***This interview originally appeared in the March ’22 issue of Animation Magazine (No. 318)***
It’s hard to believe that it’s been 20 years since Camilla Deakin and Ruth Fielding started their acclaimed and influential animation studio Lupus Films in London. Throughout the years, the company has delivered a wide selection of top-quality, award-winning shorts, specials, series and features including The Snowman and The Snowdog, Ethel & Ernest, We’re Going on a Bear Hunt and The Tiger Who Came to Tea. We recently caught up with Camilla and Ruth to mark this special benchmark in their careers:
Can you tell us a little bit about the beginnings of Lupus and how the company came to be?
Camilla: Ruth and I first worked together at Channel 4 in the arts & animation department. We always got on so well and had similar tastes, so it made sense to set up a company together. When we first started working together we realized we went to the same school (Pimlico School on Lupus Street in London) so we had a lot in common. Our first production was called Little Wolf’s Book of Badness and the word for ‘wolf’ in Latin is ‘lupus’ — so Lupus Films felt like a great name!
What would you say is your specialty? What makes a Lupus Films animated feature/short/series different from others?
We specialize in well-told stories and beautifully crafted animation. We always want to make films that will last, that people want to watch over and over again and that don’t date.
How many people work at your company currently?
We have six full-time staff as well as a few regular part-time staff, plus me and Ruth. When we are in production we also engage freelancers which increases the numbers considerably. I think we are currently employing around 60 people across two productions.
Did the pandemic affect the way you produce animation or were you already working remotely anyway?
We were not working remotely before the pandemic, but we very quickly adapted and got our regular crew set up to work from home. We had been back in the office a bit recently, before the new advice to work from home again. We find most of our crew like working from home some of the time but not necessarily all the time as they miss the social aspects of work, as do we!
So, what do you love about working in animation?
We love the people who work in animation and the amazing creativity that we witness every day. When you are working on a big animation project, you really feel like you are part of a big family — especially as there are lots of people we like to work with regularly who have been part of the extended Lupus Films family for many years. Despite all the responsibilities of running a studio and the stresses of production, we can honestly say that we have never regretted setting up our own company for a single moment. Plus, we still enjoy each other’s company and, most importantly, we always remember to have fun!
Which animated feature/show changed your life? When did you know you wanted to work in animation?
Camilla: I loved Fantasia when I first saw it as a child. “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” sequence really stuck with me and I also loved the way it was all set to music. It showed me how animation could really transport you to another world.
Ruth: I loved Ivor the Engine and Bagpuss, I wanted to live in Ivor’s world and I wanted to be Emily from Bagpuss. I also liked jumping around the living room pretending to be Hong Kong Phooey, a number one super guy, even though I was a girl!
Can you tell us a bit about your current slate?
Currently we are in production with a feature film adaptation of Michael Morpurgo’s novel Kensuke’s Kingdom. We are about halfway through production and it is looking fabulous so far. But you will have to wait until 2023 to see it! We are also in production with a new animated preschool series for a major streamer (still top secret). In addition to this, we have a number of feature films and TV specials and series in development with various partners, including an animated feature film about Mexican artist Frida Kahlo, Las Dos Fridas, directed by Paloma Baeza; an adaptation of the best-selling Molesworth books written by Geoffrey Willans and illustrated by Ronald Searle, directed by Uli Meyer; and another about the life of Parisian icon and Man Ray’s muse, Kiki, directed by Peter Dodd. We are also working on a new Halloween special with co-producers Dream Logic, called The Ghastly Ghoul, which is directed by Kealan O’Rourke. We are not ready to announce any of the other projects quite yet, but suffice to say it’s been a busy time!
You recently branched out into doing live action as well. Does this mean you will do less animation?
We will never stop doing animation as it is our first love, and we are busier than ever developing new animated projects. The live-action Christmas movie came about because we were working with producer Robert Chandler on some development projects and he happened to show us an idea he’d come up with and we loved it, so we offered to option it and develop the script together. It’s not so surprising, given that we love Christmas movies at Lupus Films, and it was a really heart-warming story in the best tradition of British rom-coms. Ultimately, we are in the business of telling stories and entertaining people, so it’s not so different developing a live-action film to an animated one. The main difference is the schedule — apart from the scripting, the whole production of our live-action movie took place from start to finish within six months, which was a very strange feeling!
What are some of your big challenges in 2022?
I think the biggest challenge we are facing at the moment is that the boom in production has led to a lack of good available crew. There is a lot of competition for good animators at the top of their game. In addition, the double whammy of Brexit and the pandemic led to a lot of animators leaving the U.K., which means we can’t use them if we are relying on the U.K. tax credit as part of our financing. But we are investing time and money into new training initiatives to make sure there is plenty of new talent coming into the industry who have the skills to work in a professional environment on long-form productions.
When you look back at your two decades of producing top-notch animation, what are some of the best memories that you will always cherish?
Camilla: Making TV special The Snowman and The Snowdog and feature film Ethel & Ernest with author Raymond Briggs was an amazing experience. He is so incredibly talented and such a wonderful person to collaborate with. Visits down to his crowded studio in Sussex are always a treat. I will always cherish meeting Sir Paul McCartney and finding out that he was going to write an original song for our film Ethel & Ernest. He was extremely generous with his time and even phoned me a few times for a chat!
Ruth: Well, talking of pop stars, working with Robbie Williams, Don Black and David Arnold on the song for The Tiger Who Came to Tea was a massive treat for me, and I think winning an International Emmy for the same film must be my all-time career high. However, when I look back over the last 20 years, I think Camilla and I have had most fun at some of the European pitching forums like Cartoon Forum with all our friends and work-family in the industry, doing what we do best: pitching and putting together finance for great shows and having a lot of fun whilst doing that.
What kind of advice do you offer newbies who want to make it in animation?
I would advise newbies to make sure they have a really slick showreel and a well-designed website, so that when they are applying for work they really stand out. I would also advise them to look at which studios’ output they admire and try to get experience in the types of animation and the software packages that those studios use. That way, they will be off to a flying start when they apply for positions at those studios.
For more information, visit lupusfilms.com.