In this episode, I chat with David Sheldon-Hicks, co-founder of Territory Studio. Territory Studio began as a screen graphics specialist studio; creating user interfaces for films like Prometheus, Guardians of the Galaxy, and Avengers, continuing this work on more recent films such as The Batman, Dune, and Blade Runner 2049. Over the years Territory has grown while remaining independent, enabling them to experiment with new technology and work on innovative projects.
Today we talk through David's career, including the launch and growth of Territory, stopping to talk about key projects and company culture.
To check out Territory's work, please visit their website.
For more information on Territory's Epic MegaGrant visit FX Guide.
Please remember to like, rate, and comment on your favorite podcasting platform and share the episode on social media.
If you have any comments or suggestions please get in touch.
Host & Producer: Michael Wakelam
Executive Producer: Eric M. Miller
Music by: Rich Dickerson
Audio Engineering: Mike Rocha
Edited by: Zoe Wakelam
The Creators Society is a professional society for all disciplines of the animation industry. Our mission is to bring the animation community together to build strong relationships, provide education, and form a better understanding of the different roles we all play in creating animated stories. We celebrate and promote the love of animation, and all the talented Creators who breathe life and imagination into their work.
Learn more about the Creators Society, and how to become a member at creatorssociety.net
And with something like that you just shut up and listen. You know, don't pretend that you know how to do storytelling better than Spielberg.Michael Wakelam:
Hey, welcome to this week's episode of the Creators Society Animation Podcast. I'm Michael Wakelam. If this is your first time tuning in our podcast really focuses on conversations with creators, producers, writers, artists from all across the industry discussing how they got their start and chatting through their career. We have another super interesting episode today and a slight veer from regular guests with David Sheldon-Hicks founder of Territory Studio. David started Territory with his co founders in 2010. And it's grown to nearly 200 people with offices in London, San Francisco, and Barcelona. tTrritory started out really not focused on character animation, but on animation for screens and user interfaces in feature films. And they've worked on loads of films from Prometheus and Guardians of the Galaxy to Blade Runner 2049, Dune and the Batman. But they also branch out a lot tackling a wide variety of projects. David and I talked through his career, business building and transitioning from a hands on creative to a business leader. And we also talk about creative culture. I know you'll really enjoy this one before we jump in though, if you're new to the podcast, I know you'll enjoy going back and listening to some of our previous episodes. We've had some really great guests in this season and the previous season from all across the industry. And please rate or share the podcast if you can. Now let's jump into that conversation with David Sheldon- Hicks. Hey, David, thanks so much for joining me.David Sheldon-Hicks:
Nice to meet you. Nice to be here. Thanks for talking to me.Michael Wakelam:
Really been looking forward to chatting today. I come from a motion design background. And I've been an admirer of Territory's work for many years. As I mentioned before I even freelanced for part of Territory years ago with with Lee Fasciani. And I think with you guys a little. I guess this is a little bit of a departure from our regular guests and discussions. You know, we've mostly been centred around character animation as it pertains to storytelling. But really, we're all about animation in general. And so I really thought a chat with you would be a great idea. Your work with Territory is so diverse. So what started out, I guess, very focused, and became an explosion of growth was this specialism in futuristic user interfaces and heads up displays and that type of project and it's really grown. But before we get to that, you know, I'm a big believer in the power of biography. So I want to hit rewind, as we always do, and talk about how you got started down this creative path as early as you like, I know you studied graphic design, but before that, you know, were you're a creative kid.David Sheldon-Hicks:
Yeah, no, I was, I was always drawing, always always drawing. So I you know, born 1979, but kind of really grew up through the 1980s. So, you know, for any, anyone that wants to hit the nostalgia modes, watching things like some of that- maybe some of the American shows that were influenced by Japanese animation. So you think about like Thundercats, or Transformers or even the Lost Cities of Gold, all those sorts of things where, I don't know it must have been just in the back of my mind, I suddenly realised that there was animation, but then there was also more kind of stylized graphic animation, I noticed that especially in the Thundercats TV series, the title sequence was so polished in comparison to the full body of the animation. And, you know, the full series was still beautifully done. But the title sequence in particular, with just like the camera moves and the composition, and the snappiness of the animation and the little kind of extra touches, the light glints and all that kind of stuff, even as a kind of a five year old kid, there was something, something there for me that just grabbed my attention. And then, you know, we're lucky in the UK to have Channel 4 and Channel 4 at the time, I think probably when I was hitting just before I was hitting my teens, they did wonderful kind of behind the