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‘Use animation to diversify’
Jason Lindsay has placed T&T on the map in the field of animation.
The managing director of Full Circle Animation Studio has produced animation for the HBO series Animals featuring performances by RuPaul, Aziz Ansari, Wanda Sykes, Raven-Symone and Usher, among others. Season three of the series—considered to be one of the funniest, most idiosyncratic shows on television—premiered on Friday.
Lindsay is another of the success stories from the diversification thrust of the Ministry of Trade’s exporTT.
Full Circle Animation Studio was recently contracted by Big Jump Entertainment of Ottawa, Canada, to produce the animation for the series. This is the first time an animation studio in T&T—or from the English-speaking Caribbean—has been contracted by an international studio for a full season of a television show on a major network.
“For a young animation industry like ours here in Trinidad, the main long-term benefit of an opportunity like this is the investment in our human resource. The experience and technical/creative insight gained from our animators working with an experienced production studio like Big Jump Entertainment are invaluable.
“The entire team benefited from it tremendously,” Lindsay said.
An in-house team of 12 people—nine animators, an animation supervisor, a project co-ordinator, and a project manager—worked tirelessly between last December and May at the company’s Trincity studio.
“This show had a very unique and distinctive style of design and animation. It looks simple and minimalist but it required us to transmit a lot of emotion through the characters using very limited animation movement,” Lindsay explained.
“Going in, we had otherwise underestimated how challenging that could be while keeping the provocative edge that really defines the style of the show. In that regard, it was a new technical experience for us.”
This project, along with other overseas productions outsourced to Full Circle, has put the company in a position where, in only three years, more than 50 per cent of its income has been from foreign exchange revenue. This most recent project has catapulted Full Circle’s export earnings for the first half of 2018 to more 90 per cent of its income during that period—a unique position for any small business and a major achievement for the studio and the local industry as a whole.
“For a young animation industry like ours here in Trinidad, the main long-term benefit of an opportunity like this is the investment in our human resource. The experience and technical/creative insight gained from our animators working with an experienced production studio like Big Jump Entertainment is invaluable. The entire team benefited from it tremendously,” Lindsay said.
Initially, animation wasn’t on the cards for Lindsay. He studied economics and qualified as a development finance expert, spending years working on developing new businesses as part of T&T’s diversification drive.
When animator and head of the University of T&T’s animation programme Camille Selvon-Abrahams broached the topic of partnering with her for an animation company, he immediately grasped at the opportunity.
“I don’t have a background in animation. I spent five years getting a practical doctorate, learning everything hands on and as we progressed,” he said.
In 2012, Lindsay worked at Eteck as the vice president in charge of development projects. Selvon-Abrahams had started Full Circle Productions years before but with her hectic schedule lecturing at UTT, she needed a partner. With their partnership, Full Circle Productions became Full Circle Animation Studios. Lindsay then left his job at Eteck.
“I knew early on that the focus of the company needed to be on export-oriented animation. The local market for animation on its own could not sustain the business.
“When we started in 2013, our work was mostly for advertising agencies and we had no export income. Since then, we have crossed the 50 per cent mark for income from export bookings,” he said.
Full Circle Animation is now a net earner of foreign exchange—an accomplishment for any business operating in T&T.
Lindsay and his team have, in the past five years, worked on productions with Disney, Nickelodeon, Dreamworks TV, Amazon and Netflix. In the region it is the first studio to be part of the animation production pipeline for content broadcast on most of those platforms, doing work in Canada, India, the Far East, Malaysia, the UK, Italy, the US and Holland without ever having to leave T&T’s shores.
The studio also works with local and regional NGOs and has completed work on a series for Caricom and with the National Security Ministry.
“Our focus has been pushing the export,” Lindsay said.
Pushing the export in the digital world, he added, is less challenging than if the company tries to export a product.
“There is a lot of work in animation and in the world today there are not enough animators to do the work that is available. As video on demand platforms like Amazon and Netflix continue to expand, the demand for content, inclusive of animated content increases,” Lindsay said.
“In some ways it is easier for us. We don’t have to go to Canada to produce for Canada. It is all a digital pipeline. With respect to the diversification drive, being a small island can limit actual physical products in a way it cannot limit the digital opportunities. The travel issues don’t apply and many physical products have other issues in terms of export that we don’t share.”
Lindsay said in the digital world it is almost strange to think in terms of imports or exports, since everyone functions in one global space.
“We experience some of the traditional issues of a regular business but there are less restrictions. What’s good for this generation is that they are born digital so that’s all they know. And, in terms of big studios, they don’t want animators who are better or more creative, they want us to be capable, reliable and consistent.”
To really put this country on the map, Lindsay said T&T should focus on creating more avenues in the field of animation.
“There aren’t a lot of animation studios locally, but there are a lot of smaller companies that can pull together teams. At Full Circle we have 11 animators who specialise in different things and we use other local animators, both local and from South and Central America, on bigger projects.
“There are probably more animators in one studio in India than in all of the Caribbean,” he said.
Lindsay said the limited labour pool sometimes makes it difficult for his studio to attract more work: “We had to turn back work in the earlier days,”
Despite this, the field remains very attractive and lucrative for young people.
The accomplishments of Full Circle Animation Studio exemplifies how the Government, the education sector, and enterprise can work hand in hand to achieve and change the landscape of the economy. Below the surface of this model is a seamless education thread that few are aware of and appreciate.
Students from the YTEPP Animation Retraining Programme went on to complete the UTT Diploma in Animation programme and now 90 per cent of the workforce is part of that thread that makes up the studio.
“This is a great example of success in creative sector and seamless education in a country that depends on oil and gas,” Selvon-Abrahams said.
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