Words and interview by Simon Bland
Behind every great creative team is a group of talented artists willing their visions to life and playing a key part in a company’s worldwide acclaim and critical success. However, these same individuals often go unnoticed amid the media buzz of product launches and press releases, leaving them lost in the background noise while the companies receive the bulk of the praise. For artists, it can be an unmotivating experience that happens all too often – but one UK company is shifting the balance and realigning the focus.
Founded by artist and illustrator Emrah Elmasli, Mooncolony is a creative venture that puts artists front and centre. By gathering a collective of highly-skilled artists, illustrators and designers, Elmasli’s company aims to treat artists like rockstars; providing a collaborative environment for like-minded creators and giving them the opportunity to work on big name projects. Billing itself as a ‘premium concept art and illustration studio’, in just five short years Mooncolony has already collaborated with some of the most celebrated names in video game development – including World of Warcraft creators, Blizzard Entertainment – and with the help of Creative Enterprise Evolve, Elmasli hopes to take the company to further success.
“I’ve been in the industry for about 17 years,” explains Elmasli, detailing the journey that led him to founding Mooncolony back in 2016. A passionate artist, Elmasli knew he wanted to focus his career around art from an early age but was unsure how to make his dream a practical reality – an issue that no doubt impacts many creatives who find themselves starting out in the industry today. “I was drawing but I didn’t know how to apply it and make money out of it. Eventually, I saw this magazine named Heavy Metal and it had some concept art from an artist named Justin Sweet. It blew me away and from there, I knew I just wanted to do concept art.”
After graduating, Elmasli headed to London where he found work designing colourful characters and fantasy worlds for a variety of leading video game developers, including Sony and Microsoft. However the itch to start something for himself was becoming too big to ignore. “I started to think ‘what can I do next?’ Working for others started to get old with me – I always wanted to do my own thing.” The isolated experience of being a hired-hand contributed to Elmasli’s desire for more control and an added community feel. “Teams are small,” he admits, remembering his time working for others as a concept artist. “Sometimes you’re left alone to do the task yourself. It’s not a collaborative effort. I started to think, ‘Maybe I can start my own studio and bring an elite team of artists together and we can just do art all day’,” he smiles. “That was the main idea.”
With that Mooncolony was born, a team with a mission to – as Elmasli puts it – gather an elite team of artists, creating the best work in the world. In fact, it’s this pure love of the work that remains the driving focus behind the company’s entire ethos. Having spent years developing designs for companies only for them to never see the light of day, here talented illustrators and artists are able to create work that always gets seen – and potentially featured in the company’s own IP that it’s hoping to develop in the near future. “Developing work for other companies can come with some challenges,” explains Elmasli. “For example, there’s often too many people involved and projects can go in any direction. I’ve had projects get cancelled and my art gone straight into the bin. With Mooncolony, I wanted to avoid that and just focus on the art,” he adds.
The company features plenty of staff benefits designed to construct a company feel too – a refreshing change for creators who have likely spent their entire careers working as freelancers. Mooncolony artists also get the opportunity to create work for big name partners or help out on other projects that may be out of their comfort zones. “We provide artists with the chance to work with the biggest clients and move them to different projects, so they’re always excited about the work they’re doing. We try to include them as part of the team and in the decision making process as well,” says Elmasli. “At the end of the day, we try to make the artists feel like rockstars. Outsourcing artists usually keeps companies afloat but they rarely want to give away the names of the artists afterwards. We are the direct opposite – we want to nurture them.”
However, as with many creative types, running and operating a business for the long term was something that die-hard artist Elmasli struggled to balance as the team grew and the company expanded. Luckily, he and his company were accepted to take part in Creative England’s latest Creative Enterprise Evolve cohort. This bespoke business support and mentoring scheme aims to get burgeoning enterprises with big profit potential ready to wow new investors – and hopefully, secure the funding needed to help take them to new and exciting places. With Interstate 3X Director and multi-media expert Tim McSweeney as his guide, Elmasli has been able to finely tune Mooncolony and prepare it for the next stage of its colourful evolution.
“I had the business intuition but I’m an artist, not a full-on businessman,” explains Elmasli, “so I needed help with that element of the job. Like: how can I grow the company? How can I get investment and put together an investment deck? It’s been super helpful so far,” he admits, detailing his time as part of this year’s Evolve cohort alongside a batch of similarly positioned young companies. “I would never have known any of the stuff I’ve learned without the help of our mentor. Tim is a very creative person so he can understand where we’re coming from,” adds Elmasli. “He saw the art and understood it from the beginning so it’s been really helpful. His techniques about putting together an investment deck and how it should be presented are really interesting. He’s helped us put everything together in a really simple and clear way so anyone who sees our deck can understand it.”
With this expertise behind him, Elmasli hopes that Mooncolony can eventually spawn its own worlds, characters and products – and with countless creators to hand, the company has a whole host of ideas at its disposal. “Right now, we’re still a work-for-hire studio but we’ve started working on developing our own IP and that’s the ultimate aim. In a few years’ time, I’d like to triple the size of our team and have had a couple of our own IPs published. I still want to ensure the company remains a premium art studio but it would be great to become an all-round creative entertainment company,” he reasons. “That’s how I visualise Mooncolony in the future.”