scenes, feature films. You'd see lots of visual effects and starting to become aware of what you know studios like Digital Domain and Industrial Light & Magic we're doing by way of animatronics and stop frame animation and miniatures, and all that kind of stuff. And as somebody who was a creator and a maker, you just could not help but be captivated by that. So I suddenly became aware of movie making and that there were people making stuff and creating these images that were already captivating me as a kid growing up through the 1980s watching Spielberg and George Lucas and you know things like The Goonies and Flight of the Navigator and all those sorts of things. That captured my imagination. There was also wonderful TV series like, like The A-Team where they idolised making stuff. There's always this moment where they'd get captured in a barn. And they had this like welding gear and vans and stuff and then make something out of nothing. And I think there was something special about that era in that we celebrated the creators, we celebrated hard work and making things. And I think that's at the back of my brain with all of this as a kid is like, making stuff was cool. And, and putting in the effort and doing something that other people weren't doing was cool. And I don't know if, if my kids have that same celebrity in their lives, there's not the same kind of idealisation of just making stuff.Michael Wakelam:
That's interesting. Yeah.David Sheldon-Hicks:
Putting the work in. Anyway. So that's an aside, so. So I was definitely influenced by all of those things. And then Channel 4, also, I think it was Channel 4, it might have been one of the other channels, started broadcasting studio Ghibli stuff, and I was like, Oh, my, my brain exploded at that point to see animation outside of the kind of the UK and the US model that was so different, culturally different, it was opening my mind up to another culture. But it was opening my mind up to just incredible- It was world building, Laputa Castle in the Sky, and things like that just incredible world building, but also just just a phenomenal level of craft, and artistry. So I knew at that point, I needed to combine my love of drawing and graphic design with some form of movement. And I went through, you know, kind of A-levels and into foundational art. At foundation, you kind of try lots of different things, and then ended up choosing a specialism. And I was kind of- I think I was just pushed down the road of graphic design to be honest, and so ended up there not really totally understanding what graphic design was. And then that was a real journey for me kind of going into Portsmouth University, just discovering the art of graphic design. But then my just sheer determination to make it move. And use it to tell stories and be maybe a little bit more emotive with graphic design, then I'd kind of witnessed. And so my kind of my journey went on from there, really, and had a great time at Portsmouth University, learned a lot, learned the power of research and becoming informed before you start designing something. And then kind of got a scholarship at a German agency or a number of German agencies, one being Metto, another being Pixel Park, worked in Berlin for a while, and then came back to the UK and started working on music commercials and music videos. Yeah, and then and then moved on into the film industry after that, when kind of the iPod and iTunes came out, music video budgets kind of started depleting. And so I kind of- I'd known that I'd always wanted to work in the film industry in some way. And by chance happened to find some work on Casino Royale. And that was, you know, doing this thing called screen graphics, which I'd never really heard of. But it sounded like a lot of fun. And I think it kind of found me as much as I found it in that I always knew that I'd had this kind of left brain right brain balance to me. And I think my parents thought I was going to become an architect because A levels I studied maths, physics, art and photography. So there was always this kind of yin and yang going on for me. And in finding screen graphics, there was this need to understand quite technical science, engineering, kind of understand that, you know, get to the core of what's going on, on this screen. But then make it really interesting and engaging and well designed and becoming a story point. So really kind of getting to use both things. And that was a real pleasure for me, because I was suddenly tapping into, you know, my kind of natural skill set.Michael Wakelam:
Yeah, I mean, it's interesting, because you don't hear a lot of people talk about title design, or noticing title design from a young age. You're probably the first person I've ever spoken to who's been like that, that's, you know, noticed the cartoons titles as opposed to the animation itself. So that's really interesting. I mean, obviously, you had a love for storytelling in animation. But it's really interesting that you then were kind of led down that creative graphic design path, and then the to married up eventually.David Sheldon-Hicks:
Yeah, so I mean, because I remember designing characters and designing in the style of Japanese animation, doing hundreds and hundreds- filling hundreds of sketchbooks, with character designs. And I think what I loved about character design work is you're kind of, you're distilling a personality. And so much of what graphic design is, is a distilling of an idea. You know, it's kind of, its kind of pulling it down into a, into an ultimate truth. If you can successfully manage that and motion graphics and character animation very much the same thing. You know, it's getting down to the core of something. So you're really efficient with your storytelling. So to me, they're the same. They're the same skill set, but I still watch a lot of character animation, you know, huge amount, it's still my background passion. But what's lovely for me is it's not necessarily my job. So I can still appreciate it from afar. But apply my own, I guess, abilities in graphic design to kind of meld between the two. You know, I was massivelyimpassioned by the Spider-Man:
