This week, we’re shining the spotlight on Aardman Attractions & Live Experiences Project Manager, Julia Bell. Read on to find out how her work has changed since lockdown, and her top tips for getting into the industry.
How did you start out in the industry and what is your role at Aardman?
I moved to London when I finished university and was fortunate enough to get an internship at Tate, which led to a Production Assistant role working on the Tate Movie Project. This was a collaboration between Tate, Aardman and BBC to create an animated film made entirely from artwork done by children, the result of which was the short film The Itch of the Golden Nit.
Next I joined the team at Southbank Centre, as a Marketing & Press Assistant promoting exhibitions, stage shows and concerts. After that I worked at Netflix as Marketing Coordinator for UK & Ireland, promoting original series, films and documentaries.
I relocated to Bristol in 2017 and started working at Aardman on the Attractions and Live Experiences team where I manage a variety of events and exhibitions based on our brands and characters. It’s a really unique role, and our work is constantly evolving as we get new briefs coming in, which keeps things fresh and interesting. I can’t think of anything else that could combine my arts, film, events and marketing experience quite so well, so I’m pretty lucky really!
What’s your favourite project that you’ve been involved with and why?
An ongoing project that I really enjoy managing is our workshops programme, which includes model making workshops, storyboarding workshops, and corporate away days. The sessions are super popular, and go down really well with pretty much everyone – both kids and adults – so quite a big part of it is just getting the word out and pitching them to the right event organisers.
The workshops are a nice mix of being creative, entertaining and educational, and our crew who run them are absolute pros. It’s a really lovely offering, and people seem to get so much joy out of the sessions. I get sent a lot of nice feedback from our bookers, as well as teachers and parents who’ve attended the workshops with their children. It feels really rewarding to have helped facilitate getting kids interested in animation and explore their artistic side!
We get a really wide variety of bookers, and I’ve worked with some brilliant clients. We run events all over the country (and usually a handful of international dates too) most often from schools, universities, museums and various other attractions. We also do a lot of festivals – I think we’ve been part of almost all the big family-friendly ones in the last couple of years, which feels like quite an achievement. I’ve managed to blag a few free tickets too, which is obviously a nice perk!
Name three people who inspire you:
I really admire the way that Grayson Perry aims to make art accessible for people from all walks of life, rather than enjoyed by a privileged few. This is something that’s so important at a time when arts funding continues to be cut and deprioritised in the UK. He has a genuine interest in the people he meets, taking modern social issues as the inspiration to his art projects, and he does so in a way that is humorous, empathetic and makes for very entertaining TV.
I was a big fan of hers before coronavirus hit, admiring her activism and her progressive and compassionate approach to leadership. Watching how she is steering her country through the worst crisis in living memory with such integrity, practicality and kindness is truly impressive. I’m envious of New Zealanders!
I think Michaela Coel is a fantastically talented storyteller. She has a gift for writing deeply relatable, yet non-stereotypical characters, and she portrays them with extraordinary nuance and wit. I loved her most recent show I May Destroy You, and look forward to seeing what she does next.
Tell us what a typical day is like for you…
Like a lot of people in the UK, I’ve been working from home since March when lockdown began. This took a little while to get used to, but now that everyone has got the hang of the various video conferencing tech, it feels like this new way of working is now second nature.
When I log on, most days I have a catch up with my team first thing where we talk about any new developments to projects we’re working on and anything that may have come up the day before that we’d like to discuss. We also have regular meetings a few times a week with the other teams in our department, to showcase what we’re working on, and make sure we’re all aligned and maximising on any possible cross-team opportunities. It’s difficult at the moment without the usual social interactions you’d get in the office just from chatting to people in close proximity to you, so it’s important to make the time to check in with each other.
The rest of my day is mostly spent liaising with clients about the progress of various projects and making sure that everything is running smoothly from our side. This is usually things like managing branding and design approvals, making sure that we have all the necessary crew, assets and resources designated for each project, and sorting out any paperwork.
On a personal level, a benefit of home working is that I have a little more time in the day. I’ve started doing yoga every morning before I start work (I highly recommend Yoga with Adriene) which feels good for my mental wellbeing, as well as physical. I’ve also taken up going running a few evenings a week, and have joined an online book club. All things that I had been meaning to do for ages!
How has your role changed since lockdown?
By this time of year, we’d usually be right in the middle of festival season, which is normally really busy for us, but 2020 has obviously been very different. Since large gatherings still aren’t currently possible, many of my projects have had to be postponed.
In response to this something that we have recently started offering is digital versions of our workshops. The essence of the sessions are the same, but they can now be hosted via video conferencing programmes, such as Zoom. We’ve had a really positive response so far and there’s definitely still a demand for creative, tactile activities, so we’re hoping to run a lot more of these in the next few months.
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I’m also spending more time researching potential new opportunities for the future, looking out for clients and partners that may be a good fit for our brands and might want to work with us when events are full operational again (and hopefully Covid-19 and social distancing are a thing of the past).
What do you like most about working at Aardman?
Working on fun, interesting projects, and working with intelligent, talented people.
To date, what has been your biggest professional achievement?
We ran an exhibition at M Shed last summer called Animating Early Man. It was pretty extensive, featuring 8 original sets from the film, a selection of puppets and props, concept artwork and behind-the-scenes videos, with lots of fun interactive activities for kids.
It was the first major exhibition that I managed, and I learnt so much from working on the project. It feels especially rewarding when the result of your efforts is something tangible that you can actually visit and see people enjoying.
What’s your best advice for people wanting to get into the industry?
I didn’t take a very straightforward path to the role I’m in now. I tried out quite a lot of different things before I found my way. The best advice I would give for someone just starting out is to get some practical work experience in the areas that you’re most interested in. It doesn’t matter if you don’t get it right the first time, it’s all a valuable learning experience.
Who is your favourite Aardman character and why?
I’ve always loved Shaun. As a true child of the 90s, I had the Shaun backpack when I was little (famously worn by Emma Bunton during peak Spice Girls fame). Shaun is fun, creative and has visionary ideas. I like that he has a naughty side to him too, as it gives him a bit more edge than a lot of other kids’ characters.