Wednesday, 6 May 2009

Paul Butler: The Sky Guy

When i first spoke to Paul via E mail he was very polite and easy to write to. My initial e mail was very formal explaining my status a s a student intrigued by working in house. He instantly replied with quite an informal message, there was also a typo, at first being the sceptic that i am thought it was a cover up, something he was trained to do to make "the company" seem more friendly. But after speaking to him in person it was quite the contrary he was very earnest and easy to talk to and couldn't have made me feel more comfortable, understanding my "student" status. In any case it was nice to see a human side to the "Brand"

The Email:

Dear Paul Butler,

My name is David Mercer and I am a third year Illustration student studying at Stockport College. I have recently been producing moving image work in addition to static illustration work. I have become enthralled with producing moving image pieces and although the first piece I produced was a success, it was very experimental, personal and lacked a commercial context.

For my latest project I propose to create a title sequence for a documentary about the arctic explorer Earnest Shackelton. The proposal is fine but lacks a specific format to work to; the duration of the piece is at present uncertain and I am unsure the sort of time scale one would be given to complete this kind of project in the industry.

I recall the work you showed whilst visiting the college and I was wondering if it would be possible to provide me a technical specification for any similar project that Sky may have produced; any assistance would be of great value.

Secondly I am paying a visit to London on the 3rd to the 5th of March and I would love to have the opportunity to show some of my work to someone in the industry and get some feedback to gain a better insight in to professional working practises within this field.

Yours Sincerely

David Mercer


He David,

Very interesting to here about your project.

We work to all kinds of different timeframes, but a 3 week turn around for a
standard 15" 20" second sequence is common. We are increasingly pressured to
cut durations of titles. But for you and a student project I would recommend
you go for 25" maybe stretch to 30", to get the maximum out of a showcase
piece of work for your portfolio.

The job depends on it's complexity, detail and technical execution. If we
are using 3D, live action, adding a lot of complex effects, time frames will
of course increase.

I would suggest a visit would benefit you and make it easier to show you
what the general rule of thumb is regarding title sequences...

Looks like there may be time either 3rd or 5th - but at the moment I can't
tell you when I'll be free.

Why not email me next Monday 23rd and I should have a better idea


Make sure your portfolio is one beautiful visual feast, your visual
showcase, it is the only real thing that sells you!

Once i arrived to the studio in the private bus that was there to pick up employees free of charge from the tube stop, i was in shock, very nervous and slightly hung-over. I was ushered into a security room where the security guards fondled my bag and i had to give them my details and why i was there at all. "i knew it" i thought to myself Paul's politeness was just a front for this brutal world, where if there was anything untoward in my portfolio he would tear it up there and then in front of me, sending me on my way with my little paper shavings. I was escorted by another woman to a different building sticking my new name badge to my jacket i started to feel apprehensive, "wait here" she said then hurried off without another word.

When Paul finally appeared i was instantly relieved, he was dressed in jeans and a t-shirt and had a very friendly manner. He brought me up to "his floor" which was sandwiched in the middle of a huge building, when we finally entered all my bad thoughts were dispelled with the offer of FREE grommet sandwiches and the realisation that his department was quite modest in size, with people laughing and chatting, no whips like i had envisaged. And what appeared to be friendly faces everywhere, eyes fixed to some of the biggest monitors i have ever seen. For some reson i thought there would be a very oppressive atmosphere but this was just me painting a bad picture of a corperation in my mind.

Paul sat me down and began to explain what his department do for the company it seemed very rehearsed and had an accompanying DVD, he probably has said this a thousand times, it seemed better when he snapped out of this and began talking about specific jobs.

He said that people he has hired to work within sky are jacks of all trades, doing a little bit of this and a little bit of that. Fonts, title sequences, ad campaigns, kids TV, Screen Graphics, Logos, Web design, Photography, 3D, 2D. He explained that anyone could be asked to do any number of these things At anyone time. He also said any problems with software or your lack of knowledge or understanding can be resolved with tutorial weeks, where you would be trained to be more efficient and again more diverse. He also stressed that he wouldn't want someone to be stressing over how to use a program if someone else can use it proficiently enough to do an element of your work for you. It seemed he was after idea generating skills within design more than computer skills like 3D programming, they already have in house experts who could make your Logo 3D in seconds, it is the initial design and concept that has to be of high quality. It seems in some respects that you become a bit of a director Starting off a project yourself then finishing it to a professional standard with all the experts. For example if one desired to have some live film in some promotional material then you would be sent out with a camera man and a film director to capture everything you need. there are on sight green screens and studios.
This seemed almost too good to be true, especially after seeing Andy pavitt the day before and him expressing the lack of jobs with in the freelance world and having to work a second job.

The most interesting bit for me was when he started flicking through my portfolio i honestly can't believe how well it was received he had qualms but these were small compared to his overall satisfaction not only in the portfolio but in the way that i "carried myself" he had said. He loved the diversity but stated he would love to see more logos than the one submitted. He also pointed out my lack of experience with type but said it was nothing he couldn't work on. He must have spent two and a half hours talking to me, which is alot of time for someone i thought might be to busy to even see me so there must have been some genuine interest. He said that if i was to visit more Art Directors that i should have some calling cards printed out, the more ingenious the better, he said that it is all the art director will have of you when you leave. Ian had already told me this but i had non, so i think I'll have to pester Paul via Email when i finish.

I kept thinking i wouldnt want to be forced into a sky mould producing sterile 3D animations with no heart, creating stuff that i myself wasnt into, this would break me and sap me dry.I asked if their was a place in his world for such animations then he showed me stuff with a more a hand made feel and i was surprised to learn that they are open to anything. he showed me some beautiful work that was far removed from what i had initially envisaged Sky was about.

The thing that will stick out in my mind the most was when he said before i left 'if any jobs arise, ill give you a call' I was trying to keep cool at this point suppressing my glee. He spoke about the fact i would have to move from home and that he would take into consideration home sickness.
"i wouldn't want to invest that much time and resources into someone for them to turn around after a year and say 'I'm going home..."
This was perfectly understandable and something I've been thinking long and hard about but i guess its something i could only decided when it came, besides how many people has he said he would call i keep thinking.
I left there that day with a new found confidence in my own abilities and after talking to Pavitt about the mess of the economy, it seemed i had found my solution. I really couldn't see myself being freelance and working another job at the same time. i could see myself getting comfortable in some job that i never wanted to do, completely unmotivated to do illustration in the evenings. Sadly i seem to be the kind of person that needs the pressure, somebody telling me what to do, giving me direction.

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