Into The Spiderverse work just because for the first time I saw a studio, creating highly polished character animation, but combining it with motion graphics, in really kind of unexpected ways. And that really excited me. That reminded me of why I got into motion graphics in the first place. Because I remember studios like MK12 and Psyop who very early days, were combining beautiful character animation with motion graphics. And it felt like a real paradigm shift. It felt like a really exciting moment. And it feels like we're returning to that in kind of big studio Hollywood films now, we're finding times to use that.Michael Wakelam:
Definitely, I mean, I agree, Psyop has always been that great combination of design and character work in advertising. And I think that now they've put their foot in the door of content creation as well. But I think Spider-Man: Into The Spiderverse not only, you know, inspired people in various industries that like you and I but basically inspired the entire animation industry. I've heard from people at Pixar and all the other studios, who, who were like, wow, we can we can do that? You know. So it's certainly been inspiring across the board to a lot of people.David Sheldon-Hicks:
Yeah, completely. It just reminded me that you can be brave you can when you can push the status quo, and people are open to it. And and it can still be entertainment, you can still tell a story. You know, you're not gonna lose an audience by doing things like that.Michael Wakelam:
Yeah, definitely. Definitely. I mean, you see that in The Mitchell's vs the Machines, and then the new DreamWorks film, The Bad Guys, and the new Puss in Boots: The Last Wish, I think, has got some of that kind of 2d 3d animation on top as well, which is really interesting.David Sheldon-Hicks:
Well, hopefully, it's not a stylistic trend. Hopefully, it's something that's here to stay, because I think there's a lot of opportunity there.Michael Wakelam:
Yeah, definitely. So it wasn't that long, really, that you were freelancing before you decided to step out and start Territory.David Sheldon-Hicks:
Yeah, so I think I was I was freelancing for about two or three years, I'd worked at a studio called Fold7.Michael Wakelam:
I remember Fold7.David Sheldon-Hicks:
Yeah, lovely, interesting combination of a, well, at the time, when I was working there with Nick Glover, my business partner, and Lee, who, you know, Lee was a traditional graphic designer, print designer, I guess, he would describe himself as. Nick was more on the client management side, and I was more on the motion side. And we, we'd seen that agency transition from what we thought of as a hands on design studio, to more of an ad agency. And I think in that process, it was, it was a really interesting time to be there and see that happen. But we thought, actually, we want something else from where we're working. I'd freelanced at lots of different places I'd worked at Why Not Associates, I'd worked at a really nice company called Sparv and just some really wonderful studios in the UK. And I think I freelance for a few in the US as well. I'd seen lots of different things that I liked about creative studios, but didn't quite combine all the things in the right way for me. And I probably got ambitions to be a creative director as well, you know, and, and freelancing is lovely in that you get to try lots of different things, but it's not- for me, it's not a long term goal. It's not something that you think do I see myself retiring doing this? I couldn't answer that question for me personally. It's like, you know, for the next 10/15 years, do I see myself freelancing? Probably not, you know, I can't sink my teeth into a problem doing this. I can learn a lot, personally. But I can't be effective as a team. Creative projects at their best are in amongst a team, you know, drawing on skills that you don't personally have, and seeing a bigger potential than you can bring to the table alone. I knew that a studio was probably on the cards. But how to do that was was a different question was a different matter. So start off on this journey. And we kind of said to ourselves, wouldn't it be great, let's, let's see if we can find some projects and then set something up. And what I realised is you can't do it half hearted, you can't say, oh, well, I'll freelance some days of the week, and then I'll say it's like, it's all or nothing. You can call yourself a collective for a little while if you really, really want. That just means you haven't become comfortable with the idea that you're actually going to be a studio. But at the end of the day, either you set up a company and employ people or you remain freelance. There's no middle ground, I'm afraid and you can, you can take the two year long journey to discover that or you can kind of just take my word for it. So we managed to land a project with Electronic Arts, a cutscene for Medal of Honor. It was a lovely cinematic moment at start the game to kind of tee up the story. And we did that on very much a skeleton crew, worked really hard. And off the back of that my business partners had the confidence to kind of leave their day job. And we all started territory for real. Our first office was in a little muse in Hatton Garden in London, it was just like a little attic room. You could probably squeeze the three of us plus four other freelancers in there, which we