Cut the Mustard is a growing 2D animation studio originally made up of graduates from the Norwich University of the Arts. Here, mouthpiece Liam Gilbey explains how they are establishing themselves as a company with good causes at heart.
Who are you and what do you do?
Hello! I’m Liam. I’m usually the mouthpiece/cheerleader for Cut the Mustard, but we’re run by four multitalented artists: alongside myself, there’s Amy Howard, Finley Geen and Eleanor Linder. We all met in 2016, for university, and decided to go into business together just after we graduated in 2019. As Cut the Mustard, we also work with Jake Taylor who creates sound for us, and we’re lucky enough to have two new employees with the Government Kickstart scheme – Ky and George. As a studio, we create a range of short films, adverts, and music videos together with the power of 2D animation, most often hand-drawn traditional in style. We don’t have a ‘house-style’ – that makes us unique among other animation studios, and we’re always looking to create something new and fresh to push us forward and tell stories the best we can.
When did you first have the idea for Cut the Mustard and who thought of the name?
The name is a mystery. None of us can agree on where the name came from, and if you ask all of us, we’ll likely have a different story, but it most likely came from our director Amy, based on hearing the phrase from our first potential client. As for where the idea came from – I have always been interested in working for myself (it was even in my ‘ambitions’ section of my Year 11 yearbook) and I follow in my family footsteps in running my own business. I brought that idea forward to my friends, as we had just created two graduate films rather than one. We saw that as a sign of working well together, and the plan to go into business was born. Uni finished in May, CTM started unofficially in June and became a real company in November. The rest is history.
So you all decided to stick around in Norwich after graduating? What is it about the city that appeals?
Yep! People say that Norwich is a ‘sticky city’ – once you’re here it’s hard to leave. I definitely feel that and Cut the Mustard has become my home-away-from-home. We decided to stick together as friends, and Norwich is a good city for animation as there’s a lot of creative students around, but not necessarily a lot of animation companies, so it was big enough to feel like part of a community but small enough to carve a piece of the city out for ourselves. Coming from Brighton, I think I see a lot of similarities between home and Norwich – both are young, creative, and often eclectic cities, so perhaps that’s the draw for me.
How have you managed to survive the pandemic, as a business? Could you all work from home during the lockdowns?
With great difficulty. While working from home works for the animation industry quite well, it’s not something that I think we’re that into. As a new company, heading into lockdown as we barely knew what we were doing was tough, especially as we didn’t really have enough experience to all be comfortable with our job roles and how we work together. We really had to cut our losses and work out the essentials, so while we were busy working in a dank cellar, we all relied on part-time jobs to fund us at the beginning, which we were all doing at the time as Cut the Mustard was formed with zero investment or funding. Choosing the hard path of balancing both, for longer, helped us give the company the extra time it needed in the pandemic to get going.
It’s becoming more and more important for you to get involved with animation projects for good causes? Do you want to talk a bit more about eco-friendly films?
I think it’s important for several reasons to get involved with projects for ‘good causes’. We’ve worked with plenty of companies, and as we make adverts, the role of that company is often out of the picture for us. However, recently, as we gain the power to turn down more work and be pickier with our clients, it’s nice to work with companies that are doing positive things for society. This has come to fruition several times, most notably with a short film we made for local homelessness charity St.Martin’s (in which we promoted their cause heavily on social media to grow awareness in the area), a short film promoting re-growing hedgerows for Surrey Wildlife Trust, and an explainer for eco-friendly hotel and travel company Goodwings. Cut the Mustard makes very little waste as a paper-less and physical product-less company, so eventually when we can combat our electricity uses in an office building of our own, we can become a fully green company, and we’d like the people we work for to reflect that too. Obviously, it’s hard to maintain when we need to pay the rent and wages, but for young people (and a team of more than 50% veggies/vegans) the environment and social issues are very important to us due to the socially conscious social media space we live in.
And this is the direction you’re keen to go in?
Absolutely! Everyone needs to do their part in making the world a better place – it’s not just the responsibilities of NGOs or charities to help, but also everyday companies, especially ones that are in ‘non-essential’ industries such as ourselves. Even still, stories can change the world, so I think it’s important the stories we tell we believe in and bring a difference to the people that experience them.
Any plans for 2022 you can share?
All sorts! As the pandemic (hopefully) fades away, we’d love to get more involved with the local community, as we have had two very isolated years, and are ready to do more in-person networking and connecting with Norwich and Norfolk as a whole. As we’ve been working on client projects for so long, we’re hoping to get back into original projects again, with the hopes of getting those into film festivals so we can travel the country and see our films play. And finally… always the plan is to make bigger, better, longer and more animation to share with the world.
Featured image: Top Left, Amy Howard; Top Right, Liam Gilbey; Bottom Left, Eleanor Linder; Bottom Right, Finley Geen