From Oxford Poly to Ally Pally – Julian’s fascinating journey

Julian Woodfield ’83 recalls his Poly days, blazing a trail in computer animation, founding his own industry-leading company and getting involved in the restoration of an iconic Victorian theatre.

The best thing about Oxford Polytechnic is that it opened up the world to me.

I grew up in a town in Northamptonshire which – like many small towns in the 1970s – was quite an inward looking place. Oxford Poly opened the door to a bigger, more diverse and ultimately, more interesting world. I met people from all backgrounds and nationalities and it felt brilliant.

Education, inspiration and friendships

I studied Sociology and Politics and the many bars on and off the Cowley Road. It was a fantastic education and one that I would highly recommend.

The approach at Oxford Polytechnic was to challenge students to think for themselves. One of my politics lecturers was particularly inspirational – Keith Daniels. He was enthusiastic, always made time for students and was incredibly supportive.

Oxford Poly also provided the cement that has bound together some life-long friendships. In fact, I’ve just got back from spending New Year in a rented house with a group of people I met during those happy student days.

The right place at the right time

I left Oxford Polytechnic in 1983 and moved to London. I had vague ideas about working in the media and London seemed to be the place most likely to make this happen.

I was offered a job as a trainee animator for a new animation studio in Soho that turned out to be a pioneer in – what was then – the brand new world of computer animation. It was extraordinary and I was just incredibly lucky to be in the right place at the right time.

The working hours were unbelievably long, nothing worked properly, we ate a lot of pizza, listened to a lot of Prince, did some animation and it was fab. The studio won heaps of television and animation awards in the 1980s because it was young and bold and not scared to experiment and get things wrong (which we did a lot).

A brave new digital world

In 1994 I co-founded my own company – Media Training Ltd. It was when the first Apple Macs were being sold to the publishing industry in the UK and the idea was to provide professional training for people migrating to this brave new digital world.

Twenty-five years later Media Training is the recognised leader in professional training for the UK’s print design, web design, publishing, broadcast and advertising industries.

New projects

I have now reduced the time I spend working for Media Training to take on new projects. The restoration of the Victorian theatre at Alexandra Palace was a great thing to be a small part of. It reopened for the first time in over 80 years in December 2018. I have also started running guided tours of hidden bits of London which I really enjoy researching and delivering.

It’s been a fascinating journey. The main thing Oxford Poly gave me was belief in my abilities and the confidence to try stuff out.

I would urge all graduates to have belief in themselves. Many students don’t really have a clear idea of what they want to do when they leave University – I certainly didn’t – but you will find your niche, your role in the world and you will instinctively know when you see it. It might not grab you so you must grasp it with both hands.

Words by Julian Woodfield

Read how Poly alumnus, Daniel Battsek ’80, has become one of the most influential figures in cinema

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Read more alumni profiles on the Brookes alumni website