did for about six months. And then that got uncomfortable. So we asked to use another floor in that building. We were sharing with the friends agency, then we outgrew that pretty quickly, because we won quite a few different projects. So then we moved to Bury Street. And I say that first year was kind of do or die, it was throw all the hours that you possibly can at it. My wife was incredibly understanding. It was the first year of our marriage, and she pretty much didn't see me. She was being incredibly supportive. And it was yeah, it was just working all the hours. And you do that because there's no going back, like the road behind you is kind of like I've been there I've done that, this has to work, like I have a mortgage to pay. I've got kids on the way, there is no, there's no fallback position. Like either we bring in enough work for this to work or we're in a bit of a trouble spot. I had to learn not only how to do the work, project manage to a degree, and we shared that responsibility between the three of us. But we were all doing a bit of it; creatively directing, and that's not as fun as it sounds all the time, and just wearing multiple hats. When you first set up a business, you are wearing all the hats, you're invoicing, you're chasing up on payments, you're being chased by freelancers for payments, you're managing projects, and you're trying to find new projects. And looking back, it was a very exciting time, but I could- I had the energy for that when I was younger. And and I'm glad I did it when I did it. So I was 30, then. And then we moved to Bury Street, we took on some of our first employees, that's when things started feeling a little bit more grown up. And then our first child Lila was due. And I suddenly realised, oh crap, I am not going to be here for a period of time. And this thing kind of needs to run itself. And I've been kind of making do with producing things myself. And you know, we hired some full time motion designers, 3d artists, and all that kind of stuff. But I can't, that's not possible. That's not feasible. You know, I need this to be self running. So the next realisation for me was okay, we need to hire a producer. That happened very quickly. And I lucked out, I found someone really good Sam Hart who did a wonderful job of just stepping in while I wasn't there. We never actually physically met in person. That was a real step change for us. Because when I suddenly- when I came back from paternity, and I was very disorientated- hadn't been a straightforward birth, there was lots of complications going on. But when I came back, suddenly, there was this whole new team doing new projects. And the thing was kind of running itself to a degree. And I suddenly thought, Hmm, okay, so bringing in people better than me at other jobs is, is a good thing. And I need to embrace that for as long as possible. So that was a real moment, for me finding a great producer and that producer. A lot of the lessons beyond that point, it was less about, it's less about how do we get better at doing creative work, So focusing on the work, it's more about how do we get better at hiring great creative talent to do the better work. So focusing on the people and the studio, and less on the work itself, to then be able to take on the projects that you want to take on.Michael Wakelam:
Yeah, let's just step back to you coming back and seeing you know, that thing running on its own. As a creative I mean, I know I've been through this myself, no matter how good everyone else is at things, you still have this desire to, you know, learn new software, you want to, you want to try new things and try new ideas and be hands on. So I don't imagine that it was as easy as coming back and saying, oh, it's all good. Let them get on with it. I imagine there was still some transition time there for you as far as figuring out your place.David Sheldon-Hicks:
Yeah, no, it's bizarre. So many people have said that, and it's scary before you get to that point. But it's so easy once you're past it. Because I was lucky enough to have paternity to break that up, I didn't have enough time to think about it. My disorganisation almost forced an event that made the tearing of the plaster very easy, you know. I was distracted with bigger, more important things. The birth of our first child was far more important than me figuring out my ego, letting go of creativity. In hindsight, that was, I guess, a lucky thing. The work got infinitely better by me stepping away from being hands on with things.Michael Wakelam:
Yeah, I can understand that. I've been through that as well. And as much as you want to, you know, be there. If you're delivering something better to the client, then-David Sheldon-Hicks:
Do I feel any less proud of the work? Because I'm not doing it myself? No, there's no, there's no less connection to the creative output. And I think that's because we're very self aware of promotion, and putting the work out there. And my role now is often ambassador for the studio and promoting the great work that the studio is doing. I still feel personally attached to it, because I'm celebrating that work on their behalf. You know, my ego is still massaged. Just in a more healthy way, I suspect.Michael Wakelam:
And I guess in some ways, this is a this was another child of yours, which has grown up.David Sheldon-Hicks:
Yeah, I mean, I hate, I hate compare the business to my children. For obvious, for obvious reasons, but they're right-Michael Wakelam:
-no, no, no, there are some there are some synergies definitely. You need to not get in their way. You know, you need to not get in the way of their progress, because it's going to happen, whether you like it, they're growing up, whether you like it or not. So either you help facilitate that, or, you just become a blocker. Yeah, it's far more rewarding to enable it and then watch it. watch it happen. So yeah, I'd agree with that., I would agree that as discomforting as it is.Michael Wakelam:
