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Interview with Gavin Strange (aka “Jam Factory”) – Senior Designer at Aardman, Director of Aardman’s “Masters of Merry” Fortnum & Mason Christmas Ad, and Author of Motivational Self-Help Book, “DO Fly”

Portrait photo of Gavin Strange. Photo courtesy of Gavin Strange.

“There are a million and one reasons to not do something, to not start something,” Gavin Strange—a Bristol-based, ten-year veteran at Aardman Animations, where he works as a director, most recently having directed the Christmas ad campaign Masters of Merry for London-based, luxury department store Fortnum & Mason, as well as a senior designer in the studio’s digital department, whilst also pursuing his passion projects on the side under the alias Jam Factory—tells Stop Motion Geek. “Life, work, family, health, time, space, location, mood, emotion—all of these things can throw you off your game.”

“So, I think you have to do anything you can, use anything you can, to get and to stay motivated,” Strange continues. “Pick the lowest hanging fruit, set yourself a goal that’s easy, really easy. Because it’s all a step in the right direction. It can be so overwhelming when you’re trying to plot and plan where you want to go, or who you want to be. I think it helps to just take it a step at a time, one foot in front of the other—it makes it achievable!”

Strange’s career is one hard to summarize, and almost impossible to compartmentalize in response to that oft-dreaded, age-old question: “What do you do for a living?”

Under the name Jam Factory—an alias he first assumed nearly twenty years ago, after graduating college, doing so without ever dreaming of the success he’s come to claim under it—Strange has managed to explore numerous passion projects, each a different size and shape, and feed his yearning desire to create artwork in as many mediums as possible—from sculpture to filmmaking, animation to graphic design, from writing a book to giving motivational talks.

Amongst his past talks—some of the venues for which have included TEDx Bristol, Wired Next Gen, Apple Stores UK, and Hustlemania—Strange spoke at Teen DO, a branch of The DO Lectures—a motivational conference that takes place annually in West Wales. After giving the talk, Strange approached another branch of The DO Lectures—The DO Book Company—with an idea for writing a motivational self-help book called DO Fly—a book now available for purchase.

In describing DO Fly on his website, Strange says, “Do Work You Love. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? But the reality can be quite different. Whether you're just starting out or simply ready to head in a new direction, you're going to need some help turning your natural skills into success-seeking missiles of radness.”

In our interview, Strange discusses the unconventional path he took to earn the diverse career he has today, as well as his philosophy on fueling his creativity, learning from his mistakes, and motivating himself to step outside his comfort zone and explore new pursuits and ideas—both in the workplace and on the side. He also tells us about directing “Masters of Merry,” and the challenges associated with representing the three-hundred years of history behind Fortnum & Mason. He also speaks about the process of writing DO Fly, and gives us a run-down of what, as of late, has inspired him.

You can read our interview below in full.

A.H. Uriah: Hello, Gavin! Thank you so much for doing this interview! I’m quite taken with your charisma and passion for everything you do—animation, filmmaking, web design, sculpture, photography, writing, graphic list only a few—as well as your burning desire to inspire as many people as you can to pursue a career doing what they love.
You mention in your inspirational keynote speech “You Have The Same 24 Hours As Everyone” that you took an unconventional path to get to where you are today, earning a career nigh impossible to sum up quickly, yet which spans across numerous mediums.
Can you give us a short-and-sweet summary of the journey you took to getting where you are today?

Gavin Strange: Hello! Aww, well that is very VERY kind of you to say such nice things, thank you very much! And thank you for having me, it’s a real pleasure! Let me compliment you—your questions are so well researched and unique, that’s very kind of you to do!

Right then, let’s get started! To answer your first question, here’s a short-and-sweet summary of my journey:

I studied Graphic Design at college in the UK but didn’t go to University, instead I got into the industry and started my first job as a junior designer when I was 17. I was encouraged and inspired to experiment with all the different mediums I was interested in, in my spare time, which I did with glee. Over the years I brought those passions into my day job. I put out those passion projects under the artist name of ‘Jam Factory’, just for fun. It was my online space where I hosted all the things I enjoyed to do: filmmaking, illustration, character design and more.

Fast forward nearly 20 years and I still do the same thing—only now my passion for filmmaking fully weaved its way into my professional career as I am, very proudly, a Director for the prestigious Aardman. I joined, 10 years ago, as a Senior Designer, and that’s a role I still hold—so I jump between Director and Designing, and I absolutely love it!

I still go home though and indulge my curiosity for trying my hand at new things. That excitement for just tinkering, creatively, has never left me and I hope it never well!

Right now I hope between brushing up my 3D skills in Cinema4D and learning to make beats using Ableton Live!

Images from Masters of Merry. Photos courtesy of Gavin Strange.

A.H.: In “You Have The Same 24 Hours As Everyone,” you say something else that really struck me: “I think it’s best if you don’t have a plan, because, if you have a plan, you’re going to measure yourself against it and you’re going to be terrified. But if you just go forwards—as long as you’re continually moving on and just say, ‘I don’t know where this is going to go, but at least I’m going.’”
Could you elaborate on this thought a bit—specifically as if you’re giving this advice to those in our readership who have yet to make the decision to pursue what they’re passionate about?

