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Piranha Bar Gets Creative In 2009
04 Mar 2009 : By Roisin Cronin
Having come off an extremely busy year, IFTN catches up with Dave Burke and Marc Long from Dublin's post and graphic boutique, Piranha Bar, to talk recent projects, getting creative with budgets and the challenges that are facing post houses in the current economic climate.

Since opening in 2002, Piranha Bar's constantly increasing portfolio now oversees work in graphics, commercials, broadcast and animation. It is no wonder then that the company has had to expand their facility which now covers three floors at 37 Fitzwilliam Square - practically doubling in size from just over 3,550 sq ft to 6,500 / 7,000 sq ft. Moving from the previous basement setup, editors now have light filled rooms overlooking Fitzwilliam Square, with the animation studio spread across a whole floor and of course the main reception area which has been reaping in compliments for it's striking black walls - quite an unusual thing to do, especially in a Georgian building.  

With the commercial and animation side overseeing such work as Rice Krispie Squares and Guinness's 250th anniversary, recent broadcast work includes; 'The History of Irish Comedy', 'Catherine Lynch - Christmas Special' and the IFTA winning 'The Apprentice'. The team is currently supervising work on Animo's new series of '21st Century Child' (Editor Paul Giles) and 'Written Off' (Editors: Ailbhe Gaffney and Paul Giles) as well picking up an ICAD Award in November honouring their craft in motion graphics in a series of commercials for Fáilte Ireland.  

Dave Burke, Head of Commercials at Piranha Bar, and Marc Long, Head of Broadcast, chat to IFTN on their creative approach to work, the knock on effects of budget cuts and why quality tops everything for them in a job.  

Guinness 250th

So Dave, what is Piranha Bar working on at the moment in terms of the commercial end of things?  

Dave: We've finished the Guinness 250th anniversary commercials that are running at the moment – we had to design and build a time machine for Irish International BBDO to show classic Guinness TV ads. We're doing some really exiting international work for Kelloggs with agency Leo Burnett following on from our two spots before Christmas for Rice Krispies Squares. It's been really great to see high end animation from Ireland running in a UK ad break! There is more work underway for Failte Ireland with DDFH&B after the win at ICAD and we did the post production work on their Bord Gais spot for electricity, made by Speers Film. We also handled the post production for the AIB surfer campaign with production company Blinder which looks really incredible.

What we found this year is that people are gaining more access to RTÉ& TV3 at a lower cost to them because obviously the broadcasters need to sell media space. They are putting packages together that are attracting people who would not normally go on television.  We found ourselves doing a few small commercials in the last few months for like Q102 for giving away cash, one for Peter Marks for 20% off.

The economic climate has also seen an increase in retail type advertising - we have done a bunch of these more down to earth spots – Aer Lingus and Superquinn for Rothco, and a set of ten stings for Procter and Gamble who are taking over sponsorship of Ireland AM which we created for Publicis QMP.

We do other technical stuff as well. There is a current Maxwell House commercial that went on air which was initially an international commercial for another brand of coffee. Basically, the cups in the original were a particular colour and we had to change them to the Maxwell House colour.  The product that was in the commercial was a different brand so we had to take that out and put in a new computer generated jar of coffee.  This kind of work leans more on technical craft in 3D and compositing and can be surprisingly rewarding – we relish the chance to put aside creative concerns sometimes and just enjoy the challenges of a technical execution.  

Taking the Guinness Time Machine for example, how is an idea like this developed by you?  

Dave: That was an unusual one in a sense as we were given a vague notion of creating something that would help bring together all of the old TV commercials and we set about setting up some designs and sketches. The first thing to do was to have a meeting with the creatives and discuss the possibilities.  Then we went away and one of our own illustrators here, Ciaran, came up with some options on a design. We presented those designs, brought them into Diageo who gave us feedback. We altered them and then got clearance to go ahead and build it. We did have quite a free reign in terms of that particular design and it went through a few different levels before Christmas. We had to turn it round very quickly - within a week and a half which is quite a tall order.  

How many editors are there now at Piranha Bar?    

Dave:  On the commercial front it's a completely different ball game. In terms of what we are best known for; graphics, animation, visual effects, we tend not to use editors, we use animators, compositors and graphic artists.  With commercials we don't employ an off line editor full time because when you are working with  directors they may want to bring in their own people so it might be someone from the UK or it might be a freelancer.  On the broadcast front, it's a different story, we obviously have to have in-house editors.  

