I met the owner of Second Floor Studios, Kyle Stephen a couple months ago and as he shook my hand, he later revealed that he knew this was going to be a great interview. Read the published article in T&T’s Newsday here.

Admittedly I was on the verge of leaving, but once I saw Kyle walking towards me, we both started to grin for no apparent reason and I forgot that he was late (only because he was collecting his staff for work)! I guess that’s how positive energy works.

Half way through the interview talking to him I couldn’t believe he was only 23! His wisdom, maturity and professionalism is unmatched. He opened up quite a bit and shared his life story with me, some of which was off record and I was left in awe of his courage and determination to succeed. Thanks for sharing Kyle and may God continue to bless you abundantly in a way that only He can.

Founder and CEO Kyle Stephen with his Second Floor Studios family
YaY I got them to all laugh! photo credit – C.K. Correia (c) 2016

ANIMATION has been been gaining popularity in TT and some of our citizens have made their mark internationally in this billion-dollar, global industry. According to The Centre of Innovation, Technology and Global Entrepreneurship it is growing internationally at a rate of 12% per annum, with an estimated current worth of US$115 billion.

Kyle Stephen hopes to assist in placing our twin-island republic on the map starting with his company Second Floor Studios, making Trinidad and Tobago the hub of the Caribbean and portal to the foreign industries. Having founded his business in 2011 which is located in Frederick Settlement Caroni, the young CEO says, “We are just one of the pieces to that big puzzle.”

Busy at work founder and CEO of Second Floor Studios guiding employee Jessica Yawching at their studios at Frederick Settlement Caroni
photo credit – C. K. Correia (c)2016

A former Fine arts student of St. Mary’s College, he had hopes of becoming an archeologist or lawyer but decided on a career in animation after realizing that those professions were costly and required a lot of time and travel which he did not have back then. Stephen recalls, “One day my aunt saw an ad in the newspaper about a UTT Diploma in animation and digital media studies and the rest as they say is history.”

At first he did not know what exactly animation was, but he did know it entailed composing frames and he loved the fact that he could apply the same arts principle. “I had an interest which grew into a passion when I learnt about the possibilities to make things move on a screen.”

For those of us who may not know what animation is, Stephen broke it down in layman’s terms. I learnt that there is 2D animation where Disney films such as the Lion King, Sleeping Beauty and Little Mermaid use linear drawings on each page frame by frame (or picture by picture).

Then there is 3D – three dimensional films such as Shrek, Transformers and Avengers that uses animation using computer generated imagery usually involving 3D models and props unlike its hand drawn counterpart.

Jeep composition 2 with cloth and tags

3D concept vehicle for Second Floor Studios’ Web series, The Island. photo credit SFS Artist Alex Jadoo

The company researched techniques that helped them evolve from a 2D company to 3D animations and today they are a full visual effects studio that produces Stop motion, visual effects (CGI – computer generated imagery matt painting, 3D modelling, rigging and animation, simulations).

His aim is to be the best at what he does and produce feature length films, bringing a new element to the local animation landscape and making our country marketable internationally.

But why would someone want animation you may ask? “Nowadays everyone wants moving content for their website, billboard, Facebook page and when you consider static versus moving, you will always be drawn to moving because there’s more interaction” he explains.

On average the services most in demand are two minute videos and productions with most of the company’s work coming from film and production studios as well as ad agencies, however they have done work for international companies.

Stephen says animation provides much more than entertainment and inspiration, but it is important for the average person because it helps bring to life what could not have been seen before/impractical e.g. dragons, kingdoms, dinosaurs. So it allows the moviegoer to live vicariously through the animator’s imagination.

His dedicated staff are responsible for storyboarding, pre-production, concept art and admin and he says they are the family he lost, “I created the family who is my team and the team who is my family…we are not blood, but we behave like it,” he says as looks to them with a proud smile.

