Sometimes partnerships can be magic and yield the most inspiring results.

If you haven’t heard of Jumbla you’ve almost certainly seen their work. Through their design and animation for TV and web, they’ve shaped the look and feel of some of the country’s most iconic identities including the AFL Grand Final, Melbourne Spring Fashion Week and Yellow. With interconnected studios in the UK and Melbourne, Jumbla are long-standing creative partners of The Brand Pool.


When The Brand Pool asked Jumbla to help bring the characters to life for Project Firestorm, they couldn’t say no. “We see ourselves as an extension of The Brand Pool, almost like their animation department” Jumbla Producer, Danielle Kilgour said.

Developed for the NSW Rural Fire Service in partnership with The New South Wales Department of Education, Project Firestorm is a school program targeting geography students learning about bush fire resilience. Aimed at kids in years four and five, Project Firestorm aims to capture the imagination of kids who have massive ideas when it comes to problem-solving.

Having spent months conceiving the idea and user experience, The Brand Pool were excessively passionate about injecting the magic into all aspects of the brand.

As it turned out, Project Firestorm became a passion project for Jumbla too.

Designing the Firestormers

It all started with a good brief

The Firestormers were created to guide students through five levels of learning, as they work together to develop innovative ideas, tools and inventions to help solve real world issues.

“The Brand Pool came to us with a great brief which allowed our creatives to unpack each character’s unique personality and focus on the art direction” Jumbla Character Artist Richard Shilling said.

“Inspired by big blockbusters like The Avengers, it was important that these characters felt cool but were still grounded in reality,” The Brand Pool Head of Digital, Georgina Hannekum said. “The characters needed to feel like real primary school kids, so instead of giving them super powers we wrote each character to have specific skills, knowledge and abilities to help them succeed in the Project Firestorm world.”

Inspired by sci-fi and computer games like Mass-Effect, Jumbla started by crafting the characters bodies and uniforms to work alongside the futuristic look and feel of the digital interface.

“Action movies like Ironman also inspired us, we combined aspects of all of these influences with the uniforms of real-life fire-fighters,” Jumbla Creative Director, Oz Smith said.

Creative inspiration for Project Firestorm
Creative inspiration for Project Firestorm

Accomplishing more, together

Not afraid of too many cooks, Jumbla involved as many people in their studio as possible, accessing a wide variety of skillsets. This enabled the team to get different creative interpretations of the same core brief, whittling them down until we had a clear idea of each character.

“We love nothing more than receiving a brief that gives us the opportunity to maximise all of the different talents in our studio, and Project Firestorm was definitely one of those!” Kilgour added.

Using a style guide meant that all concept development aligned to the core creative direction, even with multiple hands touching the project at any given time.

Detail from the Project Firestorm style guide
Detail from the Project Firestorm style guide

The devil in the detail

“Everything was scrutinised!” Shilling said. “The characters needed to be realistic. We knew The Brand Pool wanted kids to see themselves in the Firestormers and to believe the overall mission would be achievable in real-world circumstances.”

The more detail something has, particularly in 3D, the more realistic it will feel – but going too far toward super-realism runs the risk of characters looking a tad creepy, alienating the viewer, and potentially removing them from the situation.

“We needed to strike a balance of realness and stylisation to give Project Firestorm an overall look that kids appreciate” added Schillings.

Using real world textures, combined with more animated facial expressions and brighter colour palette, enabled Jumbla to create an element of seriousness whilst keeping the characters feeling fun and engaging.

From 2D sketches to 3D development
From 2D sketches to 3D development

The biggest challenge? 

“The hair! Getting that looking right in 3D is always technically tricky” said Schillings.

In fact, the Firestormers and every single element of Project Firestorm went through many iterations before landing on their final look and feel. The amount of work that goes into this kind of animation is often astounding. Every element in terms of how and what it would communicate needs to be considered.

“From initial 2D character concepts right through to 3D sculpting, rigging and animating, we wanted to achieve the best possible outcome and challenged ourselves to make the seemingly impossible possible!” Kilgour added.

Firestormer M-Power

On agile

The beauty of animation is that everything can be changed – infinitely. But with a fixed project scope and a condensed timeline, working in agile (where multiple facets of the project could be developed concurrently, and quickly) was key.

“On top of the complex character design, we also needed to develop motion graphics to tell the story. From texturing to modelling and animating, it was a massive 3D job” added Smith. “By developing templates, we were able to build out each characters individual video, and drop in the final characters when the models were ready – right at the end.”

It was this fluid workflow that still allowed for high levels of creative development, without sacrificing the overall project timeline, enabling the team to deliver a large scope of work on time and on budget.

The success of Project Firestorm can be measured in clicks, signups and video views, but the real measure will be in the ideas that the kids develop and the difference this could have in the real world. “Challenging and fun every step of the way – it was such a pleasure to work on a project that can have such a profound and positive impact on the community” added Smith.

Project Firestorm is a fully-interactive website, available to students and teachers across NSW.


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