RENDERU.COM visits London’s Territory Studio
Imagine a studio, where even a junior staff member can, in the course of a day, have a chat on the phone with Stephen Spielberg. Probably impossible in larger companies – but very real in Territory’s small London-based studio.
Our journalist from RENDERU.COM visited Territory Studio and found out what an average day for artists looks like, how Ridley Scott influenced the creative approach and atmosphere of the company, and whether it’s possible to get a job if you just show up on the doorstep and ask them about vacancies.
Territory Studio’s artists have worked on such famous projects as “Ghost in the Shell”, “The Martian”, “Ex Machina” and “Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation”. You can often see their work if you pay attention to the monitors and screens, as well as program interfaces – all 100 monitors in flight control centre at NASA in The Martian, or the various screens in Ex Machina. For many films, Territory has designed monitors and interfaces specifically for decoration on the set.
Image: Territory Studio
In total, the studio employs roughly 65 artists, not including small offices in New York and San Francisco. Not too many – but that also gives them advantage over larger studios.
“Here, we’re trying to make sure that our artists talk directly to the client – so they often discuss their work with very well-known people” – David Sheldon-Hicks, co-founder and executive creative director of Territory tells RENDERU.COM. “It reduces the “broken telephone” effect, the client talks directly to the artist. But most importantly, our Artists feel that they are personally connected to the project, and that is very visible in the results.”
David told us that he always wanted to work on feature films. His first big “thing” was participating as a freelancer on Casino Royal, about agent 007’s first mission. “I can’t call it my best work, but it taught me a lot. Afterwards, I freelanced on Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight”- David recalls.
Soon after that, David met his future business partners, and 7 years ago they founded their creative agency, which they wanted to “contain in itself all the good that we saw in other companies”. A creative space, where it would be a pleasure to work – and that’s where the name Territory comes from. As a group, Territory also does traditional graphic design, website and app design, and even industrial design, but Studio’s first and foremost priority remains animated graphics.
David Sheldon-Hicks, co-founder and executive creative director of Territory. Image: Territory Studio
The main project to define studio’s future path was Ridley Scott’s Alien prequel, Prometheus. David says that director’s brief sounded along the lines of “Imagine software interfaces in the future, that are inspired by marine creatures”. A pretty unusual set of instructions, but it also gave a lot of creative freedom.
“That moment has affected the way I interact with my team. If I give them a really good brief, something that just points them in the correct direction, then they don’t need a strict set of controls” – says David, “Ridley Scott doesn’t make decisions for you. He assumes that he has already gathered a great team for the project, and so when the time comes 3-4 months later to see the results, finished work usually looks great. He trusts his team. Maybe that comes from the fact that the director has experience in graphic design. Either way, working with him has defined our internal policy – we give a maximum degree of freedom to our designers”.
Whenever the studio is working on a feature film, then the artists’ day begins with a creative meeting. Everyone roughly outlines what they have accomplished the day before, and a daily plan is made. The creative director can also feedback comments that came overnight from, say, an American director, and give his suggestions. Around 2 or 4 pm artists again show what they have accomplished – and at the end of the day, their work is sent to the client. If the client is located on other side of the ocean, then perhaps morning is when their feedback can finally arrive.
“Sometimes we place ads on specialised websites and social networks, other times specialists are recommended to us” – answers David to our question about how artists can get into Territory. “We work a lot with freelancers, so theoretically even your readers can easily get to work with us. Peter Eszenyi, our supervisor, was the first person that I hired, and he began as a freelancer. We loved his work so much that we just couldn’t let him go!”
And Roman Bugrov, a junior VFX artist from Russia, simply appeared on the studio’s doorstep last year and said “I want to work here!”. He had already lived in UK for many years at that point, and spent his time studying programming and computer graphics.
Roman Bugrov, VFX artist Image: Renderu.com
“It’s very hard to find a job, there is a lot of competition. There’s no doubt that you might be an amazing artist, but there’s also 120 other great artists right next to you, so it’s very hard to get into the industry” – says Roman.
The artist lived nearby, and started to collect information about the studio. Then he gathered courage to ring the doorbell. Roman was lucky – that was the moment that Territory was looking for new staff, and he was accepted first as a three-month intern, and later as a full staff member. He already had a chance to work on the “Ghost in the Shell”.
“It’s probably impossible to use this method to get into larger studio like MPC or DNEG” – thinks Roman, “But smaller studios, where bureaucracy is less prevalent, and people know each other, a personal visit allows you to present yourself as a real person, instead of just another piece of paper. There are lots and lots of those papers, some with great colleges or portfolios, but personal contact is very important. You could say that by coming directly to the studio I skipped the waiting part between submitting my application and coming in for an interview – so I guess I just went directly to an interview. I would recommend not sticking with just traditional ways of searching for jobs – you need to decide what you want, how bad you want it, and how far you’re willing to go to achieve it. Our industry is highly competitive, and if you’re not willing to make an extra step, you’re probably going to have a hard time”.
David told us that the studio more often accepts specialists who combine multiple skills – for example, design and animation. “You shouldn’t worry too much about technical tools and using them to present yourself”, suggests David to artists at the end of our interview, “Let’s say I’m looking for someone who can use Maya. I don’t just need a person who can simply use Maya – I want him to creatively approach the task. The important part is not what buttons you’re pressing, after all. Of course, you should know how to use the software, so you don’t have to waste time figuring out technical issues, but don’t forget that creativity is most important!”.
Translated by Roman Bugrov