Ireland taking on the world in animation

Irish animation is frequently in the news with companies such as CaboomTelegael, Brown Bag Films,  Cartoon Saloon,  and Boulder Media all doing impressive work on the international stage. Damian Farrell, Creative Director of Caboom, tells us a little bit more about how it all works.

“The opportunities for people with top animation skills have never been better,” he says. “Areas like games have opened up and we see lots of people coming from games to animation and going from animation to games.”

“The biggest change in recent years is the growth in Irish animation and its recognition internationally. Irish animation is not about animation for Irish audiences, studios are producing more and more content for international broadcasters.”

This corresponds to an increasing globalisation of the industry. Technology has assisted the outsourcing of work from Ireland, but there is also an increase in the work coming into Europe from the United States.

“US producers are now more interested in co-productions with European producers than they have been in the past,” Damian says.

Making a path into animation

Damian liked art, accountancy and physics in school, and says all of them stand to him today. He knew by the time he was sitting his Leaving Certificate that he wanted to go into animation.

“In fifth year I was heading for industrial design or graphic design. I had wanted to do animation but there was no course until Ballyfermot established their one with Sullivan Bluth and Sheridan College.”

Having completed his studies at Ballyfermot, Damian also trained in puppetry at the Jim Henson Company in London. Animation is a fast-moving industry, but Damian says there are some skills that an aspiring animator can start working on straight away.

“Draw, draw, draw,” he says. “Learn about characters and learn how to analyse characters and story. Read scripts of animated movies and shows to understand how they moved from script to screen.”

He also recommends that anyone interested in animation learn key software as soon as they can – Flash, Photoshop and After Effects .

There are also lots of sources of information and inspiration online.

“Check out sites like Animation Mentor, Cartoon Brew, Kidscreen, and Animation Magazine. There are also industry sites like Animation Ireland and IFTN.

“Also, read anything by Richard Williams on animation and read Disney’s ‘Illusion of Life’.”

A rapidly-changing industry

Damian has already seen big changes in the animation industry but says storytelling remains a key skill.

“I think we’ll continue to see more animated features. Animators and directors will continue to self publish and build audience and raise revenue that way.”

However, he thinks 3D will become a more common feature in gaming, while more traditional animation will have its own place.

“I think we will see somewhat of a return to drawn or at least 2D animation by the bigger studios. CG looks very ‘samey’ and they need stand out projects to build studio brands. 2D lends itself to more diverse styles. In features, the trick might be to do a 2D animation of a Pixar-styled script rather than 2D ‘fairytale’. I think 3D will find its real home in gaming.”

“Kids are getting into animation at a very young age because the tech is accessible and they have grown up with it so there’s no real barrier – just imagination!”

Even though many parts of the economy are suffering at the moment, animation companies have been able to take people on. Damian says those working in the industry need to combine the talent for storytelling with software skills.

“Software can be learnt but I believe you need to have an instinct for character and story to really be of value at any point in the production pipeline. Software changes while character and story are always relevant.

“BUT you do need to have competencies in softwares – Photoshop, After Effects, Flash at least. Right now, companies are looking for storyboard artists, designers, concept artists but the biggest shortage is in Flash and in all area of CG, particularly in Maya.”

If you’re an aspiring animator, check out the animation category of the Smart Future competition.

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