NAME: Jason Tomlins
TITLE: Co-Founder/Creative Director
COMPANY: Clockwork VFX based in Dubai, United Arab Emirates and New York. We are visual effects and CG animation company. For the past 8 years, our core business has been the creation of high-end CG visual effects and animation for the commercials market. Follow them on Twitter @ClockworkVFX
WHAT FIRST INSPIRED YOU TO START YOUR OWN COMPANY?
Youthful idealism! That and the fact that business is in my blood, having worked in family businesses since I has old enough to reach the cash register.
When I finally managed to get into the most creative of industries – 3D animation — it was only a matter of time before my natural instincts took over and I found myself looking at an opportunity to create a new company in a new region. However I would never had attempted it had I not met my two business partners Mia Harvey (Executive Producer) and Marc Greyvenstein (Animation Director).
I know you’ve heard it all before but not enough can be said about the value and importance you need to place on your partners – it begins and ends with them.
DID YOU HAVE TO FIND INVESTORS?
That was definitely not our path. We arrived in Dubai with a suitcase each and our life savings. Just enough to get us started. Every time we were awarded a project and we earned a bit of money, it was enough to get us to the next level – a new computer, a new piece of software, a real office chair! We kept it simple, never talked a big game and quietly went about winning bigger and better projects until we could afford, not just freelancers, but actual employees and a real office space with our name on the door.
WHAT WERE THE BIGGEST CHALLENGES YOU FACED IN THE BEGINNING?
The positive thing about gradual, organic growth is that you can keep your costs down and you’re self sufficient. The negative thing is that you have to do everything yourself. Free time was an abstract concept and we worked ourselves ragged the first three years trying to make a name that was synonymous with quality and reliability.
WHAT IS THE BEST PART OF RUNNING YOUR OWN COMPANY?
When you are young, you imagine yourself as the big shot, running a company from the golf course. Pure fantasy of course! You are all about the end result and that is a skewed perspective – there is no end result.
Looking back, the best part of running my own company has been molding it from a spec of an idea, creating different versions of what is right for the time and going forward, helping it evolve as the landscape changes. Win or lose, having that amount of control and responsibility over your life makes it that much more fulfilling.
Being the final decision maker. It is the hardest part of the job, but the most rewarding. Get it right and you ensure the great things for the company/project/employee. Get it wrong, you learn a tough lesson to apply next time.
HOW DO YOU MAKE SURE STAFF IS HAPPY?
We work really hard to secure the best projects for our team to work on. And so far, we have had the privilege to work on some amazing campaigns. A 3D artist gets into this business to create something great, inspiring and hopefully make a good living. If you make decent money but only work on dancing cheese and architectural fly-throughs, you start to question your life choices. We don’t have a huge team but we’ve been together a long time, we accept that some projects will be a breeze, some will be a bane and we try to balance the two. Clockwork feels like family.
HOW DO YOU MAKE SURE CLIENTS ARE HAPPY?
Clients are happy when you are working on time and on budget, simple as that. It is vital that you pick your battles carefully – remembering that a client is not an entity, there is a human being under pressure at the end of the line and a simple act of kindness can do wonders. But don’t be a pushover either or they won’t respect you.
IF YOU HAD TO DO IT OVER AGAIN, WHAT WOULD YOU DO DIFFERENTLY?
It took a recession and the loss of 80 percent of our business (overnight) to get us to look further afield for work. Turns out it was the single best thing we could have done.
ANY TIPS FOR OTHERS THINKING OF DOING THE SAME?
Keep it simple. Find that one thing you are good at – don’t try be all things to all clients. Always be brutally honest with yourself about what you really want and what you are really capable of doing well. Prepare to work hard — twice as hard as you currently think you need to.
IF YOU COULD CHANGE ONE THING ABOUT HOW THE INDUSTRY DOES BUSINESS, WHAT WOULD IT BE?
I think the film Life After Pi about Rhythm and Hues did a great job highlighting the changes needed to make this industry sustainable.