As you sow, so shall you reap… It then comes without a doubt that Seed Animation, after having carefully planted its grain of creativity and character in the soil of the creative earth, finally sees itself as a magnificent, blooming plant –the kind that talks back at you and makes you laugh as it transports you into a world of wonders, colours and sounds. Meet Morgan Powell and Neil Kidney, the founders and creative director of the London-based animation company ‘Seed Animation’, for whom playing God within the illustration world is a daily task. Character design and behaviour, interior decoration, soundtrack and narratives are all meticulously designed by Seed Animation to convey entertaining shorts and adverts… Rooms Magazine speaks to the brains and muscles behind tomorrow’s cutting-edge animation.
Hi Morgan and Neil, how are you? Tell me more about Seed animation’s début…
M: We are doing very well thank you! Neil and I met at Teesside University and shared similar interests. We started Seed 10 years ago as a means to freely develop and create our own work: the name Seed symbolises an initial creative thought that has so much potential -it’s the potential that excites us.
Does talent necessarily need to be paired with technique and education?
M: I had previously studied Graphic Design, and we met on a Computer Animation Master’s Degree. I think talent combined with experience is a good pairing. Experience is wider than education alone, and you can be exposed to a great deal more than education if you are focused on what you want to achieve. With experience and exposure, you gain specific techniques along the way.
N: I studied Industrial Design and got into CGI as a way to visualise my designs, but ended up staying in the field for the animation -much more exciting and satisfying. We have an intern/work experience guy in at the moment and he has very little formal education in animation but he has a great talent and a keen eye for animation. He just practices at home. So no, talent does not always need to be paired with education.
Tell me more about Seed Animation, what is the general ethos of your company?
M: We believe in creating entertaining and engaging content. A lot of excited energy goes into what we do to craft the character and their situation. We create commercials, but we also have in house projects- short films and idents.
N: For me it’s about having fun, making people laugh. Most of our in-house work is based around this – silly ideas that make people laugh. Not necessarily the most commercial of content, but it keeps you sane if you are working on more reserved commercial work.
You speak about ‘distinctive character animation’… What makes your characters distinctive?
M: Well, there are two things that make a character distinctive- the design and its behaviour. We will always approach the design with empathy- the viewer has to engage with the character and feel emotion for them. That connection is key. Behaviour is based on observation and I would say that we generally treat ours with our observations of humour and quirk. Put those two together and we deliver distinctive, bold and engaging characters.
Growing up, what were your favourite cartoons and animation films?
N: Wile E Coyote. I think it has had a lot of subliminal influence on me, now that I think about it…
M: Care Bears for me. Just kidding. Battle of the Planets, Mask and Transformers, although I stopped liking them when I realised toy sales were taking priority over the content of the episodes.
What have been your favourite projects so far? You have had an impressive list of clients, featuring Ogilvy, Coke, Peregrine…
M: I really like being involved in the 3D character animation projects. They generally take much longer, but creating that world and everything in it- how the characters behave, how the backgrounds look, what is in the rooms etc. is all consuming. I get to play God.
It’s always nice to be associated with the big brands, but I’m usually sold on a great idea rather than a brand.
N: My favourite jobs are the one where the client trusts us to do what we do. The jobs always seem to turn out better than the heavily managed ones, and the process of the job is smoother and more relaxing. MTV Qoob Earthquake stands out for me.
What is your creative process when briefed with a project?
M: I like to be absorbed by as much as a brief as possible. I like to sit with the client and take everything in- the nuances in their speech, their body language. A lot can be said that isn’t written, and that will give us a clearer angle to our approach. During the conversation, a visual will usually become clear, and from further discussion the idea will begin to develop.
I’ll then go and research the area of interest to strengthen my initial thoughts. We then illustrate a couple of ‘style frames’ that will give the client a clear visual direction to the film.
To what extent do you think it’s possible to mix traditional 2D hand-drawn animation and 3D? Which one appeals to you the more, and why?
M: We love mixing 2D and 3D, and we have done so on many occasion. I think there are different rules that govern both, but so long as you they aren’t broken it can be very successful. If I were to pick one I would say 3D, because the development of that world is both technical and creative.
N: I would say 3D, because I can’t draw (anymore)! Although when you’re stuck in the depths of technical wrangling on a job, sometimes you wish it was 2D so you could just draw yourself out of the problem.
Do you think there will be a difference between the generation that grew up with traditional 2D animation and the generation that is growing up with 3D animation?
M: What is exciting is that the lines between the two are blurring. Software for both is more readily available to our generation and there is a lot of exciting stuff happening in both 2D and 3D. Creatively, there is an appetite for variation, and with that comes invention and discovery, including merging of techniques. Creative discovery is amazing to be involved in.
Is there a definite quality to have in order to be a good animator and/or creative director?
N: Patience and passion. It takes a long time to produce work so you have to really want to do it… Again and again until you get it right. A piece of work is never straight forward, there are always different avenues to explore on the way, and most of the time you’ll have to try out quite a few options before finding what is right. An appetite for the small hours helps too!
M: For an animator, there is a great deal of observation required -observing the behaviour of people and animals, and then interpreting that in an artistic and exaggerated way.
As Creative Director it allows me to oversee the creation of everything including character design, animation, music and voice over and so I find it’s a very varied and interesting role.
I love the series of work you did with TODO, could you tell me more about that please?
M: The series is 4 years in the running and it’s always great to revisit when we get the nod. The characters have a global appeal as they were created for the Egyptian market, but the language barrier is irrelevant because their humour is accessible. Also, because there are so many characters, there is a group mentality, which can be very funny to watch.
N: We started the series totally in the TODO plasticine world, but the latest incarnation has seen them break the 4th wall and now they exist in the real world as actors in their own plasticine world! It’s great to see a long campaign like this constantly develop and keep pushing the boat out.
How important is the relationship between sound, colours and texture in the animation world?
M: Everything has to come together to create a believable and absorbing world. There are so many elements that need to come together to create a successful piece of animation. The art direction is key. Sound effects play a big part in accentuating action and helps to convey emotion.
N: I’m always amazed at how much the sound adds to the film. After spending months working on something with no sound, to suddenly watch it with music and sound effects always lifts it beyond what I thought it could be.
Are there any limitations and/or restrictions that you face in your job?
M: Sometimes budget can be a limitation. I have to be able to produce something for a specific budget. We tailor creative to suit a purse and sometimes an idea warrants a deeper world with more environments and more characters. If the budget is lower, these ideas become a fraction of the potential.
N: How late my wife lets me stay at work.
What is your dream collaboration?
N: A client that comes to us and gives us a pot of money to do what we want with – little or no constraints. It is a dream though!
M: I love collaboration with any creative, but I would have to say John Kricfalusi, who created Ren and Stimpy. His animation is ridiculous, and I love it.
What would you tell your younger self aged 15?
N: I’d need to write a book.
M: Enjoy your hair. Grow it long. Celebrate it… ‘Cos it’s not going to last.