In the Studio With — London animation studio Moth discuss their heartfelt approach and generating an atmosphere that “feels like home”

Posted 20 March 2017 Interview by Laura Snoad

Founded by three friends as a part-time venture in 2010, London-based animation studio Moth has now expanded to five, and can grow to 15 when there’s a big project on its books. Emotive, human storytelling has won it fans with clients The Guardian, NSPCC, Facebook and CNN. Moth’s Modern Love film for The New York Times (a real-life story of romance blossoming during the war in Bosnia) won a coveted Annecy Cristal and they were even nominated for BAFTA. Founder and director Marie-Margaux Tsakiri-Scanatovits talks us through the leap to full-time and developing a balanced client base.

Moth

Founded

2010

Based

London

Team

5 (3 Directors/Designers, 1 Producer, 1 Junior Director/Designer)

Hours

10am–7pm 

Clients

Facebook, Headspace, The Guardian, The New York Times, CNN, Woodlands Trust, WWF, Global Canopy Programme, XL Records, NSPCC 

Website
Social Media

A shelving unit inside Moth’s London-based studio, designed by Marie-Margaux’s father in Italy

Overview

We predominantly work on 2D animation, 3D animation and illustration. We always focus on making interesting and thought-provoking work with an emphasis on design and story. Our approach is to treat all projects individually and provide our clients with a tailored solution. A lot of clients will ask you to recreate something you’ve already done, but it’s in the best interest of both parties to develop something new and original.

When we started Moth back in 2010, it was very much a collective of three people (Daniel, Dave and myself) working together part-time on projects that we were passionate about. Our clients were charities, NGOs, record labels and documentary filmmakers that needed animated segments for their films. The projects were a few per year, deadlines were usually comfortable and the budgets were small. What was really positive about this set-up was that we created a curated portfolio of work progressively and organically, to the point where we could make the shift from freelancing to full-time quite naturally. 

Once we dedicated ourselves to it, we could take on more projects. We started new collaborations with bigger clients and bigger teams of people. Projects were not coming in one at a time but sometimes five at a time, so we had to learn to split our time between them and taking specific roles in order to manage the workload. We soon realised that three designers could not do it all by themselves, so we hired our friend Ifor as a producer and Jen Zheng as a junior animator and designer.

Producer Ifor and junior animator and designer Jennifer inside the Moth studio

The studio is set between Mare Street and London Fields in London’s Hackney

The team at work in the studio

The team at work in the studio

The Team

There are five permanent members in total, but we expand up to 15 depending on the scale and the urgency of a project. We use freelancers for character animation, artworking, compositing, 3D animation and more. When we’re recruiting, the main criteria for us is that someone shares our interest and care for the work, and above all, that they are a nice person to be around. We are a small studio that feels very much like home, so we want to keep the atmosphere warm and friendly.

The way we approach production is very much collaborative, all of us concept, design and direct together. We want whoever is involved on a project to feel as excited and creatively challenged as possible, so we work to our freelancers’ strengths and preferences. We work hard, but also have a good work-life balance. Sleeping under your desk is only sustainable for a few years after all. 

“The most important thing when working as a team is to be able to push your ego to the side, and allow for the best ideas to flourish.”

Blue for CNN, 2016

The Work

Last year started with our film The Last Job On Earth for The Guardian. That was a great project for us in terms of client, content and experience and lay the foundations for our second collaboration with them on a film for the Woodlands Trust. We also started working closely with Headspace on some new content, which meant experimenting with some fun 3D. CNN commissioned a film called Blue, which we really enjoyed making, and we got to make some fun work for Facebook’s events team, which also sparked further collaborations with them. We also really loved working with illustrator Benjy Davies on the trailer of his book The Stormwhale in Winter. It was also a great award year for us, the highlight being an Annecy Cristal for our film Modern Love for The New York Times

When a brief comes in, we all brainstorm individually and then bring our ideas to the table. The most important thing when working as a team is to be able to push your ego to the side, and allow for the best ideas to flourish. Depending on time and schedule, one of us will take the lead on the boards, someone else on design, someone on colour exploration or production. We then pass these around so that everyone can add their voice to them and make them into a big Moth mesh! Freelancers come in at different times during production. The first people we bring in are the ones who will have a leading role in the project. 

Growing as a studio obviously means we take more commercial projects on, but we always try to balance out the type of work we do. We use the resources from the commercial projects to fund the lower-budget ones that offer more creative freedom, while maintaining our ethical standards about the clients and organisations that we work for. Running a studio is effectively a learning curve; we learn from mistakes and bring that experience into the next project.

Moth’s contribution to the New York Times’ Modern Love series, 2016

The Culture

We are based in London Fields in Hackney. We all live in East London, so we can walk or cycle to work. The local area is a healthy balance of edgy Mare Street and trendy Broadway market. We just moved into a new space, so it looks like a work in progress at the moment. We like to have wood around us as much as possible. We have green lamps and green windows and we’re getting a green table made for us. We like green! We just had a beautiful shelving unit put into our office that was designed by my father in Italy and handmade by the wonderful carpenter Jon Grant in his Leyton studio workshop. It’s the pride of our studio at the moment. Also our dark green Hay chairs.

Employee benefits include Negronis and fizzy water…and 28 days of holiday. Ifor is in charge of the music and in terms of lunch, we make killer salads as a whole team. If we are feeling powerful we head to Bungalows, the best greasy spoon Mare Street has to offer. We have a few self-initiated projects in the pipeline that we are developing, though our focus at the moment is the studio work. As a small team, we are very hands on, which takes a lot of our time.

Posted 20 March 2017 Interview by Laura Snoad
Photography: Kieran Pharaoh
Collection: In the Studio With
Disciplines: Illustration, Animation, Design
Mentions: Moth, The Guardian, The New York Times

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