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“Am I really being paid to do this?” Aardman’s Ben Townsend on what’s new at the beloved studio.
Congratulations on featuring in the Brands Untapped 100. Were you surprised to find yourself in there?
Very much so! Rising Star is such a prestigious category, so I’m honoured to be included among such talent.
So, Ben… You came to work at Aardman on an apprenticeship. You must be thrilled with the way that’s gone! What’ve been the highlights of your time there so far?
I can still remember the day I found out I got my apprenticeship… I was so excited that I would just tell anybody who’d listen! My highlights include getting awarded Bristol & Bath’s Apprentice of the Year for Business, then finding out I won the overall winner across every category – such a surprise… And it was great to share more about apprenticeship opportunities at Aardman.
And getting a job, presumably!
Ha! Yes! Passing my apprenticeship with distinction and being told there’s a full time job for me after will always be special. And actually, there’s a picture of me with a Morph statue from when I was about 10 years old. When I started, I did a comparison shot to celebrate – love that photo.
Finally, I loved suggesting licensees during my apprenticeship. It wasn’t on my job description, I just generally enjoyed it. It was great working with the Aardman Team and our UK agents, Start Licensing, and the fact they’d always support my ideas – a lot of them became a reality and are now long running licensees!
Fantastic. You’re now the Licensing Approvals Coordinator. I can’t imagine you have a ’normal day’, but what do some of your responsibilities cover?
Every day is something different, but I think I prefer it this way. The main responsibility is working on product development with our licensees across the globe; providing initial creative direction and inspiration, plus ensuring that the brand plans are correctly interpreted. It’s great seeing products across all categories.
“I often find I’m asking myself: Am I really being paid to do this?”
That said, I also help out in finding new licensees to work with, draw up counterfeiting reports, testing toys and games…I’ve even currently got a VR meeting in my diary for an interactive project which is insane to think about. I often find I’m asking myself “Am I really being paid to do this?”
And how do you know, Ben, when an idea is right for Aardman? What ‘process’ do you use to work out whether someone is a good partner, or something is a good product?
It’s never just one person’s decision. We’re a team, and we always support each other by getting each other’s feedback – it’s the best way to do things. There’s no set rules for what makes a good partner: we like to work with a mixture of licensees who’ve been in the industry for years as well as those venturing into licensing for the first time. It’s great to support and nurture those who are new and see them grow. As for products, it’s about making sure they fit with our brand values.
What are those values, Ben?
The company really lives its values. We have creativity at our heart, of course. And as well being committed to diversity, inclusivity and sustainability, several things underpin everything we do… Integrity, excellence, independence, humour, collaboration and openness.
Thank you. Now… There are two massive projects commonly known to be afoot at Aardman… The new Wallace and Gromit film – and the new Chicken Run film! Given how long these take to produce, I guess you have plenty of time to get ready for them! Where do you start? How do you set about working out where what YOU do in real life fits in with what the characters do on screen?
Licensing is all about looking ahead – we’re already looking at products for 2025! Mind you, there’s nothing stranger than working on an extremely festive Christmas product when it’s a boiling hot summer’s day outside. In licensing, we’re extremely lucky in that we get to watch the animatics at the early stages of new projects. That lets us watch it from a licensing perspective and think of companies we should be approaching… Getting to see the project from animatic to actual models, and then the final result with all the editing, is such an honour.
Obviously, you won’t be able to tell us toooooooo much about those projects… What little tidbit can you throw us, though? What teeny tease? What tantalising glimpse?!
I’ve been fortunate enough to watch the latest reel of the new Wallace and Gromit film – and all I can say is that whether people are new to the brand or grew up with the characters, everyone is going to love it! You know you’re watching something special when an animatic makes you burst out laughing! As for Chicken Run: Dawn of the Nugget, you’ll just have to watch it December 15th on Netflix and find out for yourself!
Can’t wait! I’m curious to ask you, Ben: if you weren’t doing what you do now, what do you think you would be doing?
Ha! Well… When I left school, most my friends knew exactly what they wanted to do and how to get there. I didn’t have a clue! I’ve since experienced multiple jobs in different industries, but since joining the licensing world I can truthfully say I can’t imagine myself doing anything else.
“I only wish I knew about licensing sooner…”
You found your vocation!
I did. I only wish I knew about licensing sooner, which is one of the reasons I love chatting to students and interns about the industry and seeing their realisation that this could be the career for them.
Good answer, thank you. Final thought, Ben: what’s the one question I could’ve asked you today but didn’t?
Rather than a question, I can tell you the usual statement I get… That’s “I love your accent!” I have one of the most thick Bristolian accents you’ll ever hear – and proud!
As well you should be! I have relatives in that neck of the woods so it’s always a pleasure for me to hear a Bristol accent. Thanks Ben.
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