Words and interview by Simon Bland
A group of ducks is often called a waddle; however the same term could also be used to describe a group of animators, especially if FedUP Studio Lab has anything to say about it. One look at their vibrant website reveals their entire roster of creatives, artists and animators all reimagined in doodle-duck form – and while it’s a great indicator of the studio’s playful approach to work, there’s a deeper meaning behind these duck-shaped avatars.
Forged in 2020, the company may be young but its plans and overarching ethos are big. Describing itself as a studio that puts ethics and sustainability in the driving seat, they’ve found quick success creating colourful animations for charities, social and environmentally-friendly B-corps, and like-minded start-ups. According to its founders and Creative Directors Alixe Lobato and Federico Parodi, the team was born out of a frustration with the current animation-for-hire scene (hence the rather apt company name) but with a fresh gusto and mindful manifesto behind them, they’re hoping to usher in a new era of change within the sector.
“Fred and I met whilst working together on big projects for Apple in a bigger studio in London,” recalls Lobato, speaking to us via Zoom with Parodi in early 2022. “We were talking about the industry; the things we liked and the things we didn’t like and eventually we decided to make a short film – and that short film became a whole company,” she smiles. “We decided to call it FedUP because we were Fed Up and wanted to do something about it.” Parodi remembers the situation well: “We were stressed out with working at big agencies,” he explains. “The plan was to just create something in one week – a personal project. Then I thought, ‘Let’s push this further’ and we started thinking bigger.”
From this, FedUP Studio Lab was born and with it, a more friendly and conscientious working environment. “We spent time thinking about the type of business we wanted to build ethically. We learned about sustainability and how we can optimise ourselves to work more efficiently,” explains Lobato. “We wanted to work in an environment that’s better for us and better for the clients as well. We try to push efficiency in every single aspect of what we do – like reducing waste – and we wanted to behave in a way that reflected the type of company we wanted to work in.”
By creating content with a positive social impact, employing a transparent salary model, dedicating time and budget to passion projects and helping their clients reduce time and energy wastage, FedUP cultivated a different kind of workplace. They didn’t neglect the external art and animation communities either – in fact, they pride themselves on promoting new talent, donate a percentage of their annual proceeds to creating free work for non profits and charities, and regularly host training sessions focused around key industry topics.
We know what you’re thinking though – how does this all relate to ducks? Well, Lobato and Parodi are quick to explain the thinking behind their pondlife motif. “Our brand identity isn’t just the name, it’s the logo too – and the logo is a duck. The reason why we chose that is because ducks are seen as super friendly and wise. They move through different elements and they’re an animal that has a positive, meaningful meaning in almost every country,” smiles Lobato.
“Also, whilst researching the symbolism of ducks we believed that there was no ego among them,” she adds. It was this element that spoke to FedUP’s inclusive mindset and led to ducks taking over all aspects of the team’s ‘About Us’ page: “Our marketing guy suggested putting our faces on there and we thought – ‘No, it’s about the whole team!’ We want to credit all the amazing people behind us because without them, we wouldn’t be able to do any of this.”
One way FedUP reduced unnecessary waste was by encouraging home or remote working as part of a normal day-to-day routine. Up until recently, this flexible approach was considered unusual – until March 2020 rolled around and well, everything changed.
“We’re a remote operation – which was an odd thing before 2020 – but now, we’re ahead of the curve,” reasons Parodi. “The pandemic was – sadly – a positive experience for us,” Lobato explains, detailing how lockdown provided an unlikely boost for animation amid a tragic and uncertain period. “When we were doing our company analysis, one of the weaknesses we initially identified was that we were remote. We had to explain to clients that being remote was something that was efficient. Then the pandemic hit and suddenly the thing we considered a weakness became a strength.”
She continues, highlighting the long-term impact of this odd juxtaposition: “As Fred explained, we were ahead of the curve – and we were also ahead in terms of understanding the whole structure around setting up a remote workflow and production because live-action wasn’t able to shoot.” Parodi echoes the sentiment: “Digital platforms suddenly needed so much content – so for animators, it was great.”
To help elevate their animation house to new levels, the studio applied to be part of Creative England’s current Creative Enterprise Evolve cohort. This nine-month programme was devised by investors and designed to help high-potential screen sector businesses fine-tune their offering and pitch-deck in order to secure additional growth finance. With their very own industry mentor guiding them every step of the way, the scheme aims to better connect companies with investors whilst helping them make key connections and shedding some much-needed light on the fundraising process.
“It’s been amazing” Lobato attests. “Fred and I feel comfortable talking about the business thanks to Creative England. Without them, we’d still struggle.” Parodi hits home the crucial ways in which the course has helped FedUP perfect its elevator pitch – a key element for any emerging business: “We had all the information in our heads but when you’ve been thinking about something for a while, you take for granted that everyone knows what you mean. Making it clear and focusing on what we’re all about so somebody from the outside can understand it has been really useful.” Lobato adds: “It’s helped us learn some self-confidence when talking about the business. The networking, the accountability, getting feedback from a mentor or other cohort teams that are on your level – all that is just priceless.”
As for their long-term goals? “We don’t have any investment yet – but we’re ready,” smiles Parodi. “This is the first time we’re approaching investors and it’s thanks to Creative England that we’re on this path.” Lobato shares some thoughts on FedUP’s ultimate company goals: “We want to become a studio like Aardman but a little more focused on helping others walk the ethical path,” she says earnestly. “Aardman is a great example of nice people doing creative things while keeping their values – we hope to be like that too, whilst creating ethical animation.”