GS: I think, for me, it’s about doing anything you can to motivate yourself to take the steps towards where you want to be. But, it’s SO easy to say that, I know the difficulty comes in the reality of it. There are a million and one reasons to not do something, to not start something. Life, work, family, health, time, space, location, mood, emotion—all of these things can throw you off your game.

So, I think you have to do anything you can, use anything you can, to get and to stay motivated. Pick the lowest hanging fruit, set yourself a goal that’s easy, really easy. Because it’s all a step in the right direction. It can be so overwhelming when you’re trying to plot and plan where you want to go, or who you want to be. I think it helps to just take it a step at a time, one foot in front of the other—it makes it achievable!

And then, when you’ve taken those first few steps, you use the satisfaction and pride you’ll feel of actually making moves, to fuel your future endeavours.

Your brain can be a tricky thing, it’ll be throwing everything it can at you to NOT do something. You have to fight back, and I think doing that in little stealth bursts can only help!

A.H.: To focus in on one of your most recent projects—Masters of Merry, a Christmas ad campaign you directed for London-based, luxury department store Fortnum & Mason, which you directed for Aardman, where you work as a Senior Designer and Director—can you tell us a bit about how you came to the project, and how the initial development process progressed?

GS: Sure! Masters of Merry for Fortnum & Mason was great fun! It’s such a prestigious place and as we learnt more and more about its 300 year history, it just got better and better!

The initial development phase was working out how we tell the story of a 300 year old business, against the background of how much the world has changed within those three centuries, all within a minute of screen time! As you can imagine, a lot has changed in that time—so it was really about working with Otherway, Fortnum’s agency, to work out the best and most succinct moments we could pick to really show a wide range of human endeavours, but also the ones that related closely to Fortnums itself—like the Suffragette movement for example.

We also got to bring the iconic illustrations of Edward Bawden to life too, who was Fortnum’s go-to illustrator in the 20th Century. We used both the original scans of his work mixed with painstakingly redrawn versions, then set about animating them!

To top it all off we threw in a section of custom-shot live-action, which was all done on location within the F&M store in London’s Piccadilly.

That’s what made it so exciting—this heady mix of mediums and history—blending it all together!

Images from Masters of Merry. Photos courtesy of Gavin Strange.

A.H.: When working with an iconic client like Fortnum & Mason, a music artist such as P.O.S., or even an iconic character like Shaun the Sheep, what processes have you developed for representing them in media they solicit you to create? What kind of communication do you emphasize between you and such clients to make certain they’re satisfied with the path you and your creative team are going down with such a project?

GS: I think it’s just all about regular, clear communication. More importantly, just being human I guess. Maybe it comes down to that stuff I was talking about earlier—being a realist in making things happen—I like to be a realist in communication I guess, especially with clients. We’re all human beings and we all just want to make something great, so let’s not waste any energy or time hiding behind formalities or protocol—let’s cut to the chase and make something great! That’s not to say, of course, that you shouldn’t be professional, far from it—I just like to make friends and make great stuff, and I’m very proud and pleased that the people I’m fortunate to work with feel the same. Long may that continue!

A.H.: How often—if at all—do you recommend looking back on work you’ve done in the past, and assessing or judging the the way a project turned out—especially in terms of analyzing the mistakes one makes in their earlier work?

GS: Oh all the time! I think you should look back and be proud of what you’ve made! Yes, of course, you’ll spot the flaws but there’s definitely something to be said for just taking the time to reflect! It’s hard to make something, so you should be proud that you made something from nothing, and put it out into the world. What a job!

I’m lucky enough to give talks, and part of writing a new talk each year is looking back, and I really like it. I’ve found it really healthy for developing my own work and my own mind actually.

To prepare for the future you have to learn from your past!

Images from Masters of Merry. Photo courtesy of Gavin Strange.

A.H.: To bring up something else you talked about in “You Have The Same 24 Hours As Everyone,” you mention another concept I find particularly remarkable: “I think all this stuff—making things, doing thing, being a human being and just being out there and and having ideas, being a doer—kind of can split in two: It can be about time and energy. It can kind of really boil down to these two simple things.”
What methodologies have you developed and do you recommend people utilize to spend these two resources in the most profitable way?

GS: I do believe that it can boil down to Time and Energy. Obviously, I know life is way more complicated than that, but I look for any way I can to simplify things and make stuff achievable! So I tried to identify the things that get in the way when trying to make things happen, especially outside of your general responsibilities. You have to make the time and find the energy! As you might be able to carve out an hour to get stuck into that new thing that tickles your fancy… but you don’t have the energy or enthusiasm to do so. Or, you might be humming with excitement to do a deep dive into a new topic, only to find you simply don’t have the time amongst your duties as a functioning member of society!

