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Working like clockwork

by Chris Newbould on Aug 28, 2012

Transformers Kreo: More than meets the eye.
Transformers Kreo: More than meets the eye.
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Clockwork VFX has been building international bridges with animations for some of the world’s best known toy, movie and cartoon franchises.

lockwork VFX has been quietly building a reputation for itself in Dubai for the last eight years. It may not be the best known local animation or FX house, but its work is surely some of the best known work internationally of any producer in the region.

Thanks to its relationship with Hasbro, Clockwork is responsible for the animated adventures that accompany the toymaker’s Transformers Kreo building sets, it has created and animated a set of adventures following the adventures of the ‘Doh-Dohs’ to advertise the firm’s Playdoh range, and perhaps most impressively it is currently working on the ad campaign for a new range of mini Star Wars figures.

How did a Dubai company win the chance to animate for some of the biggest selling franchises in recent movie history? It should perhaps come as no surprise that the Clockwork story itself reads like a Hollywood script, as MD Jason Tomlins explains: “The three of us that started the company – myself, [VFX director] Marc and [producer] Mia were all working at a company called Atomic in Capetown. We’d been there two years and just didn’t feel it was going anywhere.

The work was really hard going – 20 hour days with your toothbrush by your desk. Of the employees there, Sharlto Copley and Neil Blomkamp went on to star in and direct District 9, Simon Hansen was recently VFX supervisor on Chronicle and another former staffer is now CG supervisor at Blur Studio in LA. The time we spent there was invaluable, although it was tough!

“We’d been talking to some people in Dubai, and understood there were opportunities here. The company we were at didn’t want to expand overseas, so we decided to give it a go by ourselves.

We arrived with three laptops and one contact in the local industry - Shane at Boomtown Productions - and enough money for one month in a room in a villa.

We picked up a small job thanks to Boomtown, that allowed us to purchase more powerful machines and we slowly developed from there. We got a little place in The Springs, then a villa in The Meadows that became our HQ.

“I remember the marketing director of GM Motors coming to The Meadows, fully suited up with his entourage in two SUVs and sitting on our IKEA sofa pointing out changes to the ad we were working on on our old CRT TV.

They loved the work, but they couldn’t get their heads round the surroundings at all – we were always having to assure people that we were in the process of building the company up.”

The building up has certainly gone well. The company’s current DSC HQ is far more the sort of thing Clockwork’s blue chip clients were perhaps expecting, with 15 full time staff, an in-house editing suite with FCP and Premier packages, a museum collection of models of some of the best-known characters the company has animated, and that ultimate sign of a successful media organisation – a pool table.

It could have been very different though, Tomlins explains: “The recession hit us hard. Prior to that we did a lot of work in this region, and had a really strong relationship with Leo Burnett, but when the recession hit we lost 90 per cent of our local contracts in the space of 30 days.

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