools, and so it’s a lot blurrier between competitors’ work. A recent example of this would be the ING Direct TVC’s, of which we’ve completed five. All share the same colour palette and graphic character design, no other competitors share this aesthetic – it’s distinctly ING. Some figures came out just recently that ING Direct’s Orange Everyday account subscribers grew 34% in 2013, and 40% in 2014 – I’d like to hope our campaigns had something to do with that!
LBB> What kind of training do you provide for your staff and what's the XYZ trick to keeping everyone in the team motivated?
GM> Our staff are incredibly proficient operators, having studied animation and design at university, then gaining invaluable experience in the workforce before joining us. In addition to that, they have an inherent desire to progress their craft.
They’re always exploring the latest software or investigating new technology; any ways that can give us an edge and support a unique creative vision.
LBB> You have six directors currently. How do they collaborate with your producers and what kind of production pipeline best fits your business model?
GM> The pipelines are different for every job. Most of our directors are in fact based overseas, so each project brings a new set of parameters. If the project allows, they will travel to Melbourne and work with our team locally, if not, directing remotely is the solution.
We employ a lot of freelancers on each job, and their location and availability also dictates how we may run the pipe. If our director is in Europe, it may be better to use an overseas modeller so that they can feedback quickly during our evening. If the animator is local, we may decide to have the riggers here as well so they can promptly work through any issues. We have had projects that span five time zones; it’s all part and parcel of getting the best end result.
LBB> At XYZ, story always takes the lead. It motivates everything: technique, tone and tempo. What kind of challenges and rewards does this present?
GM> It sounds contrived, but the rewards are the challenges. The team here work very hard to find solutions to any problems the script may throw at us – solutions that still allow the core message to be the focus. We relish in finding creative ways of keeping the narrative front and centre, and that in turn influences all aspects of the production. Sometimes a solution can be a little left of centre, so it requires an open mind on behalf of the agency and client.
LBB> Any future project/initiatives we should look out for?
GM> We have just signed Luca&Sinem, a really talented directing duo based out of Istanbul. We’re really looking forward to producing some great work with them, and they’ve already been busy with some local campaigns. Eran Hilleli has recently been collaborating with Encyclopedia Pictura, and I believe they’ve got some pretty epic projects in the pipeline. Stephen Watkins has been working on a short film, so keep an eye out for that later in the year. Other than that, we’re always on the lookout for new directing talent to bring on board, so we continue to look locally and abroad for future XYZ’ers.