How important is artistry? Being ‘creative’ is a big reason for people to join this sector, but for a business it’s not always practical.
Take the animation industry, for instance. There are essentially two paths you can take when starting out as an animator. One is to be a filmmaker, to create subjective art and show it around the film festival circuit. The other is to build up the skills required to become a crafts person, and to ply those skills in the creative industries.
We have pretty much always seen ourselves, at least professionally, as craftsmen. That means our business and creative have to go hand-in-hand and means we can’t see ourselves as purely ‘artists’. Sure, we love what we do and want to create something of quality, but we’re also aware that we are providing a service to fulfil a brief.
To start on that path as an industry craftsman we had to learn the tools of the trade, and in animation that meant Flash and vector-based artwork. Now that might seem like an obvious thing to anyone in the sector, but 90 per cent of our paying animation work requires those systems and yet only 10 per cent of people coming in to the industry seem to know them. Perhaps there’s been too much of a focus on the artistic side of making animation as opposed to the craft side of knowing your trade.
In the early days of Sun & Moon we probably acted too much like artists. We were certainly a lot closer to the work we created and invested a lot of ourselves into each project, perhaps too much. We find that creativity is often too precious and taken too seriously. You hear people talking about ‘this is my work, this is my style’, but we’ve learnt over time that it is more important to take your ego out of a project. Back then, we fought clients who wanted something from a project which wasn’t to our creative tastes, and at times it caused friction because we had too rigid an idea of how a project should be.
This might be a shock, but as business owners it’s pretty important to have work coming through the door. Well, for that to happen we need to be pretty open about the projects we consider and to make sure we deliver what they want. It’s a tough battle because while you always like a bit of repeat business, you also need to keep your name clean and produce work with creative merit.
In a perfect world studios would shape each and every project in their own vision. However, we’ve learnt that when a client’s mind is made up it’s often better to deliver a project as they would like it. That doesn’t mean our studio ever compromises on quality – when clients give poor ideas we often suggest a better one, explain it and demonstrate why we prefer it – but ultimately we also remember who is paying who.
Whether we like it or not, this is a commercial business and clients are paying for our services. While they might not always be right – they will always have the last word. This was all part of how we learnt to drop any artistic pretentions. It’s a good thing too, because those pretentions can cause you to take your work too seriously and produce projects which are too heavily ego-driven. That type of work won’t be right for the client and in this small, word-of-mouth industry; people will soon find out if you’ve been precious, demanding or inflexible. Word travels quickly and for us a large part of being successful in the creative business has just been being nice.
These days we definitely lean more towards creative business people than artists. We check that a job has either something financially or creatively enticing, ideally both, and then try to balance our creative desires with a client’s expectations. That’s much harder in the creative industries than in others where owners generally think: ‘this pays well so we’ll do it, this doesn’t so we won’t.’
There are other factors, for instance a project may pay poorly but bolster your portfolio and help land future work. Really, that just means we now look to hear out all potential projects and not knee-jerk against them as who knows what they could develop into. And above all, we never, ever, let any artistic pretentions lead our business.
SUN & MOON STUDIOS
After shunning the tropes of an artist in favour of agency life, the Sun & Moon founders have gone on to create bespoke animation, design and interactive content for the likes of the BBC and E3.
Illustrated by Tom Sydenham
- One Thing I Know