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Running a small animation studio through a pandemic - #CompanySpotlight

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Young, cosy, born and developed through hardship and great creative passion – animation studio Kino Bino has just the perfect story of what is hopefully set to be a successful animation studio in the United Kingdom.

Kino Bino was founded in 2019 just a few months before the pandemic disrupted all our lives, and co-directors Steff & Jack have still managed to land a few, incredibly interesting projects to bring their company to success. Specialised in creating animated educational content, the folks at Kino Bino found their own niche in an incredibly overcrowded market, and you can tell that their story has barely just begun.

In this Company Spotlight, we are learning more about an ambitious animation studio from the beautiful East Midlands town of Leicester.

How was your company born and where are you based?

Kino Bino animation studio is run by co-directors Steff & Jack. We first met whilst working as animators at an online primary education company. Steff left to start her own successful animation and illustration company (Steff Lee Studios), eventually persuading Jack to join her,  and thus Kino Bino was born. 

We are based in Leicester in the UK and work in the city’s vibrant cultural quarter, alongside our network of animators, illustrators, designers and musicians. 

What was the biggest challenge to the growth of your company?

We started trading as Kino Bino in 2019, so the business had only been running for around a year before we started to feel the impact of COVID. It definitely put a bit of a bump in our business plan!

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Which was the first huge success that you can remember?

When Steff first started freelancing she was really lucky to get the opportunity to create films for TED-Ed. These projects gave Steff a huge amount of creative freedom and got her work seen by millions of people all over the world. A lot of the work we’ve done as Kino Bino has been a direct result of clients seeing those films and coming directly to us for something similar, including the latest Kino Bino produced animations for TED-Ed - a 2 part story of the Chinese Myth of the White Snake - which we were surprised to find out made national news in China!  

What’s the biggest opportunity for you and your company in the next year?

We've just received some funding from Creative England to learn more about immersive techniques and technology. Once we’ve brought ourselves up to speed, we hope to expand our services to include animation for VR & AR in the not too distant future.

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Can you explain your team’s creative process?

When we’re pitching for projects, the ideas start to flow as soon as we see the brief. The target audience and subject matter make a big difference to the visual approach we’ll take, and we like to get writers involved early on, as it's important to make sure the design matches the tone of the piece. We’ll have an ‘anything goes’ creative session,  bouncing ideas between writers, designers and producers - it’s a lot of fun, and generates out-there ideas that everybody’s excited to pitch and bring to life. 

When clients approach us for commercial work, we get the whole team together to brainstorm ideas and create a moodboard of different solutions and styles that we think will work for their business, service or target audience and present that to our client. We then work with our client to determine what is right for them, and then create a style frame that combines the aesthetic with their existing brand and sets the tone for the rest of the production. 

How does your team remain inspired and motivated?

There’s no shortage of inspiration out there and our internal Slack channel is full of great art, cutting edge techniques and motivational stories. COVID has forced a lot of animation festivals to move their events on-line - we really miss the social and networking side of animation meetups, but the silver lining has been that the whole team has been able to attend multiple events and we’ve got to see loads of great new content as a result. 

As far as staying motivated is concerned, the key for us is organisation. We come from a development background and use an adapted agile method to stay on top of the workload, which means plenty of communication and lots of small, manageable deadlines. This means the work is varied and interesting, with lots of wins to celebrate each week (plus the iterative approach keeps clients in the loop and projects on track). 

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How has COVID-19 affected your company?

The effects of the pandemic took a while to reach us, as most of our projects run for several weeks or months (and we even created some COVID specific health content in 2020). We have had to temporarily move from our studio in the city centre to our home office, but thankfully, switching to remote working wasn’t a problem - we work with clients all over the world, so virtual meetings and online collaboration were nothing new to us. We did eventually start to see a slow down in business, as clients’ budgets were tightened and decisions were postponed, but we’re hoping we’re through the worst of it now. 

Which individuals do you gain inspiration from? Do you have any heroes in the industry?

We’ve recently started our VR research and are loving the work of Goro Fujita - an inspiring Quill artist and animator. Our all time favourite studio has got to be Studio Ghibli with Cartoon Saloon very close behind! But we are inspired everyday by all the creatives we’ve met and follow on Instagram.

What is one tip that you would give to other aspiring creatives looking for work?

Be helpful and build relationships. It’s great to connect with like minded individuals so get yourself out there. COVID has pushed a lot of networking events online, meaning it's easier than ever to meet creatives at events all around the world, so make the most of it. Look-out for local creative meet-ups or start your own! We are part of Creative Coffee in Leicester and have met some really useful contacts at their events. 

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What’s your one big hope for the future of the industry?

British animation has a great history and I hope the government will continue to support our industry. Some European funding has already been lost with a promise of a global fund but that’s not materialised yet. 

With the increase in SVOD services we hope that there will be more opportunities for short form animation to give smaller studios and independent creatives like us a chance to create some diverse and inspiring content. 

Do you have any websites, books or resources that you would recommend?

  • Festivus on Facebook is a great online animation community where you can share your work and look for jobs.
  • Skwigly is an online animation magazine that shares lots of news and updates too.
  • The Arts Council releases daily jobs and opportunities - you can sign up free for this.
  • School of Motion - for practical hands on motion design training. 
  • Motion Hatch - online learning hub for freelance motion designers running their own businesses.
  • Screenskills industry-led skills body for the screen industries supporting future innovation and growth across the UK. 
  • Creative England for grants and investment opportunities.

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