Work/Life: Royale attempts the impossible
LA-based Royale launched their new site last week, tearing the wrapping off a stack of new work, including a charming holiday short, Impossible Present.
In other words, they’ve been very busy.
But Royale’s approach to busy-ness — and business — is a little different than what you might expect from a studio of their caliber. As part of our work/life series, we’ll dig into Royale’s work philosophy after getting a little behind-the-scenes dirt on Impossible Present.
We chatted with Royale Partner and Creative Director Jayson Whitmore via e-mail.
Why did you guys decide to do a short?
Every year we like to invest back into our company and try to push the team creatively with an internal project. [Partner/Creative Director] Brien Holman, [Partner/Executive Producer] Jen Lucero and I have always loved character animation and decided this year it would be fun to do a company holiday piece as a gift for our clients, friends and family. We wanted to take the piece from start to finish and have complete control, including the option of exploring a darker storyline.
Where did the idea for the short came from?
The idea came one day when I was trying to open a plastic package that was sealed shut … you know the ones. They usually house a cool, little electronic device in an impenetrable plastic casing that, more often than not, draws blood before you are able to enjoy the product inside.
Brien and I have a dark sense of humor and are huge fans of great animation — often a fun combination. Over coffee one morning, we were reminiscing about how awesome older animated shorts used to be when they were willing to blow up the main character. Daffy always lived despite having his face shot off.
Sadly, kids are now subjected to uber-safe programming due to fears that they might do something dangerous themselves. Funny enough, no one I’ve ever known who loved Looney Toons has ever done anything remotely as dangerous as setting off a pile of dynamite and/or shooting their friend in the face. Thus, Impossible Present was born.
How many ideas/revisions did the story go through before you knew it was ready for production?
We wanted to keep the story simple. There were a few minor revisions along the way; however, it pretty much stayed intact from the beginning. We presented to the internal team to see if there was interest in the story and everyone responded positively to our treatment.
What was the most challenging aspect of making the film?
The challenging part about the short was trying to maintain normal working hours while staying on schedule. As a company, we strive very hard to find efficient ways of working together as a team with the common goal of meeting and exceeding client expectations while giving artists the space to live their lives.
We believe that by letting artists have sane working hours, they will come back more rested and therefore more energized and inspired the following day. Inspiration happens off the clock. Too many late nights in a row depletes an artist’s creativity and attention to detail, leaving more room for error.
How did you find the time to make a short?
It was a tough scheduling challenge, but we made it work by being resourceful with time and allocating a budget and a few full-time people to the project. The team was small but efficient — and wickedly talented.
Can you tell us a little bit about Royale? Who founded it and when? And — of course — why?
Brien, Jen and I founded Royale over a shot (or three … it’s kind of a blur) of tequila almost five years ago after a brutal job that sucked up every ounce of our lives. We realized during the project that we worked extraordinarily well together and had a lot of fun in the process.
We always kept our cool even at the most stressful points and came to realize during our late-night delusions that each of us had a vision of starting a company that listened to their artists, followed through with what we promised to clients, delivered the best creative within the originally agreed-upon budget and timeline, and left on time to go home and enjoy our families. Each of us believed that, at a certain point, productivity starts to wane and it’s during the downtime that we repair and come back fresh with even better ideas and faster production solutions than when under pressure.
How many folks are working at Royale when you’re going full-steam on a project?
The number fluctuates based on the project needs. At our max we may have 45 to 50 people. We have 15 core staff members.
We’ve been writing a series of articles under the heading “work/life” that look at different issues related to work and life. We’ve written a couple articles on general topics, but we’ve also interviewed studios and individuals.
Some of our readers have responded negatively to those interviews, arguing that the approach to work/life presented by the interviews is highly unbalanced. There’s a strong feeling that the motion design industry in general is out of balance. Can you respond to this general complaint? Do you agree? Disagree? Why?
I agree and disagree.
Sadly, the issue is not black and white, but many shades of grey. From my perspective, the days of being romantic about a concept and/or project are few and far between, if not long gone. No time, no budget and pitching against five companies are common phrases in the current state of our industry.
We are also in a very competitive industry with some really talented people. Everyone wants the big jobs. Teamwork and communication are key during fast turnaround projects while making sure we meet our both clients’ and staff’s needs in a realistic way. At Royale, we strive very hard to maintain balance between work and life, as we think it’s a key component of being creative.
How does Royale approach the work/life dichotomy? What’s your general philosophy? And what are some specific tactics you employ?
The perception that putting in more hours results in producing better work is one that perplexes me. I believe being efficient and focused during the time allotted equates to better work and more time spent with your family, which is restorative and healing.
Inspiration doesn’t necessarily come when you’re on the clock. When you are at work, you are essentially performing by pulling from the depth of your creative being to produce solutions and answers to a problem. We work very hard to set realistic expectations with our clients that meet their needs while trusting our artists to be communicative and efficient so that they can meet their deadlines. We believe that inspiration happens when you’re out there living your life, and we want our employees to bring their experiences to projects.
How have your employees responded to your approach?
So far, our philosophy has worked out great for our company. Generally, everyone seems happy. The work that is produced during work hours is sometimes shocking: how fast and beautifully designed and on-brand it is with what our clients are seeking. If we have no life, inspiration dwindles, attitudes decline, mistakes are made, and clients are put into a precarious situation. We’re hired to be the problem solvers.
How have your clients responded to your approach?
It’s amazing how supportive clients are regarding our vision and philosophy. Part of our job is to take care of them creatively. So much rides on the work that we are hired to do. If our clients feel like we are communicating, goals are being met, and great creative solutions are materializing, then they are happy.
They don’t generally question how it’s done as long as they feel that we are taking care of them. We have no “B team” at Royale. We give every project, big or small, our personal best and follow through on time, on budget and on the original set expectations. We’re grateful for our many repeat clients and a very happy staff.
Do you feel you’ve had a to compromise on some issues in order to achieve work/life balance?
We take on work that we know we can achieve, and we don’t shy away from challenging projects that help us all grow as a studio. We’ve never compromised creative when trying to maintain a healthy balance of work and life. Fortunately, we’ve been able to design within the schedule and not sacrifice creative.
Do you feel that achieving work/life balance necessarily limits the growth of a studio?
I don’t at all. We just always need to find better ways of doing a project. We’ve found that when the company grows, there is a balancing and adjustment period. More people can be more complicated to manage. Finding the sweet spot is very important.
We are a mid-sized company now with a boutique feel. There isn’t a whole lot of red tape between the partners and the clients, which is how we always want it to be. Our ultimate vision is to stay competitive in this amazing industry while producing the best creative and offering our artists a life outside of work.