In just over a year, Canada’s Brian Finlay has gone from sitting in his bedroom messing around in Flash on a laptop to heading up a 30-person studio that’s about to produce its first original property with L.A.’s Head Start Entertainment.
Dartmouth, Nova Scotia’s Wetsand Animation began life as a one-man freelance shop in early 2003. Finlay turned his eyes south to the U.S. to secure clients in need of Flash animation service work, relying heavily on word of mouth since he didn’t have any money to advertise his skills. One client that has stuck by Wetsand since those very early days is Austin, Texas-based Eyeland Studios, which has teamed up with the Canuck outfit on many projects, most recently a music video for Dav Pilkey’s property Captain Underpants.
Fortunately, these early clients talked up Finlay’s Flash skills, and business picked up really quickly. He soon found himself working until the wee hours designing animation and drawing up a plan for his future. ‘It’s 1 a.m., and I’m sitting on my bed working on my laptop, saying, ‘Yes, I’m going to make an empire,” he laughs. ‘An empire with a laptop!’
In September 2003, Finlay landed a service contract with Pennsylvania’s Camp Chaos to help animate an adult-skewed VH1 project, the revenue from which helped move the Wetsand head office out of Finlay’s bedroom and into a proper studio with 13 full-time employees. In order to give his staff tools to work with, Finlay drained his savings to finance some equipment – a scary first move, but one that’s helped him keep his service costs down. ‘I paid cash for everything, so I don’t have to worry about paying leases on my equipment,’ he says. Within months of opening the studio, he signed deals with Warner Bros. to animate a 10-minute episode of Mucha Lucha and with Hasbro to create conceptual Flash animation for Shrek and SpongeBob SquarePants video games.
Finlay firmly believes that the studio has grown as quickly as it has because of his dedication to the old-school, pencil-and-paper methodology that gave birth to Disney classics like The Jungle Book and Warner Bros.’ Looney Tunes shorts. And even though he uses the latest animation software, ‘I tell my animators, ‘Don’t rely on all the cheats the software can do. Treat every frame as a piece of paper. Redraw and give it that classical movement.” Finlay hopes to apply this traditional, skill-based animation as the company ramps up its 3-D output.
Finlay is expanding Wetsand’s remit beyond service work, heading into production with Head Start in Q1 on his first original animated project, Courageous Critters. Aimed at six- to 12-year-olds, the 2-D concept stars a group of mismatched but talented animals that protect the rights of all things furry against a powerful team of crime organizations in Acorn City. Critters will start life as a 44-minute DVD, and then develop into a 13 x 22-minute comedy-action series. Head Start has also commissioned Wetsand to animate its new Da Jammies! DVD series.
Needless to say, Finlay doesn’t work from his laptop anymore.