This week, we’re shining the spotlight on Aardman’s Head of Production HR, Natalie Collier. Celebrating 15 years at the studio, Natalie shares her proudest moments and projects, and reveals how her role has progressed over time.
How did you start out in the industry and what role or roles have you had while working at Aardman?
Following my degree in Psychology I got my first HR role working in the postal service. I was there for five years starting in an admin role and was managing a team of 12 by the time I left taking voluntary redundancy. I started at Aardman 15 years ago on a three month temporary contract, during the final months of Wallace & Gromit: Curse of the Were-Rabbit. I started in an admin role and then was promoted to HR Advisor, Senior HR Advisor, HR Manager and, most recently, Head of Production HR. I studied part time for three years while working full time to get Chartered Membership of CIPD, which was tough but all the assignments and endless exams were worth it. I finished just before finding out I was pregnant with my first child.
To date, what has been your biggest professional achievement?
It has to be sitting with all the crew at any of the premieres I’ve been lucky enough to go to and seeing my name come up on the big screen. To know that in some way the work I do (and love) has helped to support all the amazing crew that work tirelessly on our productions. They are the hardest working, professional, talented and warm hearted bunch of people to work with. I’m not embarrassed to say it brings a tear to my eye.
Name three people who inspire you and why:
This is such a difficult one to answer. I couldn’t possibly come up with just three people. I’m inspired on a daily basis by all the hard work and creative talent that I am surrounded by every day. It would have to be each and every one of the crew. In 15 years I have never thought ‘I don’t want to go to work’ and that is because of the atmosphere at the studio and all the people there. Cheesy, maybe? True, absolutely.
Tell us what a typical day is like for you…
It starts at 6am when any one of my three kids has woken up bright and early, ready to start the day and the getting ready for school fun starts! First thing when I arrive is a coffee from the studio canteen, can’t start anything until I have that in my hand! A typical day will involve talking to people, lots of people. There are always emails to reply to, meetings and phone calls. I could be holding interviews, attending a focus group meeting, discussing adverts for up-coming productions, dealing with a pay/rate query or listening to someone that needs support. I am also a deputy on the Partner Rep Group and a Mental Health First Aider. Each day is different and some days it can mean that I haven’t sat down at my desk, even though I’ve been in for an hour, as I am chatting to lots of different people. I can guarantee though that every day there is always laughter which keeps us all going.
How has your role changed since lockdown and what challenges have you faced while working from home?
Lockdown was tough. I was working from home full time for 15 weeks and trying to home school my three children who are 11, eight and five. Some days home schooling went ok, others were a complete write-off. I had to accept that any work I could get them to do would be better than nothing. Screen time went up significantly, especially when I had numerous daily Zoom meetings. I had some lovely emails, phone calls and texts from crew throughout that really kept me going. The timing would always be on one of my bad days and it meant the world. Another lifeline were regular coffee break Zoom chats with work friends (you know who you are, and thank you). I definitely missed (and still do) the infamous Wednesday roast dinner. I hope Alistair, Ibrahima and Stu are back at the studio soon, it isn’t the same without them in the canteen. Also my recycling needed to be put out under cover of darkness as a few drinks in the evening were a lockdown highlight!
What do you like most about working at Aardman?
The people, most definitely. I am talking to people and helping them every day and never forget how lucky I am to work for such an amazing company with the best crew there is.
What’s your all-time favourite project that you’ve been involved with and why?
It would have to be The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists! We had such a large crew that the building and car park were packed to the rafters. Every day was unbelievably busy and there was always something going on. Also I had my eldest son when we got green lit, three years later we wrapped and I left on maternity leave to have my daughter. It was a crazy few years.
What advice would you give to your younger self about getting into the industry/your field?
To never stay at a company when you are no longer enjoying it. When you aren’t getting anything enjoyable out of the role anymore you need to move on and make the break. My previous workplace taught me a great deal about how to deal with challenging personalities and how to win people over to a different point of view. But it wasn’t enjoyable and I probably should have left earlier than I did. I would recommend becoming CIPD qualified as so many roles expect that as a pre-requisite. It has helped me enormously in terms of confidence and shows an employer than you know what you are on about.
Who is your favourite Aardman character and why?
It would have to be Shaun. He’s cheeky and always up to trouble but has a heart of gold.