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So much more than a one man brand

Motionworks - Billy Hanshaw Bio

We sat down with Billy Hanshaw, founder and Creative Director at MotionWorks, to learn a little about his past, his plans for the future and his love of rescue dogs.

We may as well start at the beginning. Were art and design your passion from an early age?

Absolutely! The first time I remember thinking ‘I want to do that’, was watching Loony Toons and Disney. It was more than the fun of watching them. I wanted to know how to make them. I also used to spend my spare time creating drawings or paintings based on whatever book I was reading at the time. I was banned from entering the Yorkshire Post’s annual competition to design a Christmas card after winning it 3 years in a row, which I guess shows budding talent from a young age! It seems I was always entering art competitions through my childhood – and winning them.

And your love of art continued throughout your school life?

Very much so. I only just recently remembered that my O-Level art projects were sent out to the all the UK’s examination boards to set the standard for the highest grade the following year! Though for a while, I had considered a different path. My comprehensive school had a theatre arts course, about 30 kids from each year were on it, including me. Basically we got to do modern contemporary dance instead of sport, and drama instead of science, so it suited me down to the ground. It sometimes felt that everyday was like an episode of “Kids from Fame”. I also thought it would be a good way to try to boost my confidence, which was something I’d been struggling with before going to high school.

You considered a stage career?

I did. Talent scouts would come to the school and audition us. I was shortlisted for the part of ‘Painter’s Boy’ in the 1984 movie A Private Function. It was an Alan Bennett script, and starred Michael Palin and Maggie Smith. Maybe if I’d got that part my life would have headed in a different direction. As kids on the Theatre Arts course, we would often have bit parts in shows – both on stage and TV. It was exciting, seeing how a production comes together. Two that I remember vividly are Channel 4’s gritty drama, ‘One Summer’, largely because between takes we got to hang out with David Morrissey, who was at the start of his career. The other, was a lead part in ITV’s Book Tower. Quite a few kids who attended Intake High School went on to big showbiz careers – including one Scary Spice Girl. Ultimately, for me, the attraction in the stability of a career in art and design was too strong.

Motionworks - One Summer
Classroom shot from One Summer, with fellow Intake High School pupils

What about higher education - did you go on to University?

I went to college for all of three weeks! Jacob Kramer college in Leeds, on an art and design foundation course. It didn’t take me long to realise it wasn’t right for me. It wasn’t a problem with the course I was on. Upon reflection, I basically was being impatient. I kind of knew which area I wanted to specialise in. So I dropped out and decided to go down the self-teaching route – focussed on graphic design and illustration. No easy feat in the days before the internet and working as a Junior Repro artist at the same time.

My first lucky design break came within six months of leaving college. I’d landed a job as a Junior Visualiser at a small design studio. After that I headed down to London and worked on a freelance basis for Usborne Publishing in Covent Garden, designing page layouts. After a couple of years of that I decided to move back up to Leeds and specialised in vehicle advertising.

So it's fair to say that, even early on in your career, you were gathering experience in diverse areas of design.

It was the nature of the industry back then, and still is to some extent. People moved on to new challenges, to increase their skillset. I had the misfortune of being made redundant a couple of times in those days; the late 80s and early 90s were notoriously unpredictable for many. I’d worked for divisions of Saatchi and Saatchi and Poulters – probably the most famous ad agency in the north, at its height. I joined Poulters because I was keen to work on a diverse range of media and there was some scope to do this. It’s where I built up and led a design team in New Media. I also tried to encourage the Directors to pick up motion design as a specialism, but at the time they didn’t see it as something valuable to their clients. I like to think of that as an example of me being ahead of the trends, and always looking forwards.

Towards the end of my time at Poulters, I was offered a few big freelance projects which made me examine where my career was heading. From offering consultancy for digital media start-ups, to my first 3D illustration and animation work – the freedom to pick and choose projects was exilerating. When I look back, I’ve freelanced on some big household names – Nintendo, T-Mobile, Nestle, Asda, BAE systems, Akzo Nobel, Miele and Morphy Richards, the list goes on.

Who or what are your inspirations?

