Business Technology

Saturday 24 March 2018

Animation nation

Granny O'Grimm's Sleeping Beauty
Granny O'Grimm's Sleeping Beauty

Joe O'Shea

Earning us Oscar nods and new jobs, Joe O'Shea asks how we've become an animation nation.

Don't tell Wallace & Gromit or Peppa Pig, but there is a new gang of Irish cartoon heroes in town and they could be threatening their careers.

The Irish animation sector is going through what one major player calls a "golden age", winning contracts with the big international networks and production companies and causing great concern for the traditional powerhouses of the cartoon industry.

The multimillion-euro deal just signed between Dublin studio Boulder Media and industry giant Disney, which will immediately create 50 jobs, underlines why animation is being hailed as the "star performer" of the Irish film and TV industry.

Irish studios such as Brown Bag, Jam Media and Boulder are all hiring staff, snapping up talented young Irish animators almost as soon as they graduate from dedicated courses at Ballyfermot College and IADT in Dun Laoghaire.

And traditional players in the UK, such as Aardman Studios (Wallace & Gromit) and Ragdoll Productions (Teletubbies) have warned the British government that competition from Ireland and elsewhere could spell "terminal decline" for their animation industry.

The major animation studios in the UK recently met with British Chancellor George Osborne to warn him that the tax breaks given to studios in Ireland, France and Canada are making it increasingly difficult for them to compete.

Mr Osborne responded by announcing tax breaks for UK film and animation production in last week's budget, telling the Commons that it was the policy of the UK government to "to keep Wallace and Grommet exactly where they are".

However, while the Chancellor has finally acceded to calls to level the playing field, recent deals between Irish studios and the likes of Nickelodeon, the BBC (CBeebies) and Cartoon Network mean the initiative remains on this side of the Irish sea.

One Manchester-based studio, Cosgrove Hall Fitzpatrick, is now looking to move at least some of its operations to Ireland, partly to avail of tax-breaks but also to capitalise on the sudden bloom of talent here.

CHF's Francis Fitzpatrick, the Irish creator of the seven time Emmy-award winning Jakers and the Adventures of Piggley Winks, has warned that the UK has a "a big hill to climb" to compete with countries like Canada, Ireland and France.

"If you spend £1 in Ireland, you will get an immediate tax return of 28p. A French production company can attract up to 70pc of the funding from the government," said Fitzpatrick.

The animation tycoon is impressed by the quality of talent in his native country, citing studios such as the Oscar-nominated Brown Bag and says "animation in Ireland is of the highest quality I have come across".

John Rice of Dublin-based Jam Media, currently producing three animated shows for the BBC, says this is something of a "golden age" for Irish animation.

"We here at Jam have effectively doubled in size over the past six months. We have grown from around 20 people to employing 45, we are doing three international productions and we're are still looking for staff. We are out the door busy."

John says the success has not come overnight, but has grown organically as small companies have learned how to play on the international market.

"It has grown bit by bit. We were not dependent on the Celtic Tiger or fast money, we always had to look outside of Ireland for finance and make partnerships based on delivering quality over the long term."

John and others have spent a long time slogging around the big film and animation conferences in the US and Europe.

"You put everything you have done in a bag, you go out and you try and get in front of as many important people as you can."

Traditional cartoon series, such as Jam's latest, Tilly and Friends, remain the bread and butter for the industry. Series are either created and developed here or Irish studios are basically contracted to do the hard work of producing the animation to scripts and ideas dreamt up in Los Angeles or elsewhere.

But the rapidly changing industry means that many of the jobs being created by Jam and other Irish companies revolve around content creation, software development and production focused on new platforms and devices, such as tablets and smartphones.

Irish companies are now as focused on creating content for iPhone and Android apps as much as turning out 10-minute cartoons.

Dublin studio Boulder Media has just made headlines by signing a two year deal with Disney to produce 52 episodes of the new cartoon series Randy Cunningham: Ninth Grade Ninja which will be seen in 130 countries later this year.

It's the latest success for Boulder, which has previously worked on Cartoon Network's The Amazing World of Gumball, Nickelodeon's El Tigre, and farther back, Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends.

Boulder's Anne Tweedy, who is currently finishing off the hiring process for 50 young animators, says Section 481, which offers a 28pc tax break to investors and has been extended for 2012, was a "key factor" in Disney's decision.

In 2011, €30m was raised in funding for animation projects through Section 481.

"It's a big attraction for companies to come in and subsidise the costs of production, to make more of their budgets," says Anne.

"It means that we actually get to produce premium animation in Ireland with Irish people, the majority of our crew are Irish.

"And we have this great talent here, we would see our crew as the best of the best, they are the reason why we are able to bring in these huge projects."

Danielle O'Brien is one of the new animators who will be working on Randy Cunningham: Ninth Grade Ninja for Disney.

The 23-year-old IADT graduate from Co Cork grew up watching the Disney and Cartoon Network channels.

"This is my first big project and it's still in development so it feels that it won't be real until I see it on screen," says Danielle. "The idea that something that I drew for Disney is going to be on TV hasn't really sunk in."

Danielle says that of the year that she graduated with, almost all who wanted to go into working for an established studio have already found jobs.

The young Corkwoman says she often has to explain what exactly it is she will be doing for Disney to her non-artistic friends and her family, but adds: "Most of my relatives are just impressed that I got a job."

The jobs are certainly out there, even if the college courses take four years to complete.

At the rate the animation industry is expanding at the moment, parents looking to inspire good career choices might be well advised to let their kids watch as many cartoons as they want.



Irish animation studio Brown Bag Films secured its second Academy Award nomination in eight years with its short animated film Granny O’Grimm’s Sleeping Beauty. The previous nomination was for the short film Give Up Yer Aul Sins in 2002. Granny O’Grimm was directed by Nicky Phelan and written and performed by comedian Kathleen O’Rourke, who told the story of a seemingly sweet old lady who terrifies her little granddaughter at bedtime with her dark version of the Sleeping Beauty fairytale.


This Oscar-nominated, animated feature from Irish company Cartoon Saloon tells the story of Brendan, a young boy in a barbarian-haunted medieval outpost, who comes across a magical, illustrated book. It won many international awards as well as that Oscar nod.

TILLY AND FRIENDS Jam Media (2012)

Made in Dublin for the BBC children's channel CBeebies, Tilly And Friends is based on the books by Polly Dunbar, the 52, 11-minute episodes will be seen by preschoolers around the world.


Created by the Cartoon Network and produced in Ireland by Boulder Media using the then latest Macromedia Flash technology, a first for the Cartoon Network. It won six Primetime Emmys.

Irish Independent

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