Lauren Orme and Dani Abram are a team of freelance animators living and working in Cardiff. Together, they run Picl – an independent animation studio based at The Sustainable Studio – and are also involved in organising the bi-monthly Cardiff Animation Nights and the biennial Cardiff Animation Festival. One year into their joint freelancing venture, we caught up with Laren and Dani at Picl HQ to find out more about their journey into animation, their collaborative relationship and their upcoming projects.
For people who don’t know you, who are Lauren and Dani? Tell us a bit about your background.
Dani: Hello! I am Dani and I have a Lancashire accent! I’m a worried, over-thinking, creative hermit and I love animation with all my heart and soul. I was formed in the North West of England but I have spent most of my animation career down south, moving to Cardiff around four years ago. I think that move has had the most impact on my life so far! It has literally changed everything.
Lauren: I’m Lauren, I love animation, music and long walks on the beach. I grew up in the West Midlands countryside but I’ve lived in Cardiff for nine years now. I love Cardiff – as a capital city it’s got lots going on, but it’s also small enough that having an impact feels possible, and as quite a young city it feels like things are happening and changing here all the time.
What are your most vivid childhood memories?
Dani: All the best memories involve being outside and finding things in nature to marvel at. My mum was a night-shift worker when I was growing up, so most of my days and holidays were training to be extremely quiet inside the house. I think when we were let out we must have gone feral because I can remember so many trees, woods, ponds, newts, mice, grasshoppers and ice-creams on hills.
Lauren: My first memory is potato printing at nursery, on a table away from everyone else because I’d been naughty. I still love making pictures using convoluted analogue processes, and I still like misbehaving.
How did you get into animation as a profession? What were your journeys like?
Lauren: I did an animation degree at the University of Wales, Newport, and went freelance straight out of uni rather than contracting at studios. So the start of my journey was mainly eating toast for all meals and trying not to spend any money. It took me a few years to build up a client base and get a reliable amount of work through word of mouth. Eventually I got some big enough projects to employ other freelancers – it was fun having room to collaborate and it gave me a little taste of what it might be like to run a company.
Dani: I had quite an opposite journey to Lauren – in that when I graduated from Swansea Metropolitan University I went straight into industry as a worker-bee! My first job was animating realistic faces for some computer games (Grand Theft Auto!) and from there I made my way into Children’s TV. I got a lot of experience animating in many different styles and made tons of contacts. Along the way, I always had the feeling that you could never be ‘heard’ as a worker-bee and I had ideas above my station!
Take us back to the beginning of your collaboration. When and in what context did you start working together?
Lauren: I met Dani after she came to an event I was running, and emailed me afterwards asking if she could help and if we could be best friends. We got together for a coffee and as soon as I met her I thought she was brilliant. We’ve been friends and have run events together ever since. A couple of years ago I was in the early stages of making an animated short film called Creepy Pasta Salad, with no real idea of how it would work technically, and thankfully Dani came on board and masterminded the whole technical side of it and did tons of brilliant animation for it. Seeing how well we worked together we dreamed about running our own studio, and finally made it happen last summer. The film took forever and we finished it this year! It just had its first festival screening at Edinburgh Film Festival.
Dani: Yeh we started working together on running animation events first, rather than working as animators together. It wasn’t until an opportunity to enter a 48 hour animated film competition came up that we thought it’d be so much fun to enter and make something together! We ended up winning that competition with our film Tiny Encounters and from that moment, for me, it was just a matter of time until the next thing. The next thing was Creepy Pasta Salad and the next thing after that was a Limited Company!
Tell us a bit about your collaborative relationship. How do you influence each other and what are the most striking similarities between your visions?
Dani: I think our similarities are more ethos and culture than artistic style. We can mash our individual styles together to make something cool any time, but if we were misaligned on ethos I don’t think it would work. We always joke that we’re ‘communists on paper!’ We’re really hoping to create a work environment that promotes health and well-being, ideas and collaboration before anything else. We’re finding that a little struggle because we’re in our first year of business, and some dreams will just have to wait until there’s realistic revenue, but our vision definitely informs our decisions on which projects to take.
