Inspiration Hour: Andrew Ruhemann

‘Give us a world that can be our own.’ The standard brief that lands on Passion Pictures CEO Andrew Ruhemann’s desk. His Oscar-strewn desk. Be it TV ads, virtual music bands or animated documentaries like award-winning The Lost Thing, Ruhemann knows how to deliver. How can he predict what’s going to make consumers smile? Well, it’s all about ‘appeal’…

Andrew Ruhemann 3

How can you tell if the finished product is going to be any good?
It took me about a year to work out what my boss (master of hand-drawn animation Richard Williams) was looking for when I first started out. He’d flick through sketches from the team and split the week’s work into two piles; ‘appealing’ and ‘not appealing’. Employees left the room elated or shamefaced dependent. To me every drawing looked incredible.  Twelve months in, I started to get it; great art work isn’t enough – sketches have to have life in them from the off. Or they can’t be brought to life. And that’s not something you can learn how to do.

Fast-forward to your CEO days – what is it you look for when seeking out new animators?
Essentially it’s about having good ideas, and good characters that can tell the story. Those two elements together are as important, quite often more so, than the craft itself. You can make something beautiful as an animator, but can you make people care? You’re not going to sell much if you’re not connecting with the public. A flawless sense of timing goes a long way too.

Tell us about your Gorillaz work – how did that come about?
Off the back of a completely unrelated ideas meeting, which had actually gone quite badly, I got talking to Jamie Hewlett (creator of Tank Girl) about this idea he’d had for a ‘virtual band’. My gut reaction was good, though there was a moment’s hesitation when he elaborated on his grand plans:

‘Yeh it will be great, my flatmate’s done the music for it.’
Ahh. His flatmate. So not someone in the business as much as someone in his pyjamas. On a sofa. Perhaps not.
‘By the way, my flatmate’s Damon Albarn…’

Good job he mentioned it really. Getting the band to appear at the BAFTAs was tricky. What with them being virtual and all. We used CG modelling and projected them against a pitch black screen. It worked perfectly – that was a seminal moment.

With animators increasingly turning to CG, is there a danger of traditional skills disappearing?
Yes, I think we could be at risk of losing them. There is so much brilliant stuff in development, but CG isn’t everything. ‘Old-school’, or key animation, focuses on the essence of a single action, and the importance of capturing that moment on which a sequence pivots. CG doesn’t tend to work like that. I don’t have a preference – it’s a case of whatever’s best for the characters – but teaching is vital if we’re not going to lose traditional methods.

What do you think teams within agencies should be doing to make the most of their creative ideas and campaign opportunities?
I’m a big advocate for early conversations and a shedload of collaboration between agency and production team. And the client itself where possible. The earlier we get together on stories and ideas the better. Our best stuff is nearly always produced when we’re working closely with all creative forces involved. It’s always a big plus when agencies aren’t too prescriptive about who they want on a project too. I’m constantly trawling for new talent, we will always single out the right animator for the brief, and that won’t necessarily be a big name, it can often be a relatively unknown artist.

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