Saturday, December 15, 2012

Scott Petersen talks about founding Golden Street Animation

Golden Street Productions was founded by Scott Petersen in 2009
Scott Petersen, founder of Golden Street Animation, talks to FLIP about the perils and pitfalls of setting up his own independent animation company.

FLIP: Tell us about Golden Street Animation. What sort of projects do you work on?

Scott: Ha ha ha, We do everything under the sun it seems in order to stay afloat. However we specialize in feature quality traditional animation and we are one of the few companies still left in the US that offers that service. I am hoping that a resurgence of some kind will come swinging back towards 2D because our company is perfectly positioned for it. We do some CG from time to time in a production but it’s usually just an element or two that is placed in the 2D world.

We provide artwork and animation for all aspects of the pre-production and animation production process. Since our inception, we have provided work for feature films, TV series, and corporate videos as well as smaller projects like book illustrations, toy designs, and website artwork. The size of our company and number of employees grows and shrinks with the projects. For example, on one feature film, we had over 200 people working for us at one time. But when we are doing storyboards or a commercial, our numbers go down to just a handful.

Golden Street supplies 2D animation, design and storyboards
FLIP: You set up your own animation company in Utah, having had a long career with animation studios such as Disney. What made you want to go it alone?

Scott: They say necessity is the mother of invention - well, that was definitely true in my case.  I was supervising on a Disney show overseas when the Pixar leadership took over the studio. Soon after, the plug was pulled on all types of 2D productions and I found myself out of a job wondering what to do next and worrying about the future. So we took our savings and decided to start our own company, first just to sell my own artwork on products for a local niche market. We chose to go to Utah, mainly because our money would go a lot further towards building the company than it would in California. In our second year, we quickly expanded and started to advertise our company’s production animation services. Soon after, contracts started coming in, which allowed us to buy much needed equipment. We are still a young company struggling to grow, but when I look back, I’m very proud of what we’ve accomplished thus far.

Scott Petersen at work
FLIP: How difficult was it to set up a company from scratch?

Scott: It was very difficult to start a company from scratch, especially since I had no business experience and a limited budget. I mean, you just jump in and you dream big - especially in the beginning - but reality always brings obstacles.  Experience is the best teacher if you’ll learn from it, and I think that is what life is all about.

Lesson: It is a very good idea for EVERYBODY to go through some form of business training in college or wherever you can get it, especially nowadays when it’s easy to set up your own business at home through the internet. They say that most businesses fail in their 1st year. And some of that is because of the lack of pre-planning.
FLIP: Did you have any assistance from outside or was it all down to you?

Scott: In starting this business, I had no outside help at all. We self-financed everything from our small savings account that I had earned as an animator to manufacture some products and with that we grew the company little by little as our success allowed for it. It was a risk I took on my own shoulders. There are other approaches to financing - and maybe a lot better ones - but that worked for us. I was banking on the fact (and I still do) that people would appreciate the quality of artwork and animation that we would produce.

FLIP: What was the biggest mistake you made in the early days?

Scott: You need to create a formal business plan. It’s your guide to running the company and to success. Someone mentioned it to me years ago, but I sloughed it off because it sounded really simple and not necessary because I knew what I wanted to do. But I came to find a “business plan” is really a good idea; it includes marketing strategies, market research, keys to success, industry profiles, customer profiles, funding source plans, all of which needs to be planned out carefully and not so willy nilly like I did. It will stop you from taking unnecessary risks. It is also essential if you are looking for financing from a bank or investors - that is the first thing that they will ask to see.

So now, four years after I’ve started my business, I’m just now creating my business plan. Ouch! One knowledgeable business owner told me he makes a new business plan every year as his business grows and has to adapt. So my advice to anyone who is interested in starting a business:  get online, find a nice business plan template, and start working the framework on paper.

FLIP: You have worked on many projects. How do you balance all the different work that comes in the door?

Scott: The key is delegation; learning to trust others to do their job and not micro managing is paramount. You can really stifle someone’s confidence and creativity if you have to have everything exactly the way you would do it. You’ve got to inspire others to do the very best that they have and you will get a much better outcome. As a leader, you should know who does what best and the casting of assignments might make the difference of how smooth the project goes. I cannot do everything myself, and there are others here who do certain things much better than I.

Perfection in animation is not a point, it’s more like a room - not everyone standing on the same spot. Two animators might animate the same scene completely differently, but both can be acceptable solutions to the assignment. As long as their work accomplishes the purposes of the scene or gets into "the room of acceptability”, I’ll approve it. It might not be the way that I would do it but, as long as it “gets into the room” I’m happy.

The budget of the project will always dictate how demanding I get with my artists. Some clients expect feature quality on a TV series budget - and while we do our best - there are always those lines you have to draw with the client or they will keep squeezing all they can out of you. Artists, too many times, get abused.
Owl from Piglet's Big Movie
FLIP: Is there any project that was a complete nightmare?

Scott: OOOOOH Yes!!!  It was a movie on which we providing about 65 minutes worth of feature animation and clean up for their 90 minute show. We worked our tails off to keep the quality high and to finish on time - I mean, this was our reputation we were building. The client was consistently late in getting materials to us, but still expected us to hit the deadlines. My crew really pulled off a miracle, of sorts, and we were able to deliver just three days late.

The heartbreaking nightmare was, after we delivered the last animation, their payments stopped. They promised the money would be there at the end of the month, saying “it’s just tied up" because of this or that. They owed us hundreds of thousands of dollars, which they have yet to pay two and a half years since delivery. Ouuuch!   I learned the meaning of pain and stress during that time - a mighty blow to our growth plans.

The lesson learned: for any client who is not a big name, like Disney or Warner Brothers, and especially for big budget productions, I’ll make sure that the payment schedule agreed upon will not leave such a great amount owed after delivery. Smaller incremental payments should be made throughout the production with only 10 percent or less owed at the very end. After that,  I’m a lot less trusting, a more shrewd business man, and a little more grumpy at home.

FLIP: Can you manage all the aspects of film production or do you need to bring in outside help?

Scott: We can manage all aspects of animation film production. Although, if the CG requirements got too large in volume on a project, then we would have to outsource that until we can expand our capabilities in that area.

FLIP: What is your next project?

Scott: We  have a few of our own film projects we have been developing along the way and we hope to do some more work on them this year as time allows and capital is earned. We’ve mainly been a service company, but I would like to work more towards creating our own intellectual properties we can sell and have co-partnerships with larger companies; with that comes a lot more freedom to do the things that we would like to do.

In the Meantime, we’ll gladly continue to do more production work. This past year, we’ve provided storyboards for Dan Vs. TV series for Film Roman, Teenage Fairytale Dropouts TV series for Homeplate Entertainment and Chloe’s Closet pre-school series for Moonscoop. And we are currently working on a segment of a proposed feature film for a company back east called Miracle Studios. It’s sort of a proof of concept piece to show potential investors and we’ll be working on that continuing into this next year. Please visit our website to view samples of all of our work from these projects.

I’ve also been working on a series of animation training DVDs of which you can read more about on this blog The first two lessons are available now and I hope to add a few more to the collection this coming year. It’s something that I love to do and hope that it will help others in learning the art of animating and drawing.

(Editor's Note: You can see more information about Golden Street Productions here, and view the Golden Street Animation Reel here. )

1 comment:

  1. The training DVDs are top notch. Scott is an excellent teacher and he really hammers the fundamentals. And when I say "fundamentals" I mean Mr. Miyagi "wax on, wax off" type stuff that provides a real foundation for growth. I highly recommend the first two DVDs and can't wait for the rest of the series.

    Thanks for the great interview!