Electric Theatre Collective - In the Spotlight

With Jon Purton, MD, ETC

18 January 2023

The talents that tread the boards of the Electric Theatre Collective are star players and stage magicians in VFX, CGI, animation, 2D and 3D, colour grading and production – and all this across film, music videos and advertising, adding that special twist of imagination to the craft of elevating a scene on any screen you can name, from the ones that fit in your pocket to screens big enough to drive a truck through. ETC first opened its doors back in 2011 with a staff of four, but now with almost 120 in The Electric Theatre Collective’s roster, they still put creative opportunity above financial gain, their vision encompassing the outer reaches of imagination and craft mixed with the polish and finesse of technical expertise. The first MD in ETC’s history, Jon Purton, joined the company in 2017, and became MD in 2021 overseeing the launch of ETC’s new internal creative unit, Electric Studios.

So, Jon, how has the past year been for you?

Apart from Boris being a prat, Yvon Chouinard [founder of Patagonia] restored our faith in humanity. But politics aside, we’ve had a great year. We’re super-proud of what the studio has accomplished in 2022.

What’s the big takeaway you’d carry over to 2023?

Boris is a prat. But also, we are incredibly fortunate to work in an industry that is never mundane.

What’s the best idea you had in 2022 and how did it work out?

We built two fully functional beer taps in the studio. That felt like a good idea. We grew our amazing team with some more brilliant people. The simple ideas are often the best. Lastly, we launched our design and animation space, Electric Studios, which is surpassing even our high expectations. So three things really.

What were the change-making developments in craft and tech?

For better or for worse, the seismic change-maker feels like the advancements and accessibility in machine learning. It feels like the wider industry is just at the beginning of understanding how this technology works, can work and how it can be applied to the creative industries.

Then, before we really harness it, it will have evolved again. We’re using AI as a project tool under a number of guises, both under-the-hood and for creative generation. However, it stokes moral quandaries and concerns and has created a swell of polarised debate in the creative community. It’s a deep and tangled conversation but regardless of where you stand, it seems fairly evident that next year (and beyond) will yield some interesting uses of the technology.

How has ideation and creativity evolved and responded to the real-world challenges of a very challenging 2022?

I think now, more than ever, brands are needing to tap into the psyche and the mood of the world (which is a hard thing to do when everyone is in their own echo chamber). Some of the best briefs that we’ve seen this year do this without overthinking it or overcomplicating it.

Will remote and hybrid ways of working continue to be the industry norm, and how may that impact the work, how it’s done and who’s doing it?

Again, a polarising topic, but one that we have a stance on. If the post-pandemic world has taught us anything, it’s that you are only as good as your people. For Electric, hybrid works. It’s not perfect, but rather than looking backwards, we’re preferring to plough our energy into shaping and improving hybrid workflows – both in terms of technology and in terms of the human experience. As the naysayers say, ‘There are some times where there is no substitute for being in the same room, when it comes to creativity’, and that’s totally right. But we find that the carrot is much better than the stick, and by giving responsibility to our team, they make the right calls on when the round table needs to be wheeled out.

What would you choose as the year’s best campaigns or pieces of work, and why?

We will try to not be indulgent and list the jobs that we’ve worked on, however, we have to throw in one or two.

From the top:

B&Q, Flip, directed by Oscar Hudson at Pulse Films: A really clear idea in the script; a really massive production, pulled off under inordinately tricky circumstances by Oscar and Pulse; and a really huge VFX feat, achieved in a schedule that did not seem possible.

B&Q, Flip, directed by Oscar Hudson at Pulse Films

Pharrell Williams, Cash In Cash Out, Directed by Francois Rousselet at Division: A hugely creative brief that takes music videos back to what they should be – visual spectacles that push the boundaries and aren’t contained by a specific strategy. A really distinct and original look.

Pharrell Williams, Cash In Cash Out, Directed by Francois Rousselet at Division

Womens Aid, He’s coming home House 337, Directed by Sara Dunlop at The Corner Shop: Really clear idea, brilliantly executed from sound through to picture. In a year of films that tapped into the turmoil in the world, this just feels like a perfect example of a crystalised idea being central to everything.

Womens Aid, He’s coming home – House 337, Directed by Sara Dunlop at The Corner Shop

CALM, The Last Photo, Adam& Eve DDB, directed by Max Fisher at Rogue: No explanation required.

CALM, The Last Photo, Adam& Eve DDB, directed by Max Fisher at Rogue

Which Christmas campaign in 2022 won you over?

Boots, Joy for All, directed by Si&Ad is an unapologetically happy and fun campaign that hit the mark for us. For some light and shade, The Rift for Penny’s, directed by Seb Edwards, is insanely brilliant.

What was the biggest surprise of 2022?

It wasn’t necessarily a surprise, but something we’re so proud of is the resilience of our studio. The world is a strange and turbulent place at the minute and we’ve managed to continue to grow, improve and create great work. But the biggest and worst surprise was probably that football did not, in fact, come home.

What trends do you see emerging as we focus on the coming year?

Bootcut jeans and Adidas Gazelles.

But in all seriousness, we’d love to see a continuation of the mixed media style that combines multiple approaches, mainly because we get to flex across multiple disciplines. Lots of new and emerging tech is ripe for shaping into the creative process, so there will definitely be some surprising visual results in 2023.

What do the British Arrows mean to you, what’s their role in the industry and what’s the impetus behind becoming a sponsor?

The Arrows continue to be the awards thread that underpins the industry. Synonymous with excellence, what Lisa and the team pull off every year is exceptional. It’s an establishment and still holds immense value and fondness for all of the industry and we still consider ourselves lucky to have the chance to be a sponsor.

What do you think will win commercial of the year?!

Hopefully something that we’ve been a part of, but failing that – we wouldn’t want to speculate amongst such a brilliant slate of work.

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