A little cowboy greets you as you enter Animade’s log cabin of a studio, based on a quiet, unassuming street just off the bustling “silicon roundabout” of Old Street, east London. As you venture further in you notice other subtle touches relating to our lasso-loving bouncer—a toy gun here, a massive cactus there. These are left over from one of the studio’s earliest success stories, Ready Steady Bang, a “quick-fire duelling game” based on the heroic exploits of the Wild West with an 8-bit aesthetic.
The project is indicative of Animade’s purpose as a studio making character-led work. Whatever the project or client, character is at the heart of what it does; even more so since it’s moved away from digital development-led projects to focus on animations and products.
Founded in 2010 by creative director Tom Judd and director James Chambers, the studio was initially known as Chambers Judd—Animade was the name of an early animation blog set up when the pair had just finished their MA studies at London’s Royal College of Art.
“We chose the name Chambers Judd because it sounds a bit like a law firm, and Mad Men was quite big at the time,” says Judd. “It sounds a bit scary, so it’s what we’d use if we ever get into legal trouble. I don’t think it’s ever happened, but if it does, we’re ready,” he jokes.
Animade as it is today works across all manner of projects from TV ads to social media campaigns, “weird web-toys”, illustration, and self-initiated projects. For such varied output it’s managed to nurture a very distinctive look and feel that’s cute without being sickly, and friendly while answering its briefs for clients like IBM, Facebook, AirBnb, and Mr Porter. The studio now numbers 17 people, with half the team working as creatives and the other half in roles like marketing, project management, and account management.
The space itself is split into a main desk area with that creative agency staple, a foosball table, standing near the doorway. People really do play it, we’re assured, just as they use a snug little cubby hole in the corner, replete with cushions and a general air of serene seclusion. Apparently there used to be a games console there, but it ended up getting messy in a “teenage boy’s bedroom” sort of way, so now it’s used for when animators want to brainstorm, do some hand drawn sketches, or have a bit of breathing space.
According to Judd, that separation from desk space is perfect to encourage creative thinking time on a project before jumping straight into After Effects or Photoshop. Judd, Chambers, creative director Ed Barrett, and managing director Jen Judd (yup, they’re married), work slightly to the side of the main desk space.
It’s a bold move working with your best pal from childhood and your wife: surely that’s got to be tricky at times? “It’s been amazing,” says [Tom] Judd without a pause. “I think it would be quite different if we were both doing the same thing— if James was also an animator for instance—but as there’s a break in our key focuses it allows us to respect each others’ areas and interests of the business side of it, so we can make decisions based on what each other’s thinking. We went into it knowing we had a very sound relationship where these big decisions come into play.”
And what about working with your wife? “We thought about it for a year before she jumped ship and left her old job, because we thought about all the ways it could disrupt our relationship or be hard with work, but because of how we are in our relationship—we both like talking about work—I think there’s actually been a benefit that we have that connection.”
Every morning at Animade starts with a “standup” meeting where the team discusses what they did yesterday, and what they’re up to today. They seem to be a sociable bunch—Judd describes the studio as “like a family,” with the team often having lunch together—and a little chalk board spells out exciting highlights for the week ahead, like watching Game of Thrones or hearing from guest speakers.
The studio’s site in east London is perfect for such a socially minded approach; other similar studios including Nexus, Studio AKA, and Golden Wolf are just around the corner, and despite being competitors on paper, the proximity is a real boon according to Judd. “You’ll go into the pub after work and bump into those guys, and the network of freelancers connects all the studios together,” he says. “It opens that communication on how those guys are doing, what they’re up to. We’ll go for drinks and, even though you could be seeing their work online, having that pool of talent around you is an inspirational and motivational thing.
“Essentially you’re standing next to people who are always striving to to do the best thing they possibly can in their particular industry. Even though we work with a lot of clients in the U.S. and could even do some work remotely, it’s a psychological thing of being around those other people.”
Until recently Animade spent its time designing websites for clients like Red Bull, Ministry of Sound, and It’s Nice That; and creating animations for IBM, Airbnb, and Virgin America. Web toys like Party Pooper are still a small part of its offer, but animations are still very much at the core of Animade, alongside the newer focus on digital products, such as storyboarding web-app Boords. When it launched last year, the studio told us it was part of the wider drive to move away from traditional digital work—“our motto has become ‘content not containers,’ taking on projects where we have some say over the creative content within them, rather than producing containers for other people,” said Chambers. “We think that creating that content is really where we offer the most value, and the most difference.”
Judd says that the process of launching Boords was a “really exciting time,” and acted as a springboard for wider considerations around how Animade works, and where it wants to head in the future. “We’ve been very much a client serving industry focusing on making bespoke work time and time again, without necessarily looking at retention other than having a few good clients we work with regularly, but it’s an increasingly scary prospect not to have that runway.
“With a product in a sense you have a customer with you until the time they drop off, and that has been quite intriguing from the business side of it, as well as learning that attitude to bootstrapping a startup. It was about making sure we’re doing it for the right reasons, and not taking on things too quickly. With Boords we’re adding the features we want [as animators] and what the customers want.
“It’s teaching us a lot about scrutinising everything to make it profitable, and making us use that same scrutiny in running a business. We’re looking at how we can tweak the dials to make sure we know exactly what our position and product is, so it’s been fascinating from a business standpoint.”
The next new territory for the studio is eploring animation tutorials or teaching, led by creative director Ed Barrett, the longest standing member of the team outside of its founders.
The animation side of things has benefited from this sort of intense examination too: “we used to go into meetings with clients and it was so confusing to explain what we do,” says Judd. “Suddenly now it’s ‘hey we’re Animade, we do characterful animation.’”