Heroes of animation: Fred & Eric

Six studios joined forces for the London's Hero speed animation challenge - and we're profiling each of them. Today we look at the superlative work of Fred & Eric.

A family of eco-minded 3D characters created for a short film introducing WWF's Green Ambassadors scheme

Animators from across London have come together for a unique challenge at ZED, HP's pop-up studio for creative professionals in London's Soho.

Curated by New York-based Cut&Paste and powered by HP Workstations, the contest saw six studios take part in a speed animation challenge in front of a live audience. Each got just five hours to create a 10-second clip that shows a different stage of the life of London's first superhero - from baby to senior.

Studio profiles

We wanted to catch up with the teams involved, and find out what drove them to get up in public and expose their creative process for all to see. We've already met Golden Wolf, and today it's the turn of Fred & Eric, an award-winning design and animation agency specialising in stop-frame and character animation.

We chat to team members Maggie Rogers and Lee Cooper about animation software, keeping to a tight timeframe and the importance of having an Oystercard...

Q: Why did you agree to take part?

The main incentive was the opportunity to work alongside five other amazing animation companies who we really admire, and meet some familiar industry names who we can put faces to.

Still from a promo introducing Little Big Planet 2. Combining handmade models, stop-frame animation, composited backgrounds and greenscreened gameplay

We also jump at any opportunity to work on creative projects where we can set our own style direction, creating something new and fun without the confines of a strict brief. As a young and small company, we also thought it would be great exposure for Fred & Eric.

Q: What are the biggest challenges you expect to face?

Fred & Eric's house style is based around traditional craft techniques and stop-frame animation... neither of which are known for being particularly speedy ways of producing work. So the main challenges are to produce an animation we are proud of, in a style we want to show off, within the very limited five-hour timeframe!

Obviously it will also be a challenge to work out how to stitch in Mummu's last 30 frames (which won't be revealed until the day) with what we are creating.

Q: What's it like working in London?

Good things: It's a creative hub, not only in terms of design and animation, but also fashion, art, food! The list is endless. You're never far away from a source of inspiration. Bad things: A busy tube. Oxford Street during school holidays. Umbrella wind battles on streets that turn into wind tunnels.

An internal communication film for Mindshare

Q: Why is there so much animation talent in the city?

One great company breeds another. So where one company produces amazing talent, this has a cumulative effect of breeding more talent which spreads.

Q: What technologies do you use?

We are always trying to use new techniques and styles in our work to keep it fresh and varied. Predominantly, our work is produced using After Effects, Maya, Cinema 4D and Flash. But we also try to utilise more traditional hands-on animation techniques where possible. We love to make real models for our animations where possible, rather than recreating something that looks realistic in post.

Mixing techniques is also something we love to do, as you can see in this video - a stop-frame animated character within an After Effects environment:

Q: What qualities do you look for in the technology you use?

It depends on our brief. We would choose the technology that gives us the best possible finish, while being achievable within the given timeframe. Surprisingly, sometimes handmade can be quicker. But on other occasions sticking to the computer is more efficient. It really depends on our creative.

Q: What are you most proud of?

We are all really proud of our first competition promo for Channel 4:

This piece combined our favourite handmade look with a live-acton shoot, in a very hectic day of shooting. It was a total group collaboration by all members of our studio which made the whole process even more rewarding.

The sequence was created in a very tight time-frame, and where it may have seemed simpler just to create the whole piece in 3D, or fake the animation in After Effects, we are proud to have shot it all in one take (albeit the 38th one). Embracing all the little imperfections and unexpected moments that come from shooting in this way. Here's a behind-the-scenes video to give you more background:

Q: Who is your biggest inspiration?

We love collaborating with creatives, so all of the amazing animators, illustrators, designers, model-makers, sound designers, graduates (the list goes on) we work with along the way are definitely our greatest inspiration. Our Tumblr blog features ampersands created by their collaborators.

Illustrated lion-cub called Bapoto, created for a children's short

Q: What advice would you give to someone looking to start out in animation?

Always try to experiment with new programs and techniques in any down-time to expand your skill-set. Do lots of personal projects in the style you love to produce. This will give you the best chance of working on jobs that suit your style and also shows prospective employees a passion for your work.

Try not to be too precious about your ideas. When working to a client's brief, sometimes feedback and limitations can be frustrating. However, ultimately part of producing great work is not only producing brilliant animation, but also the satisfaction of fulfilling a brief at the same time.

Q: Who is your favourite superhero?

Maggie: I don't think they are technically superheros... but Wallace and Gromit! I love how they use Wallace's very English (and very dodgy) inventions to mostly inadvertently solve problems and foil villains... It's the kind of Superhero I'd be. An accidental one!

An internal communication film for Maersk, using cut-out paper illustrations which were animated in a stop-frame style in After Effects

Lee: When I think of a superhero I think of anyone who works hard for others. I think of the firemen who pull people from burning houses. I think of the surgeons who perform life saving operations. I think of the charity workers who feed the hungry. But NONE of them could beat Hulk Hogan so Hulk Hogan is my favourite superhero, by far.

Q: If you could have any superhero ability, what would it be?

Maggie: I would LOVE to fly! Oh and the ability to magic myself home when I miss the last train...

Lee: I'm very peaceful and prefer to solve problems without resorting to violence. I like to spread an aura of calm and contentment throughout the world, but if I could have one power I'd choose the ability to just explode people by pointing at them. That would be wicked. BAM!

Mixed media animation for a Samsung competition

Q: What qualities does London's super hero need?

Maggie: Patience.

Lee: He should always have his Oyster card topped up, otherwise he can't really do much. Oh, and he should be able to explode people just by pointing at them. BAM!

Delivered in conjunction with ZED!

This content was produced in collaboration with HP & Intel as part of ZED - a Pop-Up Studio for the Creative Community held in Soho, London. For more information about ZED and any future events see here.