MANCHESTER, UK — Flipbook Studio (www.flipbookstudio.co.uk
) is a collective of directors, producers, designers, writers and artists who specialize in storytelling through the mediums of animation and visual effects. The studio has completed work for BBC, Netflix, Sony Computer Entertainment, Konami, McCann WorldGroup, TBWA and Wargaming, among others.
Here, co-founder/creative director Ben Haworth and co-founder/managing director Andrew Lord look back at their careers and how they came to found the UK studio.
Ben Haworth and Andrew Lord
Describe your careers before starting Flipbook Studio?
Ben Haworth: “Initially, I studied at university to become a wildlife cameraman. However, while on work experience, I was put in the graphics department and six months later they offered me a job. I started at Granada TV in Manchester, where there were three of us in the department before moving on to a post production house called Vector TV to run their CGI department – which consisted of me! Later, I went to Redvision, where I first met Andrew.”
Andrew Lord: “I took a fairly unconventional route. I completed a degree in Geology, followed by an MSc in Geographical Information Systems (GIS), and worked for an energy and utilities consultancy up in Scotland for a number of years. I did a fair amount of programming and visualizing of geological data for oil and utility companies. Surprisingly, the technical and soft skills I honed in this job prepared me well for a career in animation and VFX. I’m not and have never been an artist, but I’ve always been a big film and gaming nerd, and I managed to find a client-facing, project-management role at Redvision.”
Haworth: “We completed a lot of amazing work there and the team was great – winning a couple of BAFTAs on the way certainly helped!”
What were your first impressions about each other?
Haworth: “Mainly, I remember him not being like a typical ‘sales guy’; very easy to get on with and genuine. He always took an interest in the whole production and cared about the end results.”
Lord: “As a compositor running the Flame suite, Ben worked on his own in a dark back room with no windows. I guess, initially, my first thoughts were of a brooding fella who shunned social interaction in the workplace. Turned out he was quite the opposite. I often went in to chat and soon discovered he was a very affable and knowledgeable person.”
What inspired the creation of Flipbook Studio?
Lord: “Flipbook was born out of a shared frustration with our current roles and an urge and realization that we could satisfy these frustrations and make more of a difference working for ourselves.”
Haworth: “After several years being part of a number of companies, I couldn’t help but think that setting up a VFX house and having ultimate control would be better. I’d ended up running a Manchester branch of an arch-viz company and realized I had the ability.”
Lord: “We both had a strong belief, with our different complementary skill sets, that we could make it work.”
What were your plans for Flipbook starting out?
Haworth: “With just the two of us, we knew collaboration with freelancers and artists would be key. We hoped that our professional experience in Manchester and the contacts we’d made — as well as being likeable fellows — could make it work. Thankfully, this is how things started, and collaboration remains the cornerstone of the business.”
Lord: “We wanted to create a more collaborative ethos, working with other studios and talent to create stunning visuals for the videogames, TV and advertising industries. Predominantly focusing on CG animation and VFX, we were especially keen on looking at innovative new hardware and platforms, and figuring out how we could create engaging content for them.”
Haworth: “We also vowed to take all the pitfalls others had succumbed to and try to avoid them. One of the biggest was to serve many areas, utilize the knowledge gained from each and use that across the board.”
Do you recall your first project?
Haworth: “It was an Envirofone advert for The Gate. A sentient being taking people's mobile phones and swapping them for cash. A fairly straightforward concept and a very nice one to get us started. It went really well, I remember being on set at a freezing cold Huddersfield Town football ground VFX supervising!”
Lord: “One of our first high profile jobs was a TVC we did with TBWA for Seven Seas. We didn’t have any credentials at the time and we weren’t expecting TBWA to give us the job, but we did a little VFX test piece for them where it was filmed. Our arms were raised to the heavens, in mock worship of a large shimmering cod liver oil tablet that Ben had created and comped in post. The test did the trick and we were off.”
What’s been your most memorable project over the last 10 years?
Haworth: “The Codemasters Red River trailer was very memorable. We got to shoot in the back of a US airforce helicopter! That was within the first four months of Flipbook starting.”
Lord: “It was a big-budget piece and there were only the two of us at the time, but they loved our creative treatment and gave us the work. It gave us so much confidence and allowed us to follow through on that collaborative ethos. We commissioned a number of other studios to help us with the production.”
Haworth: “I’d have to put the Star Wars: Origins film we worked on up there too, because I’m a huge geek.”
Star Wars: Origins
How would you sum up the last 10 years?
Haworth: “Has it only been 10 years?!”
Lord: “There have been highs and lows, but it’s never been boring or safe!”
How has Flipbook adapted to remote working?
Haworth: “Largely very well. We made sure everyone had machines at home, links to the servers and such, and just as things were just starting to happen. We’ve managed well with the artists, they’ve all done a great job.”
Lord: “Remote, secure connections allow us to access our work servers and render farm, and we’ve been using various cloud-based communication and project management tools to share WIP and keep creative conversations going. That being said, we have missed the spontaneous creativity and the social interaction that helps nurture this, which comes from working in close proximity in the studio. It’s much easier to quickly lean over to a colleague and bounce ideas off one another. It’s also much more beneficial for trainee or junior artists to physically work alongside the more senior artists.”
What wisdom have you gained from running an animation & VFX studio?
Haworth: “Make sure you assemble a team that works well together, I’ve found this is very important throughout the 10 years. Also, work with clients, not for them. In the creative industry, it’s how the best results are created.”
Lord: “There will always be someone offering a cheaper service than you — that’s just business. Learn to invest your time and efforts in building those relationships with clients who aren’t just looking for a quality end product, they’re looking for an experience, and a smooth and enjoyable one at that. The end product then becomes the cherry on the cake.”
What advice would you give to someone thinking about starting a VFX or animation studio?
Haworth: “Don’t do it, come work for us instead! Failing that, pay attention to the way the landscape changes and evolve with it. When I started in the industry, and even when we started Flipbook, things were very different.”
Lord: “It’s a very competitive and flooded market out there, but the demand for visual content is higher than ever. Try and identify where your skill set can make a difference. Is there a niche that isn’t being exploited to its full extent? What service or product can you bring to market that’ll differentiate you from your competition?”
What’s next for Flipbook?
Haworth: “I’m going to keep using this answer until Jon Favreau reads it and it happens: working on The Mandalorian. In the meantime, we’ll be looking at the huge shifts occurring in render and the new approaches to VFX.”
Lord: “Realtime rendering through game engine tech is playing a much more active role in our productions. We’ll continue to serve our clients in the industries we operate in, but the traditional production pipeline is changing as a result of this technical innovation and we’re investing heavily in making sure we’re at the forefront of this. Virtual productions, immersive and digital experiences and some of our own animated features are all on our list of things to roll-out in the not too distant future.”