It was a landmark achievement last year when Full Circle Animation Studio secured a contract to do production work on season three of the HBO animated comedy series, Animals. And now the team is working towards its next major achievement – the development of its own intellectual property for international audiences.
Business Day spoke with Full Circle co-owner and managing director Jason Lindsay about the company’s big plans in an interview at its Orange Grove Road, Trincity offices, a non-nondescript building that contains a world of creativity and talent.
Lindsay, 45, whose affable demeanour and aquiline features would make a cool animated character, sat behind his desk wearing a colourful T-shirt. He said he initially dressed formally, but dressing down made his youthful staff more comfortable. He is not an animator or artist by profession, but has a background in economics and is a development finance expert. He worked at InvesTT looking at diversification opportunities. He partnered with the head of the University of Trinidad and Tobago (UTT) animation programme and local animation pioneer Camille Selvon-Abrahams and transformed Full Circle Productions to Fill Circle Animation Studio.
“The plan was to build a case study with Full Circle and see the wider potential...and then there are opportunities for other companies to blossom using that roadmap."
Lindsay wanted to refocus the company from doing a lot of advertisements to focusing on the international market “and on the things I believed we should be doing if we want to grow. And when I joined, that was what we were doing. And since then we struggled, but we grew a lot. Up till now we are doing a lot of international work."
Lindsay visited Los Angeles to investigate the animation pipeline and the various players. He said the roadmap of the five-year plan was to be very good at character animation and focus on it and “suffer through it.” It took six years, however, until they got the HBO contract to do Animals.
"And that is where we reached where we had planned to go. And when we got there you could only ever do another job like that."
The company has also been part of the animation pipeline for content broadcast on Disney, Nickelodeon, Universal Studios and DreamworksTV.
Full Circle Animation Studio has grown to be the biggest and most established animation studio in the region with more productions than anyone else. The company has worked for international studios in more than 13 countries including the US, UK, Canada, Malaysia, The Philippines, Italy, Spain, Holland, South Korea, Grenada, Barbados, Guyana and Jamaica.
He said the work for international clients is strictly production work for bigger productions the clients are doing, and mostly for TV shows. They also worked on one film, The Land Before Time Part 14.
"(The clients say) these are the scenes – animate it for us."
Work for the regional market involves a lot more messaging of public service announcements (PSAs) in the form of a storytelling, short series format. In the Caribbean, Barbados and Jamaica is where most of the work comes from with a "one-off" from the small islands.
Lindsay showed Business Day the animation value chain and noted Full Circle has done everything on it. He said 51 per cent of revenue is on international TV shows and the next 22 per cent is on PSAs for regional clients and seven per cent for advertising. He pointed out that the 51 per cent international looks good but "out of sight, out of mind."
"So it pays good and is plenty foreign exchange. But the truth of the matter is you're vulnerable and you have to wait."
The company is hoping to broaden the seven per cent of advertising by increased marketing.
"We are having discussions with an Italian company – they go to France to a conference and they hear about us and we got a job with the Italian company. And that is thousands of miles away. But here Rotoplastics right down the road don't know about us. So that is where our gap is. So we are now trying to market a little more."
He said the company wants to do more storytelling and short animated videos consistent with the client's brand for local advertising, similar to what they do for the regional PSAs. He is building a team and wants to give people sustainable employment. The base team is 12, but it works with 14 freelance animators. The company also has teams in Colombia and Mexico.
"Realistically we (in TT are) never going to have 100 people in a studio waiting for a call from Canada. It eh happening (sic)."
Lindsay said one of the hurdles for getting international work is that TT does not have a treaty with Canada for co-productions, so when some international clients come to Full Circle it is because they are under pressure and are willing to forego the lost benefits from the lack of a treaty.
He said for about ten years now, Canada and TT have been negotiating on a treaty on IT and telecom that still has not been finalised. He added, however, that TT has great incentives so the company is exploring a co-production with Big Jump Entertainment, with both countries using their own incentives and funding themselves.
TT, however, does have a treaty with Europe as part of the Cariforum-EU Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) for audio visual work, which allows for co-productions and access to those broadcast markets. He is scheduled to go to Brussels to see how the EPA can work for co-productions.
He explained after the HBO milestone the focus now is on intellectual property development, but not primarily for the TT or Caribbean market but the international market.
"We can do it now because having done this work over the last three years we now have those relationships and we now trying to leverage those relationships on IP (intellectual property) sales and production rather than just service work." He said if there is IP production of the company’s product by a major network partnering with a bigger studio, then Full Circle will have a little more control to build the team and this is how it will get to 50 or 100 people.
"We know if we doing a season two."
Full Circle did season three of Animals but HBO is not moving forward with season four. However, Big Jump is doing work on other projects and has enlisted Full Circle.
The IP that Full Circle is focusing on is Do it Yourself Zoey, which was the third-place winner in the Animae Caribe Animation and Digital Media Festival 2017 Great 8 Projects. Zoey is a comedy for ages seven and up about the titular girl who streams her own DIY show. Lindsay said Zoey is the prototype for their IP development plans and the project has gone far.
"There is a lot of interest in it (internationally) because it has never been done. There is no animated social media influencer."
Lindsay said as Full Circle reaches the end of the road with the Animals contract, it is also eager to reach the end of the road with IP development. He explained the plan is for Zoey to go out internationally and then will eventually circle back to TT.
"(We want to) get Zoey sold, produce part of it and then we will build out here. So I don't mind only working on Zoey for the next two, three years. That will allow us now to go from the beginning all the way to the end so we benefit from each segment of the animation pipeline. And I think that will ensure sustainability."