I can still hear the squeaky sounds of the 4 brand new, state-of-the-art Mac Pros, trying to escape from their polystyrene prison and run free towards what will be their new home soon. It was back in 2007 and my business partner and I just completed 3 weeks of backbreaking work – sanding, painting and refurbishing our first London studio in Soho. Unboxing these workstations meant much more than the thrill of buying a new gadget (even for a Machead like me), it meant that very soon our first full time employees are going to enter through the door and start creating wonderful things with these machines.

In the first couple of years our design and animation studio always had several full-time employees. Living and working in the heart of London, UK, hiring great professional designers, illustrators and animators wasn’t a problem. The problem was the overhead expenditures, the equipment maintenance, the payroll accounting and another, crucial, element: the lack of flexibility. There were projects coming in all the time, but I couldn’t always use my best people for the job they were best fit to do. Sometime you had to use the next available person, or risk latent unemployment, or both. 

One solution, which presented itself pretty early, was to hire the best freelance designer who was able to hop on the Tube to Soho and start working. This practice was a great leap forward, not having to settle for the skills of my in-house team, but to expand to a wider range of skills. We insisted on having people working on-site, due to creative control, production and security reasons. But for a multidisciplinary studio like ours, which juggles between creating CGI content for a giant simulator in a theme park, producing cut scenes for Doctor Who’s latest video game, or designing interactive graphics for the Discovery Channel, it wasn’t enough. It’s not that there aren’t enough amazing people in London – their availability was the issue. We tried to hire the best people around, and obviously they tend to be busy most of the time.  

Due to the nature of our work we slowly discovered the advantages of working remotely with artists from around the world. It’s not easy, and takes a lot of experience to know how to find the right people, assemble a team and orchestrate a bunch of people who never met and collaborate from different time zones. We call our remote artists “In-house freelancers” and treat them as part of our company. We pay London rates (even when local rates are much lower), keep in constant touch and share our work in progress projects with selected freelancers, even if they are not part of that particular project, to hear their thoughts.

In an ideal world, where money is no object, I would have the best artists working in the studio full time, but at least for our studio, working with remote freelancers, despite the disadvantages, is a very successful compromise. In a future post I’ll try to share a few things I learned about choosing and working with remote artists.

Posted by Rotem Nahlieli

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