The founder of Taylor James speaks to Addison Capper about the company's evolution from small retouch shop to full service global production company, an appreciation of hard work, and dreams of farming rare breed pigs
Back in 1999, Glen Taylor founded Taylor James thanks to a fortuitous opportunity and some sparkling Ikea furniture in the freshly painted corridor of a friend's warehouse. Fast forward over 20 years to today and Taylor James has evolved from its retouching roots to a full service production company offering capabilities in CGI, live action, motion design, photography, animation and compositing, across London, Paris, New York, Los Angeles and, most recently, Mexico City.
An arts and design graduate, outside of work Glen dreams of farming rare breed pigs and for Tottenham Hotspur's success. LBB's Addison Capper chatted with him to find out more.
LBB> To get started, where did you grow up and what were you like as a kid? Were there any tell tale signs that you'd end up working in the creative business?
Glen> I’m an ‘80s child and grew up in a small village in the English countryside just outside of London. I loved being outside playing football, fishing and pop music, it was an amazing childhood.
Being raised in a working class family gave me an appreciation of hard work and I learnt the value of money early; I remember trading football cards in the playground, then doing gardening jobs at the weekend, so my entrepreneurial spirit was there at a young age.
I think my creativity started to take root in fashion when all my friends were wearing shell suits, I wanted to be a mod.
LBB> You studied arts and design and graphic design - what inspired you to take that route?
Glen> At school art was by far my favourite subject, I’m good with my hands from DIY to photography and I knew I didn’t want to follow in my dad’s footsteps as a carpet-fitter. He set a terrific example to me and my brother with his work ethic, and he and my mum encouraged us to find our paths and really supported us to do whatever would make us happy.
LBB> I read that Taylor James was founded back in 1999 thanks to a fortuitous opportunity and some sparkling Ikea furniture in the freshly painted corridor of a friend's warehouse - please tell me more about that and how it led to you founding your own company!
Glen> I was employed full time as a retoucher in London but was already preparing to set up my own company, so when a photographer friend needed four complex images to be retouched in a rushed schedule I spotted an opportunity to hustle! He’d hit creative differences with a retouching company in Paris and pulled the project on a Thursday night but had promised clients he would have the first image finished by Monday in London. In 72 hours Taylor James was born, I booked two weeks leave, found something that would pass as a studio, gave it a lick of paint, assembled some Ikea furniture and got the IT sorted. Then I basically didn’t sleep for two days whilst I retouched that first image. By Monday morning Taylor James was open for business and had its first happy customer.
LBB> What ethos did you found the company on then? And what elements of it have stayed the same to today?
Glen> I founded Taylor James on three core values and they still underpin our culture today; hard work & work smart, always seek to elevate and entrepreneurial spirit to find solutions.
Hard Work & Work Smart: It’s ok to make mistakes but don’t make them twice. We learn to be smarter by pushing boundaries.
Elevate: Retouching is about ‘pixel’ level perfection on a single image, we approach motion with the same mindset. I always support the team to push creatively and look to how we can improve ourselves.
Entrepreneurial Spirit & Solutions First: This spirit has carried our growth from small retouch shop to full service global production company. We have broadened our skills into CGI, live action, photography, motion design, animation and compositing by spotting opportunities to extend ideas and deliver more value for our clients.
I directed a million-dollar TV commercial for Bermuda tourism with no previous live-action experience. Why? Because our pitch was innovative and creative and offered extended value to the clients by creating a multi-channel campaign.
With every new project comes an opportunity to elevate the creativity and also challenge the brief to offer more so the end client sees greater value through our solutions.
LBB> How has the company evolved over that time? And how does that evolution relate to the way that our industry has also evolved?
Glen> Over our 21 years, Taylor James has evolved by balancing technology with smart creative. The Bermuda campaign I’ve already mentioned is a great example of our evolution; the brief was a simple 30” TVC but we elevated it by using a mix of full CGI and live-action material (which was very innovative at that time) blended seamlessly together. We added value to the campaign because the solution we proposed meant we were also able to deliver additional content for print and digital mediums. Within 10 years this ‘fully integrated’ approach became the norm for everything we do and cemented our ‘solutions- focused’ mentality and passion for efficiency into the culture of the company.
