A vision drawn from experience

A vision drawn from experience

A cartoon series, big screen movies and a plan to help kids beat their fears beckon for rising animation force Antyx, writes Andrew Mernin
Who is the more intelligent, David Beckham or Albert Einstein?

Becks is no Mensa man, but neither was Albert a genius executioner of free-kicks which defied the laws of physics.

The question, once posed in a newspaper story on a Harvard theorist, challenges traditional notions about IQ, education and how the mind works. For Yorkshire entrepreneur Anthony Hall, it also provides a simple explanation of the belief system that has shaped his emerging animation business, Antyx.

He believes – as, increasingly, do education and training bodies – that there are multiple ways of measuring intelligence, aside logical thought, and therefore there are also better ways of teaching.

“If you look at that book it doesn’t look kid friendly does it,” he says flicking through a text book on ‘accelerated learning’.

“I thought if you could attract children with cartoon characters to learning and development activities then you are much more likely to get them engaged. And so I came up with the Learning Monster.”

The Learning Monster is now one of three strands of the £1.2m animation business Antyx which Hall launched this year and is already heading up a £20m big screen movie project from its Leeds base.

An online interactive experience for young children and a planned cartoon series are expected to help the business grow its turnover to £1.9m within a year, rising to £11.3m by year three.

The feature length movie could prove significantly more lucrative, according to Hall.

At the heart of the business is the theory of accelerated learning, which Hall first discovered when some forward-thinking consultants entered his life as an accountant for British Gas around 15 years ago.

The encounter started him out on a journey which saw him become a “trainer of trainers” and of teachers, business leaders, and individuals – he even qualified as a hypnotherapist, helping people overcome
their phobias.

His aim now is to create a multi-million pound business with animation that will focus on child development “by getting their attention with laughter and entertainment.” Initially it will have 20 staff, and his plans are already
well underway.

But achieving his vision won’t be easy, he admits, especially as he has other boots to fill including his accountancy-related consultancy role as an interim finance director.

“I do the stuff that other people can’t or don’t want to do like company turnarounds, and also other corporate stuff as well as training,” he says, having worked with the likes of Disney, Asda, IBM and the Ministry of Defence.

“With Antyx I want to build a company that works commercially rather than just going in and fixing them.”

With Hall aiming to have Antyx fully operational by November, he will look to wind down some of his financial sector commitments and is adamant that he’ll pay someone else to do the animation firm’s books.

Antyx worked with the GrowthAccelerator service in developing its structure and business plan and received £3,000 grant funding to carry out an IP audit.

On the back of this the company now has ambitious plans for expansion.

But, while no growth projections are a foregone conclusion – especially given the risky nature of the entertainment sector – Hall does draw confidence from his work with Leeds-based consultancy Dubit.

The company researches and builds digital experiences for kids’ brands and lists the BBC, Sky, Viacom and Kelloggs among its clients.

It takes a ‘kid-centric’ approach to game >> developments, focusing on how young people engage with products.

It is working with Antyx to help it de-risk its products by involving children in the development of ideas and using its various testing methods.

As Antyx grows it is likely to have a permanent presence in the same office space on Wellington Road as Dubit.

After creating the concept for the Learning Monster, with help from illustrator Matthew Robson and CGI animator Jamie White – both based in Leeds and now involved in Antyx – he sold it to Welsh TV station S4C.

“I was very excited. I presented to the women who commissioned Teletubbies and I got a cheque for £10,000, which isn’t bad for
an idea.

“They took an option to develop it but unfortunately they ran out of money and didn’t develop it, so my idea was tied up for three years.”

While Hall’s day job as a business turnaround specialist working with major organisations continued, he pursued the animation business in the background. But only in the small amount of time around his career and duties as a father of three.

“I got my rights back on Learning Monster about eight years ago but decided to put it on the shelf to develop Phobes.”

At this point he hands me a leather-bound black book and says: “You’re looking at £80,000 worth of book there.”

It is the script for Phobes, which Hall commissioned to the pair of writers behind the 2011 animated British movie, Gnomeo and Juliet, featuring voices from Hollywood A-listers like James McAvoy and Jason Statham.

“It was based on my hypnosis work and is about overcoming fear of things. I also felt it’s very commercial because you’ve got something like 2,300 registered phobias in the world which gives you unlimited scope
for characters.

“It started off as an idea for a TV show but then I thought it might make a great movie. I remember somebody told me ‘there’s no way you’ll ever make a film’ and I just thought ‘why not? What’s stopping me?”

The premise – an island populated by creatures which accentuate the phobias of children – is underpinned by Hall’s experiences with accelerated learning. But it was inspired by his own children.

“We were on holiday in France and my daughter was learning how to swim. She got in the pool and started swimming across the water and was doing well. Then my eldest daughter shouted ‘you haven’t got your armbands on’ and then she just sunk as was petrified from that minute. So she developed a phobic reaction to water. People who are phobic learn very quickly to associate with a reaction. So the film is about getting over your fear and laughing at it.”

It took two years to get the project to the script stage and Antyx is now partnering with one of the largest visual effects businesses in Europe, London-based Cinesite, to produce the movie – with work starting on pre-production in October.

“We have the script and now need to do the visuals. Then we can take that to a sales agent who will look to sell distribution rights before it’s made.”

It will have a production budget of around £20m, assuming it is sold successfully.

“It’s not an easy thing to put the budget together and that will take some time,” says Hall, whose business will effectively own 75% of that project, to Cinesite’s 25%.

“Cinesite has a 150 animators and about £10m of kit,” he says.

“Commercially it really depends on how good the film is. It has to be a good story, which is why we’ve invested heavily on the script.

“My worst fear was, what if I spend all this money and I get it and it’s s**t. But I was really happy with it. I was flying off to Austria for work and read it on the place in two hours solid – and I don’t read much.”

Raising money for companies is something Hall has a wealth of experience in, but on this project he has enlisted an external expert who is confident that distribution deals will
be found.

“We’ve got a great script and a great
partner – Cinesite has worked on Harry Potter, Skyfall, John Carter, so they know what
they’re doing.”

Away from what Hall calls the sexy part of the business, the other potential revenue earners are the Monster Project and Fantums.

Based on Learning Monster, the Monster Project will be an interactive world where children can play games with other children. Around £500,000 of funds have been allocated to the building of the site which is based on a “freemium” model – giving players free access to standard games with an option to pay to upgrade to a premium level.

Fantums will be an online-only cartoon series which can be downloaded for a fee of £1.89 per episode.

Longer term, Hall sees the potential to create virtual worlds out of Fantums and Phobes, while he is also keen to explore product-placement opportunities within those worlds.

“TV is absolutely not the business model we’re going down. What I learned from S4C is that you give your rights away and then it’s in someone else’s hands. So you don’t get the opportunity to do exactly what you want to do with it. With technology being what it is today, we can put together a cartoon series for £40,000 for the first episode and £30,000 for the following episodes. That’s about half the price you would pay for broadcast, but this will be broadcast quality. We hope that’s the way the industry is moving. You’d have to spend over a £1m to make 13 episodes of a TV series, and you might put it out and no-one buys it. So you have to be very cautious with what you do and can’t be as creative.

“If we can build up a huge customer base with the Monster Project, we will have a big audience to sell into. We can turn episodes round in a month and the key is if it doesn’t work we can switch it off. If we’re going to do that we’re going to need a stream of ideas. Antyx will be the creative house which creates the ideas.”

With three other ideas in development, including one for very young children and something “Derren Brown related” for older kids, Antyx certainly looks to have many exciting episodes ahead.