Mair Perkins - College of Arts, Humanities and Education - University of Derby

Mair Perkins, Visual Communication and MDes Visual Communication (Animation), 2011

What are you doing now; tell us about your role and your journey since graduation?

I’m the managing director of a small creative company made up of myself and a team of local freelancers based in a studio on the Strand Arcade in Derby. My business works with local and international organisations including the Peak District National Park, Channel 4, Hat Trick Productions, Vodafone, Microsoft 365, UK Universities, numerous charities and many creative agencies.

I started my business as a sole trader (or freelancer) with the help of the University’s Careers and Employability Service whilst studying for my postgraduate degree at Derby. After graduating in the summer of 2011, I enrolled in a course at the University’s Enterprise centre on “Making Creativity Pay” which was run by David James Ross.

This course gave me the business skills I needed to leave my part time job and go freelance on a full time basis full time. Within six months I’d set up my company and within a year had my first rented studio space. I’ve been happily running a profitable creative business full time ever since.

What were the main reasons you took that course?

When I was 19 and applying to universities, I wanted to have a career involving animation, illustration, storyboards or concept art but was unsure of a specific job role.

Basically something involving getting paid to use my imagination and draw. I wanted a course that would give me space to practice and improve my artistic skills while learning animation software. Derby was ideal for this!

Why did you choose to study the course at the University of Derby?

I chose the course at Derby because it was one of the few universities which offered combined animation, illustration and graphic design modules. Of all the universities I attended for an interview back in 2006, I remember the tutors at the Derby being the most welcoming during the portfolio interviews.

During my visit I also took time to look at the current students’ artwork on display and liked the aesthetic style and the type of projects that the course set. There was an emphasis on communicating through sequential imaging which really appealed to me and I still draw upon even now in my day to day creative business work.

What impact has studying this course at Derby had on your career?

Derby’s animation course gave me technical skills, project management skills, critical thinking skills and confidence to start my own creative business. The course also emphasised independent working.

Unlike many other animation courses which prepare students for job roles with an animation studio team, Derby encouraged us to produce animations individually and as part of a team.

Because of this I was able to confidently freelance as an animator and set up my company where I can create an entire animation from scratch by myself or as part of a team.  

How did the lecturers inspire you?

The lecturers encouraged us to consider the role visual communication plays in society and how it can be used for cause based messages rather than just entertainment or advertising. They were always helpful and their critiques pushed me into working harder and exploring new areas of art and design.

In second year my lecturer set two briefs that made me realise how animation can be used to help make social change. One was about recycling and the other against the fur trade. The fur trade animation I made received an international animation award and was screened as part of the 2009 London Design Festival. The recycling animation won an award in the Northern Design competition 2009 and was shown on the BBC Big Screen located in Derby's Market Place. The exposure I gained from these led to my first freelance animation job with a Los Angeles based independent film company that were producing a documentary about the fur trade.

Since then I’ve continued to pursue cause based design and animation brief (including some for the University of Derby and their Students' Union).  My postgraduate degree area of focus was on sustainable design and cause based visual communication.  

In 2015 I’ve had the joy of creating animations for the Peak District National Park Authority, Choice Support (a London based charity for disabled people) and Nottinghamshire Healthwatch.

How do you feel the University has helped you in your career so far?

Throughout my studies I made sure to take full advantage of all the extra-curricular opportunities the University offered. The Careers and Employability Service was a huge help. I took part in the University of Derby Award which led to my first paid design job - which I applied for through the Student Employment agency.

When I graduated from my undergraduate degree in 2009, I immediately found graphic design jobs thanks again to the Student Employment Agency. One of the jobs was within the Students’ Union marketing department, where I worked for two years whilst studying for my postgraduate degree. It was brilliant and invaluable experience which has helped me with my business and project management skills needed for freelancing.

The course tutors also sign posted job opportunities, work experience placements and gave career advice.

What are your future plans?

I’m currently working on an animation for a UK heritage site and a series of animations about hate crime and campus cohesion for the National Union of Students. My plans are to continue running my business, do more cause based animations and begin working with more international clients.

What would you say to anyone thinking of coming to study this course at the University of Derby?

This course will teach you technical animation skills but more importantly help you develop independent and critical thinking skills and give you the opportunity to explore and find your design area specialism. I would never have imagined being an independent animator with their own company before university. I discovered this is what I wanted to do while on the course.

Who are you still in touch with from University of Derby?

Loads of people! I met my partner of eight years at University and my best friend. Some of my course mates and I set up a Derby based drink and draw group where local artists can met and draw for fun in a pub. I also share studio space with other University of Derby graduates and bump into people I know at local business networking events.


View Mair's work here:

"Derby’s animation course gave me technical skills, project management skills, critical thinking skills and confidence to start my own creative business." Mair Perkins