From award wins to landing international work, Eyebolls co-owners Rhona Drummond and Victoria Watson share how Scotland’s sense of community helped elevate creative
It’s a story we are all too familiar with… productions on hiatus, limited people on sets and ever-changing restrictions. Having to constantly move in and out of various lockdowns over the past 18 months had a huge impact on filming and production. But through times of struggle, it is those who band together and unite that usually come out the other end relatively unscathed.
In Scotland, Rhona Drummond and Victoria Watson, co-owners of creative production studio Eyebolls, have experienced just that. “Since the pandemic hit we have felt a real sense of community and support from everyone in the industry, in particular fellow producers and production companies,” says Rhona, who takes the role of executive managing producer at the company. “It was always there, but the pandemic has definitely strengthened it.”
Partner and executive creative producer Victoria Watson agrees: “The industry has become a bit more empathetic and human. If we have been too busy for projects, predominantly due to timings, we have passed them on and recommended other producers and companies. This has been a two way street, and we are all very grateful.”
Despite what could have been a quiet year for the Scottish production company, Eyebolls managed to turn things around, winning both a Gold Shark Award and a D&AD Pencil in this time.
“We won the Shark Award for Best Animated Short for Ladder To You,” Victoria says. “This is a real honour to win and we are very proud of it. Being Scottish, we are not great about shouting about our wins!” An octogenarian love story, Ladder To You follows the story of Eric, tired of life without his dear wife, Elsie. But in his darkest moment she shows him that true love never dies.
“The D&AD pencil was for VisitScotland, Scotland at Night,” Rhona adds. “VisitScotland is a fantastic client and we always love working on these projects. We are very proud to be Scottish so it makes it even more worthwhile and special. We were very privileged to work on Scotland at Night and manage the production alongside the very talented Aerial Frontiers and the wonderful creative team at Whitespace.”
With Difficulty Comes Opportunity
With live action production at a halt for the majority of 2020, many turned to animation as a solution, something that Eyebolls also specialises in. “Animation has always been one of our passions and focus, however the pandemic has allowed this part of our company to really grow, with new international clients and many new artists as well as plenty more in the pipeline,” Victoria reveals.
A repeat client, Ballie Gifford has collaborated with Eyebolls on a number of animations. Victoria shares: “It’s been a joy to work with Baillie Gifford, they really trust us with their ideas and concepts to pull together the right creative team. The work is always very different in style which is very exciting. The two pieces that stand out for us are HYB (Marbles film) and Disruption, both opposite ends of the animation spectrum; one very photo realistic CGI with abstract environments and the other very stylised, textural 2D.”
One such international client includes California-based BRC Imagination Arts who approached Eyebolls in December 2020 to pitch on a nine minute animation for Cardhu Distillery in Scotland. “They had tracked us down via The Edinburgh International Film Festival - where two of our shorts featured in the McLaren Awards for Animation. We pitched against one Scottish and two London production companies and were hugely grateful to win the job. It kept us very busy during the January-March 2021 lockdown!” Rhona details.
Pulling together a talented crew of 2D and 3D animators, Eyebolls delivered the project in record breaking time, leaving the team at BRC highly impressed, with director, Chris Pavlica leaving a glowing review: “Thanks so much for your hard work, creative touches, and openness for feedback - all with a smile! When we started the project, we were crossing our fingers that we could discover a company who encompassed all of those things. The hard work and openness to feedback are traits that can be hard to come by, but even more elusive are the high-level creative contributions. You have it all and we’ve been making sure everyone at BRC knows what you bring to the table. You are a joy to work with and went the extra mile MANY times on this project and we’re very grateful. I can’t wait for audiences to see what we’ve all created.”
“It was a fabulous project as we were able to work with such a prestigious company and to bring together the ‘cream of the crop’ crew for the production - all of whom were Scottish,” Rhona says. “The timings were incredibly tight but we pulled it off. The team worked really hard and helped make it the special piece of work that it is – now all you need to do is visit Cardhu in Speyside and enjoy the experience!”
“Working with BRC Imagination Arts then led us to work on interior films and audio recordings for the amazing Johnnie Walker Princes Street Visitor Experience – this is a visitor experience not to miss – next time you are in Edinburgh you must book to go and see it.”
On the artist and director side, Victoria’s sense of community was strengthened when she had the opportunity to collaborate with fellow school colleague and pioneer of the adult colouring book trend, Johanna Basford. For her latest release, Worlds of Wonder, Random Penguin House enlisted Victoria to direct the stop-motion spot. “It was an absolute dream job for me - totally up my street, bringing together a lot of my passions: drawing, colouring, paper craft and stop-motion animation. As always, I like to combine in-camera techniques with post production trickery to create a truly fantastical piece of work, bringing Johanna’s intricate and beautiful illustrations to life."
Victoria also enjoyed directing an experimental project with Innis & Gunn: “It was more in line with my personal photography style and was a challenge to do on the budget. It was also a bit of a gamble for the agency but it paid off! We picked a great team (David Lee as DOP and Robbie Dickson and his creative team at Bloc Collective) who we collaborated with to create a stand out piece at a time when the landscape was saturated with Covid messaging.”
As for Rhona, she’s been keeping busy having just delivered an informative animation, along with illustrations, for COP26 on behalf of The Leith Agency for The Scottish Government.
“This had another really tight turnaround but with the talented team led by director/animator Katy Davis, it was delivered and the campaign is currently live in Scotland,” she says.
As we ease out of a tumultuous time, the experience of the past year has left Eyebolls with a renewed sense of determination. “New international connections, both with crew (for animation) and clients, fills our future with excitement - and we can’t believe that we can say that after what the world has experienced these last two years! Going forward, we want to have a balance between longer format work and commercial work, continuing to push boundaries and work with exciting talent.”