Sunday 23 September 2018

Talent excellence, global success and staff shortages...Ireland's female animation leaders on the industry highs and lows

Ellie Donnelly

Ellie Donnelly

With the animation industry in Ireland experiencing strong growth in Ireland and internationally, four women in the industry discuss the opportunities and challenges facing the sector today.

Moe Honan, Chairman Animation Ireland

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Moe Honan, Chairman Animation Ireland
 

Chairman of Animation Ireland and founder of Moetion Films Moe Honan started working in animation just under 20 years ago.

She found that she naturally gravitated towards the industry, preferring the longer working and collaboration projects.

"I also liked creatively the possibilities it gave in terms of reaching out to different age groups, potentially with subject matters that can be more sensitive or difficult to portray."

On the subject of why women are particularly successful in the animation industry, she says that she thinks women are "naturally good leaders."

"In animation it certainly reflects more of a gender balance, we have, from our own research, found that there is 43pc female engagement in the sector, which is really high and it is going across all departments."

"We know there is a lot of young women, and more senior women in the sector, which is really encouraging and this is naturally giving more women more of an opportunity to go into more senior roles, and I think women are naturally strong at collaboration roles."

However she admits that there is still more work to be done to get more women directors and writes into the industry and steps are being taken where women are more consciously doing that.

"This has really dramatically changed in the last decade."

Career highlight

On a personal level, Moe talks of her most successful project 'Two by Two Ooops! The Arc is Gone’ as being a career highlight.

The film was released in Ireland and UK in 2015 across 461 theatres.

"This was a massive success, it was a European co-production project, and I am now in pre-production with the sequel to that."

"I am also developing a TV series at the moment."

Meanwhile on an industry level, Moe says that the players involved in the Irish animation industry are all very conscious that the fruits of the last 20 years have borne out.

"Ireland recognised globally as a place of excellence and a place to go for animation, now have a challenge to mind that and expand talent base and grow next generation through training and education."

"In terms of raising awareness, this is something we are emphasising."

Industry challenges

Talk turns to the challenges facing Ireland’s animation industry, and Moe says that the issue around staffing is "definitely something we are working".

"In some ways a result of the success we have achieved, people extremely interested in working with Irish animation sector, but we have to expand our resources in terms of financing both public and private funding and we need to sustain the pipeline of talent to sustain the industry and AI does this."

"We are relying heavily on grads coming from main colleges, Ballyfermot, but this needs to grow, there is certainly a gap and a shortage there given the level of work we are trying to bring into the country."

There is today she says a "massive opportunity for Ireland" in the sector.

"We have already proven ourselves on the world stage, excellent delivering high quality work, and a great generation of leaders in our industry."

"We have more and more people becoming aware globally of Ireland as a creative hub, massive markets we can go into, much more work we can do and we need the resources to engage much more to get out into foreign markets and build the partnerships."

Deirdre Barry, Salty Dog Pictures

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Deirdre Barry, Salty Dog Pictures
 

Deirdre started working in LA just over 20 years ago working on HBO shows.

She then worked with a feature film company in LA, before she moved back to Ireland in 2001 started working in animation here.

After some years working in the industry here, in 2013 she, along with her business parter, made the decision to set up the production company, Salty Dog Pictures.

Most recently the company animated a show with Tom Hanks for Saturday Night Live David S Pumpkins Halloween Special.

"We have just started production on a new show for Warner Brothers – can’t say too much about this yet," she says.

And while she always wanted to start her own company, she says it is "not for the faint hearted."

"Financially you have to take risks, in our case we did other jobs to pay bills."

She also highlights the benefits of working for smaller companies, as it enables you to experience every area of the production, something she says is essential if you are going to have your own company.

Career highlight

In terms of career highlights, she lists making her feature film, 'Between the Canals'.

"I had always wanted to be a producer and the Film Board gave me the opportunity to produce it and seeing my name up on screen as producer, once I did that then I knew I could do anything."

The second thing she lists is setting up her own company.

Industry challenges

In terms of how the industry is currently performing, Barry believes "there are lots of opportunities here, it is tough too, in terms of not that much funding available."

However, she says that for now  there is a lot being done for a small country and it is only growing.

"There are so many opportunities out there for younger people out there that might want to develop their own projects and/or set up their own company, there is never enough good ideas out there and here there is places to go to get help like development funding from the Film Network."

Deirdre also mentions that the problem of holding onto the right people can be a challenge for smaller companies.

Niamh Herrity, CEO, Producer, and Co-founder of Pink Kong Studios

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Niamh Herrity, CEO, Producer, and Co-founder of Pink Kong Studios
 

Niamh Herrity doesn’t have the animation background that one might expect from the co-founder of Pink Kong Studios.

Her background is in fact in business, marketing, PR, and event management.

However, her wife Aoife had been working on the animation industry for "years and years."

Initially when the two set up the studio they were doing corporate work. But since then they have stepped into the created of TV and film work, this year created Ireland’s first virtual reality (VR) animation film.

Career highlight

In terms of career highlights, Aoife says that 'The Aurora', Pink Kong’s VR film, gave them an opportunity to explore a different way of story-telling.

In addition she cites getting nominated for an Augie award, while their film Departure got nominated for an IFTA.

Industry challenges

We discuss the challenges currently facing the industry and, like many others, Aoife highlights staffing as being an issue.

"In Ireland we currently we have a shortage of crew, so training is posing a bit of a challenge because animation is booming in Ireland, more projects happening, we just require more people."

She also says that it is a very expensive industry to be involved in.

"Although we do get support from Screen Ireland and Rte, to be honest we need more funding in the industry so that we can grow the industry further."

Louise Cornally, Brown Bag Films

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Louise Cornally, Brown Bag Films

Similar to Niamh, Louise’s background is more business than animation.

The qualified accountant always had an interest in the Arts and wanted to work in a creative industry.

She worked in Live Action for a period of time, before she got the Brown Bag opportunity six years ago, where she now heads up finance and business affairs.

Brown Bag has studios in Dublin, Toronto and Manchester, as well as an office in LA. The studio has created a number of much loved TV shows including Doc McStuffins and DanielTiger’s Neighborhood.

The company has been able to maintain long-term employment, with about 270 employees in Dublin, 120 in Manchester, and around 300 in Toronto.

However, the industry-wide problem of staffing is also an issue for the company.

Today Brown Bags has about 40-50 positions open in Dublin and Manchester, while about 65pc of the Dublin artists generally are international artists.

Louise says that the company is looking to open a conversation with Universities around employee skill set.

"We would love the pool of talent to be available in Ireland, but it is not and this is a challenge for the market globally."

Career highlight/industry challenges

For Louise, the biggest reward has been involved in a company and industry that is scaling and growing and be able to have input into that.

On the topic of opportunities in the industry, she says that they are "huge."

"Ireland is really an international focus for animation, the country is becoming a key market for production of animation for the global market."

However, on the matter of challenges, again she says that it goes back to employees.

"We need to have trained/skills individuals, and to get the message to young people in school to consider animation as a career."

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