18 July 2024 The Irish Film & Television Network

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Animators Josh O'Caoimh and Mikai Geronimo discuss their Venice Film Festival-selected Fall of the Ibis King
29 Sep 2021 : Nathan Griffin
Fall of the Ibis King
We caught up with animators/directors Josh O’Caoimh and Mikai Geronimo following the world premiere of their short film, Fall of the Ibis King, which featured in the Orizzonti short film competition at the 78th Venice Film Festival.

Both recent animation graduates from the National Film School in IADT Dun Laoghaire, it was O’Caoimh and Geronimo’s graduate film that received the nod to feature in competition at the 78th Venice film festival earlier this month. 

“It was a brilliant experience,” said Josh and Mikai when discussing the festival with IFTN. “We were thrilled to watch the film on a big screen with some of the team after the pandemic.”

“It was definitely a great way to celebrate the film's completion,” Josh added, when asked whether their selection at Biennale made the months of hard work worthwhile.

“The weather was great so we probably didn’t go to as many screenings as we should have!” the pair admitted. Quiet understandable after spending over 18 months working on their graduate film, most of which took place during the pandemic. 

The talented duo said they were made feel welcome and enjoyed the opportunity to visit such a major festival in such an iconic city, as well as mix with other likeminded creatives. “We had never attended a festival this size before but it didn’t feel any less personal than others,” said Mikai. “In the evenings we got to hang out and chat with the other filmmakers, which was very enjoyable - they were all lovely.”

The pair admitted that they were caught off guard when they first received the news, however. “It was very surreal, the phone rang with a number from Venice,” Josh explained. “At first we figured we’d made a mistake in the submission or something. They called looking for more information about the film, and said that we would hear from them at the end of the week.”

“It was a tense couple of days!” added Mikai. “Then we had to keep the news a secret until the press conference.”

Fall of the Ibis King was written by Josh and jointly directed by Josh and Mikai as their graduate film. Josh explained that his dark and dramatic tale of jealousy was “greatly inspired” by Othello, as well as films such as A Double LifeBlack Swan, and Mephisto“Leading up to our final year of college I had a few ideas for a graduation film, but I kept coming back to this one,” Josh told IFTN.

Geronimo had previously collaborated on smaller college projects with O’Caoimh and explained that it was natural for them to bounce ideas off of one other. “During third year, while Josh was still developing the script, he’d occasionally tell me about his idea for Fall of the Ibis King and I was captivated by the film’s intended mood and setting so when I finally read the script, I knew I really wanted to work on it,” Mikai explained.

Fall of the Ibis King was only one of 12 films selected for the Orizzonti short film competition, which must be regarded as unprecedented recognition for the unique voice and vision of these emerging filmmakers, aided by their talented classmates and collaborators.

As well as co-directing the project, Josh and Mikai both worked across the animation with help from Giorgia McKenna and Charles Heri-Sanson. “During pre-production we both worked on the design and art direction,” Josh explained. “Right from the start we were both on the same page in regards to how we envisioned the film.”

Then once production began, Mikai and Josh split out the responsibilities and headed up their own sections. “I focused on animation and Josh did the backgrounds,” Mikai told IFTN. “Eventually, he split his time between animation and compositing. Each week we’d update and review the animatic together.”

As animators on the project, the pair took the same approach – dividing up shots between themselves, Giorgia, and Charles. “We tried to distribute them in short sequences,” said Josh. “Charles was based in Cork, so we used a tool called SyncSketch to provide feedback on his work remotely. When the pandemic began, the entire team also worked remotely using Syncsketch.”

Another aspect to the films immersive experience is the fitting music and sound design that helps build the tension and momentum as the story unfolds, something the filmmakers felt was imperative to deliver the impact they wanted from their film. 

“We knew the music and sound design would make or break this film so we were very fortunate to work with a number of extremely talented artists,” Josh told IFTN. “We tried to keep the music based inside the world of the film. All of the music is performed for the scenes on stage.”

While writing the script, O’Caoimh spent a lot of time listening to the work of the Ukrainian composer Alex Voytenko. “Once we began creating a temporary scratch track we added Alex’s piece ‘Lento for Piano and Strings’ over the finale and it worked immediately,” Josh explained. “That was one of the best days of production.”

“We wrote to Alex and thankfully he gave us permission to use three pieces of his work in the film!” Josh exclaimed. “We then worked with Samantha Sack, a composer from the United States who created beautiful original music for the rest of the film.”

Once the music and original score was in place, the production sought the help of Niall Delehan, Cathal Hughes, and Stephen Hennessy from the Creative Music Production course at IADT. “They helped us with the music, record the voice actors and created foley,” added Josh.

Once recorded, Karima Dillon-El Toukhy came on board to edit the film's audio. “Karima made everyone's work cohesive and helped to add a sense of depth and three dimensionality to the sound,” Josh explained.

As graduates of the animation course at IADT’s National Film School, Mikai and Josh were both full of praise for their development throughout their degree. “There’s a good balance between animation principles, film-making, and the academic side, which looking back, had a larger impact on our graduation film than we would have thought at the time,” they both agreed.

“There’s such a great atmosphere working on a film in a room full of friends all doing the same, it made the process very enjoyable,” said Mikai. “It was great working with a bigger team, which we hadn’t really done before. Animation can be really slow and everyone goes through periods of burn out, so it’s motivating to see the project continue to move forward.”

In terms of challenges faced during the making of the film, O’Caoimh and Geronimo revealed one particular period between production and post-production that required significant resolve to trust the process. “The most difficult part of making this film was that early on, before sound and colour were added, the animatic was impossible to follow,”Josh explained. “This made it difficult to get feedback and meant that the team who signed up to work with us were very trusting.”

“We learnt to just be confident in the film we wanted to make and did our best.”

In terms of what’s next for the two filmmakers, both O’Caoimh and Geronimo are directing a short Halloween animation for RTÉ Jr at the Irish animation studio  And Maps and Plans“The studio has been fantastic to work for, particularly in providing us the opportunity to pitch projects like this one.”

Click here for more information about the Fall of the Ibis King.

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