What is your name and your current occupation?
My name is Jon Rennie and I’m the Managing Director of Cloth Cat Animation.
What are some of the crazier jobs you had before getting into animation?
Besides the usual stints in call centres and copy typing pools, the best job I had before animation was as a tester and writer for Bullfrog Productions. Bullfrog was a games company eventually purchased by EA but while I was there I got to work on titles such as Dungeon Keeper, Theme Hospital, Syndicate Wars and Populous: The Beginning. It was a fun creative place to work and a great place to learn how to develop my skills in the media industry.
What are some of your favorite projects you’re proud to have been a part of?
I’ve had a diverse career so I’m proud of all the work I’ve been able to do. My favourite game at Bullfrog was working on Dungeon Keeper, but then I moved into VFX and animation and so Grandpa In My Pocket has been a major part of my career up to now.
Where are you from and how did you get into the animation business?
I’m from Cardiff in Wales and I came to animation from the VFX industry. I studied filmmaking at university in Newport but found I had an affinity for manipulating images and footage. I experimented with bluescreen and colour correction so, when I came to make my own short films, I was able to do a lot of the work myself. A local animation company needed a compositor to work on a new animation series so I found my skills transferred very easily. I was able to help that company expand into children’s VFX and I haven’t looked back! I’m now able to combine elements from all of those different industries into one company now.
What’s a typical day like for you with regards to your job?
I think if anyone says there’s a typical day in animation, they’re lying! The great thing about this industry is there are always new things happening and new challenges before you. I spend my day working on new development projects ahead of the industry conferences and ensuring the current ones are running on track. As much as I’d like to be compositing again, I tend to focus on emails and spreadsheets! There is also a need to be a visible part of the local industry so I try and represent Cloth Cat at industry events and sponsoring student activities.
What part of your job do you like best? Why?
Working alongside talented crew and seeing the amazing work they can produce for ideas that were just a brief outline on a piece of paper weeks before. I like the excitement of building a place where the crew feel at home.
What part of your job do you like least? Why?
Like any company, the bit I like least is all the admin work! However, that’s the bit that keeps the machine running and ensures everyone gets paid at the end of the month. My responsibility is to keep that functioning so there’s a lot of pressure to get it right.
What kind of technology do you work with on a daily basis, how has technology changed in the last few years in your field and how has that impacted you in your job?
We have a considerable amount of technology in the studio for all the different kinds of jobs we expect to do. All our animation projects run with ftrack as their backbone, managing edits with Hiero or Premiere and rendering using Deadline. Animation is produced with CelAction, Flash, TVPaint, Maya or Houdini, whichever is most appropriate for the job at the time. We’re always keen to experiment with new software and techniques.
What is the most difficult part for you about being in the business?
I think the biggest challenge is coping with the rapid changes taking place within the animation business. Gone are the days when broadcasters full funded production and today the process is becoming increasingly commercial, with merchandising deals needing to be in place as part of the funding. We enjoy the challenge of production and producing high quality animation for the international market. However, that goes hand in hand with remaining competitive and nimble with every project that we either develop or service.
If you could change the way the business works and is run how would you do it?
A very loaded question! In a utopia, of course we’d be fully funded and be able to pitch to any broadcaster but that’s unrealistic. Everyone and their cat has a great idea and most of them fail to realise that no one is guaranteed success. (“I have a fantastic series idea that’s going to be the next Peppa Pig…!”) The business is becoming much more focused on digital platforms and global access so I think it’s heading in the right direction already.
In your travels, have you had any brushes with animation greatness?
I live very close to Joanna Quinn in Cardiff and she’s inspired animators in Wales and outside for two decades. Her two Oscar nominations are not only a testament to her passion for her art but also a demonstration of how award-winning animations can spring from the smallest of studios.
Describe a tough situation you had in life.
It sounds trite, but challenges are there to try us, not defeat us. Situations I’ve been in have been tough – not knowing where the next job is coming from, realising my career at more than one company was over and I didn’t know what to do next – but at no point were they a barrier. I wouldn’t have the knowledge and experience I have now had I not faced tough situations.
Any side projects you’re working on that you’d like to share details of?
I also produce live actions feature films separate to my animation and vfx work so that can be equally rewarding. My most recent film, Black Mountain Poets, premiered at the Edinburgh Film Festival and won an award! Two more have already been released so I’m really proud of their success.
Any unusual talents or hobbies like tying a cherry stem with your tongue or metallurgy?
Ha! I wish I did. I do speed read and get through a lot of sci fi books!
Is there any advice you can give for an aspiring animation student or artist trying to break into the business?
The advice is always to take your time and learn the industry before you try to push further up the ladder. You’ll find that you don’t enjoy some of the aspects of animation and production, and you’ll only find this out but trying. You won’t be lead animator on your first job and neither should you. Universities often leave graduates unprepared because success among your peers doesn’t always mean success applying for jobs. You’re then competing against applicants from all over the world and only your showreel will sell you – your CV is secondary. Also, don’t start a company unless you really know what you’re doing, trust me!