Irish animators drawing international attention
ANALYSIS: Aside from plaudits, Irish animation also earns its keep with revenues of over €40m, writes PAMELA DUNCAN
IRISH ANIMATORS are continuing to draw international attention with two Irish animated films on the shortlist for Oscar nomination, and two more shown at Sundance Film Festival.
The Secret of Kells has made the last 16 in the animated feature film section at the Oscars, while Granny O’Grimm’s Sleeping Beauty has been shortlisted for nomination in the animated short film category. The final five nominations in each category are to be announced tomorrow. Old Fangs, produced by Kilkenny company Cartoon Saloon, and Please Say Something , directed by David O’Reilly, also from Kilkenny, were both shown at Sundance.
But aside from earning plaudits, the Irish animation sector is also earning its keep. Dubbed the “star performer” of the film and TV industry in this year’s report of the Audiovisual Federation, the sector’s total output reached €38.9 million in 2008, with €43 million estimated for 2009. Animation is the only independent audiovisual sector which predicts growth this year. It is now the largest provider of full-time employment in the Irish independent film and television sector, with 337 jobs in 2008.
Kevin Moriarty, chairman of the Audiovisual Federation steering committee, says that the animation industry is a perfect example of the smart economy.
There are innate advantages to animation. Firstly, there is a wide audience given that animation is easily dubbed into other languages. Good for employees is that it takes time: 30 seconds of animation can take a week. “The gestation period for productions can be one, two or three years – so . . . people have regular employment,” Moriarty says.
Cathal Gaffney, co-founder of Dublin-based Brown Bag Films, and a nominee for this year’s Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of the Year, says that the success of the Irish animation sector is bigger than the sum of its parts.
“A lot of the studios have matured and have a strong presence in the international marketplace now,” he says.
Brown Bag Films currently has 55 full-time staff, providing another 15 jobs on a freelance basis. Gaffney says that, as indigenous studios invest money back into Irish animation, they are building the industry and securing long-term work. Gaffney points to Nicky Phelan, who joined Brown Bag Films after college and worked his way up to direct the Ifta-winning short Granny O’Grimm’s Sleeping Beauty .
“The people working in animation . . . they’re building a career, and you can see them moving around studios and staying in studios for a number of years. It is very heartening because it makes the animation sector very strong internationally,” says Gaffney.
However, difficulties remain. Gaffney says that Irish studios succeed in spite of the absence of a strong domestic market. “We really have no option but to become an export-focused sector,” he says, adding that 90 per cent of Brown Bag’s business is export-based.
Irish studios have built up good relationships in different territories to ensure a flow of work into the country.
Through a combination of collaborations, work-for-hire productions and creating, producing and exploiting intellectual property, Ireland has made a name for itself as “a safe pair of hands”.
Paul Young is a partner with Cartoon Saloon and a producer on The Secret of Kells . In its day-to-day operations Cartoon Saloon employs 17 people, 10 full-time. While producing The Secret of Kells and Skunk Fu! it employed 75 people full-time.
Young says that “design, artistic and storytelling talent” here in Ireland coupled with the attractiveness of the section 481 tax incentive are driving the sector forward.
However, he says that it’s necessary for Irish studios to collaborate with foreign studios. The Secret of Kells , for example, was co-produced in Belgium and France, but the Kilkenny-based studio took the lead – the creative blueprints, key animation and backgrounds, storyboard, voice recording and design were all carried out in Ireland.
Young says that the goal for Irish studios is not simply to provide service work for foreign studios but to produce and own a catalogue of content which will continue to generate sales and revenue.
“That’s what the whole smart economy thing is all about,” Young says.
Studios are also exploiting technological avenues. JAM Media is in the process of further developing its “head-hunter” technology, which allows users to use their image to become the star of their own show. Chief executive John Rice says Irish studios are “punching above their weight” on the international market, aided by the tax incentive and Irish Film Board support.
Emma Scott, production executive with the Irish Film Board, which provides around €1 million for animation projects each year, says that, while Irish studios continue to demonstrate a high level of creativity, they are also astute business people who recognise the commercial opportunities which exist around holding the rights to productions. Licensing, merchandise and personalised technology are just some of the wider opportunities.
“It’s a commodity. They’re creating a product and they see it as that – it’s a creative product which they can go out and exploit on a number of different platforms,” Scott says.
Star studios: top producers
Brown Bag Films
Best known for Oscar-nominated short Give Up Yer Aul Sins . Successful TV series include Olivia for US Nickelodeon and Noddy in Toyland .
Producer of the Year at Cartoon Forum in 2008 and Producer of the Year at Cartoon Movie in 2009. Tomm Moore, director of The Secret of Kells , was named Director of the Year at Cartoon Movie in 2009. The Secret is one of two 2D films on the shortlist for nomination in the animated feature film category for the Oscars. The studio’s Skunk Fu! series has been broadcast in over 120 countries.
Achieved critical acclaim with the BBC series Roy , which centres on the trials and tribulations of a cartoon boy who lives in the real world. The series was born out of a short called Badly Drawn Roy .
Currently working on a feature length animation, Little Caribou .
Series Garth and Bev is broadcast on CBeebies. The company has just signed a deal with Yowza to bring Mort Walker’s comic strip Hi Lois to the small screen.
Series Ballybraddan was launched on RTÉ in 2009. Its Fluffy Gardens series was a global success.
Niko and the Stars was distributed worldwide.