Passion Pictures celebrates its 30th birthday this year. Founder Andrew Ruhemann looks back at three decades in the production business
When I think back to the start of Passion, back to 1987, the Production Industry felt very different. People refer to it now as “the golden age” and since we were specifically focused on animation, we had our own niche part of that.
I got started with a lucky break from animation legend Richard Williams. I was working with him whilst animation was going through a sort of renaissance. The only place animating on a really big scale was Disney so working for Richard meant working for the best in town. We were mainly working on commercials until Steven Spielberg himself walked into our offices with Roger Rabbit and I was lucky enough to be there when it happened. The company expanded from there and after the production finished, there were a lot of really great animators looking for work and Passion grew naturally from that.
I was 23 with no real intentions of setting up a company but I was living at home with no overheads. I could afford to take risks and I did. I can still remember the thrill of booking our first commercial, for Count Chocula, there were just three of us in a room and we had to start ringing directors. We didn’t know if it was going to fly but Richard had set a really high benchmark for quality of work and calibre of directors. It was a baptism of fire but thanks to Richard I had lots of confidence that I knew my stuff.
At the same time, the public perception of animation was changing. Aardman, The Simpsons, South Park and Spielberg with Roger Rabbit, all were succeeding in opening people’s eyes to animation. On a different side of things, Passion has been a part of that too. There have been some real markers along the way that felt like tidal shifts; the move from optical to digital, the advent of CGI animation.
For us you can track that journey with the development of the Gorillaz. That’s a project we’ve been involved with since the start and from the first videos where we were animating in a very traditional way, through the digital revolution and now into the Virtual Reality world. Jamie, Damon and Pete Candeland devised a very iconic technique that showed a whole new perspective on animation that has stayed relevant for 2o years and we’ve grown and changed alongside it.
Nowadays, the industry is a very different place and the advertising landscape has changed. Back then, agencies did what agencies did. They were the bridge between clients and productions companies. That’s not the case anymore – we can’t function within those constraints because the market’s changed and the lines are blurring. I sleep easy at night because I can come back to our core and look at what we do as a company: we’re really good storytellers. That’s what we specialise in. If you always come back to that, those blurred boundaries aren’t so scary. We’ll keep doing what we’re doing because there’s always a real demand for great stories and characters within them, whether that be a 30 second commercial or a 90-minute feature. In many ways we no longer think in those terms, it’s all about the story and finding the right way to tell it.
We’ve been an independent company for 30 years and we’re well prepared for the next 30. The team we have built are all part of the Passion way of seeing things. What excites me about the future is nurturing new talent. I feel a real responsibility to do that so I take it very seriously. From our position, you can sometimes see people taking the wrong road, creatively, so I watch that very closely. So far that’s the thing I’m most proud of, the bringing up of young talent. I can attribute that all the way back to Richard Williams and the start he gave me. It gives me confidence that we have a great future ahead of us.