For me, it’s trying to, where I can, marry up those two elusive entities—time and energy. That’s why, like I mentioned earlier, I think it’s important to do anything you can to get a ‘win’. Even finding the time and energy to spend 20 minutes doing something that's an indulgence for you—that’s a win! Sure, getting lost for 8 hours into a new topic would be lovely, but that’s really tricky, especially when life gets in the way!

A thing I like to do is make my own ‘time circle’. I draw a circle and split it up into 24 different sections—each hour of my day represented visually. I then plot and colour in what I spend each hour doing, to see if I can be spending my time better!

Now, there’s a huge caveat here, and that’s to say having more time to spend won’t make you a better creative. There’s a real issue of ‘struggle porn’ at the minute, glamourising working a lot and sleeping a little. That’s not what I’m advocating, at all. What I might achieve in 3 hours might take you 30 minutes. It’s different for everyone. It’s about working smarter, not harder.

A.H.: Can you tell us a bit about the origins and development of your book, DO Fly?

GS: Ahhh yes, well long story short—it came about because I spoke at the wonderful ‘DO Lectures’ in 2014. They have a publishing imprint, called ‘The DO Book Company’, which publishes pocket ‘guides’, on all sorts of subjects, by the speakers from The DO Lectures.

Cover of Strange's book DO Fly. Source:

I was blown away by my visit to the event—it’s more accurate to call it a ‘festival’ than a conference. Whilst I was there, I was given a copy of ‘Do Purpose’, by David Hieatt—co-founder of the Howies, Hiut Denim and the DO Lectures themselves. Reading his book I was blown away, I was heartily inspired but also, it was written in a way similar to how I structure my own talks. For the first time ever, I found myself thinking “...maybe I could write a book!?”

A photo of the interior of DO Fly. Source:

I reached out to Miranda, the founder of the DO Book Company and shared the ideas I had. There were all subjects and thoughts I’d been expanding on, over the years, in my talks—so it was about collecting them all together, in a cohesive fashion, and making it into something tangible!

A friend of mine described it best as “It’s a self-help book for people who ******* hate self-help books!” I’d have to agree with that, I never describe it as that myself, but I do hope it’s a helpful guide. A practical and realistic guide to doing things you want to do. A set of tips and tricks to get the best out of yourself.

A photo of the interior of DO Fly. Source:

I loved the writing process. It was a real challenge for me, but I did love it. The feeling of having a book out there, in the world, for people to (hopefully) enjoy is wonderful! Much like filmmaking, it’s a body of work that you’ve held dear to your heart, for a long time, is then released into the wild, to be looked at and (again, hopefully) poured over for decades to come. That’s really special. I feel very, very privileged to have had that opportunity. To be honest, I’ve got the bug to write another...

A.H.: To wrap up this lovely interview, what art—and I’m going to leave it up to you to define what exactly “art” means, although it could mean anything from books to films to illustration to plays—have you found particularly inspiring as of late, and why?

GS: Oh boy, well, my inspirations change all the time, so I’m going to list a bunch of bits that has tickled my fancy as of late:

God of WarPS4 GamePut simply, it’s a masterpiece. I *just* completed it last night! A beautifully designed video game with a really powerful narrative arc: the tale of a father and his son, as they set out on an arduous quest of honouring their late wife/mother’s wishes and scattering her ashes from the highest peak. It’s beautiful, brutal and I loved every second of it!

The Art of DesignNetflix Documentary SeriesA brilliant suite of docs focusing on all sorts of creatives—there’s an illustrator, shoe designer, set designer and all sorts. Really well shot, in-depth and muchos inspiring. Highly recommended!

Be More Pirate
Book by Sam Conniff Allende
This great read is all about the golden age of pirates from history, and actually how socially and morally progressive they were for their time—they were equal opportunities ‘employers’, the first of their kind, with equal pay and conditions for all members of their crew with no regard for gender or race. It’s taking these fascinating tales from the high seas and applying them to modern society and encouraging us all to ‘Be More Pirate’.

Netflix Animated Series
A beautiful series by Luke Pearson, about a young girl called Hilda and her fantastical magical adventures she goes on in the town of Trollberg. My wife, my son and I all love it—so it’s enjoyable from 22-months-old to 36-years-old!

Thank you for having me! Merry Christmas!

Portrait photo of Gavin Strange. Courtesy of Gavin Strange.

You can explore more Strange’s work by visiting his website, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, Vimeo, and Aardman showreel.

You can watch Strange’s keynote speech—“You Have The Same 24 Hours As Everyone,” which he gave at DO Teen—by going here. You can learn more about The DO Lectures by visiting their website, Vimeo, Twitter, Medium, Instagram, YouTube, SoundCloud, and Facebook.

You can go here to learn more about Strange’s “Hustlemania”—an annual conference featuring speakers representing a wide spectrum of artists.

To learn more about and purchase Strange’s book—DO Fly—you can go here.

You can watch Strange’s Masters of Merry ad for Fortnum & Mason by going here, and you can learn more about Fortnum & Mason by visiting their website.

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