Perth-based Justin Stewart and his wife Emily are on a mission to alleviate poverty while creating meaningful careers for people in South East Asia. Their ambitious program trains young people in animation skills, and gives them real jobs in a studio that serves some of the biggest names in TV and film production.

Justin runs Ink Animation, a 2D animation studio that works with major production studios across the US and Europe. The business brings together Justin’s background in film and TV and Emily’s teaching and curriculum development skills, to make an impact for young people.

They find people who are naturally creative, train them, and then give them secure jobs that pay far more than those in most industries.

Initially, the business was based in Cambodia, though the studio has both expanded and gone online in the past couple of years and Justin now runs his business from his home in Western Australia.

“We were working from a studio with about 60 trained artists, but when Covid hit we had to switch to a work-from-home model,” Justin says. “My wife and our toddler had come back to Perth when those very strict lockdowns happened, and our teen son and I were in Cambodia. We ended up being separated for three months.”

CommBank supports Ink Animation with transition back to WA

By this point, Justin had been based overseas for the better part of a decade. With his team now working well in a virtual environment, he decided it was time to come back to Western Australia – which brought with it the added opportunity of being able to access funds to expand his organisation.

“As part of our training program, we supply our trainees with computers and tablets. They learn on the job, and are paid while they do it, and they also complete a fine arts curriculum which was developed by my wife, so they have a real qualification. When they finish training, whether they stay with us or move on, they keep their IT gear.

“But local banks in Cambodia won’t lend money to a foreigner to buy computers, so that limited our growth.”

Ink Animation was recently awarded a major project for a high-profile production house, but in order to deliver the work, Justin needed more IT equipment and more staff. The investment was needed up front, but the revenue is only realised as work is completed.

“Up to this point I had just cash flowed my way through business with no loan capacity, but being back in Australia meant I could approach CommBank for support. I met with my business banking specialist at my local branch, who was able to look at what I needed and quickly set up a line of credit,” Justin says.

His CommBank business banker, Kevin Macaraig says he considered what Justin was trying to achieve and the available options, and knew a line of credit would be a good choice for Justin at this point in his business development.

“It allows a lot of flexibility because as you pay it down, the funds are available to draw on again for the next investment you need to make. After meeting with Justin to understand what he was trying to do, I was able to get his application lodged and assessed quickly, so the funds could be available to him in under a month.”

Justin says he is now looking at coming back to the bank to discuss funding for further expansion.

Big ambitions at home and abroad

“We want to grow to 300 trained artists across South East Asia and I would also really love to work with some young Aussie artists out of WA TAFE too, plus we are hoping to launch an academy of creative arts in Cambodia.

“We try to have a couple of projects underway at any one time to manage cashflow and fund our training programs but as we grow we’ll need additional support and will be looking to the bank for that.”

Justin says that ultimately what he and Emily want is to make a difference.

“Young people want a quality job that they can enjoy and where they have real prospects for career progression,” Justin says. “We offer real incomes that families can live on, and real training and prospects. We’re proud to be helping address poverty while supporting creative young people to build careers from their talents.”