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Features & Interviews

Tea with Jam Media, IFTN Visits 'Roy' HQ
06 Jan 2012 : By Ciara Drohan
In the office with John Rice, Creative Director of Jam Media
Jam Media produces live action and animated children series ‘Roy’, about a cartoon boy living in the real world which begins airing its second series to CBBC on Monday 9th January at 5.15pm. IFTN took a trip down to Jam Media in Kevin Street, Dublin to take a look around, see how the post production on the 25 episode new series was going and get a sneak peak at the other projects happening for the two time IFTA award winning Animation Company.

This series of ‘Roy’ moves the story on with Jam Media creative director John Rice saying, “Roy has kind of established himself as a landmark. We have taken it more outside of school and home into the wider area. It is a wider angle in this series.” The series also includes Irish acting talent like Simon Delaney (This Must Be The Place, Bachelors Walk), Cathy Belton (Single-Handed, The Clinic) and Martha Byrne as Roy’s family and young Irish actor Scott Graham (Pentecost, The Master Plan) voicing Roy.

On arrival at Jam Media’s HQ we are greeted by John Rice, creative director for the company. You cannot help but be brought in by his enthusiasm as we sit down with a cup of tea to discuss all things Jam. We start by discussing the challenges with ‘Roy’ - mainly mixing live action with animation. “There are huge challenges, it’s a pain in the arse to be honest,” John quips with roaring laughter, “it’s ten weeks of shooting the live action and ten months of post, doing the animation. In terms of manpower, there are as many people compositing it as animating it. It is a very labour intensive series.”

The series is filmed in a mockumentary style and with that comes its own issues, as John elaborates, “Things like camera shakes and hand held stuff and being able to then composite Roy believably into that backgrounds with this going on is challenging and we try to minimise that as much as we can. When people are walking in front of him or behind him, it’s just about getting that depth of field and allowing that suspension of disbelief.”

Head of Visual Effects,Naill Mooney shows us 'Roy'

In order to help with what John calls the ‘heavy lifting’ in compositing the series about 30 percent of the labour is done abroad in companies like Lizard Brain in Canada and Dynamo in Wales. All the live action and key animations however are done in Jam Media by a staff of over 40 animators. However for the live action John informs IFTN that there can be upwards of 100 people on any given day.

Roy has been broadcast not only here in Ireland but has also been successful in the UK, Australia and Scandinavia. “It’s pretty good. It hasn’t sold as well as some of our pure animation shows and that’s because they are pure animation and they sell better than live action. They are not as culturally specific. Roy is very culturally specific.” John tells an anecdote of discussions with a German broadcaster who decided against picking up the series reasoning that the kitchens in Germany were different to Irish kitchens. He laughs this off saying, “We are very happy with how it is performing in various territories.”

Right now Jam Media have three shows in production, the second series of ‘Roy’, the second series of ‘Baby Jake’, which is all done in house and another pure animation show called ‘Tilly and Friends’, also commissioned for CBBC. The 52x11 minute series about a young girl and her animal friends has already been pre sold throughout Europe including France, Italy, Germany, Scandinavia and Latvia and is based on the children’s books by English author and illustrator Polly Dunbar.

John decides to take us for a look around the offices. We go upstairs where we are met with a room full of animators sitting at their desks attentively drawing scenes for ‘Tilly and Friends’ on their computerised tablets. We are introduced to Alan Shannan, director on ‘Roy’ and ‘Tilly’.  IFTN asks him firstly to explain what goes into the process for completing Roy. “It’s a busy time. I would review a lot of the animation. We have a service provider in Canada so we check their uploaded scenes from the day before, review them, ask for changes were necessary or approve them. Then that would go into the next stage which is AFX or visual effects to make sure Roy is integrated into the background so that is where Niall comes in, who is head of visual effects and he would ensure that all looks good and we are all happy with that. I would deal with the musician as well for sound design and for just the scoring of it and that it works with the story. Then it goes down to post where there will be grading done and where it all finally comes together, the audio and the visual.”

Jam animators hard are work

Working with Lizard Brain in Canada, IFTN asked if there are ever any problems with having a partner in a different time zone. Alan laughs saying, “No comment”. He tells IFTN that of course that Jam Media would like to be able to do all the animation themselves but with time constraints and the challenge of finding the manpower it’s not always feasible. However, he says there are advantages, “While you are asleep they are working and in the morning there are a load of scenes for you to review.”

IFTN leaves Alan to get back to work and meets Niall Mooney, head of visual effects for ‘Roy’ who kindly goes through step by step the intricacies of getting a show like ‘Roy’ to come together and still have it be believable that this cartoon boy exists in the real world. The attention to detail on a show like ‘Roy’ is immense as Niall explains, “Depending on the complexity of the shots we have to use a computer programme to track the shots to make Roy fit into the footage and that he is real, the illusion that he is a real cartoon boy and to make Roy move with the footage. When that is done if characters interact with him we have to draw over those so it looks like they are passing in front of him or behind him. If there are shots where he handles props or if there is interaction with props we have to use CGI props so that they look convincing, so it will look like he is really doing it.”  Niall shows IFTN some shots from the new series to explain further. In one particular shot Roy has shrunk to an almost stick like figure because he is self conscious about his weight and Niall explains how rotoscoping works within the shot as Roy enters the kitchen and passes in front of a chair.

Alan Shannan, Director of 'Roy' and 'Tilly and Friends'

Lighting a scene with Roy is even more tricky business. In one scene Niall shows us Roy is using laser vision to see through the will of his dead aunt and as Niall says, “There are laser beams coming out of his eyes so onset we had an orange glow on the girl  and we have to then match that to make it look realistic. They are little subtle things sometimes and the audience probably don’t even notice them when they are watching it but if it they weren’t there it would be very obvious that they weren’t and the whole illusion of him being a real cartoon boy is broken.”

For compositing of ‘Roy’ Niall informs IFTN that the visual team mainly use Abode AfterEffects. They also use Mocha for the photo tracking on the series and Flash for the animation.  All the animators use tablets to draw the animations directly into their computers. IFTN asks Niall how it compares to the time honoured method of paper and pencil. “Initially when we got these people did not like them. It is just so weird to be drawing on a screen. Most of us come from a traditional animation background where we would have used paper and you would use the technique of flipping the paper to see the drawings. You don’t have to do that now, you can just see it on a timeline. Initially it was a bit weird transitioning from one to the other. Having said that a week or two later you wouldn’t have got these away from people. It just makes life so much faster and easier. I started in animation 15 years ago it’s a completely different technique for working. We couldn’t do what we do without the computers or tablets. It speeds up the process so much and allows us to get the level of quality we want in such a short time.”

There is a real sense that although ‘Roy’ is a long process and labour intensive it is all a labour of love. We leave the office upstairs full of hungry animators just before lunchtime and head downstairs to have a quick look at other project ‘Baby Jake’ which John calls “a dream production”. John introduces IFTN to animator Rafa Diaz Canales who shows us the ‘Baby Jake’ story board; it looks like ‘Baby Jake’ may be on safari next season. We’ll just have to wait to see that.

Series two of ‘Roy’ airs on CBBC on Monday 9th January at 5.15pm.


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