Lauren: Yeah, Dani nailed it! Our vision is to create a beautiful studio environment where people feel comfortable, creative, fulfilled and part of something special, and where we make great work. I feel like we’re working out how to get there as we go along together!
How would you define Picl’s voice in relation to other animation studios?
Dani: Nurturing and motherly?! Haha! I don’t quite know. We’re always wanting to hit an offbeat sense of humour and remain outside of the mainstream – hopefully we can keep that up whilst also growing the business and being able to employ people. We are so keen to keep a sense of fun throughout the day as well. We’ve both been through ‘burn out’ and we don’t want to pass that on!
Lauren: As far as our work goes we love animated comedy and making stuff that’s a bit weird. We’ve been really lucky that we’ve been able to take on projects that reflect our values around equality, mental health, and ways of creating a better future. As a studio we want to be really positive and kind people to work with/for.
Lauren: I started Cardiff Animation Nights nearly five years ago now – I’d been to Animateka animation festival in Slovenia, and Bradford Animation Festival (in Bradford) and had fallen in love with animation festivals. I wanted to run an animation festival in Cardiff but thought it would be smart to start smaller. So Cardiff Animation Nights started showing animated short films in the back room of a bar in Cardiff to about 30 people once every couple of months. For a while I was running it on my own, and one by one people got in touch about helping out with it – including Dani! Now we have a tight knit team of six, who all met and became friends through the Animation Nights – plus a bunch of other people who help with different things – and last year we finally ran our first Cardiff Animation Festival.
What would your advice be for someone wishing to pursue a career in animation?
Dani: Firstly: welcome! It’s the best! Can I get you a drink, sit down, is that a new blouse? Secondly: have courage, stay the course. It’s worthwhile and creatively fulfilling in ways I could never have imagined and I wouldn’t change one step on my journey. In the moments of panic, when you don’t know if you’ll ever make it, breathe deep and make something for yourself. Ooh, and be nice, we will find you.
Lauren: My advice is always do your networking – so much of my work has come from knowing someone who knows someone who’s looking for an animator. Go to events and festivals and make friends with people. Animators are some of the friendliest people around.
What do you do or where do you go to unwind and get inspired?
Lauren: To do what we want to do we mainly need to be in front of a computer, so I think we’re both usually longing to be outdoors. I love Cardiff because it’s so close to loads of amazing countryside. I try to meditate but I’m terrible at making time for it. And I still go to animation festivals as much as I can for inspiration.
Dani: Hehe, this is so tough because the business is so young, it’s almost our 100% focus. At the moment just a weekend at home is a goal. I think when we’re less full steam, my answer would be somewhere up the top of a big hill. I love Pembrokeshire and North Wales as a place to let the wind blow my worries away. I’m from the North West so I miss Pendle and the Ribble Valley a lot. Definitely longing to be outdoors!
What are three questions you don’t have an answer for?
Dani: What is the meaning of all this? Where do hair-grips go? Which Gallagher Brother is the best?
Lauren: How can we make Cardiff a better place? How can we stop climate change and save the world? How old is too old to binge Harry Potter audio books?
What are you currently working on?
Lauren: We’re making a series for S4C, which is airing from August, along with a few smaller projects.
What’s next for you? Can you give us a sneak peak into your upcoming projects?
Lauren: We’re coming up on the milestone of one year running Picl, and we’ve just finished some big projects, so we’re trying to find some room to take a little breather and spend some time looking at where we want to go with Picl and how we want to get there.
Dani: We talk a lot about developing our own IP or style as well, it would be lovely to use a breather to return to that and start scratching that personal work itch while also working on the future of the studio. Also Lauren said it’s my turn to make a film next so I’m furiously scrambling to try to come up with something as good as Creepy Pasta Salad!