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From UK to LA: 10 Years at The Mill in Los Angeles

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Founders Phil Crowe and Chris 'Badger' Knight look back at a decade of VFX, design and content creation

From UK to LA: 10 Years at The Mill in Los Angeles

2017 is a historic year for The Mill in Los Angeles, marking 10 years of business for the California-based studio. That’s a decade of visual effects, design, content creation and emerging technology. Behind the scenes, it represents much more: talent growth from 12 to 250, a cross-town move, a major expansion, and the rapid rise of technology which has subsequently led to a position at the frontier of industry trends.

The Mill’s Phil Crowe (Executive Creative Director) and Chris 'Badger' Knight (Creative Director & VFX Supervisor) are a couple of key reasons that the LA studio retains the creative standard and character it has today. Longtime friends from Barnsley and Brighton, respectively, they carried the legacy of The Mill to the West Coast in 2007 and haven’t paused to look back.

“Badger and I are very different characters, but we’ve always shared the same goals and the same work ethic,” Phil explains. 

The two were a tight duo long before the studio opened, having met at Ravensbourne College in London in 1994. Both went on to build successful careers as flame artists, with Phil starting his professional life as a runner at The Mill in London. It wasn’t until 10 years later, on a rainy Monday night over a beer, that the two entertained the idea of taking their lives – and The Mill – to LA.

Badger recalls, “For the first time, we wondered about what the years ahead would look like. London was great, but we thought, ‘What if we went to LA together to set something up?’ We just talked about it hypothetically; a bit of down-the-pub chat.” Less than a month would pass before The Mill’s Robin Shenfield (CEO) and Pat Joseph (CCO) told them they planned on expanding to California.

“I felt this excitement of starting something from the ground up, with The Mill’s backing, and going somewhere new – somewhere totally different from London,” Badger continues. “Having grown up in the ‘80s watching shows about LA, the whole thing had me somewhat star struck.”

When the studio opened its doors in 2007 in Santa Monica, California, The Mill made history as the first VFX company to have facilities on both the East and West Coast of the US. 

Building on the success of The Mill’s London and New York studios was not without the challenges of landing amongst a hotbed of already well-established visual effects houses. To help secure the new studio’s position, Phil and Badger relied on the strength of their partnership, while steadily growing the internal team and fostering the client relationships they’d already forged from previous trips stateside.

“My last job in London was with Dante [Ariola, of MJZ], and my first job in LA was with him as well. There was a nice bit of a crossover there,” Badger recalls. 

Phil notes, “It’s undeniable that it’s all about the relationships. Mine and Badger’s; Pat and Robin’s; our partnerships with external directors and agencies. Take my first job for New York: a Mike’s Hard Lemonade campaign with two creatives from TBWA\Chiat\Day, Scott Vitrone and Ian Reichenthal. Many years later in LA, I worked on Skittles ‘Touch’ where Scott and Ian were the Creative Directors. On that same job I met two young copywriters, Craig Allen and Eric Kallman, who I eventually worked with on the Old Spice campaigns. That friendship and working relationship with Wieden+Kennedy (Portland) led to creative collaboration on campaign after campaign.” The multi-award winning Old Spice work with Wieden+Kennedy (Portland) continues to this day. 

While the standard of quality work has always been a shared priority between Phil and Badger, the bedrock of The Mill’s LA studio lies in its culture.

“We’ve grown about 20 times the size we were when we opened, but it still feels tight-knit,” Phil says. “We’re still fiercely protective of the same things we’ve always wanted to protect: the work, the people that create it and the clients.”

The distinctive feeling that surrounds you upon entering the studio’s large, glass double doors has withstood the test of 10 years’ time. As Phil and Badger think about what the next decade may bring, just as they did in the pub back in 2006, they’re energised and enthusiastic.

“Everyone here at The Mill LA has drive and high standards,” Phil comments. “Combine this with a loyal roster of clients, and everybody striving to do the most incredible work of their lives, and it’s inspiring. We always aim to bring in new people who are better at what they do than we are; empowering them to do their absolute best. And believe me, we don’t take that for granted: there’s never a sense of resting on our laurels. The eclectic range of people and skills here breeds a unique atmosphere.”

That atmosphere has persisted in the face of ever-changing technology, which has led to a diversified portfolio of work in VR including the double Gold Cannes Lion-winning ‘HELP’, a collaboration with Bullitt Branded, Director Justin Lin and Google ATAP. Members of the award winning team will be kicking off the 10th year with high-profile presentations at Pause Fest in Melbourne Australia, and SXSW in Austin, Texas.

Even considering the massive growth in the technology sector, Badger maintains, “Regardless of the new tech that we work with, and the increasing number of ways you can watch media, we’ll continue to push to be at the forefront of moving image. Ultimately, the top priority is always going to be about the creative.”

Phil adds, “This is the year for us to celebrate what all of us here in The Mill’s LA office have created, not only what we’ve done, but what we look forward to doing. If we can continue doing great work while keeping our teams happy and our relationships sincere, it’ll be a self-fulfilling prophecy.”

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Mill LA, Tue, 31 Jan 2017 10:58:23 GMT