Everything I've heard about Territory's culture is positive. So I'd like to dive into that a little bit. We talked just before we started recording about, you know, Ed Catmull's book Creativity, Inc. on developing a creative business behind the creative, I guess. But we don't often hear about this, you know, there's very few resources out there. So I'd like to just hear a bit more about your approach, not only to building a great place to come to work, but a great culture to thrive in creatively.David Sheldon-Hicks:
Yeah, I mean, I mean, the first caveat to all of this is we've never got it figured out. And I think people will challenge me on this at different times, in territories lifecycle like, we've definitely gone through our painful moments where the culture has been out a step a little bit. From a corporate level, we've got it, we've definitely got it wrong. And maybe that's why we can always get it back on track. It's because we own up to our mistakes, and we go yeah, that's with us, we'll take responsibility for that, that wasn't quite right for a period of time, and we now need to, we need to own that mistake and do something about it. Along the way, the culture's not being quite right because the business is growing so quickly, that either we or everyone in it hasn't had a moment to kind of catch up with where it's got to. It's tricky that because you want to grow at a pace that makes everyone feel as though they've got a career path. You want to have an environment where they think, yeah, I'm not capped. If I want to become a creative director, or if I want to run my own studio, Territory is going to be the place that gives me the opportunities to do that. So we want to be the kind of, the kind of studio that is open to new things. If somebody says to me, we want to set up our own games division, we'll be like, yeah, we're up for that. We'll do that with you. We'll enable that for you. We want people's ambitions to be realised and we want them to- but the kind of the catch all with that is, is everyone okay with growth? You know, you like it's good on an individual level. But are we all okay with it on a group level, and different speeds are right for different people. So I think when the cultures kind of come under a little bit of strain has been when people have wanted certain things, me included, but it has also, you know, it's kind of been, I think it's been everyone, we've all wanted certain things, but then you, you then suddenly realise the reality of that. There's kind of pain thresholds with the culture where you kind of go from, say, 20 people to 30 people, that is a ooh, that was a bit of a shift. And then when we went from 30 people to 50 people, it wasn't also a, it wasn't just a cultural shift, it was also a technology one,. We needed to start developing our own pipeline and software integration. So that became an investment. When you go from 50 people to 100 people, you need to take HR pretty seriously, and talent that you know, becomes becomes a big thing. And we're kind of going through another shift now from 100 to 200 people like, what does that mean? And plus we've got multiple offices. So that culture question I guess why I'm flagging that is so I don't get shot down in flames for saying that we've got a wonderful cultural time. We haven't we haven't got it figured out all the time. But we know that it's it's the important thing.Michael Wakelam:
Yeah, but I think that's the key. Isn't it like knowing that that is the important thing? You know, nobody's ever gonna have everything worked out, but knowing it's an important thing and something that you continually need to focus on, makes it a priority and makes you better at it than a lot of other people.David Sheldon-Hicks:
Yeah, hopefully some- well, yeah. I hope so. I hope so. Like I say, I mean, it's like the work, isn't it? Your best project is always the one that you're about to work on. It's not it's not the project that you did 10 years ago. In your mind. So I think culture is one of those things. It's like, is it an okay, point now, but it could be way, way better. But it's kind of that struggle. that's kind of what makes the job interesting. The whole time is you never really get it sussed out. A big thing for us at the moment, culture wise, is, you know, when we're about to invest in a brand new building, massive infrastructure, investment, team investment, technology investment, all that kind of stuff. And the big question from the team, and rightly so has been, but do we need a big office now? Like, is, is that important? I just go back to the basic logic, which is are people the most important thing to a studio. And for me, that's like, yeah, of course. So we believe that culture is incredibly important? Yes, of course. How do you then say that coming together isn't? I don't understand how we can't say that for at least part of the week, coming together isn't important, and especially to creative projects. I think so many people focus on well, productivity has gone through the roof, since we've all been remote. It's like, and if you think productivity is the main important thing to a successful creative studio, then you've misunderstood what we're doing here. I'd have been a banker, if I was interested in productivity, and you know, squeezing every ounce of value out of what we're putting in. For me, it's about coming together as creators and doing amazing work. It's, it's so much of a struggle. We don't allow ourselves to say that out loud, because we're all worried about losing the work from home benefits. It's okay to have both. But I do think you need some of the coming together. That's what I subscribe to.Michael Wakelam:
