Picasso Pictures, Est. 1993, reflect on how their world has changed since they set up shop.
Two decades is a lot longer than it used to be. Thanks to Moore’s law, we are hurtling towards an inconceivable future at a rate that’s becoming increasingly hard to keep up with. This is an age where the world’s most powerful business empires were barely a twinkle in their teenage founders’ eyes ten years ago, which makes it all the more impressive when a pre-digital company manages to evolve its way through the revolution and stay in control.
Picasso Pictures is one such company. Born in 1993, they have kept up with the pace and, after 20 years, come out as relevant an animation house as ever. We spoke to them about the journey they have travelled through the years.
Originally born out of post-production giants MPC, Picasso set out as a premier animation studio from the start. They bought themselves out in 2007 with the aim to continue to build a diverse roster and make high-quality animation and mixed media productions.
British Airways – Jouster (1995)
Throughout the 1990s Picasso carved out their name, working on some enviable jobs. From their early work for British Airways – one of M&C Saatchi’s first campaigns – to NatWest’s huge 1997 animated campaign with TBWA and some very experimental work for Boots. But while the 1990s doesn’t sound that long ago, it was a completely different world back then.
“The big difference from our side of things in production is technology and the techniques used to create animation,” says Managing Director Richard Price. “Back then it was very much about craft, creating everything by hand. I think the colour photocopier was about as cutting edge as the kit got in the studio. And everything was shot on 35mm film.
“Take for example the Boots campaign, to achieve the abstract imagery and textures, we went out and shot on 35mm, shooting leaves, streams, ink in water tanks and different lights and reflections because no software existed that we could use to create them any other way. Back in 1997 it was pretty ground breaking and experimental, and I suppose it still is, but the difference today is that we could probably achieve the entire look digitally.”
Richard’s describes a 1993 animation studio. “The scene was one of scores of animators’ and artists’ heads bent over lightboxes, flipping paper or cel back and forth to check their work against the previous frame, often late into the night.” Whilst these techniques are still very much in use in the studio today, the difference is the addition of CGI and all the digital and post production wizardry now available. And those are some pretty huge additions.
Péter Vácz – Rabbit and Deer (2013)
Sam Hope, Executive Producer at Picasso says “it’s quite a testament to still be around, having started in a world that was technically quite basic. You either turned on a camera and moved stuff around or you turned on a camera and took a photo of a piece of paper.”
But she’s keen to point out how drastically these technological advances have changed life in animation production companies, and made many aspects of it much easier. “Today you can make a lot more animation,” she says. “You can take on a lot more jobs; you can turn over more every year; you can employ more crew. I think you can have a bigger stake in the market as an animation company just because the technology makes the market accessible.”
These changes to the way the industry works have affected the way a company builds and maintains its roster too. “You have a different mind-set on what talent you need,” says Richard. “Today you need a far bigger mix and choice of genres.” These days there are directors that specialise in augmented reality or arcane coding languages – things you wouldn’t be able to explain to a production company 20 years ago.
NuFormer – Interactive Window Projection (2013)
To deal with this, Picasso’s recent venture was to launch two new divisions to offer more choice to the industry. The Playroom is where all the experiential and interactive work lives, and The Pod is where new directing talent is nurtured and evolved.
Finding new talent and giving directors a chance to build a career has always been part of Picasso, but with the upheaval the digital revolution has brought there’s more choice and diversity than ever. Thanks to YouTube, people can learn a huge variety of skills without formal training.
Aakash Nihalani’s distinctive street art.
Aakash Nihalani, one of Picasso’s Playroom directors, usually creates street art from card and tape, but with the help of the internet he taught himself programming. Now he has a mesmeric interactive side to his artwork, where the shapes he creates react to your mouse’s movements.
Having reacted to the seismic shifts in the industry and stabilised, Picasso’s little corner of Soho is still successfully turning out quality animation, filled with a core staff who clearly love what they do and are very proud of what they’ve grown into. Once a traditional animation house, you’re now far more likely to see banks of iMacs than lightboxes and cel, but the fundamental crafts are the same as ever.
Holland & Barrett – Autumn (2013)
“I think we have as strong a roster as we have ever had,” Richard tells me. “From traditional animation to street art, it’s truly inspiring to watch. These are some seriously talented people, and if I reflect back over 20 years one conclusion must be that, just as back then we were honoured to work with some great artists, the same is true today.”