Living with the leviathon

The Design Week Award-winning broadcast design teams at BBC Bristol and Sky One both operate in a ‘big beast’ of a company, but each with its own particular quirks. Hannah Booth meets Sky at its London HQ as Mike Exon heads for the West Coun

BBC Design Bristol

THE problem with the BBC is that we all have ideas about what it must be like to work there. But tempting though it is, forming preconceptions about BBC Design Bristol is not advisable.

The 20-strong team was singled out for a Special Award at the Design Week Awards for its work on BBC1 programme Collision Course. According to the judges, down-to-earth factual effects explained tragic events such as the Southall rail crash in a ‘real, but sensitive way’.

Since MediaArc – the BBC’s attempt to group all its design teams under one umbrella – folded 18 months ago, the bulk of design services are now spread across two internal divisions: BBC Resources and BBC Broadcast, the latter of which has the biggest facility. These groups do not compete with each other. There are design teams scattered across various locations in England, Scotland and Wales, but the Bristol team is the biggest group inside Resources. Part of the Post Production division, it is well established in the region – a burgeoning hub for design and animation.

The team was established in 1990 at the BBC’s Clifton studios – home of the BBC Natural History Unit. It’s very fitting, given the Brontosaurian size of the BBC, that this is where animated dinosaurs are made to walk the earth.

But despite its privileged heritage, BBC Design Bristol functions like any other design consultancy, explains creative director James Hall. He says that making a profit is the raison d’être. The team pitches for all its work like every other design group in the land, and words like ‘bread’ and ‘butter’ are never very far away.

The team not only works for diverse departments inside the broadcasting behemoth itself, but has slowly carved out a niche in the commercial sector. It works with other TV broadcasters, advertisers and private clients to design an enormous breadth of work – from print design and traditional corporate branding to screen branding, TV stings, TV commercials, film promos, titles and TV content.

As a result of its multifarious abilities the people in the team, many of whom have worked in London TV and post-production groups, are adept at tapping into both the internal resources of the BBC and external creative talent as and when required.

One way of understanding its many facets is to look at the breakdown of the design team itself – it’s made up of five broadcast designers, two broadcast project managers, head of animation Henry Lutman and three animators, two digital effects designers, two print designers and a print project manager. Alongside them are production manager Sarah Hall, business development manager Kate Jordan and two assistants.

The team does benefit from a rich vein of work from producers inside the BBC, as well as a certain BBC reputation for quality, admits Hall, but there are also downsides to the lot of a BBC design unit. The corporation’s charter limits who it can work with (definitely no tobacco companies) and the design team wouldn’t ever pitch against other BBC design teams either.

Having continually evolved over the years to fit between commercial reality and fluctuating BBC policy, the design team has had to learn a thing or two about staying flexible. In doing so, BBC Design Bristol has certainly earned the right to describe itself as ‘unique’, the descriptor which usually sits so uncomfortably on design group brochures.

This is a team with considerable creative talent, breadth of ability, experience and a growing reputation, as its powerful showreel testifies. Being in laid-back Bristol obviously doesn’t mean you can’t be at the cutting edge of world broadcast design.

The Team

Jon Yeo, senior designer, Sky One/Music (Scuzz)

Antoine Piazza, senior designer, Sky One

Hywel Williams, Neil Hudson, Mark Harrison, Matthew McDermott: designers, Sky One

Andy Pilkington, designer, Music (Flaunt)

Will Smith, designer, Music (The Amp)

Maria Sandstrom, assistant designer, Music (Flaunt)

The Design Kit

Maya

Cinema 4D

Flame and Combustion (Discreet Logic)

Illusion (Avid)

After Effects

Boujou

Voodoo

A 24 CPU render farm

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