Industry Interview: Brent Chambers Flux Animation



• in 1983 did a 3-year diploma at AUT ( ATI as it was 30 years ago);

• 1986-1988 worked as a Graphic Designer, Cartoonist and Illustrator in London;

• in 1988 Brent began training at Freelance Animators (now known as Animation College) under John Ewing as a traditional animator at the same time working on Warner Brothers series Tiny Toons;

• in 1996 won Gold Axis award for ANZ Serious saver TVC;

• in 1997 set Up Flux Animation Studio;

• in 2006 was a runner up NZ Cartoonist of the year for work in Pro Design and Home and Building magazine.

Flux Animation Studio, now with a permanent staff of 22 plus a scalable work force of contractors, is currently in production on its 15th original series for TVNZ, furthering a rich legacy which includes Tamatoa the Brave Warrior, Puzzle Inc, The Adventures of Massey Ferguson, Buzzy Bee and Friends, as well as 3 seasons of the award winning Tiki Tour. Flux co-produced two 26 x half hour international series Staines Down Drains with Australia and Germany, and Master Raindrop with Australia and Singapore. Flux’s award winning short films Grass, It was a Dark and Silly Night have featured internationally at many festivals. The company also contributed the animated sequences for the Oscar Award winning Paramount Studios cinema release An Inconvenient Truth. In 2011 Flux produced a half hour television special for CBS in the U.S. titled Hoops and Yoyo Ruin Christmas, which has been nominated for 3 Annie awards. Brent has a working relationship with U.S. based Hornet Inc. and the Famous Group. As a Director for those companies, Brent has directed commercials and short films for U.S clients, including Saturday Night Live, Cartoon Network and Mattel amongst others.


Can you tell us what motivated you to start the company?

We wanted to make our own cartoon shows. Up until that point NZ had done service work for the U.S., but very few original series were produced here. The big U.S. companies were always looking for best cost and quality, which meant even Top NZ studios were vulnerable to contracts being uplifted because of conditions that were out of our control, like foreign exchange. The idea was for Flux to make our own content, which would allow us to have control over our destiny. If you own the show, they can’t take it away from you.
At the time animation was changing, animated TV commercials had always been more expensive than live action. However, things were going digital; animation crews and production times were halved with the emergence of new technology like Digital Ink and Paint and 3D software. Animation became more affordable to the ad industry and more acceptable to average Joe New Zealander in prime time.

How did Flux get its name?

In the thesaurus, it means “fluid motion”. I liked the irony that it also seemed to be the best way to describe the animation industry in New Zealand at the time.

What is the latest project you have been a part of?

With 40 staff, we always have at least a dozen jobs on the go. This year I am most proud of work we are doing for Disney in the U.S. (very secret). Also, Wiki the Kiwi is a 3D pre school series we are making for TVNZ. Twenty years in the making this show is going to be great, we have already sold it to Australia and Canada. We are also doing our third season of Tiki Tour, that show just won the Sign Language in Action Media award and we get so much positive feedback from mums (even my own). The show makes me very proud.


Did you always know that you wanted to do animation when you were young?

Yes, since I was 7 or 8, my favourite show was Wonderful World of Disney on Sunday nights on the NZBC, and my favourite episodes were the cartoons and behind the scenes making of animated films. I always wondered how those Disney artists could draw so well. In 1989, when I met John Ewing (Disney Animator) and when I realized that he had done a lot of the work on Ludwig Von Drake and Jungle Book, I couldn’t have been more star struck. It was like if he were Walt himself.

What sparked you into a career in animation?

I had just returned from the U.K. and was recently married working at Aviso Design. I read an ad in the Herald for animators to work on a project for Spielberg. I thought it was a con, but I went and met with Barry Pearce and John Ewing (founders of Freelance Animation School, now known as Animation College) and picked up a test on Buster Bunny, and 2 weeks later got the job. I worked at Freelance for 8 years. On the day I left, John gave me my Buster Bunny test back and it was rubbish.


Who or what have been the main influences of your work? Do you have someone that is like a role model to you? Why?

John Ewing did his best to teach me the craft of animation, so I definitely owe my career as an animator to him. But I suspect I may have had a career change if it were not for Yoram Gross in Australia, who taught me a lot about the animation business. This has allowed me to remain involved, earn a living and achieve many of my career goals. Yoram Gross and his wife Sandra owned the largest animation studio in Australia for 30 years. In the year before he sold the studio he co-produced Staines down Drains with Flux. He taught me that if things aren’t working for you, it is possible to make change. Even though the Australian industry is much bigger than NZ’s, back then it still suffered many similar challenges to what New Zealand has now. Yoram and Sandra worked for decades to bring recognition to the Australian Animation Industry and more importantly animation as a tool for creating cultural identity. I still think New Zealand has a way to go on this. I believe the true measure of a nation’s standing is how well it attends to its children. The Government in New Zealand thinks visual effects and animation are one and the same. This is in part because of the success of Weta, but animation is its own genre; it’s older than film and currently represents 30% of the global screen industry and New Zealand needs to understand and recognize that.

What would you recommend to someone who is starting out in the animation industry or who is a student keen to get into animation?

Find good teachers, make your training years count, have a bit of fun, make a short film while you can, build a good show reel and prepare yourself to be a useful employee. And then find a job where you can find good role models, be a sponge, chalk up at least 2 years of experience. Then, once you have earned your stripes, DREAM BIG! Everything is possible in animation.


How important are traditional animation techniques in today’s modern studio environment? What is a good foundation for someone to be successful in animation?

We still hire people based on their life drawing skills and show reels. At Flux, being able to draw and deal competently with pre-production is a huge advantage. Many of the staff here come from a background of traditional animation and I believe there is no better way to learn timing and scene planning. We still do a bit of 2D work and all those skills are priceless when using other animation tools.

What is something that you are most proud of looking back on your career thus far?

I think it’s Flux. The studio, it’s not just a building, it is a team of animators who have worked together through thick and thin, often under pressure and with long hours to build a secure future.
To work through the night on a pitch that then wins an international campaign is a great feeling. I guess it's like winning a Rugby game for keen rugby players, but to do it consistently for 15 years makes you feel like you are doing something right, like you are part of something. Many of the team here have been with the company 10 – 15 years and now have their own homes and are raising families. It’s a rewarding thing to be an employer.


What has been your biggest challenge in your career as an animator so far?

I think Staines down Drains is something that changed it all for us. It was NZ’s first official international animation co-production at 26 x half hours with 4 countries involved. It was an enormous undertaking. I led the character and production design and was very involved with story. With SDD partner Jim Mora, we spent at least a month in Sydney locked in room with German and Australian story guys, great fun. I also handled much of the financing and legal on that deal, which was exhausting and educating. The show sold very well internationally and topped the ratings for all 3 co-producers in NZ, Australia and Germany; it got our name out there as a good company to partner with.

Besides artistic skills, what other qualities of an animator is the industry looking for? Is it punctuality, work ethic, personality, attitude, collegiality, etc.? Why do you think that it is important for current students to cultivate such qualities when they are still at school?

In our business, you have to understand we are selling confidence. People come to us because they trust us to deliver on time, on budget and with no hassles or surprises. We need staff who get that. 
So it is all of the above, we do a two-week internship here at the studio, that is, we have people in on work experience, to see how they go and how they can fit in. If things go well and we have an opening, we will try to find the good ones a place. This doesn’t mean if we don’t give you a job you are no good, but we can generally tell who will work out for us and who won’t within two weeks.
We often get people in from the schools who can lift the whole studio in a matter of months. I love getting a new series into production, just so we can see who’s out there, and what they can bring to the company.


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