With a second Bafta nomination recently added to its already impressive list of accolades, Trunk Animation is looking at another bumper year. Founded by Siri Melchior, Layla Atkinson and Steve Smith, Trunk has turned round more than an hour and a quarter of content in 2008. At 25 frames per second, that’s more than 112 500 individual frames – not bad for a company with just five full-time staff.
Melchior, Atkinson and Smith first met on the Royal College of Art’s MA in Illustration course. On graduating, they went their separate ways, each honing their skills as animators and directors. But the desire to explore new creative avenues reunited them in a newly formed collective in 2002. They went on to set up a company in 2003, with producer Richard Barnett and director Grigoris Leontiades joining in the past two years.
‘We wanted to pool our abilities and promote ourselves together, to move into different areas that we hadn’t been able to do before,’ says Smith. The company’s work is animation-based, but also encompasses live action, motion graphics, DVD design and websites. Recent projects include music videos for bands Annuals and Hot Chip, a series of idents for Russian channel Bibigon through Red Bee Media, and a piece on knives for BBC’s Newsround, which secured a Bafta nomination last month.
With such an array of projects, Smith and Atkinson find it difficult to pigeonhole themselves, but it’s the versatility of its talent that gives Trunk its strength. The Bibigon idents, for example, presented 15 quirky ‘fun facts’ in as many different illustrative styles/ there’s a computer-generated toothy mosquito, a retro 1950s-style meteor-dust-sweeping housewife and a loveable 3D family of elephants galloping through the desert. Smith says that coming up with those diverse styles was the most fun aspect of the project. ‘It’s problem-solving. You know the story and what’s supposed to happen, and you think “How can I get that across visually?”, and that can dictate what sort of style you need and pushes you in the right direction. It’s important to try different things all the time, so that you keep life interesting,’ he says.
There is a spark of humour in much of Trunk’s work. ‘People see animation as funny,’ says Smith. ‘If you’re well-versed in animation, you can eke a bit of humour out of the way a character moves from A to B. It’s natural to put something in that’s going to entertain the viewers.’ With Atkinson’s work in particular, it’s worth keeping an eye out for a sprinkling of cheek. ‘I always try to put in little jokes,’ she says. ‘It amuses me to put in tiny details that no one’s going to see. You can add a little trademark of stupidness.’
But when it comes to declining standards in animation, Trunk gets serious, lamenting the armchair animators prone to forgetting the basic principles of the craft. ‘Good animators are like actors,’ says Atkinson. ‘Rather than just moving things around, they’re performing. They make things come to life.’
Trunk’s enthusiasm for animation is coupled with an instinctive business sense. ‘Every year we have improved in every way,’ says producer Barnett. ‘We have pushed our styles, and looked for new and innovative ways to create moving image, both in look and technique.’ Production values have risen, thanks to better equipment and the diversity of contributors such as sound designers, compositors and other animators, and Trunk has had to move three times in the past two years to bigger studios.
Despite their commercial success, the Trunk five are keen to retain their ‘collective’ approach. ‘We work really well as we are, so we don’t want to change much,’ says Smith. However, he adds that hiring new staff might be inevitable, especially if Trunk wants to create more self-generated projects, such as Nasty Habits, a comedy series that Atkinson is currently developing. ‘We get a month a year, maybe, to do our own things, if that,’ concludes Smith. ‘And that’s not going to change if we don’t grow.’