Thursday, 24 October 2013

Meet our Tutors - Rob Kelly

Rob Kelly teaches Camera, TV production, Design and Motion Graphics at Bucks
Rob Kelly is a vastly experienced commercials director with a long and varied career in advertising and branding, and has numerous awards to his name. He has also worked as a creative director and graphic designer for some of the top branding, advertising and design agencies in London. We asked him to tell us about his remarkable career - and what brought him to teach here at Bucks New University.

Bucks: How did you come to be teaching here at Bucks New University?

Rob: A few years ago one of my kids’ teachers ‘volunteered’ me go into their school to teach Photoshop (I am a TV graphic designer/creative director as well as a TV commercials director). I realised instantly the buzz I get from teaching: watching the pennies drop as my students realise what they are capable of achieving.

BBC 2 Ident directed by Rob Kelly
I later went to Middlesex University to study for a PGCE teaching qualification but realised straight away that secondary schools were not the environment that I could best flourish in. It was obvious to me that higher education was the most appropriate environment for me to teach in given my professional background.

I got my teaching qualification and started looking for a university that teaches the subjects I specialise in: film, TV, design, animation, motion graphics and visual effects. It took a whole year to find the right job that I felt completely comfortable with but I am very happy that I waited for this position at Bucks.
Some career highlights
Bucks: What is your area of expertise and what are the projects you have worked on that you are most proud of?

Rob: I started off as a TV graphic designer at the BBC Open University before progressing to a company called Lambie-Nairn, one of the top branding and design agencies in the UK where I won many national and international design awards. Lambie-Nairn was the design group that created the original Channel 4 and BBC2 TV idents. My areas of expertise include TV graphic design, animation, motion graphics, green screen compositing, computer generated imagery, visual effects, special effects, live action direction, commercials direction and creative problem-solving.

Bucks: Which projects stand out the most?

Rob: Of the many projects I’ve worked on three really stand out. The first one was the very first TV title sequence I was ever asked to design at the BBC. The sequence went on to win a prestigious Design and Art Direction (D&AD) silver award for ‘outstanding educational graphic design.’ As I remember it only cost £100 to make but it kick-started my whole career!

BBC 2 Ident by Rob Kelly
The second project I am most proud of was a title sequence I designed for the Beatles Anthology, a TV history of the Beatles. You need to understand that I am the world’s biggest Beatles fan (I once never listened to any other band for three years! Seriously.) I got to meet a lot of the key people at Apple records, who I’d read about, and eventually got to work with Paul McCartney himself, who’s actually a really decent cove. We got on very well and we worked together on several more of his projects, but I was never allowed to ask for an autograph or have my photograph taken with him!

My favourite quote from my time working on the anthology was Apple’s MD telling me he was going to fax my initial storyboard to Paul and Yoko for their approval. I nearly fainted. He also once asked me to pitch on the design of the Beatles Anthology record covers, casually dropping in the fact that the other people I was pitching against were David Hockney, Klaus Voorman (designed the cover of Revolver) and Sir Peter Blake (designed the cover of Sgt. Pepper). Needless to say I didn’t win the pitch!

The third was a project I worked on last year for Watford Football Club. Bucks decided to embark on a very ambitious TV test project called The Hornets Show. This was to be a huge collaboration between animation students, film/TV students and audio students together with external clients from Watford FC, a professional TV presenter and Adam Leventhal, a specialist sports presenter/consultant from Sky Sports.

Each month the students create a 30 minute football magazine programme in a green screen studio composited into a beautiful CGI set that the 3D animation students designed. It was a very ambitious project but it was well worth all the effort because the students learned a huge amount, they really enjoyed working on it and the results looked fantastic, even if I say so myself. It’s probably true to say that no other university animation/film/TV course can offer such an ambitious and complex project which the students can use on their showreels to try to find work when they graduate. But it very nearly killed me though!

The Hornet Show

Bucks: What do you like most about teaching?