Marc:  In broadcast we have four in-house editors; Paul Giles, Jamie Fitzpatrick, Iseult Howlett and Damien McDonald. They are full time guys who work on the programming end. We bring in freelancers as well as we need to. At any given time we probably have two or three freelancers on the go.    

Piranha Bar

In terms of deadlines, resources or staffing, how do these factors affect the creativity of a project?  

Dave: Deadlines are a huge part of the television commercials process. You never have enough time both from a scheduling and a budgeting point of view, so you have to become expert at finding innovative solutions to problems. Ironically, I don't necessarily think this is a bad thing for creativity – some constraints actually force you to be more creative, not less.

With staffing, we generally have a lot of people working on a job with an aggressive deadline – we have seven 3D artists full time, along with two compositors – so we engage one individual to direct a project and communicate with clients. This obviously ensures continuity and creative integrity for each project.  

Would you look to international festivals or forums for new influences or ideas?  

Marc:  The internet has killed all that nowadays, everything is on the internet.  The guys that are good are showing up constantly on it.  

Dave:  The guys in animation studios are constantly on chat rooms, talking to their peers around the world.  If we are stuck on a project they will just put the word out and suddenly we get e-mails from people all over the world.  On the animation stuff it's great because you can actually have somebody working in their own city and we can send them files which they work on and send them back.  It is always preferable to bring them in to Dublin but it is not a cheap city to fly people into and keep them up for a two - three week period.  You have to weigh up the cost of the overall production to see does it allow you to fly them in and put them up in a hotel etc...mind you, the 2009 hotel prices are a lot less than 2008!  If we can find someone to stay in their own city and work, we go with that, but yes communication channels are always open now, that's the beauty of the world we live in.  

Marc: A lot of people as well tend to find us. There are people permanently looking up websites and seeing what we do.  We get a lot of people contacting us saying "Listen guys I have been watching your website for the last while and I like the work you do and this is the type of work I would like to do".  So we are lucky it works both ways, we find people and they find us as well.    

Have you installed new equipment recently?  

Dave:  One thing you will know about Piranha Bar is obviously we place huge importance on equipment but we are not the sort of company who say "Come and work here we have the best kit in town!"  We have however put in a brand new Avid Unity System last year, we have two 2009 state of the art Flames, and have two DS Nitris systems, all HD compatible.  If this was ten years ago it would be all about the kit but nowadays it's about talented individuals.  

Marc: It's about how quickly can you get it done, how good can it be and how cheap can you do it!  

Tell me about the animation studio and that side of the company?  

Dave: The studio is currently home to seven guys, although we have the capacity for ten or twelve. We pull in freelancers whenever we need to. We generally have to go abroad for these as unfortunately there just isn't enough freelance talent in Ireland.  There are two software packages we use on the animation end of it; SOFTIMAGE XSI and 3D Studio Max.    

Traditionally in animation someone would specialise in the technical aspect of it, someone might specialise on the actual performance animation and someone might specialise in the lighting and texturing of it.  Ireland, I think is too small to have specialist individuals in any one area so we tend to look for generalists who will be capable of modelling, lighting and animating.  The guys that we have working here love that because it keeps them interested as well.  

Kellogs Rice Krispies

What animations have you done recently?  

Dave: On the commercial front probably the ones we are most proud of are the Kellogg's Rice Krispies Squares animations called Nimbus and B Movie. These spots featured a kind of Steampunk metal ship with a robot crew that sucks up marshmallow clouds, and a giant mallow monster squashing Krispies in a parody of American B Movies.  It wasn't necessarily commercial, but we did the opening sequence to the ICAD Awards in November and had a lot of fun with that.  That was an opportunity where there isn't usually a brief; we enjoyed messing around a little and trying some new things.    

There have been a few titles that you have worked on, that won or were nominated for the recent IFTA Awards...  

Marc: The programmes that we were involved in were 'The Apprentice' being the big one that won the IFTA. Our editors on that were Ailbhe Gaffney, Damien McDonald and Joe McElwaine. Ailbhe and Joe were two freelancers we brought in to work with Damien on it.  Again that was a hard job seven days a week, 10:00pm every night but we actually really enjoyed it.  There was very little moaning because the editors really enjoyed what they were doing and they got such a good kick out of the programme.  We were also involved in 'Ballet Chancers' which Paul Giles was the editor on.    