But you're so right. I mean, I don't think we've figured it out yet. You know how to how to do everything from home, so..David Sheldon-Hicks:
Yeah. What's been great about this time, is it's questioned the status quo. That's an exciting moment of opportunity actually to go okay, it doesn't have to be rigid. That's the interesting part about it.Michael Wakelam:
Yeah, especially for film work. And I think, you know, a few years ago, there was so much, I guess, stringent security on films, when you're if you were a studio, contributing to a big budget film then in they didn't want any leaks, and all of that. I know you had a bunch of hoops, most studios do, that you have to jump through. A lot of that went out the window with the pandemic. And so how did you handle that? That side of things?David Sheldon-Hicks:
I mean, it hasn't gone out the window. And I'm not convinced it's gone out the window for much longer. I think it will come back, I think it will come back. I think there have been leaks. And I think the studios are really worried about it. I think it's a matter of time. Before you know and, and I totally understand it, I totally get it, they need to protect their, their IP, and we try and advise everyone as much as we possibly can here, you know, this, this is protected, you need to look after it. And we've never had a leak. But the bigger you get, and the more people you add, there's always that chance. There's always a chance that somebody just doesn't get how sacred it is to not I don't know, that the lightsaber is purple on this film or whatever, you know, whatever the kind of the key moment might be for an uber fan, that would maybe ruin the film watching experience or the you know, the surprise for something later on for the actual theatrical release. So I get it, I do totally get it. But I think there's going to be different studios that respond to it in different ways. Some are going to need to be in total lockdown on certain projects. It's a bit like the working from home situation, there's going to be an amount of flexibility around that., but you still need to put some structure in around it. So let's say it's three days a week, versus two days a week. That kind of split. I think it might be the same with certain projects and security levels. For certain projects, absolutely, you know, don't- you can't work from home. But for some studio projects it's totally fine. It's episodic, you know, it's maybe less stringent and the fan base is maybe less hardcore. It's going to be less of a spoiler if something, if something did get out. That is an ever evolving, changing situation, I suspect. And it's interesting to see that a lot of Silicon Valley now out are encouraging, big tech companies, are encouraging people back into the office. I think it comes back around to- no business loves spending ridiculous amounts of money on real estate and renting. No one, no one would do that if they physically could avoid it. But the cost against culture is a significant one. That's really what it all comes down to is, do we want people to have a sense of belonging and mental health, as well. So I just think there's going to be a rebalancing at some point, it's probably going to be quite slow, though, I'd imagine.Michael Wakelam:
Just on growth, I guess stepping back to that a little bit, did you, you know, get to a point where you had to take on capital to-David Sheldon-Hicks:
No, we've always been organic. I think Nick, Lee, and I put £1000 in each to start off with. So I think that falls under the bootstrapping model. No, we've always believed in 'the business is successful, if it's paying its own way'. We're always reinvested in the profits back into the business. Nick and I have always just been salaried, we have a fixed salary, which is good for home, because it just kind of makes things very, very simple. Don't need to think about it too often. And we always want to make sure that we're putting money back into the business. Now, that isn't the kind of the typical startup mentality, you know, often businesses run at a loss for quite a number of years. We set the business up in a in what you'd call a rainy day, you know, we were just after the banking crash. So we knew that was going to, that cycle was going to come back around, probably a number of times in us opening up our business. So you need to do two things, you need to reinvest in innovation, you know, you can't be stagnant as a business, you're going to need to adapt your model along the way. So we always knew that we needed to reinvest in that we needed to reinvest in people. And we needed a rainy day fund, we needed something to protect the business. So when we hit the pandemic, we made sure we had one of those. And it's, you know, it's looked after us, it's protected us. So no, we, we don't. And we also didn't want to lose any kind of control, because we didn't know totally what the business was going to be at the beginning. So to look an investor in the eye and say, it's going to be this and it's going to grow to that, I wanted some time to discover that for myself, I didn't want to have to be answering to anyone and telling them well we're doing this thing for that reason. And the strings that come with those investments, I think is it's fine for certain types of business. But for creative services, I think it, it could have caused us problems. I don't know, I don't know the other model, because I've never worked that way. But-Michael Wakelam:
But you're also you know, you are continually growing and changing from the looks of things. So it's certainly good to have that flexibility.David Sheldon-Hicks:
