With the London International Animation Festival (LIAF) just around the corner, we caught up with our Animation Consultant, Julian Scott, to discuss London’s animation sector, his involvement in the festival, and learn some pro tips for those interested in joining the industry.
Hi Julian, can you tell us more about your role at Film London?
I am Film London’s Animation Consultant, I believe that Film London is actually still the only regional screen agency that has a dedicated animation consultant.
Why did you go into animation?
I fell into animation to be honest with you in quite a late stage of my career, comparatively late. I always worked in live action and then I got a job as Head of International Production at Sesame Street in New York. It was about my third day on the job when a member of my team knocked on my door and said “I’ve just got the animatic for this latest insert, would you like to have a look at it?”. Admittedly, I knew nothing about animation whatsoever, so she sat down and described every step of the animation process beginning to end. So I was a bit of a late starter, but what I grew to love about it as compared to working in live action was that there was nothing you couldn’t do in animation. In live action you’re always restricted by the boundaries of physicality whereas in animation you’re not. You can go anywhere, you can do anything, you can be anyone. You can create worlds and environments and characters that have never existed before. Creatively, that’s what I love about it, it almost has no boundaries.
How long have you been in animation and what types of changes have you noticed in the industry in recent years?
I’ve been in the industry for 25 years. I think the biggest change has been through the pandemic, certainly in relation to animation. When the pandemic started, live action pretty much came to an abrupt halt, but with animation people could continue to work remotely. It’s both a good and bad thing, I think it’s enabled people to be more flexible in how they work, where they work, what times they work, and geographically where they work. The negative side of that would be missing the collaboration, it’s a creative industry. I know lots of studios are beginning to require teams to come in because of that lack of collaboration. It will end up being a hybrid I’m quite sure. The streamers coming along- Netflix, Amazon, people like that have made a huge change as well in terms of the money that can be available to make things. I think creatively the streamers have helped take the shackles off a little bit in terms of what you could and couldn’t do.
What separates the London International Animation Festival from other showcases?
The London International Animation Festival is the largest animation festival in the United Kingdom and is a vital and unique event expanding the diversity of London’s animation sector. Again through the pandemic really, because it’s an international festival and it’s been online for a few years, there’s people from all over the world that are now watching it and participating.
What is your role in the festival this year?
I’m producing two industry panels which is something we started last year. One of the great things about the festival is that they do a lot of technical and creative panels that people who are experts in their particular field run.
What panels are you working on?
One of my panels is about running animation as a business as my role in Film London is to generate inward investment into the animation community in London. One of the things that struck me is I get asked by not only animation studios, but production companies that have grown on the back of one or two projects, usually started by an individual, or a partnership that all of a sudden go from working in their back bedrooms to a company that is producing something of seven million pounds. They don’t know what to do because no one ever gave them the tools. So that one is about how do you turn your passion into a business and not lose your mind I think.
The other one is more on the inclusion and diversity side of things. We did a panel last year that was sort of a general one about people that identify as having a disability and how they work in animation, how they find jobs, and what studios can do to attract these individuals. I think what studios are missing out on is talent, it’s not a box ticking exercise. The approach is actually guys, if you’re not hiring people with disabilities you might be missing out on some really, really talented and smart people. This year, we’re focusing on Animation in a Neurodiverse World.
Disability groups like DANC have spoken on restrictions disabled individuals face in the industry. Can you tell us about the animation sector in London becoming more accessible and plans for improvement?
I think while it’s not as bad as it could be, there’s always more that you can do to attract people with a disability to work with you. Last year we held a webinar where about 50% of the studios in London attended these three hour workshops about disabilities, both the legal and practical sides of disability and how as a studio you can reach out to these individuals. ScreenSkills Accessibility in Animation report published in February 2022 stated that 21% of talent working in the animation sector nationally identify as having a disability. This is in line with government data that says 20% of the working age population are classed as disabled. We don’t have specific numbers for London alone and that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be doing more as employers to attract a rich seam of talent that we might be missing due to their personal circumstances. ScreenSkills is doing a lot of work, we’re doing a lot of work, and there’s a lot of people that are trying to tackle this situation.
Part of the reason it will take a little time to figure out is because of the lack of understanding of what's expected of an employer in order to accommodate someone with a disability. There’s this phrase “reasonable adjustment” where any employer is legally obliged to make reasonable adjustment in order to accommodate someone with a disability, but what does that mean? There is a woman I know that suffers from ME and the company she works for has been brilliant. When she said that she struggles with rush hour because it wipes her out or if she feels exhausted some days, they will tell her to come in later or permit her to work remotely. They’re just helping her deliver the best that she can be to that company.
My step brother has epilepsy and gets a taxi to work that is paid for by the government because he can’t drive. People don’t know that these things are available. The employers don’t know about it and the employees don’t know about it. There’s information that needs to be put out there which is one of the things we’re trying to do.
Why do you think London is a good place for producing animation and what do you think the festival does to showcase that? Can you give us a few recent examples?
The simple answer to that is talent. I still think that London has the highest concentration of excellent talent, certainly in the UK, and that’s why people come here. There’s some major Hollywood studios that use London’s animation sector to produce their animations. Pixar, Dreamworks, Warner Brothers- they came here for one very good reason and that is the talent. I think that’s one of the things that the festival does showcase, the talent.
Can you speak a bit about FLAMIN Animations and how you think having an initiative like that can change the trajectory of someone's career?
FLAMIN gives an opportunity for artists and sectors of the artistic community to showcase what they can do. These are people who wouldn’t necessarily otherwise get that opportunity and I think that’s what's so special about it. What FLAMIN does so brilliantly is that they find the less well represented animators to focus on.
How has the animation industry influenced you as a person?
It’s definitely helped me to see the funny side of things that’s for sure. In terms of the way animation is produced it teaches you a lot about collaboration and a lot about how individual people can contribute a lot to a greater whole. A few years ago, I remember going to see one of the animation tests on a project I was working on, and I noticed the tail of the animated cat on screen was flicking just like a cat does and that to me made that cat come alive. It was the idea of one of the women to make this decision because she noticed her cat was doing that. That one person bringing that one thing into something that 50 people were working on to me made all the difference. So if you’ve got 50 people on a show, each bringing that sort of nuance or little piece of extra something that nobody else has brought just makes it better.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve been given in your career that you’d like to share?
The best piece of advice I was ever given I didn’t initially understand. The advice I was given was “Don’t take no for an answer”. What I thought that meant initially was just keep going back and asking the same person the same question, which is a bad thing, because you’ll really end up aggravating someone. If you’re trying to achieve something, whatever that is, and you go to somebody and say here’s my thing, do you want to be a part of it, they may say no. They don’t take no for an answer thing is to ask why. Understand why it doesn’t work for them, don’t be arrogant, and listen because knowing that might help you the next time you go to pitch for it. You’ll have a bit more of an understanding of your project and the industry. Don’t take no for an answer and don’t give up.
Any top tips for those trying to get into the industry?
It’s a cliche, but it’s networking. I find that people in the animation sector to be very, very open and very welcoming, they’re not territorial. Find out when things are going on, talk to people, meet people, go knock on doors. I think you also have to be reasonably clear about what it is you want to do. If somebody comes to me and says “I want to work in animation”, my response is “Great, in what area?”. Liking the industry and liking the art form is one thing, but wanting to work in it it’s important to know roughly what you want to do and what excites you because then you’re going to sell yourself better.
The London International Animation Festival takes place from 25 November to 4 December