Tom and Jerry did more than make Drew Roper laugh as a child – they inspired him to start his own animation company with a little help from some Hollywood greats
Like all kids growing up Drew Roper enjoyed watching cartoons and animated stories on TV. Unlike most though, his love for the likes of Tom and Jerry, Wallace and Gromit and The Simpsons grew into a passion that has seen him set up his own animation business and studios in the heart of Birmingham. “I’d always dreamed of doing two things in life, having my own business or being a footballer. And I’d always loved everything to do with art and animation.” With the possibility of being a footballer being kicked firmly into touch, Drew successfully combined his other two ambitions by founding Yamination five years ago.
Based in the Custard Factory since 2011, Yamination has grown from a one-man band of just Drew to a core team of nine, producing animated films for commercial clients such as Coca-Cola and for entertainment with Sky TV. In production when we spoke was a project created for and backed by Sky called At-issue. The 10-minute film stars Bartholomew, a character that Drew says is loosely based on both him and Jarvis Cocker! The film, which looks ‘at issues’ in British culture through the central character, has been ongoing for two years, which is testament to just how incredibly intricate and involving the work of animation can be. Twenty-seven-year-old Drew and his team had to conceive the concept, make the models of Bartholomew and the sets he appears in – and then to make it really tough they chose to animate it using a complex mix of three methods. (Oh, and there was the small matter of winning the necessary £30,000 finance from Sky to help fund the thing!)
“The film features traditional 2D animation, like you’d see in hand-drawn Disney cartoons, with CGI animation like you’d see in Toy Story,” said Drew. “There’s also stop frame animation which is my speciality where you use puppets or models and film their movements frame by frame.” Characters such as Bartholomew – or ‘Bart’ as Drew calls him – take many months to model. “In days gone by models were made of clay or plasticine. But the hot lights used in filming today means they would melt pretty quickly. So Bart is made of a mix of resin and silicone rubber containing twisted wire so he can bend and move.” Drew, who as MD runs Yamination with business partner and model-making expert Yossel Simpson-Little, worked for a number of leading animation companies while setting up the studio. The pair first met together on the set of Hollywood blockbuster Fantastic Mr Fox. Their CV also includes working on the 2012 children’s TV series Shaun the Sheep by Aardmann Animations and Walt Disney’s Frankenweenie directed by cinema giant Tim Burton. “So much of what we do comes through building contacts and networking so more and more people know who we are what we do,” said Drew. “There are a lot of animation companies out there these days so it is very competitive. Fortunately I have that well-known Midlands vibe of not being afraid to shout about ourselves and being very friendly, which really helps.” That approachable, committed and highly talented image means that Yamination is going from strength to strength. As we spoke Drew, who lives in the Jewellery Quarter, was in the process of completing the paperwork to move into bigger premises in the Custard Factory. “What we do takes up a lot of room, what with the modeling, sets, filming and so on – we desperately need more space.”
Drew’s work has got him noticed in some pretty impressive circles, too. After previously winning funding from the Prince’s Trust, he was asked to become one of their ambassadors – and was shortlisted for the Trust’s Ambassador of the Year Award. So, it would appear that everything is set fair for the future of Yamination. “Currently we are growing very naturally, which is great. Over the next few years we want to continue that but really strive to increase our commercial work,” said Drew. “We also want to get a TV series off the ground which would be brilliant.” Brilliant indeed! And somehow the very name Yamination – derived from the term ‘yam yam’ which refers to people born in the Black Country – sounds like it was made for TV success.