We come up with lots of new shiny ideas all the time. And if I had to check, run that past somebody, I'd be less excited about the business, I think it's nice to be able to move quickly, do things, try them out, let them fail, be okay with that, move on to the next move on to the next thing. We've had a number of kind of international expansion, not failures, just they didn't quite happen at that moment. But we learned so much from that, that, you know, when San Francisco set up, it was a roaring success. And we know why it was a roaring success versus some of the other things that we tried, and that we know some of our other international expansion plans at the moment, are going to be, going to be another great success because of other things that we've tried and tested quite quietly, before those moments. So you have to build in for failure. And that I guess that's what I mean about investing in innovation, you've got to have a few risks here and there. They're educated, and they're not going to bring the business down. But they're worth the lesson. It might be a painful lesson or it might be a surprise success, but they're worth doing for that reason.Michael Wakelam:
Yeah, yeah, that's interesting. I mean, you do a lot of r&d. And I don't know if we've got time to get into all of that. And also, I mean, you guys have worked on just so many great films from Blade Runner 2049, James Bond(Bond:
No Time To Die), Ex_Machina, to you know, big Marvel films (Infinity War and Endgame, Guardians of the Galaxy), and the recent The Batman and Dune, we can't get into very much of that at all because of time, but I'd like to just touch on a couple of areas in regards to projects. And, you know, the first is how you approach your work in films in regards to the narrative and characters, you know, going back to your, your young self and being so interested in the storytelling and the narrative, because they're often so different, you know, from the playfulness of, you know, Guardians of the Galaxy and the fun energy of Ready Player One, which you must have loved being an 80s kid, you know, to the darker tones of Blade Runner 2049 or The Batman, you know, how do you approach that?David Sheldon-Hicks:
I mean, I'd love to take credit, but each director has their own unique way of approaching the work. I think we approach things with an open mind. It's not 'we have a house style and this is how it going to be done'.Michael Wakelam:
Well, you definitely don't have a house style do you I mean it's, you're reinventing all the time.David Sheldon-Hicks:
Yeah, I think it's, it's about not being rigid. And it's also not being rigid about your creative process. Often the best film projects that we work on, they help us question the way in which we approach a project. Which I think can be really unsettling for a lot of creative studios. But we've built up a team and a mindset that is open to that. Sometimes it can be pretty, pretty painful on The Batman, you know, that was a real kind of interesting project, because we were on it for onset graphics, we were within the art department working with James Chinland, and then we were working with Dan Lemmon and the VFX team on the post side of things and working directly with Matt Reeves. And there were so many nuanced story moments that you're trying to thread together across lots of different technologies, and lots of different story beats. And Matt really cared about everything really, really cared about everything. So you were constantly shifting between different modes of thought to kind of keep pace with such a smart, intelligent, creative mind. I mean, that's often the biggest bit is kind of tuning into their mindset. With Steven Spielberg on Ready Player One, we kind of, kind of got there pretty quickly kind of understood how he works and the way in which we should approach the project. Stylistically, we hit the- with style frames, we got there pretty quickly, then it was just all about for Steven just hitting those story beats. And with something like that you just shut up and listen, you know, you don't pretend that you know how to do storytelling better than Spielberg, you just use it as like a really wonderful education, you know, and you contribute through graphic design. And and it's as simple as that it's, it's very straightforward. With Denis Villeneuve, he opened up our mind to the creative process and how how we should approach the project. The same with Patrice Vermette on Dune, you know, they, they both work in a similar way, which is not really interested in the final result, I'm more interested in the way that you're going to approach this work, kind of the deeper creative process. They're wonderful in that respect, more, more looking at the creative psychology of the project, you just bloody, listen, just listen to people. Just stop trying to show people how wonderful you are. And just listen, because you are working with some of the greatest creative minds that are on the face of the planet right now. Just get out of their way, and be in service to that story. So I think an element of humbleness and openness to what you're about to touch is the best way to, to approach it really just be grateful to be a part of a wonderful creative project.Michael Wakelam:
Yeah, that's really good, really interesting. Everyone should check out territory studio.com to look through your work, because you're really good at documenting your work on the site. I think that's something you've always done well, being able to put your case studies there and breaking down the work that you do. But you do such a wide variety, and you continue to do you know, obviously film but experiential, branding and advertising and, and you've even bought your UI expertise into real world products, which is really interesting. Do you have separate teams for each thing? Or you just kind of assemblethe best team for the job? Or is it siloed at all? Yeah, it's really interesting. And I think, you know,David Sheldon-Hicks:
