Multi-disciplinary design agency reveals the secrets of its success

From the interior design of Madonna's flat to effects for disaster shows, Glowfrog is a studio that can leap from architectural visualisation to VFX with aplomb.

Back in the 1990s, Nigel Hunt was a jobbing 3D freelance artist plying his trade in London. Working alongside interior designers, Hunt soon found himself drafting 3D visualisations and then animations for design proposals for Madonna's New York apartment. The Queen of Pop was a close friend of one of the interior designers, and Hunt and his newly founded studio Glowfrog went on to create set designs for music videos from the Ray of Light album.

It's a star-studded entry on an impressive resumé that includes the reimagining of the Millennium Dome, work for the London 2012 Olympics, and a growing body of VFX production and post-production work that's directing Glowfrog into the worlds of television and film.

Humble beginnings

The origins of Glowfrog are far more humble and more personal. "Glowfrog started out as a visualisation company, but prior to it starting I worked in architecture for five years following in my father's footsteps," says Hunt.

He came to London in 1992 and worked for Sega before getting a job as an architectural illustrator using 3DS (DOS version) creating 3D models of buildings. As Hunt’s ambition grew so did the workload. Freelancers were hired, then joined permanently, and Glowfrog was born.

Founded in the 1990s by Nigel Hunt, Glowfrog’s early projects include work on Madonna’s New York pad and The Millennium Bridge

Making a mark

It was Glowfrog's work on The O2 Arena and the Greenwich Peninsula Regeneration that helped put it on the map. "We've been involved since 2001 and helped The O2 with marketing CGIs during the construction."

The defunct Millennium Dome may have had a universal panning, but after one year of opening, The O2 became one of the most successful concert venues in the world. Then came work on the London 2012 Athletes' Village, a five-year project where Glowfrog worked with a design team, including 15 architectural firms.

We are expanding more into film and TV visual effects, with 2014 lining up to deliver VFX on our first feature film

Though it's a cliché for a studio to describe its progress as 'organic', it seems fitting for Glowfrog's move into visual effects, as it anticipated the change in industry and hired a new generation of creatives with widening skillsets.

As visual effects producer Rebecca Marie Perry explains, "We are expanding more into film and TV visual effects, with 2014 lining up to deliver VFX on our first feature film and a 26-episode drama series."

If the cap fits...

The studio is progressing in areas with enhance its existing portfolio: "In property we've become an integrated production agency, whereas our film and TV side has incorporated more post services and a documentary/ drama production unit," says Hunt.

Project briefs are getting more demanding. Stripped-down budgets are exacerbated by the heavy subsidies playing a bigger part in TV and film production. Add to that an increasing international platform of competition, and Glowfrog has to adapt or die. "This business model is here to stay, so learning how to work within these shifting sands and low margins helps," says Hunt.

Nigel Hunt worked with freelance artist Mike Griggs to produce all the VFX and graphics for this two-hour special for the History Channel

One sea change has played into their hands. "Software has taken such a huge step towards achieving realism, programs and plug-ins have allowed us to work faster and better," says Perry, "allowing smaller studios like Glowfrog to achieve photorealism on challenging budgets. It is a really exciting time to be in this industry because it's only going to get better."

Although Glowfrog has ventured into more technical projects that go beyond producing CGI, including interactive and augmented reality, it's good to see that the team still find fulfilment in the simple things. "Our work for The National Geographic Channel's Seconds From Disaster is one of my favourites," says Nigel. "Why? 300 VFX shots and the opportunity to blow stuff up on international television. Enough said."

Glowfrog created 101 shots for the National Geographic Channel’s disaster show, including explanatory graphics, which enabled the viewer to focus on how the weather was formed

This article originally appeared in 3D World issue 180.