His modest side would wince, but with a plethora of awards under his belt I wanted to sit down with Flipbook Co-Founder and Creative Director, Ben Haworth, to see how he earned his stripes and to get a snapshot of how the animation and VFX industry has changed through a career spanning over 20 years.
Ben started out organically after falling into the television industry at Granada TV in the 90s. Seeking a role as a cameraman, he snapped up a work experience opportunity in the graphics department before 3D was really a thing. He found the ability to work in graphics came with ease and nurtured his creative side as well, and he was soon offered a role.
This creative has become quite unassuming about his exceptional TV work and tends to find joy from the small things along with the notable. When asked to describe his career highlights, he rattled off experiences like seeing his work on the side of the bus for the first time rather than filling the air about contributing to BAFTA Award winning and Emmy nominated work.
Tell us about your role at Flipbook… what’s a typical day in your job like?
Anyone who has known me in the industry for a long time will probably be amused at Creative Director being my title. Partly, I’m a director of the company overseeing the creative side; it involves managing the output of the studio, whilst letting the talent and ingenuity of the artist shine. I support and advise our artists with issues and problems they might come across, helping to find solutions to sticking points. I work with directors and producers to give them the results they want for the budgets they have, using the experience I’ve accrued over time.
I bet relinquishing control is a challenge when you switch from artist to manager…
For me, as a bit of a control freak, not micro-managing our very talented artists is a challenge and therefore I try to make sure to take a step back and just be there to support the artists and let them have creative control with my guidance, but not overstep my boundaries. It’s about identifying where you excel while acknowledging and accepting your limitations. It’s huge, both for myself and my team, to recognise the importance of making mistakes and also to own up to them. How the hell are people meant to evolve without admitting mistakes and learning from it?
What advice can you enlighten us with that you wish you’d followed earlier in your career?
In a sentence, do not rest on your natural ability and push yourself more. The analogy that every day is a school day could not be truer in this industry: technology is always developing, standards get higher, budgets often get squeezed. Also… have some balls! Don’t wait for “the right moment” to make something happen, and don’t expect someone else to make it happen.
Any perks of the job?
I have to admit, some of the shoot locations have been big highlights. Spending two weeks in Iran and seeing Persepolis, spiralling the Empire State Building in a helicopter, going under the workings of Brooklyn Bridge, ten days shooting with Elton John… that said, some of the smallest things really stick out. Things like seeing our game art on a game in Tokyo, and seeing a child reacting totally genuinely to our Santa and Rudolf character designs for the Manchester Christmas campaign on a tram gives me a proud feeling.
Let’s talk industry… How have budgets changed during your career and how does it affect production?
Yes, budgets are definitely more competitive now that there are more channels, more demand for online content and many more streams of output that need filling. I take pride in an ability to find solutions to evolve with the changing budgets, and as a studio we always try and establish what a client’s budget is so that we can think of creative ways to give them the result they want without compromising on quality, within reason. Whether we’re tackling big or small budget jobs, our focus is pinpointing the creative solution to fit the budget to the project.
Are studios chasing tax breaks to make budgets work?
I’ve only really encountered this with games and broadcast work. There was a flood of work going to Canada for the breaks. That’s a big change in the industry: the production company used to have much more control over the shows, but when it came to the production, the channels insisted on certain companies in tax break areas.
It sounds like things have evolved quite a bit… Are co-production deals still appealing?
If there is money to be saved, co-production deals will always be a viable option. Co-pro deals give production companies access to higher-end CGI that they wouldn’t normally have the budget for, and also get an invested interest by the CGI company. They allow for productions to make the most of tax breaks in a variety of countries and allow productions to appeal to a more global audience rather than just a domestic one.
There is a lot of competition in London for regional companies like Flipbook. How do we compete and why should London agencies consider the regions for animation and VFX production that might give us the edge to London?
I’m always hesitant to use the word “regional” when referring to companies outside London… I feel like the word automatically devalues the company in question because it pigeon holes everything and everyone outside London into one group and that really isn’t the case. I could name many studios out of London that are amazing and produce stunning work, but, in my opinion, we are totally comparative on output. Staying competitive really comes down to how you creatively approach a production. In regards to TV, we’re more frequently getting involved in the development stage, before it’s been commissioned by the channel, to help shape the graphical style. Personally, I feel what gives us – outside London – the edge is a better understanding of budget and of the evolutionary process that projects have. We work with the clients and their budgets much less dogmatically and enjoy being part of the creative process. It still baffles me, though, that people go straight to London when great talent is right on their doorstep.
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