How Grumpy Sailor became the go-to creative studio for brands around the world

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You may not have heard of Grumpy Sailor, but you’re probably familiar with their work without even realising it.


From the Royal Shakespeare Company to the “Uluru on Google Street View” launch, Grumpy Sailor are the go-to creative minds for companies and individuals looking to find unique, innovative ways to display their projects.

Self-confessed storytellers and technologists, there are no ends to the abilities of the Grumpy Sailor crew. Any limitation is fought with their mantra, “If there’s something we can’t do, we find the person who can and invite them to come aboard.”

We asked friends and co-directors Claire Evans and James Boyce to sit down with us and reveal how the company continuously stays ahead of the game with their dynamic, original ideas.

So, how would you describe what Grumpy Sailor does?

Claire Evans: Grumpy Sailor is an agile creative studio, and we explore with digital, storytelling and technology.

James Boyce: We work across multiple sectors. It’s a multidisciplinary team so we’ve got writers, directors, designers, project managers, developers, niche technologists. Essentially we each have core competencies, and then we can expand and contract the team depending on what the project requires.

Pixel box-Grumpy Sailors

How do you guys combine digital technology and storytelling in your projects?

CE: At Grumps we’re really interested in storytelling; we feel strongly that stories are the fabric that keep people engaged.

We try to use digital and technology to really enrich stories and engage with users to create very memorable experiences.

Storytelling forms the backbone of a lot of what we do, so for us, it’s not about technology for technology’s sake.

JB: We did a project, I remember over in the UK. It was one of the first projects that I did as Grumpy Sailor with the Royal Shakespeare Company. We put on a performance of Midsummer Night’s Dream and one of the first things they asked the audience to do was to use their phone during the performance, which is something that the Royal Shakespeare Company would have found very difficult to ask their audience to do.

Firstly, can you tell us where did the name Grumpy Sailor come from?

JB: Grumpy Sailor in its current form is probably a little over five years old now. The origin of the name Grumpy Sailor is actually this guy here (picks up wooden sailor toy). When I was a little kid, my parents gave me these wooden sailors – if I go back as far as I possibly can to my earliest memory, it’s that yellow sailor.

What would you say is the project that perfectly captures what you guys do?

JB: That’s hard to answer! We’re kind of super critical of our work. I think most people would not want to hear us talk about our projects the way that we do, but we pull them apart afterwards because every project is a learning experience.

CE:At Grumps we do a really wide variety of things, from feature films to digital interactives, so it’s hard to pick one project! Perhaps because it’s so recent, I’d say creating the MadHatters Tea Party for ACMI’s Wonderland Exhibition. It really encompasses everything that Grumps is about; yes it’s a spectacle, it’s beautiful, it’s aesthetically arresting, but at the heart of it is this amazing story by Lewis Carroll about imagination.

Alice in wonderland set- Grumpy Sailor

What do you think is the pinnacle of innovation that you’re currently working with?

JB: I think how we bring technology into space and spacial design is something that I’m particularly interested in because a digital experience has been tied to a screen for so long. So, as soon as you take it out of a screen, what does that mean? Like, how do you have a nuanced, customised, digital experience, and how do you tell a story when you don’t have that leg to stand on when you take that screen away?

What are the fundamental creative principles that guide your work?

Curiosity is the foundation of Grumpy Sailor, really. It’s that we never want to stop being curious.

CE: We don’t want to rest on our laurels. It’ll be a lot easier for us as a business to repeat the same kinds of projects over and over again so that we could always learn from those mistakes and just get really, really efficient, but that’s just not in our interest or in our remit.

JB: Everyone is creative. We do not subscribe to the old agency model of having two creative people, normally white men, that sit in a room and are the only creative people in a company. That is not how we work.

You talked a lot about how you guys collaborate. How does Adobe Creative Cloud for teams help you guys do that?

JB: It’s a weird thing to ask. Well, sorry, it’s not a weird thing to ask. It’s a weird thing to say because our business is so critically dependent on the Adobe Creative Crowd and I don’t think there’s any other product out there that we could use to do the things that we do.

CE: What’s really great about Adobe Creative Cloud for teams for Grumpy Sailor is that everyone at different levels of the business can access it. So whether you’re not as literate with the tools (like me) or you’re a designer who’s been working on them for ten years, we’ve got ways of interfacing between those tools and sharing them with the team.

We’re a multidisciplinary team, so everybody needs to understand we need a shared common language, and the shared common language is that suite of products.

JB: Adobe Creative Cloud allows us to seamlessly integrate projects, share assets, know where things are and use things in a way that doesn’t set somebody off on the wrong track. So, whether it be After Effects or InDesign or Illustrator or Photoshop, everybody’s creating assets all day every day.

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