A tour of Giant Ant

(guest post by Kirstin Smith)

As part of our Industry IQ class in our third term here at VFS, Digital Design students get the opportunity to visit several different interactive and motion studios in Vancouver. DD30 students were lucky enough to kick off these visits by heading to Chinatown to take a tour of Giant Ant. Yes, I said Giant Ant. Now I’ll give you a moment to catch your breath. You good? Okay.

If you don’t know their work, do yourself a solid and check it out. Giant Ant is a small team of visual storytellers. They design, illustrate and animate. They direct, shoot and edit. Not to mention, they compose music and sound for their work in house.

It’s no secret that I am a really (really, really) big fan of their work. I may or may not have let out what can only be described as a squeal when I heard we were going to visit their studio. The excitement was shared by my fellow classmates. In the days leading up to the visit, we all felt the anticipation build; we were looking forward to seeing the workplace of individuals we admired.

Upon entering Giant Ant we were greeted by the company’s co-creator Jay Grandin. After greeting us, he joked that our tour was nearly finished, as the entire studio was visible from where we were gathered in the front entrance. The space is small but beautiful. All wood and concrete, the studio embodies the same homemade aesthetic and feel present in much of Giant Ant’s work.

Jay led us to a meeting room where we met another member of the Giant Ant team, Matt James. The two gave us insight into their creative process, showing detailed storyboards and style frames from past work.

The work culture at Giant Ant is impressive. There is very little hierarchy between team members and roles often change throughout the duration of each project. This fluid approach allows for creativity to thrive in a comfortable environment.

There are, however, three very important rules at the studio:
1. Don’t miss deadlines.
2. Don’t be a jerk.
3. Put love in your work.

Simple and straight-forward. We may very well have to co-opt these rules to hang on the walls of our classroom.

Jay and his wife Leah Nelson began building Giant Ant based on the simple concept that they enjoy each other’s company and thought it would be fun to work together. The rest of the team has organically grown with this in mind. Like Jay said, don’t be a jerk; it is important to work with individuals you enjoy spending time with. That isn’t to say that talent and hard work don’t factor in as well. Giant Ant is a group of artists with a variety of skill sets and specialties (and there is no shortage of VFS grads!). They have a long list of clients, including a number of non-profits. Jay spoke to the power of Vimeo, saying that having their work readily available for anyone to see has brought in more of the work they want to do, freeing them from having to constantly pitch for projects.

When asked what he had learned over the past few years, Jay responded by saying that you should enjoy what you are doing in the moment, because it is always changing. Trends, technology and tastes are constantly in flux and you have to allow yourself to remain agile. Oh yeah, and get a bookkeeper.

Matt added that you should surround yourself by people who are smarter than you and never stop asking questions. At Giant Ant, first and foremost, they are storytellers. With each new project they strive to find the best way to tell that specific story. They don’t have all the answers at the start, but by making mistakes and constantly learning, they figure it out.

As a class, we left feeling inspired. There is comfort in knowing that we are on the right track here at Digital Design, immersed in what we love and surrounded by passionate instructors and eager classmates.

I know I speak on behalf of everyone in DD30 when I say how grateful we are to Giant Ant for allowing us the opportunity to take a look inside their small but mighty studio. And a special thanks to Jay and Matt for being so generous with their time as we held them hostage with our endless questions.


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