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'High costs, too few graduates put lid on our animation boom'

Dublin price shock makes it tough to capitalise on global animation demand, warns Brown Bag Films' Cathal Gaffney

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Founder: Cathal Gaffney of Brown Bag Films. Inset left, at Screen Ireland’s 2020 film slate event

Founder: Cathal Gaffney of Brown Bag Films. Inset left, at Screen Ireland’s 2020 film slate event

Founder: Cathal Gaffney of Brown Bag Films. Inset left, at Screen Ireland’s 2020 film slate event

Animation studios in Ireland are struggling to recruit enough staff because of sky-high Dublin costs and a weak pipeline of local graduates.

That is the view from Cathal Gaffney, managing director of Brown Bag Films, one of our top home-grown studios.

Ireland's dozens of animation studios last year put more money into the economy - €180m, according to Screen Ireland - than the rest of film and TV production combined.

Mr Gaffney, who co-founded Brown Bag in Smithfield in Dublin 26 years ago, said Ireland could play a bigger role in global animation if it invested more in skills and tackled its disproportionate living costs.

"With great respect to both Dún Laoghaire and Ballyfermot - we're working very closely with them - there simply isn't the amount of graduates," he said, referring to Dún Laoghaire Institute of Art, Design & Technology and to Ballyfermot College of Further Education, which run animation programmes. "Between the two colleges, there's about 40 graduates a year coming out. That's not enough for the sector," said Mr Gaffney, who graduated from Ballyfermot in 1993.

He said half of the more than 200 people working at Brown Bag in Smithfield have come from abroad. "It's fantastic. It's like the UN," he said.

But he added that international hires can be shocked by the baseline cost of living here.

"They come from France, Germany, all over the world. They're feeling great. Then they pay their first month's rent and go: oh my God."

He said it was common for Brown Bag staff transferred to Dublin from its other major production base of Toronto to seek to transfer back once they grasped the higher costs here.

"Absolutely, we have that all the time, once they have their tax taken out and pay their rent," he said. "It's a real growth inhibitor for the sector. We can't get enough talent.

"I would have a studio in Kilkenny or in Galway. But there's just no way we could grow a team of 300 animators in Ireland. It is too expensive."

Ireland's loss is often Asia's gain as Brown Bag - provider to Disney, the BBC and most of the video streaming giants - is growing in Indonesia, where last year it acquired a Bali studio. Today, 330 of its 1,100 staff worldwide work there.

"We often have to outsource our animation and work with partners in Asia," he said, "just to fill in the gaps where we can't get through the capacity of work that we're doing."

Ireland would have "an awful lot less" animation production without Section 481 tax relief, he said. It provides a 32pc write-off on film and TV production expenses.

Irish Independent