We also worked on 'Celebrity Bainisteoir' that was nominated and we brought in a freelancer, Stevie Vickers, who was the editor on it and the second editor was Joe McElwaine.  At the moment we are working on the new series for 'Celebrity Bainisteoir'. Jamie Fitzpatrick is editing and the second editor will be Damien McDonald.  

Are there many differences in editing the first and second series of a project?  

Marc: You are still doing the same amount of work. Any of the series that we are doing this year, have been done before but with budgets being cut we still have to keep it at the same standard. Everything that was in before has to stay in. You just have to get creative with your budgets. There is a lot of doubling up of jobs at the moment trying to get them done.  We could have a fourteen week job but we would only have ten weeks to do it. Then again with a lot of doubling up you get things in and out quicker to make room for other projects to come in.    

IFTA winner The Apprentice

Speaking about budgets are there any other changes that are taking place at the moment?  

Dave:  This year people are looking at places to cut back, and title and programme graphics are the first to be hit. Going down this road, there is a danger that programming will actually diminish in quality and finish which would be a huge pity when it should be going in the opposite direction. Given the talent at our disposal, powerful creative digital tools and considering the expectations of sophisticated contemporary audiences, it is unfortunate to see our television content reduced to a bare minimum of packaging and finish. But we're in a recession and 'yellow pack' telly is on the rise.  

For post and graphic houses, what do you think is the biggest concerns for the future?  

Marc:  Budgets at the moment are one of the biggest things.  At the broadcast end of it, all productions companies' budgets are being cut by the broadcasters, as in RTÉ.  TV3 don't really do a real amount of commissioning but they do take a lot of sponsorship work.  If you have a sponsors and get all the money and funding in place, they will put the programme on air but production companies are finding it hard at the moment to get the sponsors in.  The big thing would be that a lot of people are having budget cuts and it is a knock on effect right down the line.  If a budget gets cut by 15%, 20% or 30%, there are going to be cuts right across the board.  The production company is not doing it deliberately; the market is forcing them to do it.  They do not go out of their way to do it to you but if it happens everyone has to roll out behind it.  

We are coming off the back of a very, very busy year last year, but it seems the recession is only kicking in now.  Last year we were flat out with a huge amount of programming that we had going on so we are getting our heads around what is going on at the moment because everywhere is much quieter now. The whole broadcast area seems to have come to a bit of a halt.  I think people have been waiting for the commissions to come out of RTÉ. They haven't happened yet so as a result that has had a knock on effect.  We are all holding our breath to see what is going to happen. Obviously with the new appointment of the new head of television in RTÉ, we don't know what changes are going to be made or what will happen.  

Dave: With commercials it is quite difficult to know what is happening from one month to the next, you're only as good as your last job. From our perspective, it is important for us to offer a range of talents and services – we have been careful over the last year to let our commercial clients know that we are not just a high end animation house, but that we enjoy doing down to earth work as well.  

Marc: Things are similar with the edit area – it is important for us as a facility to attract a spectrum of clients – not just mega series like 'the Apprentice' but also smaller gigs and corporates. For us, all clients get the same attention to detail and passion regardless of the scale of the job.  

For someone who is looking to start a career in graphic design and editing, what qualities would look out for?  

Marc:  We'd retrain them to become an accountant!  

Dave:  You know it's impossible. We take in work experience kids all the time and interns from various colleges and stay in touch with colleges as much as possible.  It is difficult. You have to be exceptional nearly to get into this industry, not just good but exceptional - because it's a small enough industry and you have to be a self motivator.  There is no point saying "I want to be an editor or a motion graphic designer" if you haven't got work behind you. Kids who want to work in this industry will find ways of doing it in their own time, whether it is making short movies or skate boarding videos with their mates. It's all about passion, real passion.    

Marc:  You can be fairly quick sometimes to pick out people you know have what it takes you know.  It could be reaching maybe a month and you know a guy or girl has what it takes - they want it, they have the passion, the flair, the creativity and they understand what they have to do to get where they want to go.  Luckily enough we have been fortunate over the years with our decisions.    

Dave:  This industry is not for everyone.  If you are a nine to five person you will find it hard. Maybe you might be able to get nine to five when you have been in the industry ten years but until then it's hard grafting but very rewarding at the end of the day.    


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