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Profile image for Brent Chambers

Brent Chambers

Animator, Producer

For most kids growing up in New Zealand in the 60s, Disney cartoon features playing at the local fleapit were a regular entertainment staple. The Jungle Book, The Sword in the Stone, Sleeping Beauty — they came and went, with their bouncy tunes and peerless hand drawn artistry. 

Thousands of Kiwi youngsters likely doodled facsimiles of characters from these films into their exercise books. A few dreamed of emulating what they'd seen, and trying to make their drawings move. But it was a preposterous notion. Rostrum cameras were rare, and cost a fortune. And there was no local education available in animation techniques.

It would take exceptional will and talent to shift such dreams into the realm of the possible.

So the first fumblings of any neophyte animator had to begin with a more accessible medium  pen and paper. Brent Chambers started collaborating with school friend Stephen Maire, who was interested in writing. "We used to create comics during lunchtimes together,” said Chambers. Years later, the pair would write pre-school animated series Wiki the Kiwi.

Chambers was soon hooked on drawing and storytelling. He went on to study graphic design at Auckland Technical Institute, where his first screen gig involved supplying animation for an episode of Kaleidoscope devoted to Margaret Mahy. Perhaps a flair for entertainment ran in the blood. “My great grandfather Charles Chambers was a theatre producer," said Chambers. "In the 1890s he put on a very successful stage show of Alfred Hill’s Hinemoa.”

Chambers tried his hand at acting early on too. He got a bit part in 1978 television drama Gather Your Dreams, but the attractions of performance soon fell away as he focused on the creative activity that would define his life. “They say animators are actors who don't have the nerve to get in front of the camera, so here I am," he said.

Chambers was lucky to cross paths with two remarkable people, perfectly placed to offer the training and experience he needed. The first was John Ewing, who had worked as an animator at Disney Studios in the '50s and '60s. In 1967 Ewing moved to NZ, where he turned his skills to classic commercials including Ches'n'Dale and Lotto. 

The local artists Ewing taught and mentored over many years add up to a very large influence. After time as a graphic designer in London, Chambers became one of them, when he started at Ewing and Barry Pearce’s company Freelance Animators in 1988. Ewing was a direct conduit to the very source of the young New Zealander’s inspiration; he’d helped craft classic features like Sleeping Beauty and The Jungle Book, the same films Chambers had grown up watching.

Chambers beavered away at traditional hand-drawn animation under Ewing's tutelage, starting with a four year stint supplying animation for Warner Brothers. He took over leadership of the company after Ewing’s retirement in 1995, and set up advertising division FAL. By now the company was turning most of its energies to training; Chambers left and set up Whizdom Animation, part of Telecom’s short-lived cable venture Kids TV, and was also nominated as Cartoonist of the Year in the 1996 Qantas Media Awards. 

Ambitions to grow an independent business were shaped by contact with another giant in the field. Yoram Gross was an Australian-based producer who came to specialise in children’s films, particularly animated productions with a strong cultural identity like Dot and the Kangaroo, and Blinky Bill. Later Gross diversified into TV series production, and established contacts with creators like Chambers in order to service the requirements of these shows.

Chambers was influenced and inspired by Yoram Gross’s combination of shrewd business acumen, and cultural sensitivity. He gratefully acknowledged Gross — who died in September, 2015  for giving him “breaks” and many years of mentoring. 

So, Chambers and his wife Sue were well-prepared, artistically, and in terms of his commercial experience, when they set up their own company, Flux Animation Studios in 1997 (Sue would go on to lead the company's commercials arm). Within a year they delivered richly animated series Tamatoa the Brave Warrior, the tale of a pre-European Māori boy, a moa, a tuatara and a kereru. 

From the beginning, the goal was to make the company sustainable. Chambers aimed to do this by creating original work aimed at very specific markets, and by embracing new, computer-driven animation technologies.

“I always wanted to make cartoons. I realised the money for our own shows could not all come from within New Zealand, we simply don't have the population to afford it. The greater opportunity seemed to be to co-fund New Zealand-created series and sell our content to the world.”

“We were 11 animators making TV commercials out of a basement in Grey Lynn, we developed half-a-dozen TV concepts, jumped on a plane and headed to MIPTV  the international television market  to show what we put together.”

The results have been more than 20 distinctive, oft quirky shows, many of which have sold overseas. Depending on the number of projects on the go, the Flux team can range from 35 to 65 staff; Chambers was glad to say that a number have been with Flux for over than a decade.

Shows with strongly indigenous elements like The Adventures of Massey Ferguson have been able to access international markets. Chambers also rated the 52 half-hour episodes of Staines Down Drains as a game-changer for Flux. Set in an an alternate reality inside the drains, the show involved companies in three countries, and proved a solid international seller. 

Flux went on to provide the animation for Leanne Pooley-directed 25 April (2015), the first animated feature both originated and animated in New Zealand (1986's Footrot Flats: The Dog's Tail was animated in Australia). 25 April tells the story of Gallipoli through the eyes of six soldiers Flux has also provided animated sequences for environmental documentary An Inconvenient Truth and America’s Saturday Night Live. 

Distinctive graphic design concepts and strong execution have made Flux Animation Studios New Zealand's longest-running and most successful producer of original animated content. Chambers was understandably proud of what he had built. But when asked what he'd most like to do if he weren’t running a business, his answer revealed the persistence of his passion.

“I think I would go back to being an animator. It's a great craft and very rewarding spending the day trying to do a better drawing.”

Brent Chambers passed away on the first of October 2016.

Profile written by Costa Botes


Sources include
Brent Chambers
Flux Animation website. Accessed 29 October 2015
'Brent Chambers' LinkedIn website. Accessed 29 October 2015
Rebecca Stevenson, 'Creator Gets Animated About His Work' (Interview) - Stuff website. Loaded 27 May 2013. Accessed 29 October 2015
'Flux Animation looks to the future' (Interview) (Broken link), TV One, 200
'Wiki the Kiwi comes to TV' (Interview) - Auckland City Harbour News, 13 September 2013
'Industry Interview: Brent Chambers Flux Animation' (Interview) Animation College website (Broken link). Loaded 25 November 2013. Accessed 29 October 2015