Digital consumption is exploding, and technology continues to drive new ways to create content for the ever-growing number of media channels. Brands are facing a ‘content challenge’ which can only be solved through smarter production solutions because budgets are being decreased with more deliverables. You can’t favour one single approach anymore; our clients need to keep up with the demand for content, so we’ve pushed our CGI knowledge into multiple sectors and offer all the tools in the capabilities box to deliver fully integrated productions.
Our industry is always evolving, and the business today is in its best shape ever but to keep apace we have consolidated so we could pivot the business model to be leaner. In response to our clients’ needs we have scaled our skills, capabilities and creativity in Mexico City and concentrated creative and production management to our main global hubs of London, Paris, New York and LA.
LBB> Given the range of work that Taylor James does, where do you look to when it comes to hiring? And what are you looking for and why?
Glen> We are a people business, so hiring talent is a critical part of my role. I generally seek people who are aligned to our values and understand the ‘value of detail’ but can step back to analyse a situation with 360 perspective. This requires balanced creatives with strong personality skills. It is hard to find good people, often we work with freelance talent so both parties have time to test the fit before committing to a full-time role. It’s a nice feeling when we add a new team member to the family who clicks and brings a fresh perspective.
LBB> Which pieces of work that you've done recently are you most proud of and why?
Glen> I love solving production challenges, so the latest project for Mercedes-Benz GLA is my current favourite. The client had six weeks and only stock footage of the German vehicle for a rushed US launch. Jay Harwood, our NYC ECD, proposed a concept around ‘making an entrance’ into the city at night. Taking the existing footage and blending with new CGI shots, we joined all elements together adding a consistent graphic element that tracks and paints the city as the car drives around. This 30-second spot has greenscreen talent, CGI cars, 2D and 3D graphics elements, extensive colour grading, compositing and animated buildings; it is a complete mixed media production, pulled together in six weeks. It reminded me of my first ever retouching job, delivering something so quickly that we’re proud of and taking the client’s breath away is so motivating.
LBB> Is there a project from over the years that you're particularly proud of more than some others? Why?
Glen> Yes, it has to be the Bermuda Tourism spot from 2008. At the time we were building a fully integrated production company of the future and we didn’t even know it! From the top down, we combined print and TV production pipelines, managed aggressive shoot schedules to seamlessly offer our clients a full tool kit of assets, all from one budget.
That entrepreneurial spirit shining through to overcome nerves, tight budget restraints and create a beautiful ground-breaking piece of work, ahead of its time.
LBB> Outside of work, you dream of farming rare breed pigs, which as a total meat snob speaks to me personally. Where does that aspiration come from and why is it appealing to you?
Glen> Back to my childhood and my fond memories spent on a local livestock farm which was owned by close friends. As a teenager I worked there as often as they’d let me! I had great fun and learnt so many life skills: problem solving, hard graft and seeking out opportunities were everyday events for their business as it was barely breaking even. I learnt motor mechanics fixing all machinery (back to being good with my hands!), learnt the true responsibility for caring for animals, and that hard work meant rewards; what teenager wouldn’t want to drive tractors, diggers and the articulated lorries around the yard?
I hope to share these honest values and experiences with my two young daughters, Emmy (four years) and Yaya (two years), they already love helping me in the garden with their mini digger.
LBB> Until you do own your own pig farm, what do you like to get up to when you're not working?
Glen> Outside of work I have a few things to keep me occupied, we recently moved into an old farmhouse which we’ve been renovating so if I’m not being chased around by my daughters or the dog I can still be found tinkering with engines or driving the tractor. I’m also an avid Tottenham Hotspur fan, I try not to miss a match and will always catch a game when I’m back in England, but we’ve had a few turbulent seasons so it’s a painful relationship!