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The Art House

Axis Animation's Richard Lewis on trailers, cutscenes and creative partnerships

While the UK games industry is abuzz with discussion about whether or not companies should receive tax breaks, Axis Animation is in the interesting position of being able to see the effects of that policy on film - working as it does with the games, movie TV businesses.

Here, CEO Richard Scott explains why working on trailers and cutscenes is something best done in what he calls a "creative partnership" rather than a simple outsourcing project, why firms use CG in trailers when it's not representative of in-game footage, and how uneven playing fields don't just affect the UK. Let's start with a bit about the origins of Axis Animation.
Richard Scott

Well, we set up in 2000 - originally we were involved with working at another animation studio, and we moved to set up as a department within VIS Entertainment to explore animation and other IPs they were developing. From there we developed into our own business.

We then grew the team and moved to Glasgow - but our main reason for doing what we did was that we believed we could set up a high quality CGI animation studio in Scotland, of which at that time there were none.

We had our experience of working with videogame clients from our previous studio, and it was just a natural fit to make videogames a big part of what we did. What kinds of projects do you work on?
Richard Scott

Within the videogames industry they really fall into two camps. The first is some form of marketing or promotion, generally trailers - and those trailers might slot into other parts of the game, but ultimately we're there to work with either the publishers directly through their marketing departments, or the agencies that publishers are using, to create an exciting, dynamic, visceral piece of work that's going to raise people's eyebrows.

The second part of what we do is the more narrative cutscene elements within the games themselves. Traditionally that might involve pre-rendered CG work, but certainly in 2010 that started to get more involved in real-time cutscenes - working with development teams much more directly, in a different kind of relationship.

But in both of those areas we're looking to be a creative partner - not to be parachuted in at the last minute to solve a problem, but to be as involved as early as possible so we can add the value that makes that part of the game as strong as it can be. That's fair enough, although I'm sure some people will read that and conclude that being involved as early as possible is going to cost them more money...
Richard Scott

I think it's about relationships - most things in the creative business are. Being involved from the start doesn't always mean being paid from the start. Now you've got their attention...
Richard Scott

It's about being able to integrate with the team - whether that's an agency team or a development team - and get close to the ideas, story and characters behind the game. But also the people who you're going to be working with - a big part of our pitching process is doing a percentage of what you'd class as pre-production.

That gets our ideas fleshed out and pushed further, it shows the client that you understand their game or their strategy for the marketing - and it allows you to get those relationships going. If they react well to what you're presenting then there'll probably be a click between the teams - and that's what these things need. ...and quality doesn't come cheap?
Richard Scott

I think the challenge is always within a set of parameters that involve time and money, and pushing that as hard as you can. I've never met a client that doesn't want the best thing possible - and rightly so. How many pitches do you make in a year? It sounds like a pretty time-intensive project.
Richard Scott

We're pursuing certain types of projects and clients - we maybe do 20 projects in a year, not necessarily all videogame projects. We might pitch 50, maybe more. I'd be happy with a one in three strike rate.

But it is an intensive process - we normally spend one or two weeks on a project pitch, but we want to work on projects that we're excited and enthusiastic about, that's all part of it. If you can't build up the desire to do one or two weeks' worth of work on a job, then it's probably not going to be the greatest project in the world.

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