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A 15 Year Journey from Shed to Studio

Dan Richards May 16, 2022 Scroll to read in 6 minutes

Growing up, I never planned to run my own business. Looking back I wouldn’t have even fathomed opening an animation studio. Perhaps this was a lack of aspiration or career advice, but I did always dream of doing something I loved. My dad was a carpenter and my mum worked at a laundry service company, neither owned a business. At school I scored a grade E in Business Studies, with Ds in Maths and English. It's fair to say I wasn’t academic. What I’m trying to get at, is the path to where I am today didn’t come from classrooms, or career advisors, but from passions and wider experiences I’ve had.

At school I was a nerd. Not the new, cool type of nerd with thousands of Instagram followers but the one who dreamt of monsters and painted Warhammer 40,000 figures. My imagination was honed at friends' houses, playing war games with dice. The first animation industry role I got was in 2005, painting props and sets on Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit. I picked up the creative skills I needed for this painting Space Marines on the weekends in Games Workshop.

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In 2006 I made my short film The Windmill Boy. Even then setting up a studio wasn’t something I had planned, but I produced and directed the film myself which taught me so much about managing a crew. When I finally started the business that grew into A+C Studios, in 2007 it was from my parents garage with a box of Plasticine. I used to run animation workshops for schools; it provided an income, but it didn’t feel like a business - it was just me sharing my love for animation with others.

I was working six day weeks by myself for years and felt if I was going to keep doing this I needed help. I had saved enough money to rent a container unit in Whitstable and took on a full time assistant and a producer for two days a week. I made Stuart and Jan the offer of three months making a go of the studio and if we didn’t make any money then we’d close the doors and go our separate ways. The doors never closed and the business stayed open in Whitstable for four and a half years before we made the Margate move.

Whitstable was a great start for us. We expanded our original unit to double the size, took on full-time producers, animators and other creatives, and shot animation for clients like Shepherd Neame, Harrods, Chivas and Media Force. I have a lot of special memories from this time - we were a startup finding our feet, and we really carved out something special which remains today.

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Moving the studio to Margate has proved one of the best decisions I’ve made for A+C. It's an area with a growing creative community, surrounded by a beautiful coastline and great indie businesses. Environment and culture is key to how we work at A+C Studios and Margate is the perfect backdrop for our studio home and team.

Today, moving to Margate has become a well-established trend - with now long standing creative spaces such as the Turner Contemporary and businesses set up by famous creatives like Tracey Emin. But when we moved to Margate back in 2014 everyone thought we were crazy! We would have to convince clients in London that Margate was up and coming, as there weren't articles in the Guardian every weekend like there are now. Since we’ve been here, we’ve seen Margate grow into a thriving hub of creatives. Every London client we speak to has either been to the town, knows someone who lives here or is thinking of moving themselves!

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Of course, there have been hard times… All of which have made the company stronger. I don’t think there’s as much to learn from successes in this business, which can’t always be replicated. But there is so much to test, evaluate and pivot from by experiencing a loss, fail or other difficulty.

Running a company is tough and can be quite lonely. It also keeps me up more than my 15-month old daughter! There are so many people I’ve leaned on over our 15 years - too many to name, but I’d like to say thank you to everyone I’ve emailed for advice, phoned for an opinion or dragged to the pub for a rant. Those minutes, replies and just the chance to say things out loud have always been beneficial for me.

The pandemic threw up many challenges and meant a less than ideal way of animating - it’s difficult to run a production with a crew spread far and wide. But the last few years have nevertheless seen the studio expand immensely. We’re now at a crew of fifteen and we recently took on a second building as our new production office. Our crew, equipment and facilities have improved year on year, and the 2007 start-up of me with a box of Plasticine now doesn’t just feel like a real company, but a really great company.

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What does the future for A+C look like? We’re planning, thinking and preparing more than ever here at the studio. All of this has been possible from the security of an amazing few years of growth. Planning and projecting is always difficult to forecast when times are tough, but it genuinely feels like the studio is building to a point where we can expand into longform content for the first time, which has been a dream for me.

Having a daughter in 2021 changed my outlook on animation, opening my eyes to preschool shows I’d never watched before. Last year at the studio we began developing our own preschool show, which I’ve written with my daughter in mind. Working with the team and making something so personal is a brand new feeling and adventure, different from anything I’ve done over the last 15 years. I guess that's what keeps me doing what I do here - new ideas and new approaches. I’m hoping we can share more of the new show later this year.

I'd like to say a big thank you to everyone who has believed in the studio and in me. That goes to all the mad but talented crew who’ve walked through the doors here, and those who’ve partnered with A+C or taken me on as a director. A+C Studios really wouldn’t be anywhere without you all and I hope that many of you can join us as we continue our journey. And finally if you’ve got this far, thanks for reading!