29th June 2018
Job title: Producer and animator
Kath Shackleton is an animator and producer. She and Zane Whittingham founded Zoom Animation and later Fettle Animation, producing films and work such as Children of the Holocaust, 1917: The Last Christmas and Ruth's Story.
Describe your job in your own words
I’m a producer and the joint owner of Fettle Animation, with my partner Zane Whittingham., and I do all the bits in the studio that aren’t animation.
Fettle is a small, award-winning 2D animation studio specialising in children’s media and documentary. We also do shorter projects with quicker turnarounds, like music videos and commercials, which help keep the studio afloat.
Mine is a very broad role. I could be doing a lot of different things, from writing the website, to marketing, to building relationships and the business side of things like finance, hiring and firing (though luckily not very much of that last one!)
I’m also sometimes involved in script-editing, sound-editing and post-production. Basically my job is to keep everything running.
How did you get into the industry?
I started out as a local government arts development officer, which I did for 12 years. That gave me a really broad base, particularly in project management skills.
My partner is an animator and he was getting to the stage where he wanted to work on his own animation projects, but at the time there were few opportunities for animators in the region. So we decided to set up our own studio.
We thought it might give us a better work-life balance, which isn’t exactly how it worked out! But that’s how Fettle was created.
What training or education did you find most useful?
I do all sorts of training. You have to be able to change and think on your feet in this business, so I’m always looking to learn.
I always do lots of networking, and attending animation festivals. I attend the Cartoon Business seminar, and I’ve pitched children’s TV series at their annual Cartoon Forum event. I’m part of the Children’s Media Conference (CMC) for producers.
One thing I found really useful was business and leadership training. I did a Leadership Unleased course, and it made me realise that I had been looking for leaders around me when I should be thinking, 'Actually, I’m the leader. I’m in charge here.'
How do you find commissions?
Word of mouth, mostly. And working that network. A good online presence helps too.
We’ve won several awards, and been really proud of that. But while awards can be great for getting your name out and raising your profile, they don’t necessarily translate into commissions.
Do you think things are changing in the animation industry?
Animation is very competitive right now. Business models are changing with video-on-demand services growing. It’s very different to anything we’ve ever seen before.
You need a lot of ingenuity and quick-thinking to navigate this whole new eco-system. I think a big challenge for us is finding the balance between putting out the content and volume that these new on-demand services want without getting too far away from what we want to do.
We had to decide that we wanted to be a distinctive player in the industry and stay true to our own style.
What advice would you give to someone just starting out?
Get as good as you can at what you want to do. If you want to be an animator, you need to draw, draw and draw more.
Get yourself out there, build a network. I always tell people that it’s who you know in this world. Go to festivals. Listen. Learn. I know I made mistakes early on because I didn’t know as much of the business stuff, so it really does pay to learn the financial side of things from the start.
What are your latest projects or plans?
Right now we have a new BBC Bitesize project on the way, and we’re working on developing some children’s TV series ideas. Plus still offering our work as a service studio. It’s really about staying flexible and looking for those opportunities as they come up.
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