Irish animation has been flourishing recently with a host of successful home-grown animated series, feature films and co-productions hitting the screens. From the wins for ‘Santa’s Apprentice’ (co-produced by Cartoon Saloon) and ‘The Amazing World of Gumball – The Quest’ (co-produced by Boulder Media) at this year’s Annecy International Animation Festival, to the Oscar nominations for Cartoon Saloon’s ‘The Secret of Kells’ and Brown Bag Film’s ‘Granny O’Grimm’s Sleeping Beauty’, Irish animation is making its mark internationally. IFTN caught up with Irish Film Board’s Production Executive Emma Scott to discuss the Irish animation industry including topics from 3D animation to funding and the future of sector in Ireland.
IFTN: Animation is a fairly young industry in Ireland, how does it compare to its international counterparts?
Emma Scott: Animation is indeed a much younger industry in Ireland than in other European countries, where there has been a long tradition of the medium. However, thanks to the calibre of the work being produced by the home-grown studios here, Irish animation has a fast-growing reputation as a strong contender in the international field.
IFTN: Animation appears to be thriving in Ireland, why do you think this is? Is it due to training, funding, facilities, or a combination?
ES: I think we are very fortunate to have experienced a wave of talented and highly motivated individuals who graduated out of the colleges here around 10 to 15 years ago. These people went on to set up their own companies in Ireland or to emigrate to success abroad. The likes of Richie Baneham (Avatar) and Gary Shore (in development with Universal with his feature film Cup of Tears) are an inspiration to students to work towards serious industry careers. Back in Ireland, the sheer creativity and entrepreneurial drive of the Irish-led companies demonstrate the ability and ambition of these industry leaders to maintain and grow a future here. IFB funding is vital for these companies to develop and subsequently exploit their own IP. Without content-ownership we would become merely a service industry, which while valuable in terms of gaining experience and paying overheads, leaves companies vulnerable to competition from low-cost labour economies, such as India.
IFTN: What impact do you think the introduction of Saorview will have on production of animated series? Will the introduction of new channels aimed at children such as RTEjr allow for more Irish animation series or do you think they will be bought in from abroad?
ES: Cost is always an issue for the broadcasters and the option of buying in packages of programming from abroad may be less expensive than commissioning from an Irish production company. However, I think most people will agree it is vital for our children to have a mixed diet of programming, to include shows which reflect their own voices and experiences. Shows such as Monster’s ‘Ballybradden’ and Jam Media’s ‘Roy’ have a particularly Irish identity, but also travel abroad. Cartoon Saloon’s beautiful feature ‘The Secret of Kells’ and Brown Bag’s quintessentially Irish granny in ‘Granny O’Grimm’ both delighted audiences at home and abroad enough to gain Oscar nominations.
The IFB invests in the development and production of animation for television in order to assist the companies to keep their own IP and be in a better position to exploit worldwide rights down the line. We are always happy to partner with Irish broadcasters and would be delighted to see more support from the broadcasters for Irish content for the new Irish platforms coming on line. It’s all about investing in our future and strong domestic support is a necessary starting block for industry growth.
IFTN: Is there growth in 3D animation in Ireland?
ES: The IFB invested in the first 3D feature to be made in Ireland last year (Thor, a co-production). In that case the sales agent advised the producers that their project would stand to recoup up to 15% more in revenue if it was in stereoscopic 3D, so all the financing partners agreed to raise more money to enable this. 3D is of course more time-consuming and expensive to set up, but for certain films it is almost a pre-requisite in the market today. The IFB are also involved with the development of ‘The Selfish Giant’ to be directed by Catherine Owens (of U23D fame) and I expect her intricate knowledge of the 3D medium and all its ever-changing developments to produce something really spectacular. That said, not all material is designed for stereoscopic 3D, and more traditional hand-drawn films have a universal appeal all of their own.
IFTN: In regards to Irish feature length animations being funded by the Irish Film Board, preference is given to content which generally expresses Irish culture in some way. Irish cultural content does not always hold mainstream appeal, do you think this hampers the creation of animation features in Ireland?
ES: What we have found in terms of mainstream appeal is that some of our most successful stories are those which have a strong Irish identity, witness the earlier examples of ‘The Secret of Kells’ and ‘Granny O’Grimm’. However, this is not our only criteria and we are also concerned with building talent behind the screen. Our money is very much tied in with Irish creative talent across the boards, from writers to animators to background artists and voice talent, as well of course as animation directors and producers. As a matter of necessity we are often involved with co-productions, such as the European box office success ‘Niko and the Way to the Stars’ or Gaumont’s ‘Santa’s Apprentice’. While these features don’t look Irish on the surface, there is a great deal of Irish talent behind the scenes, a great deal of experience being gathered and usually a good deal of commercial success being reaped by the Irish companies. Ideally of course, we love to see a film come to us which is organically Irish through and through, coupled with a terrific worldwide audience appeal, and ‘The Secret of Kells’ follow-up ‘Song of the Sea’ will hopefully be just that.