Wow, there are so many. I firmly believe that inspiration doesn’t, and shouldn’t, just come from within the creative field you are currently working in. It can be found everywhere. The Motion Theory lectures I give go into some detail about finding inspiration outside of the industry. It’s vital; everything either ends up looking the same or the work does not reflect the clients’ intentions.

In terms of specific influences, I’ve always been attracted to art that encapsulates a story. I think it’s why I’m attracted to figurative art that is suffused with symbology. I’ve always found Pre-Raphaelite art fascinating because of this. Conversely, the Bauhaus movement – juxtaposing art and communication, I love because of its simplicity and clean aesthetic. When it comes to motion design, I’m in awe of much of the creativity by Tendril in Canada, and Elastic in America – both studio’s output is consistently great. The Elastic team possibly do some of the best title sequence design in the industry.

What are you passions outside of MotionWorks?

I have to mention my dogs here. We have adopted four rescue dogs, and they are a huge part of our family. Three of them are Spanish rescues, and one from Portugal. They can certainly be a handful, but we wouldn’t be without any of them. The Spanish rescue charities do an incredible job under extremely difficult circumstances, and we do what we can to support them.

Music has been a lifelong passion of mine too. Back in the mid-nineties I spent my weekends travelling up and down the country doing guest sets as DJ Billy DaKid, alongside the likes of club legends Trannies With Attitude and Princess Julia. I also co-produced a few techno singles as part of the duo Dynamite. We hit the number 1 spot in a few underground charts. These days the soundtrack to my working life tends to be Scala Radio or Jazz FM!

I have a passion for environmental issues too, one of the reasons it was fantastic working with King Charles III on the Campaign for Wool. As a studio, we are aware of our responsibilities towards the environment – it’s one of the reasons that we encourage remote working wherever possible. Reducing our carbon footprint by removing unnecessary travel.

We also encourage collaboration with talented freelancers, who may feel marginalised because of who they are. I personally experienced bigotry in the workplace the first time I was made redundant. I was given no redundancy pay and told it was because of cost-cutting. I later discovered from one of my ex-colleages that it was because of my suspected sexuality. I say suspected, because I wasn’t out at work. In the days of Clause 28 in the late 80s, being closeted was the best option. MotionWorks welcomes freelancers from diverse backgrounds – giving talented creatives the opportunity to shine.

Before we talk more about MotionWorks, we probably need to mention a certain TV show title sequence you designed.

I’ve been fortunate in my career to have worked as design lead on some really big projects, but Doctor Who is the one most people want to talk about. Not that it’s an issue that people focus in on that. It’s something I was speaking with my friend Peter Hoar (executive producer/director: It’s a Sin/The Umbrella Academy) about recently. He pointed out that having such a prominent connection to a huge TV property is hugely valuable. That’s the way you’ve got to look at it. I’ve been fortunate enough to work on one of the biggest TV shows in the world. Sometimes I still find it hard to accept that it actually happened, whenever imposter syndrome comes into play. It’s only when you do something like this interview, and you properly look back on your career, that you realise you’ve worked with some massive household names, and the relevance that has for future clients.

With over thirty years of experience in the design industry, why did you feel that now was the right time to launch MotionWorks?

I’ve always held the notion that a motion design studio can flourish using a network of trusted freelance talent on a permanent basis, and implementing a remote working model rather than have a physical studio with employees. Potentially this allows for more flexibility in terms of creative output. A virtual studio that can match talent to client need.

I’ve worked in every aspect of graphics, from repro artist to art director and lead designer. I think my tenacity for learning has helped me to hit the ground running in each new discipline. Such a varied career has allowed me to gather a large network of exceptional freelance talent, as well as giving me an instinctual knowledge of what will work and how to get it done.  Coming through a global pandemic also had a sobering effect on me personally and simply sitting on the virtual studio idea was no longer an option.

We’re a motion design studio with a deep understanding of brand and message integrity, and a firm awareness of the necessity for a clear interface between the medium of motion design and its audience. In the UK, there’s only a handful of specialist agencies dealing with title sequences, and the same goes for the work we do for the legal sector – certainly outside of London. Going forward, I want to challenge the preconception that you have to go to the capital for this kind of work, and show that we have something fresh and different to offer too.