Stepping out from behind the White Label
26 October 2017
I recently met with three Sheffield entrepreneurs responsible for setting up Lunar Animation; a high-end computer animation and special effects company operating out of Globe Works, Kelham Island. As you might expect from three 30-something digital creatives based in Sheffield’s hippest quarter, their office was the picture of urban cool; complete with stripped wooden floors, back to brick walls, state of the art electronics and industrial-style fixtures.
The modern-day Globe Works was made for a business such as Lunar. A former cutlery factory and once home to the first Sheffield business to distribute steel globally; the Grade II listed building was renovated in the 80’s and is now home to 22 small and medium size businesses – many of whom fly the flag for Sheffield’s thriving digital and creative scene.
The three Directors of Lunar - James Rodgers, James Sylvester and David Deacon, first moved into Globe Works three years ago and have recently expanded their studio as they make room to take on more staff in the coming year. Before launching their business, all three had worked together at another Sheffield-based film animation company. Recognising their own potential for growth and with the ambition to have creative control over their own products and services, the entrepreneurs started Lunar back in 2014. They had one client when they started as James Rodgers recalls: “It was a risk. We knew we had the experience and the talent to win more clients but yes, it’s always a risk (personally and financially) stepping out on your own.
“All three of us had studied and worked in the sector and because of that we went into it with our eyes wide open; knowing some of the struggles we were likely to face and understanding that these struggles would evolve as the business grew. So, once we had generated enough income to set ourselves up with the right technology, the next hurdle was getting a direct line out to new clients and making sure our services were seen by the right people. After that, it became about talent attraction and making sure we were working with the best people in the industry. Now it’s about scaling up, so we can pitch for bigger projects.”
Winning new clients in the film animation business can be difficult, especially if you are offering your services as ‘white label’. A creative agency working on a white label film waves all the rights to its product and cannot add it to their portfolio showreel or be associated with its creation in any way. Lunar knew that to grow the business they needed to create animation in their own right. James Sylvester explains: “We know there is a demand for services associated with white label films, but for a young business like ours, it’s so important to be able to showcase our work. Game cinematics and the wider services associated with these are where we really want to make our mark.”
CGI film services is a highly competitive, albeit niche, industry; where top brands have their pick of the best talent from around the world. To enter the market, Lunar made a showreel of animated content that demonstrated the breadth of their capabilities as David Deacon recalls: “We are all passionate about gaming and we knew that it was an area that we could really excel. We created clips using sci-fi and driving sequences – popular in video games. Having a quality showreel was an essential tool to showcase the talent and technical ability of the team.”
Today, Lunar work with big industry names like Outfit7, creating game trailer cinematics. Earlier this year, Lunar won Silver award for ‘Most Outstanding Promotional Trailer for Mobile Games’ at a San Francisco gaming conference where this relatively young Sheffield firm were up against some of the biggest agencies in the world; including Blizard, POPcap EA and Com2uS, to name but a few.
So what next for Lunar? They have big ambitions. As the business grows they need to build the team and their portfolio. Depending on the project and the process, one single second of animation can take a number of days and involve input from many artists. To deliver this level of service, Lunar work with animators from Brazil, Ukraine, North America and everywhere in-between, but there is a strong desire to grow the team in-house. James Rodgers explains: “The nature of the work we do means it is easy to work remotely and for us that means we can access and work with the best talent from around the world. But it is a highly skilled job, one that requires creativity, artistic vision and technical application. Ideally, we want to attract and retain these people to the city so we can grow the business from within. And who wouldn’t want to work in Kelham Island – it’s awesome!”
As well as growing their team, Lunar want to extend their work with UK universities to help them develop their courses so that graduates are ‘industry ready’. They have an ambition to have their work showcased at the Electronic Entertainment Expo; perhaps the most popular mainstream international gaming conference. They want to do more to raise the profile of Sheffield, and have been working with artist Alex Chinneck to help visualise the Three Tinsley Towers project, recently announced as the largest art sculpture proposal in the region. And… in the short term… they want a new sofa – because the brown leather corner couch they moved with them from their last studio is messing with their fengshui!