From working on broadband that only functioned at high tide to working with some of the largest studios and broadcasters in the world, one animation company has kept our children entertained for almost two decades – all from a tiny studio in St Just.
Spider Eye may not be an instantly recognisable household name, but award-winning animation company and BAFTA nominee is behind films, TV cartoons and educational children’s TV programmes you will have no doubt seen – especially if you have young children.
From Thomas (the Tank Engine) and Friends to SpotBots on the BBC, Horrid Henry or Moshi Monsters the Movie and the Jungle Junction for TV shows for Disney or Cartoon Network staples, there is a bit of Cornwall in all these shows – all thanks to Spider Eye.
(Image: Spider Eye / Disney)
The company started out in London in the late Nineties before it moved to Cornwall in 2001 when the beginning of an EU-funded broadband infrastructure made the move possible.
EDGE Awards 2017
“We had a friend in Penzance doing animation at the time,” said Morgan Francis, co-founder of Spider Eye.
“We started working together but the turning point for us was when a load of EU money came in to roll out superfast broadband.
“It was not as fast as it is today but it made it feasible to work down here. So we moved to St Just.
“We had a big radio mast outside the village hall where we were first based because that’s what broadband relied on then. It meant that our broadband fluctuated considerably with the tides.
“At high tide we had our full speed of 1MB but at low tide it dropped by 50%. It was still enough to move down here and of course the quality of life in St Just is a lot better than in the centre of London.”
Nowadays, the animation studio can rely on superfast fibre optic broadband with 150MB speeds faster than in heart of the capital, a far cry from the tide-reliant internet of its beginnings.
(Image: Spider Eye)
“St Just may be a remote little village outside Penzance,” Morgan added. “But the quality of life is so much better. Also when you think that rent was costing us £60,000 a year off Oxford Street but only £1,000 a year in St Just, it made perfect sense to move to Cornwall.
“With the internet it doesn’t really matter where you are. The only difference is file sizes are much bigger these days especially with HD and superHD TV you need to be able to rely on a superfast internet connection.”
Spider Eye employs six people all year round but staff members can swell up to 100 or more when a show enters into production.
(Image: Spider Eye)
An animation TV series such as the Jungle Junction which the company created for Disney Junior, usually comprises 52 11-minute episodes and can take up to two years to produce.
The company is currently working on a Doctor Panda show, an international collaboration from Holland, Malaysia, China and Cornwall.
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Morgan will take the show to the Cannes tradeshow on the French Riviera which is where animations, cartoon and children’s shows are pitched to major TV broadcasters and online giants like Netflix.
When Spider Eye produced its first 2D animation, there were no Amazon or Netflix. Now shows can be sold to broadcasters whether they are traditional CBBC or CITV or can go online to dedicated cartoon channels.
But as the boundary between terrestrial channels and online increasingly blur, firms like Spider Eye must continue to adapt to the ever changing demand from fast shifting audiences.
(Image: Spider Eye)
Morgan, a father of two grown up children, and keen surfer and kayaker, said: “The industry has changed massively since we started out. The days of one or two state broadcasters are over, which is great. It creates more potential for us to sell our shows.
“Now children are more likely to watch a cartoon or a programme on their tablet in their bedroom than they are to sit down in front of the telly with mum and dad. That’s how much the industry has changed. And it’s all been possible with the expansion of the internet.”
While Spider Eye’s presence in St Just can’t be credited for attracting other tech sector firms to the West Cornwall town, there are no more animation companies in Cornwall and many former employees and freelancers who have worked for Spider Eye before have gone on to set up their own businesses, many in the county.
“The Tech scene in Cornwall is vibrant,” Morgan said. “The quality of life and the quality of the graduates coming out of Falmouth University courses is excellent. Coupled with access to superfast internet and you have plenty of reasons why Cornwall is so attractive to tech talents.”
The EDGE Awards
The first-ever Cornwall Live EDGE Awards – Excellence in Digital, Gadgetry and Entrepreneurialism – has launched in association with Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Growth Hub and Skills Hub to celebrate the tech sector in Cornwall.
With the support of some major organisations, like Headforwards , Engineered Arts , Truro and Penwith College and The Smart Home Co , we’re looking for Cornwall’s digital superstars, from the school projects and teachers using software, tech, digital and design to new start-ups, digital entrepreneurs, games designers, software developers, website, app and video producers and digital media gurus.
Here are the categories…
Most inspirational IT/ digital/ multimedia teacher
Best school IT/ digital/ multimedia project
Digital rising star
Best video production company
Best games developer
Best community/ social use of digital
Best software developer
Best social media engagement initiative
Best digital media company
Best website or app
Best IoT development
The Edge Award for Excellence
To enter you can nominate yourself, your business, or someone else that you think deserves recognition. Either nominate through our website or email email@example.com.
Remember to submit a short one-minute video where possible along with your entry – which can either be a corporate or a simple straight-to-smartphone talking camera piece.
Deadline for entries is October 19.
Source: Cornwall Live