Monday interview: Axis managing director Richard Scott
“I occasionally play games with my son,” laughs the co-founder and managing director of Glasgow-based Axis, which has just secured a £250,000 regional selective assistance (RSA) grant from development agency Scottish Enterprise to help it create up to 20 roles for graphics artists, research and development and production managers.
Scott says: “We have a mixture of full-time people and freelancers, and in Glasgow at the moment we have about 165 in total. The RSA grant is to allow us to expand that full-time core group of people, because that’s who we build our freelance crews around.”
Axis, which was established in 2000, also has offices in Bristol and London, which employ about 20 and ten people respectively, although Scott said the Bristol headcount can grow as high as 50 depending on its workload.
Since its formation, the studio has seen the bulk of its work come from the gaming sector, creating trailers and “cutscenes”, sequences within a game where the player can take a break from the button mashing while a new character or plot twist is introduced.
“But the last three years has really been our big diversification experience, starting with setting up our visual effects team in Bristol, which got us into television and some film work,” explains Scott.
“Then we started to see Flaunt, one of our other studios, break out of what it was doing into longer-form work with Amazon Studios and Mattel. And then Axis, which was predominantly making the game trailers, started doing more work outside that space. If you look at the revenues of the entire business, games still make up the majority, but television is catching up rapidly.”
Axis has worked with the likes of the BBC, Netflix, Warner Bros and Universal Studios. Its television credits include Our Girl and Shetland, but Scott says most of its visual effects work will be “invisible” to the viewer – “that’s the whole point” – with the exception of its work on the likes of Doctor Who, “where it’s meant to be fantastical and transport you into another world”.
Scotland’s gaming scene is heavily focused on Dundee, while Grand Theft Auto creator Rockstar North has its roots in Tayside and is now based in Edinburgh, but Scott says: “There’s no reason we can’t be an entertainment company, even though we’re in Glasgow. We’re pretty rare from that perspective.
“When it comes to creative businesses in Scotland right now, I think we’re one of the biggest. Rockstar North are probably bigger on the video game side, but even in the live-action animation space of film and TV, there aren’t many businesses that are of the scale we are. A lot of that’s because, on the live-action side, things tend to be small and get very big when you’re shooting and then it shrinks back down again. Whereas we’re a fixed studio of creative people getting though the work.”
The firm is about to get the keys to an extra 9,000 square feet of space at its Skypark base, and Scott says the team is “excited” to be able to bring everyone together on the same floor at the Finnieston business park, near the SSE Hydro and SECC, now rebranded as the Scottish Event Campus.
Born in Belfast, his family moved to Glasgow when he was four and he has lived in the city’s southside “pretty much my entire life”. He did not go to university, instead leaving school aged 17 to start working in the field of graphic design with Scott Stern, which was bought by WPP in 1987.
A keen mountain biker, Scott draws inspiration from the landscape, for example the formations on Skye, which featured in the movie Prometheus, Ridley Scott’s prequel to Alien – a franchise that Axis has also had a hand in, having worked on the video game spin-off Alien Isolation.
“Although you can create any CGI environment you want, there’s been a push in certain areas of film-making recently to try to ground things in real-life locations, because they’re probably more interesting or believable,” he says.
“There are bits of the world where your breath gets taken away in these kinds of environments, and that’s the feeling we want our audiences to have when they’re watching our work. We want to transport people to fantasy worlds through storytelling.”
Born: Belfast, 1971
First job: Graphic designer with Scott Stern, a very famous firm back in the day
Ambition at school: I always wanted to do something related to art, as that was my major strength
What car do you drive? Audi A6
Favourite mode of transport: Probably my bike – I cycle as much as I can
Music: Hip-hop and R&B
Reading material: I read a lot of scripts, but otherwise lots of graphic novels and business books
Can’t live without: My wife and kids
What makes you angry? Lack of attention to detail
What inspires you? In terms of business, people with ambition who chuck out perceived convention
Favourite place: As a fan of the outdoors, it’s hard to beat the Highlands
Best thing about your job? No two days are ever the same