Tom Burch is MD of immersive experience company Pixel Artworks and has been creating wonder with his work for brands since he founded the business in 2005.
From creating fire-breathing dragons for Warwick Castle to planting the Garden of Light for McArthurGlen to increase the retail destinations footfall, Tom’s vast knowledge of how to apply creative technology to engage consumers has been fundamental to the growth of the company’s international portfolio and working in retail, entertainment and destination experiences.
We caught up with him this week to talk everything Pixel.
How was your company born and where are you based?
Pixel Artworks was born & bred in London, located originally in Acton with a small office space and a warehouse with our new kit nearby. Our headquarters is still in London but in a less shabby chic venue! As we’ve grown so has our space.
We have a Middle East head office in the Design District in Dubai and our current growth in the UK means we’re moving again; we should be in a new central London space early next year. But we will always be fond of our roots in Acton which was a perfect space at the time.
What was the biggest challenge to the growth of your company?
For us, one of the biggest challenges has been the knock-on effect growth has had on our processes. You can plan and prepare but expanding from a start-up business where informal face-to-face catch ups can take place so easily become difficult when you change to a medium size business.
Hiring and onboarding are two very different procedures once you’re in a larger company. If I was able to go back a few years I would certainly revisit our scalability in processes, in particular how you hire someone and ensure there is a clear onboarding process, and how this can be applied to overseas offices.
Alongside this comes internal communications, we’ve reset our company meetings to inspire people across the business, and each team has a turn to lead them. We have always had a strong company culture at PA and we want to ensure the newbies are greeted and integrated smoothly.
Which was the first huge success that you can remember?
There have been many successes along the way, yet for me, the first huge success has to be in 2011 when we delivered the Motion & Emotion project for Peugeot. This was a large scale outdoor projection mapping show in Rio.
It standouts in my mind as it was with a big brand, the campaign was cool, the work was creative and the results were huge! The project achieved 5.5 million views on YouTube, in 2011 this was a big deal, and it was the first time we’d had such exposure.
What’s the biggest opportunity for you and your company in the next year?
As a company the biggest opportunity is growth, we’re moving to a brand-new office with the space to expand. The new office is more centrally located, in the creative district of London and the space itself gives us more opportunity for innovation and R&D onsite. It provides a much better working environment for inspiration and creativity. Plus, we plan to add a bar!
Can you explain your team’s creative process? What makes it unique?
We have a diverse team that work incredibly closely, bringing together each person’s unique approach, past experience, and personal thoughts. We have created an incredibly open environment to let imaginations run wild. This is how a lot of our experiences are created.
What makes our process unique to Pixel Artworks is that everyone in our business is creative, you don’t need to have creative in the title. Something that stands out to me as unique is our technical design approach, it is complicated and requires a creative and technical mind to take our experiences from a design to a real-life project.
How does your team remain inspired and motivated?
Innovation and change. Yes we work with some fantastic brands and this range allows the team to constantly be thinking of new ways to hit the brief which keeps everyone excited and engaged. But the real inspiration comes from innovation and change across all departments.
We’re not a business that keeps doing what it’s doing just because we’ve done it that way before. The variety of projects from long-form installations to one-night media campaigns contributes to motivation, you never know what brief might come through the door.
How has COVID-19 affected your company?
It made us broaden our horizons on what was possible with experiences. We branched out or maybe I should say ‘in’ to digital space where we created extended live events through online 3D environments and live streamed, such as our work with Aston Martin.
In addition, COVID-19 allowed for time to step back, and this time reignited our passion for R&D, we did some fantastic discovery work with drones, some further research on systems and we upskilled our employees. It also made us think about wellbeing and how immersive technology can help.
Which studios do you gain inspiration from? Do you have any heroes in the industry?
As a company we take inspiration from various places, we are inspired by companies such as teamLab, who have a more exhibition-led approach, and CGI production companies like Activision, to heavy weights in production. I must shout out to Dorothy Di Stefano as she has become a top voice in the industry and a very good source of inspiration.
What is one tip that you would give to other agencies looking to grow?
My one tip would be don’t focus on growing, focus on scaling. Let’s start by looking at the common distinction between these two words, growing means to increase revenue and in general overheads, and scaling refers to revenue increase without incurring significant costs. It is all about finding better ways to work, scaling rather than growing is ‘working smarter, not harder.’
How do you go about finding new clients/business? (Pitching, work with retainers, etc.)
An important means to finding new business is keeping abreast of the industry and focusing on forecasts and trends. If you are starting out it is all about networking and being on the phone. I’m a true believer that picking up the phone is the best option.
We’re not set up as an agency so we don’t hold many retainers, a lot of our work comes through partnerships and collaborations.
What’s your one big hope for the future of the industry?
It is a challenge to decide on one hope for the industry as there is a lot that excites me including the evolution of technology in retail, but I would say my biggest hope is that the industry remembers that we’re building experiences for humans. We want to build experiences that improve everyday life.