20 years from now as the owner of Second Floor Studios, Stephen wants to see not only an expansion of the size of his staff, but also its capabilities. He wants to make contact with large studios such as Disney and liaise with TT and other foreign entities. In addition, he wants to create a Learning Centre for persons who may not have the finances, so they can have access to study animation at a beginner’s level.

Matte painting still

Digital Matte Painting & composition of a fantasy Port  of Spain by Second Floor team

You may be thinking why the name Second Floor Studios, but there’s a great story behind the name. Stephen who lost both his mother and grandmother in the same year followed swiftly by his favourite uncle, was sitting on the second floor of the John Donaldson Technical Institute one evening after classes looking out toward the sunset where he had a life changing epiphany.

It was nearing the end of his first year of school in 2011 and with a few days before his birthday he sat thinking about life and how the story of our lives parallels the sunset. He explains metaphorically that when you are born, the sun will rise and when you die the sun will set on your life and he did not want the sun to set on his life before its time.

With a pensive look, he shares, “One day I too will die, I don’t know when it will be or how it will be, but I do know before that time comes I don’t want to be a victim of my circumstances. I want to leave my mark on this world in a positive way, whether I have children or not, I want my legacy to totally change the face of how people thought my future would have turned out.”

Stephen who exudes the wisdom and philosophies way beyond his 23 years, shares that he had to cope with a great deal from a very young age including having to move from house to house after his mom died and relying solely on himself for everything. “I want the name Second Floor Studios to not only represent where and why my company got started, but also reflect my life as a man and as a Spirit where clients bring their ideas to us and leave with finished products.”

The young entrepreneur’s story demonstrates that good things come to those who pray. When people hear the Second Floor Studios name, he wants people to remember that it is a local business, started in Trinidad by a Trinidadian under Trinidadian circumstances (real issues – familial issues).

He wants others to see someone who broke the mould and started off the business with very little resources which went toward urgent matters and day-to-day living. Now at only 23, he is able to own his first home and vehicle, start his business and even provide employment for other young people like himself. He smiles as he says, “I want creatives to find a home and become better at what they do.”

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He offers advice to others saying it is important to channel your anger and frustration into constructive things. “I want persons to know that there’s always a way out because I survived despite hardships, grief, peer pressure, lack of support and finances. I spoke to God like I was having a conversation and started to see improvements in my life when I decided to become happy where I was. I have much to be thankful for – I am alive, I have my two hands and I have my talent.”

FB_IMG_1445636603316He attributes his success in life and business to his grandmother Grace Stephen, his uncle Gerard Stephen (both deceased)who he says is responsible for the person he is today.

“They laid the foundation for my faith in God, who is solely responsible for my transformation throughout the years.”

He says his girlfriend Tieneka Seebaran has also been instrumental to his business in many ways and of course the UTT uStart Business Incubator for the space and access to machines. Stephen says animation veteran Camille Selvon-Abrahams was also a great inspiration to him to make a difference in the local creative circuit as well as his mentor and St. Mary’s College predecessor and Studio 19 CEO Rayhaan Joseph.

Stephen wants to see quality work in the local film and animation industry via new ideas, stories and content and not just following typical textbook procedures in creating content.  He says in countries such as India animation is a booming industry and if we can diversify our offerings to include animation, we will be able to carve our niche and generate additional revenue for TT.

Second Floor Studios is willing to collaborate with corporate and/or government bodies to not only create the learning centre, but develop a space, a system or ecosystem where the creative industries can prepare to attract the big fish.

The same shows and blockbuster movies you see on television and pay big bucks for at theatres are the same work creatives like us do. Large corporate and even government entities may think they are taking a gamble by investing in the creative industry, but if more capital investment, networking opportunities and resources are made available locally, the sky is the limit for our efforts as we would be able to earn our spot on the map,” Stephen says brimming with passion, confidence and hope.

For more: Second Floor Studios – secondfloorstudiosproductions@gmail.com. Facebook – SfloorStudios.

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That’s me & the owner of Second Floor Studios

 

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