No, I mean, at least in our heads, we have creative skill sets that I guess gravitate around three clear departments, but they all intermingle. I guess historically, the longest running department is the motion design team for motion graphics, motion design. So we have that as I guess a core skill set. We then have slightly newer, but still fairly well established visual effects team. So you know, Nuke and Houdini and Maya and all that kind of stuff. And then we have kind of a younger digital team that are doing real world digital applications, but all of that intermingles and it all intermingles via creative tech, you know, being Unreal Engine, Unnity, Haptics VR, AR, immersive. That creative tech layer just seems to join everything up, along with our pipeline team who are just absolutely amazing. There's a lot of cross conversation between all of those things. Because if you look at something like the General Motors Cadillac LYRIQ work that we did, the in car interface work it's definitely drawing upon our motion graphics legacy, but also some real heavy lifting on the UI and the UX, some proper functional user experience going on. We're doing a lot more in terms of development as well now in terms of actual implementation in, in Unreal Engine. So it's wonderfully broad in that respect. But there is, I mean, there's definitely a common thread around us wanting to lead in world building of some description. Whether that's, you know, digital worlds for car brands. You know, we're doing a lot of work in the metaverse unsurprisingly at the moment. Brands like Artefact and Nike and lots of fashion brands, cosmetics and all that sort of thing. And I think we're kind of, we were always positioning ourselves in this world that was going to come I'm thrilled, it's finally here. We always knew that, were always hoping that mixed reality was going to be a truth, which is why we played into it so much in feature films. And we've been lucky to be a part of a storyteller's impression of what that world could be. Now we're actually working with brands and technology brands to look at bringing that into reality, really. It's quite, quite an exciting moment for us as a studio to be across both. obviously, you're not afraid of stepping outside, maybe you don't have a comfort zone, because you try so many new things. I mean, for instance, the Mank work that you did was really interesting. You were also, I saw you were a developing a kid series pitch a couple years ago called Baby Big Guns. So do you have some creative itches that you're looking to scratch, I guess, both personally and business wise for Territory?Unknown:
Personally, I'd love to be doing far more character animation. Going back to that idea that we talked about kind of combining motion graphics and character animation. I think that's the space that we want to develop over the next few years, I think there's an opportunity there. I think doing more stuff in the creative tech space is huge for us, because it's so all encompassing. If you think about virtual production, like the work we did with Mank, or real time applications, or the metaverse or NFTs, or just helping brands and entertainment come together more, I just think there's so much to happen there. I honestly can't predict where the technology is headed next. It's moving too fast. I just know that if I bring enough of the right minds together, they'll come up with some great solutions. I think it's being less reactive to what the future could be. It's kind of like properly thinking about where do we, you know, if Blade Runner 2049 has taught us anything, it's like, don't be reactive to circumstance, try and control it a little bit more and think about what you're, what you're doing. So it kind of gets bigger in that respect. But yeah, bringing creativity and technology together for storytelling is always going to be of interest to us, I think. And I think automotive and tech brands and entertainment brands are going to collide more and more. I think we're kind of uniquely positioned for that, which is pretty fun. I like the idea of being in those in those spaces.Michael Wakelam:
Lastly, as I guess, an individual freelancer, your first project was Casino Royale. And then how did it feel coming full circle and having Territory work on Daniel Craig's last outing?David Sheldon-Hicks:
Yeah, that was, that was a nice bookend for me personally, I was far more hands on with Casino Royale,that I was in Bond:
No Time To Die. But you know, that was a great moment. And I hope we can work more with the bomb franchise. It's at an amazing juncture. I'll be interested to see what happens next. For me, there's so many different ways that you could take it and- beyond just the feature films. You know, I think there's lots of other things to explore. But yeah, personally, for me, that was a kind of nice, full stop moment in my kind of connection to that creative franchise. So yeah, thank you for spotting that.Michael Wakelam:
David. It's been a real pleasure to chat today. Thanks so much for the time and wishing you all the best.David Sheldon-Hicks:
Thanks very much, real pleasure to be a part of this.Michael Wakelam:
Thanks for joining me, I hope you really enjoyed that chat. If you'd like to get in touch or to shoot us any feedback then please email email@example.com. You can find me on LinkedIn and other socials. As mentioned at the top please subscribe, like or share the podcast if you're enjoying it. Thanks to Rich Dickerson for the music Mike Rocha for the mix, and our executive producer Eric Miller. Thanks again. See you next time.