Visualising a bigger future

Coined by David Gates in the opening line of his song ‘If’; a picture paints a thousand words is a proverb that no better describes the work going on at Middlesbrough-based Animmersion.

Ruth Lognonne caught up with the animation firm’s managing director, Dominic Lusardi, to find out how two Teesside graduates launched a company that now employs 12 people and is working with blue-chip clients both in the UK and overseas.

As a visualisation student, Lusardi talked about setting up his own company with his then housemate, Sam Harrison.

The duo successfully realised their ambition and took on space at the Institute of Digital Innovation within Teesside University’s Phoenix Building.

Within seven years the animation firm has grown its turnover to £500,000 and Lusardi has ambitions to swell that by 40% year on year.

Animmersion creates interactive websites, animations and virtual environments for a variety of clients, including those in the engineering and manufacturing sectors.

But the idea for the company was first mooted by two visualisation students, who undoubtedly discussed the idea over a cut-price pint in Teesside’s students union.

“University was a fantastic experience and I made exceptional friends,” said Lusardi. “We spoke about setting up our own business every day.

“While we knew we wanted our company, we needed industrial experience first.

“I went into the games industry and Sam worked within virtual reality. We agreed to reconvene when the time was right.”

In 2005 Harrison was awarded a university’s DigitalCity fellowship to develop the Animmersion business concept.

The fellowship scheme offers support to talented Teesside graduates to develop commercially-viable ideas.

One year later Harrison and Lusardi joined forces in the university’s Graduate Business Unit to form Animmersion.

“It was an excellent opportunity to get low-cost office premises,” said Lusardi. “And we benefited from training in business planning, accounting, marketing and sales.”

When their tenancy ended, Animmersion moved into the Institute of Digital Innovation within the university’s Phoenix Building.

And when BoHo One, the flagship building for Middlesbrough’s digital cluster opened, they were keen to move in.

The company has grown over the last seven years. Andy Liddell joined in 2006, followed by Andrew McAdam in 2009, another Teesside graduate.

Lusardi said: “We are using a lot of what we learned at university. The joy of having our own company is that we can see projects through from start to finish.

“It’s important for us to keep our university links and enable graduates to stay within the region – we’re passionate about our work here.

The business has really flourished in the last few years, with the digital age really coming into its own.

“People are now looking at their I-pads and mobile devices more and more, so virtualisation is becoming increasingly popular,” said Lusardi. “We work with companies who carry out extremely complex procedures, for example, firms in the oil and gas sector.

“In a board meeting it could take CEO hours to explain what the company’s product or service actually does. By creating a visual package, or animation, the whole process can be understood within minutes. It simplifies the process and saves the client time and money.

“Last year we took some private investment to grow the company and take on more staff. It’s also allowed us to tackle bigger markets in the UK and overseas. One of our biggest clients is Kinetic, which is based over in the US.

“Oil and gas is a really buoyant market for us, but our portfolio is diverse. One of our biggest clients is St John’s Ambulance, providing visualisation for life-support procedures.

“We’ve also carried out work recently with The Centre for Life, in Newcastle, providing them with an animation of what their new event space will look like.”

Paper-based manuals are often unhelpful in explaining complex products or processes, according to Lusardi, especially when not printed in the user’s native language.

They are also costly to produce and update and that’s why many businesses now provide clients with interactive user manuals instead.

He said: “We create interactive electronic guides where the words are complemented by animations, images or video clips embedded at every level.

“Clients have 24/7 access, instantaneous updates – and inbuilt translation capacity.

“The beauty of digital is that it can be operated anywhere in the world for anyone.”