Rob: The best thing about teaching is the students. University students are here studying their specialised subjects, because they want to be here. What they learn here is what they will mostly be doing for the rest of their professional working lives. This makes it fundamentally different from teaching in a secondary school, where students are required to study subjects that they may well not be interested in. I love the way students grow more confident and self-assured and mature over the three years to become masters of their craft.

I still enjoy watching the pennies drop inside students’ heads when they realise how to achieve fantastic results after being taught some new technical skill. It sounds like a cliché but it’s endlessly rewarding.

I also love the many ‘Mr Chips’ moments that I have had the good fortune to experience since I have been here. For example, last year a second year student showed me a film he had made for a client which was so beautiful that it made me cry, right there in front of the whole class! Not something I would ordinarily do lightly. The students clearly understood why though!

Bucks: What are the biggest challenges for the students at Bucks?

Rob: Clearly the financial impact of the recent government changes to student fees have made a big difference to the student experience. However, interest in our courses seems to be higher now than before the increase in student fees. Students still clearly value a high quality university education as preparation for a profitable career. Many students have to balance part-time paid work with their university work in order to make money to live on. This doesn’t usually interfere with their studies but tutors are usually aware if there are any problems on the horizon and can offer pastoral care and advice to help their students.

Bucks: What advice would you give to any students considering applying to Bucks?

Rob: You should consider the results of the teaching at Bucks: look at recent graduates’ showreels (their animation/ film/TV projects). Is this the level of quality that you aspire to? At Open Days, talk to the lecturers who will be teaching you: decide if you’d like to be taught by them. Fully understand the course you’ll be studying and compare it to what you imagine you want to do. Consider the environment you’ll be working in, such as the Gateway, which is an incredible environment to teach and learn in.

The Gateway Building - our main media hub
On open days talk to the student ambassadors to see how they themselves feel about studying at Bucks. Walk around High Wycombe and see if it’s a place you’d like to spend three years. Go and see the halls of residence: decide if this is an environment you’d enjoy living in for your first year. Go and see other universities teaching the same subjects so that you can compare and contrast universities: make an informed decision where you’d like to study for three years. Consider whether you’d feel happy in all of these contexts as this is a big decision to make.

High Street in High Wycombe

Bucks: How can our existing students get the most out of their course?

Rob: When you arrive at any university in your first year it is essential to use your freshers’ (first) week to make as many friends as you possibly can. Stay in the halls of residence if you can, visit the students’ union, socialise, join as many clubs as you can, even join clubs that you’re not really interested in! Just make as many friends as you can. This first week at uni could shape your student experience and happiness for the next three years. The friends you make in your first week at uni could possibly be some of the friends you have for the rest of your life. I made the mistake of staying in my room feeling homesick the first two weeks when I first went to uni and had the most miserable and unhappy year.

On a more serious note when you work in any creative industry, whether it be animation, design, TV, photography, whatever, it is important to realise that in order to really excel in your field the real drive must come from within you. A university can teach you amazing things but if you don’t have the drive to push yourself to your limits you can’t achieve real excellence. Anyone can be taught to use animation software or a camera but you need to find it from within yourself to reach the heights of a John Lasseter, a Brad Bird, a Jon Favreau, a Paul Greengrass or a Ridley Scott.

The philosophy of Bucks university is quite simple: employability. Our animation and TV courses are designed to instil a sense of real professionalism in order that our students can find employment and forge a high quality career for themselves. Even though I’ve been working in the creative industries in many capacities for 30 years I still have to give 110% on every project I work on. If I don’t then I know my competitors certainly will. I must be doing something right - as I’m still working!

Title Sequence: Arabian Gulf Cup
Rob Kelly runs lectures and workshops on advanced camera skills, TV production, After Effects, Final Cut Pro and Photoshop to undergraduate students at all levels at Bucks New University. To see more of Rob's work, check out his excellent demo reel at

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