IFTN: How has the Frameworks initiative benefited Irish animators?
ES: Frameworks is the IFB’s longest-standing short film scheme and has consistently punched above its weight over the years. Along with the Arts Council and RTÉ we were very happy when BAI recently agreed to also support the scheme. Established companies use it to upgrade talented individuals in their companies or to try out different methods, stories or characters. (Roy the TV series started life as a Frameworks).
New companies can especially benefit from the scheme as they can use their film as a calling card on the international industry. An excellent Frameworks film can propel its makers into another league and have a really positive impact on a company’s reputation. In assessing the applications each year we always aim to have a high-calibre external involved. The last few years have seen Dreamworks’ Shelley Page, Eric Riewer from famed French animation school Goeblins and producer Michael Rose (Chico and Rita, The Gruffalo). This year we will be joined by Tom Van Waveren from the animation distribution company CAKE. To further increase the standard of the applications, this year we are looking at devising a kind of pre-application seminar or workshop in script-writing for short-form animation. This will give everyone a chance to benefit from the expertise of an industry specialist in the field of animation writing. Details to follow!
IFTN: What do you feel is the future for Irish animation? Do you see animation as being an important growth sector in the Irish film industry?
ES: There is a great momentum in animation here right now. We have an impressively vibrant creative core of Irish talent, not just in pure animation but also in CGI and FX driven material with directors like James Mather and Stephen St. Ledger working on the big budget Europa Corp / Windmill Lane feature ‘Lockout’. The highly talented LA-based director Ruairi Robinson is also poised to make his first feature soon. There are some exciting new names coming on to the block; recent students who have set up their own companies like Giant Creative or protégées emerging from the benefits of working with our established companies and who are now applying for Frameworks and building up their own profiles.
The IFB’s investment in animation has been tremendously well-rewarded with either critical acclaim and/or market success being regular outcomes. The possibilities of growing this industry are immense, and the colleges, businesses and government all need to pull together to ensure this happens. Job creation is just one of the positive outcomes of this burgeoning creative industry. The IFB recently partnered with Enterprise Ireland to organise a networking event at the Annecy International Animation festival and the response was tremendous. We’ve published an animation directory for Ireland as well as producing a promo and the feedback from the international animation community as to the breadth and calibre of the work produced here was very gratifying. We were delighted to hear of two wins for Irish companies subsequently for Cartoon Saloon’s ‘Santa’s Apprentice’ and Boulder Media’s ‘The Amazing World of Gumball – The Quest’.
IFTN: Finally, what do you think are the current Irish animation highlights in production or aired this year?
ES: We’re very proud of ‘Punky’ which IFB development executive Andrew Meehan, nurtured with the creator Lindsay Sedgwick and which was then steered into production by Gerard O’Rourke at Monster. It’s quite ground-breaking as a television series in that the show’s eponymous young character has Down syndrome. It introduces us to the idea of children as individuals who face the same everyday problems but find different ways of solving them.
Next up from Cartoon Saloon is the seriously beautiful feature film, ‘Song of the Sea’, which has nearly all its financing lined up and promises to be another world class film. Brown Bag continue to blaze a trail with numerous exciting projects for clients such as Disney, but also are developing their own slate of feature films, which is really interesting to the IFB.
The ever-impressive Jam Media are heading into production with the charming Walker Books-backed ‘Tilly and Friends’ and Maeve McAdam’s new Galway-based studio is busy with ‘Joe and Jack’. We’ll have the latest Frameworks films premiering at the Galway Film Fleadh in July which is always enjoyable. ‘Niko’, the irrepressible reindeer, raises his antlers again for a sequel to the successful first film, written by Galway-based Marteinn Thorsson. David O’Reilly is in early stage development of a feature film which will no doubt be as mind-blowingly wonderful as his short films to date. Barley Films are also in development with their exquisite hand drawn feature ‘Little Caribou’ and Kavaleer are busy with two projects in late development and a co-production with Wales in pre-production.
- For further information about the Irish Film Board and their Frameworks initiative - click here - & keep reading IFTN for announcements of the 2012 submission deadlines.
- For further information about Irish animation companies visit the Animation section of IFTN – here.