Jon Rennie is a film maker, producer and VFX specialist. He is the managing director of Bait Studio, Cloth Cat Animation and Thud Media, based at the Gloworks.

Can you tell us what you do? 

I’d love somebody to tell me what I do – I don’t know. It is genuinely true; I tend to do a wide range of things basically from making tea to running the company. I do all the bits that nobody else is really interested in getting paid to do.

So my job title is Managing Director of Bait Studio, Cloth Cat Animation and Thud Media. The company is essentially all three companies in one with three brands. Bait Studio concentrates on motion design and visual effects. Cloth Cat Animation concentrates on series animation work and feature animation work. And then Thud Media is our interactive publisher.

We all work as one company, often on the same project in different ways as well. We’ve grown as a company in order to bring together a lot of very talented people who are able to multi-task and do multi-disciplined work on different projects in different ways, because we are not in the London freelance market, we are in Cardiff we have to adapt to that and also be very nimble with how we approach our work. We want to present a boutique design studio, creative company actively producing interesting work and show clients that they can do things in different ways.

Why have you chosen to work in Cardiff?

I grew up here, so I’ve spent most of my life here. It is a great city to be in. I travel around a lot at the moment doing various bits of work and I’m glad to come back. It is a growing city, an active city – it is an important city because of its capital status.

We have excellent relationships with Welsh Government and Cardiff Council, you really get the sense that people want to drive things here and push things forward.

We’ve got the airport nearby and London is just two hours away. We sometimes struggle to get clients out of London sometimes and when they come here they say: ‘Why didn’t we do this before?’ People want to come here.

For us, this is our home and we want to build something interesting, creative, energetic in our home to give people that we know a place to be and a quality of life that they can’t get elsewhere. But, also, we want to build Cardiff up as that place people want to move to, want to settle in.

What inspires you about being here?

There is a clear drive, particularly in the last year, to really push creative industries in the UK. Welsh Government have pushed creative industries as one of the key sectors for them to focus on and you get a lot of enthusiasm from them for animation, for visual effects, for post-production because it is seen as skilled – it is an industry that requires very high level software, very high level learning (and we work with the local universities to also push those skills) but also it is a real attempt to stop a brain drain from Wales. To stop people from moving away as soon as they achieve a certain level of education to get opportunities elsewhere. We want them to stay. It is not that they want to move away from Wales because it is a bad place, it is to get jobs.

What challenges have you found in working in Cardiff?

We’re very close to Bristol so we have to be unique to what is offered in Bristol. Obviously Cardiff is the capital, it is like the London of Wales, which is going to create a focus and some problems particularly in the last few years when there has been a lot of incentive to take companies out of the built up areas. But it hasn’t necessarily worked because you can’t force industry to be somewhere there isn’t the skilled workforce available or, indeed, where you can bring clients to. It is all very well giving the incentives but if it isn’t going to work for the business then it’s not going to work at all.

The important thing I think is to move away from the idea of parachuting companies in and instead make sure that the indigenous companies are building up long-term strategies for creating growth in Wales. The challenge is for Wales, is really to say: you’ve established that you can do the work here, you’ve got the skills and actually, be proud of that and ensure that locally companies who are struggling have more support.

How successful do you think Cardiff has been at making itself a creative capital, particularly in your area of work?

There is still some way to go, mainly because there isn’t a creative hub. Bristol is very fortunate because it has a number of ex-industrial areas that are now, clearly, creative zones. Cardiff doesn’t have that – it is, in some ways, too small to have that. We bulldozed all of our industrial areas long ago and rents in the centre are too expensive; there is no way creative companies who work project to project can afford those things.

If Cardiff wants to have a creative centre, they have to provide the opportunity for one. I’m not saying it needs to build another building or make another area, everyone does that…we’re in a monument to creative industries here. You’ve got to let it happen organically. You’ve got to put all the ingredients together and let everybody else bake it. They just need affordable, flexible space where they can build creative things. The commercial strategy for property in Cardiff is still built around these 10 year leases with five year breaks and this amount of square foot. Most creative companies can’t even begin to approach that kind of rental system. So they’re stuck – either in small spaces that they can’t grow out of or they have to place themselves out of the centre, away from the culture that should be nurtured and supported.

We’ve got a huge opportunity to bring a vast amount of creativity here but there is nowhere to put it. If Cardiff wants it, they’re going to have to give creative industries the opportunity to be flexible. You’ve got to let creative industries be creative with what they want to be – you can’t just build a factory and say: ‘yeah, there you go’ and they will come. 

In your opinion, which three things need to happen to make Cardiff a more creative city?

Bringing in interesting nightlife, but that will come through encouraging the creative industries to have a long-term positive view of Cardiff as a place to be. Everything else will come from that.

We have 100 people here and we’re bringing in yoga classes, we support animation nights, we’re going to be doing life drawing. We’re bringing all of this in because we’ve got the people that really want to do it. We’re able to put stuff back into the community because we’ve built up an infrastructure that allows us to do that.

The bars, the music, the social nights – everything you expect to have as part of the creative industries – all comes down to just needing a place where people can talk to each other and work with each other really easily. 

What do you think Creative Cardiff should try to achieve?

Just making sure that people are aware of what is going on. Keeping the conversation going and talking to the public about the creative industries. We talk to our own industry enough but actually telling people out there what is going on. You probably talk to someone on the street and they wouldn’t know half the films that are made here. The creative industries need to shout about what it does. We have so much going on here. Cardiff can’t take its creative industries for granted – it has got to really engage with them and promote them to Wales. Be proud of what is already here, on our doorstep.

Describe your favourite creative place to work in Cardiff.

Cardiff is too small to say there is a favourite place to work – all of it is really nice. We used to be in Cathedral Road, which was wonderful. I used to be in Chapter which was growing as a creative centre. We’re in the Bay now…look at the view there – a beautiful Bay, all this sun, all this greenery. In Cardiff, you’re never far from something interesting. Or from something inspirational! 

What’s next for you? What projects are on the horizon? What new ideas are you working on?

We’re in production on Luo Bao Bei, which is our Chinese collaboration – we’ve been commissioned by Magic Mall in Beijing to do 52 11 minute episode series for them and we’re in the process of delivering the first batch at the moment. That’ll be going on until the beginning of next year. We’ve just started showing Shane the Chef, which is a CG animation series which is 52 11s.

On the visual effects side, we do a lot of work for Casualty which is very handy. We’ve just finished up on Born to Kill which is on air at the moment. We did Decline and Fall too which has just finished.

Last year we did Ethel and Ernest which was a big one. We always have a lot of projects happening at once.

We’re very fortunate that we’ve had a good three and a half years of production with animation, seven years with VFX – we’ve been in continual work for some time. We’ve managed to build up relationships with producers, production companies, distributors who see us as a good creative company, solid in terms of production, able to handle the finances and deliver on time and on budget. Not to say a safe pair of hands, or a boring pair of hands, but a solid production base which they can trust and they will get a really quality product.

I always say, we’re creative industries but we’re in the creative manufacturing sector. If we want other sectors to take us seriously as an industry, we have to speak their language. We manufacture creativity, we manufacture dreams, we manufacture media, we manufacture stories – we make kids laugh for a living, we scare adults for a living, we entertain people for a living. In the end people are paying us to build something that they can then sell and if we look at ourselves in that way, I think it is important that we see ourselves as manufacturers.

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