In 2017, Dave Kiddie and Brian Carbin were faced with a dilemma many of us encounter at some point in our lives; a fork-in-the-road moment in their career. The company they had worked at was closing its doors after over 40-years in business. To their advantage, they were equipped with a combined 40-years of VFX experience at UK industry stalwart, Rushes – not to mention strong relationships from working on world-renowned brands such as Oral B, Head & Shoulders and Pampers. But, as many would agree, carving out a successful new business in this volatile climate would be no easy feat – especially in the constantly shifting landscape of advertising.
Dave and Brian stuck to their guns and one month on, boutique VFX and finishing house, Stone Dogs, was born. (Eagle-eyes Ghostbuster fans may recognise the name as a nod to the stone dogs at the Temple of Gozer; both artists cite the classic as a seminal film growing up). Now, just one year later, the central London company has delivered global commercials and content for brands including ComparetheMarket, Purplebricks, Mitsubishi, Charmin, Vitality, MoreThan, Strongbow and The Brit Awards - as well as bringing three short films to life.
“When Rushes closed down, Brian and I wanted to keep doing what we do best - providing high-quality VFX, finishing, and delivery,” comments Dave. “We knew we loved working with our clients and, having spent 13 years working next to each other, our working relationship was solid. We’d discussed the prospect of going independent before, so it was a case of picking up where we left off, with the same ethos and top-notch quality - but with a smaller dedicated team.”
Working with VCCP and Passion Pictures, Stone Dogs brought the nation’s beloved Aleks and Sergei back in Comparethemarket’s ‘Epic’ musical spot. They also provided expert finishing on the brand’s AutoSergei campaign, which sees tech-savvy meerkat Sergei, re-imagined as a futuristic android. For Comparethemarket’s advertising across the channel, the team also provides finishing on Aleks and Sergei’s French cousins: Les Furets (the ferrets).
Stone Dogs is now based in a spacious, modern office in Fitzrovia, with two state-of-the-art suites and in-house grading capabilities. Its industry partnerships give clients access to a team of diversely skilled artists which can scale up to operate as one team, answering briefs and managing all aspects of VFX, design and brand management.
It’s a far cry from their first few weeks set up in Dave’s kitchen. Brian says, “It all happened very quickly. From the final decision to become a limited company only took about one month! From the first Flame in a single room in Chancery Lane, we are now in a nice open, central space, which allows us to scale depending on the scope of the job. We’ve made some great partnerships with like-minded creative companies as part of the Treacle Seven collective, that allow us to offer the same scale and quality of service as the big houses - whilst keeping it personal, friendly and affordable. Our clients have been incredibly supportive of our venture, which has only gone to strengthen our relationships with them.”
The team brought unfortunate – but hilarious – moments to life in glorious, mesmerising slow-motion for Purplebricks’ ‘Regrets’ part of the long running ‘Commisery’ campaign, whose advertising they handle across the UK, USA, and Australia. Teaming up with SNAP LDN and Partizan, Stone Dogs composited and enhanced the slow-motion footage, stitching together separate takes shot at 1000fps to create beautiful and comedic visuals.
The duo’s decision to scale down to a boutique model was a significant shift but also a timely one. Brands are now demanding higher volumes of content than ever before. As timelines and budgets shrink but expectations for quality rise, traditional models of content creation and delivery are increasingly struggling to keep up. As a result, the industry has seen more boutique offerings emerge as an alternative solution to modern demands.
While lower overheads certainly offer added value for clients, businesses cannot rely on that alone, says Brian: “The expectation for quality has shot up; clients now expect broadcast, cinematic quality on digital jobs. In many ways, our experience at Rushes working on huge tech based global brands gave us the best tools to compete on this playing field. The level of scrutiny there was always incredibly high – quality control was strict and no piece of work would go by un-analysed by peers.
As adland grapples with how to maintain visual perfection in the face of ever tightening budgets, the solution may be somewhat of a balancing act. “We’ve worked on enough large-scale campaigns to understand where the smart cost savings lie for clients but also, equally importantly, where pinching pennies may end up coming back to bite them,” Dave explains. “Despite misconceptions, jobs cannot be done ‘rougher’ in post because the sub-par visuals would stick out like a sore thumb. People are increasingly consuming content on-demand, with the ability to pause and analyse images frame by frame. Under this intense microscope, less than perfect post can be a distraction at best. When so much creative energy and resources have gone into creating an ad, it’s imperative to give it the best finish.”
To complement Golly Slater Cardiff and Fresh Films’ tongue-in-cheek campaign, Stone Dogs created a grade, in addition to completing online and VFX. In perfect parody, the mockumentary-style film is set in a sanctuary with a twist – the inhabitants are overworked humans.
Amidst the transformation, the team have embraced fresh new opportunities to diversify. Says Dave: “An added bonus of setting up on our own is being able to handpick some smaller interesting projects and support new filmmakers”. With three short films set to launch this year, This is English, Signs, and Meat is Murder and numerous commercial projects under their belt, it’s looking to be an exciting year for Stone Dogs.
“Nothing could have prepared us for starting our own business,” Brian comments. “But added hours and stressful first months aside, we’ve really thrived on embracing a more hands-on approach to our jobs and relationships. The combination of being on the tools and running the operations side of the business has given us a far richer understanding of the industry. It also doesn’t hurt that we’ve been able to work on some incredible projects with brilliant partners! Looking at where the industry is heading, it seems like there are some incredible boutique offerings emerging and I look forward to seeing how this trend develops. The demands of the industry are constantly changing, but we are confident that we have done this at the right time.”