We talked to Daniel Waterman of Carse & Waterman Productions, a Stoke-on-Trent-based Animation, and Visual Effects company, and he had the following to say:-
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Daniel Waterman: We have had some lows but also some highs, but I am overall very thankful, and my parents have just had their first Covid vaccine, so that’s exciting.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Carse & Waterman Productions.
Daniel Waterman: In 2009, I started Carse & Waterman Productions, a Stoke-on-Trent-based Animation and Visual Effects company with my business partner Gary Carse. We were students at the time and didn’t really know what we are doing. 11 Years later, we now employ 7 staff and have a highly respected business within our industry working with the local community to support digital skill education in Stoke-on-Trent.
How does Carse & Waterman Productions innovate?
Daniel Waterman: We constantly have to be innovative to keep up with our fast-moving industry, be it a new hair-solving solution for our characters or data-management solutions. Some years, certain staff members might spend as much as 80% on R&D rather than commercial projects to make sure we are working to the highest standard people come to expect, and that is often based on the work of Disney and companies alike.
We are currently working on developing an Unreal Animation pipeline which is new for us to use a game engine to create animation, but it can speed up very time-consuming processes and could be a game-changer as we look to enter the Kids TV Market.
How does the coronavirus pandemic affect your business finances?
Daniel Waterman: As a business, we have two strands; we work with corporate clients offering high-end Business Communication as well as high-end content for TV, Film, and entertainment. Overall our Business Communication work and Kids’ TV Animation have carried us through, whereas the Visual Effects work has been limited. At the end of last year, we were excited to be on set for our first feature film in 9 Months providing VFX as well as our team is currently busy working on VFX for a popular Saturday night TV Show.
In March 2020, we lost about 70% of our client work; it was a challenging time as so many businesses just didn’t know what was happening.
We thankfully were able to finish the projects we had and were able to put the rest of the staff on furlough. I think we had our entire staff on furlough for about 2 months, April and May, and then come June, we slowly started to open up again.
It certainly has affected us overall in good and bad ways, but thankfully the government support available really helped our staff and us through the most difficult times. We are very close to being back to pre-pandemic ways other than everyone is working from home.
Did you have to make difficult choices regarding human resources, and what are the lessons learned?
Daniel Waterman: Our staff are so important to us, so when this happened, my business partner and I knew we had to put them first.
Thankfully because we work digitally, we were able to get back to normal quickly in comparison to so many companies, which has been a gift to us. Our staff have been really supportive of our challenges and have had a very odd year, including one member of staff who was on furlough for 9 months and another for 10 Months.
We assured them every step of the way that we are fighting to get back on our feet with no job losses, and we are a small and agile enough business to ride the wave with the support of furlough.
How did your customer relationship management evolve? Do you use any specific tools to be efficient?
Daniel Waterman: Our client relationship management hasn’t changed that much; we have always worked with clients at a distance, so for them, nothing changed really, we always used Vimeo for Video Review, Email, and Phone for communication, and We Transfer to send large data files, so we had everything there already. Internally we use Slack for client management, so that also hasn’t changed.
I think the only difference for clients is with our staff on furlough; it did mean for a few months we were working with only fragments of our whole team, so that brought challenges, but now we are back to normal.
Did you benefit from any government grants, and did that help keep your business afloat?
Daniel Waterman: Yes, their grants have been a real-life line for us. It was pretty frustrating when the furlough scheme lacked flexibility last year as we just couldn’t pitch for work as we had no staff available to do the design work needed to get back on our feet.
But I think in August 2020, that changed, and the scheme has worked much better for us, and over time that flexibility allowed us to become less reliant on it overall.
Your final thoughts?
Daniel Waterman: It has been a challenging time, but thankfully we had the infrastructure in place to support home working for our team. During the first lockdown, we moved to a new office that had been planned Pre-Covid, and we are looking forward to getting back in the office but allowing flexible working, which is something we really struggled to offer before, so it has been a great opportunity to evolve and make Carse & Waterman stronger and more agile.
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