Known for their stand-out animations, Blue-Zoo co-founders Tom Box and director Adam Shaw explain how the studio is pushing itself to produce animations of award-winning calibre.
Blue-Zoo is an award-winning London-based animation house, founded in 2000 by friends Adam Shaw, Tom Box and Oli Hyatt. The studio has built strong relationships with TV broadcasters and media companies, allowing it to produce hits such as Those Scurvy Rascals, Stitch-Up Showdown, Tree Fu Tom and Alphablocks.
"Essentially, we're a bunch of animators running a large studio, putting the effort into making imaginative animation rather than squeezing margins for shareholders," says co-founder Adam Shaw.
A new start
"We started out as students studying computer animation at Bournemouth University. In our final year, a few of us decided to set up a company. We've been going for 13 years. Over this time we've come to specialise in playful CGI character animation, mainly for commercials and children's TV series, and we're proud to have picked up a handful of Baftas along the way, most recently winning a Bafta for Children's Independent Production Company of the Year."
Co-founders Shaw, Box and Hyatt each have a slightly different area of expertise, which has contributed to the studio's success over the years. They employ about 20 permanent staff, but when we spoke to Box, they had a total of 120 people working for them. "And all those are made up almost entirely of animators or artists," he says. "They are working on four different TV series and a few smaller projects."
Looking back to the very beginning - and at what is often a stumbling block for aspiring artists - Box recalls how Blue-Zoo got its first commercial project. "We were fortunate enough to be starting the company just as Freeview was launching," says Box.
We specialise in playful CGI character animation, mainly for commercials and children’s TV series
"One of its first channels was CBeebies, and we were commissioned to make a series of 2D animations called Blue Cow. Not having a render farm and having to produce 200 three-minute episodes meant some creative workflow solutions. Hardware-rendering the entire series was pretty unheard of at the time."
Blue-Zoo likes to work on diverse projects, although the studio is best known for its kids’ TV work. "We're mainly known for our children's TV series work, but we have a constant flow of commercials and TV branding in the mix. We also create a lot of corporate animations for multi-national companies.
"And we develop our own successful shows, such as Olive The Ostrich, which is on Nickelodeon, Channel 5, and around the world. Managing to reach that much of an audience is no easy feat to pull off these days!"
Years of experience
For most media companies, the last decade's global recession has created a really tough climate in which to operate. Despite this, Blue-Zoo has continued to grow while racking up a fair few gongs for high-quality work.
"Over the years, we’ve really tried to push the quality of our work on ever-dwindling budgets, and it seems our clients appreciate us always trying to do the best we can," explains Box. "We love making exciting, carefully crafted animation, so we've been very fortunate to be able to make so much of it over the last few years.
"Going forward, we really want to flex our styles both visually and technically, and continue developing more of our own ideas, because it’s hard to avoid being pigeonholed into one look. Finding the time to do it is another thing, however!"
And how does Blue-Zoo keep on its toes? "Well, how long have you got?" says Box. "After 13 years of doing it day in, day out, we're still constantly learning and improving what we do. In this industry it never ends!
We love making exciting, carefully crafted animation
"One of the things we’ve learned is the importance of making our studio a nice place to work. If your animators enjoy what they do, it's evident in the work they produce when it's on screen. Also, planning and preparation is everything. If a project isn't run correctly, or given the correct resources at the pre-animation stage, it'll end in pain later after many wasted hours."
With one eye on the crystal ball, Box sees the studio developing more of its own shows and moving into film work. "We recently won a BFI Visionary Award to receive lottery film funding to develop our own animated features," says Box. "Another aspiration is to be seen as the go-to company for characterful animation, both for animators and clients."
Words: Kulsoom Middleton