Note: This one is on behalf of FourThousand.com.au as part of their sponsorship of the Semi-Permanent creative conference, which is being held in Brisbane on 8 April 2009. The original article can be viewed on the FourThousand site here.
The interview subject shifted from Executive Producer Hamish MacDonald to Tim Kentley shortly after my initial contact, which rendered most of my initial questions useless. Cue additional research, a hasty rewrite and resubmission. Tim got back to me soon after, which was awesome. Junior‘s 2008 interview with Tim is a great source of inspiration, so I was thrilled to build upon that initial conversation.
Tim Kentley founded Melbourne’s XYZ Studios in 2003, and they’ve since gone on to produce consistently high-quality, innovative animated commercials that you’ve mostly likely seen on television – for clients like McDonalds, the World Wide Fund For Nature, Dodge, Havaianas and Honda – and wondered aloud: “how did they do that?” As director at an oft-awarded, highly respected animation agency, Tim’s expertise and advice is highly anticipated at April’s Semi-Permanent creative conference. Tim kindly answered FourThousand’s call in the midst of several campaign deadlines: what a guy!
Tim, I’m a big fan of Junior and I love the interview they did with you last year. You suggested that there’s no such thing as a shit job, and that any young creative looking for a career has to make the most of every opportunity. I’m supposing that you still hold the same ethos; has this notion of grasping every chance only became more important, as companies tighten the pursestrings of their advertising and marketing endeavours in the face of the current economy?
I absolutely do believe that. It’s true of life in general. Like Dick Pratt taking the cardboard nobody wanted and turning it into billions. But to qualify, you will need to pick your fights – not every job is going to destroy the status quo. If its bread and butter, get out the bread knife and lard it up. But every once in a while, the stars will align and it’s time to re-invent the wheel.
Your studio’s credo is that if the idea is original, then the depiction of that idea should be original too. I admire your desire for innovation, but realistically, how does your team avoid cliches and material that’s been done before? What’s the procedure for dealing with creative briefs?
The procedure for dealing with creative briefs is to have creative bones. Then you will put yourself into the work – and nobody else’s. For truly creative people this is hard wired. I really spend little time looking at what other people are doing in the industry and more time looking at my brief, and the ideas simply start springing from it. I’m a director as well as a writer, animator, compositor, designer; wearing heaps of hats really helps, as you’re aware of what’s possible, what hasn’t being done. All XYZ animation directors have this skill. I think it’s key in animation, so you can really push stuff along without having to say to another brain – “can we do this?”.
Do you find it’s difficult or painful to compact hundreds of hours’ worth of storyboarding and character modelling into a thirty-second ad spot? As the studio’s director, do you ever feel a sense of frustration that the target audience might ignore the art that you and your team produce?
Yes to all. You know the industry well mate!
XYZ is in its sixth year of operation now, and the studio continues to win a swag of awards each year. What have you got in store for the rest of 2009?
Well, touch wood, I am glad to say the studio is pumping. I am directing a work for Grey in Amsterdam at the moment, using a photocopier tray as the animation tool which I am really excited about. This years ‘swag’ as you put it, is en route, with Stephen Watkins’ WWF job winning a Cube at the Art Directors’ Club in New York last week, and we are again a finalist for Australian Creative Hotshop of the Year and the First Boards Awards for Best Motion Design. Speaking at Semi-Permanent will be a blast, but here is the hot news off the press – the studio has just bought its own pad in South Melbourne. It’s an awesome space and we can’t wait to get in there, we’re setting sail on July 1! Oh yeah – a state of the art facility with no more body corporate, rent or landlords!
Here in Brisbane, the last couple of months has seen more people either freelancing or starting their own business, at least in the circles I frequent. Conventional wisdom suggests that it’s best to start on the bottom floor – in a down market – to keep costs down. Do you have any advice for these startup businesses based on the hard slog you experienced when kicking off XYZ?
Well it’s a hard time for businesses, and I do think it’s a harder time to start a business, because clients don’t want to take risks with unproven vendors, as every job is now critical. There is now little-to-no overflow from busy studios, so no hand-me-down jobs to give new studios a break. BUT – if it’s in your blood – do it. If your experience is anything like mine, it takes years in the trenches taking everything you’ve got, however you can get it. Just start and dig deep; with time, talent rises to the top.
You’re a speaker at the Brisbane Semi-Permanent creative conference next month. Can you drop any hints as to what to expect from your presentation?
I’ll pretty much just come out all quiet-like and take you though a few jobs. Nothing crazy!
A thorough examination of Tim’s mad animation and direction skillz on the XYZ Studios website comes with my highest recommendation. Thanks again, Tim!