Monthly Archives: June 2012

Just a quick tip today for those of us creating shows for young children – show titles should be easy to say.

I know, it seems so obvious. But this is something I should have put a lot more thought into with Fluffy Gardens. Many parents don’t know what their children like to watch because their children simply can’t tell them. In the preschool age group, kids are just getting to grips with language and the extent to which they’ll try words they aren’t sure about will vary massively from child to child. And for those of us looking to create content that is really good for children, we really want parents to know as much as possible about the shows their children watch.

Peppa Pig is easy to say – young children will often just get ‘peeeeg’ first but the rest comes very quickly. Joko Toto Jakamoto, well, I’ve been aware of that show since it was shown at the Cartoon Forum way back when and I’m still not sure whether I have the name right or not.

Here are a few show titles I like -

Mouk

Humf

Peppa Pig

Third & Bird

Yo Gabba Gabba (usually children drop the ‘yo’)

Making a great show for young children? Make the title easy to say. Even better, make it fun to say.

There are certain realities of animation production that change depending on the size and nature of the production. Often at a certain point, the creativity has to end to make way for the act of simply getting the thing done.

I have never been a big fan of ‘realities’. Sure, there are genuine limits. But more often than not, ‘realities’ is a term used so we can do less work and be okay with that. Other times, somewhat more poisonous, it is thrown at you by others so you’ll do less work which, in turn, will make those people feel a little better about not putting in similar effort themselves. In either case, it shifts responsibility from the individual and assigns it to the rest of the world.

Accepting the responsibility as ours (as creators, directors, writers, producers ‘ any part of the process), I was all too far into my career when I figured out what I believe to be an important truth: if it can be made better, it should be.

No, that doesn’t mean aiming for perfect (doesn’t exist) and it doesn’t mean missing deadlines, blowing the budget and scuppering the project, hence the all-important ‘if’. It just means aiming for excellence and deciding that, at any stage of the process, improvements can be made.

For example, we dropped the very first episode of Fluffy Gardens series 2 that we animated. When put together, it simply wasn’t as strong as the others and we knew we could get another better episode written and produced within our time. So we did. Just because we made it and put the work in didn’t mean we had to use it. Not when there was a better episode out there. So instead of ending up with 39 episodes we were happy with and 1 we weren’t, we now have 40 episodes we love.

In Ballybraddan, which was one continuing storyline, it became clear late in production that the series was even stronger than the first episode made out. The show deserved a better setup. So we rewrote, rerecorded and reanimated half of the first episode right at the end of production and we made it a far stronger series as a result. The changes to that one episode made all the subsequent episodes better and we were able to do it on time and within budget.

In the production of every show, even after years of development, potential improvements become apparent at various stages. It’s often only in the doing, doing it for real, that they show themselves. Sure, in both cases we could have left things as they were and maybe few would have noticed that they weren’t quite up to par.

But if it can be made better, it should be.

Last week, we got a working cut of the very first Cosmo episode together. It’s good. Actually, it’s pretty great. We have always aimed high on this one and I want it to be as great as it can be all across the show. The animation in particular is superb ‘ I can’t wait to show some of it here on the site. In many ways, the show is even better than I hoped and that’s a pretty fantastic thing to be able to write. It also sets the benchmark that much higher, a benchmark that now every element of the show must reach. And so I spent much the weekend working on completely new design possibilites for some of those elements even in the thick of production.

It’s already really good. That’s a beautiful start when aiming for excellence. All we have to do is remember, if it can be made better…

I returned home from the Annecy 2012 animation festival yesterday. I survived it. What a fantastic few days. A beautiful location filled with people who love animation, love films, love cartoons, love art… filled with people who love. Could you ask for anything better?

One of the things that makes Annecy special is that it attracts people at all stages in their careers – students just getting started, veterans of the industry who have been making films for over 50 years and everyone in between, all mixing together and sharing enthusiasm and information. The old-timers can offer wisdom, stories and advice in both business and creativity. The new generations can invigorate with passion, fresh eyes and a new approach untainted by cynicism or even just bad habits.

For those of us doing this animation thing for any length of time, that passion can be hard to hold on to sometimes.

I was wandering around the book shop in the Bonlieu in Annecy, a great shop filled full of art books and comics, and just leafing through the pages I found myself taken right back to why I was drawn to this medium so many years ago – the variety, the lack of restrictions, the strength, the artistry. Of course, I love much more than just the medium when making children’s entertainment. For me, it’s about giving something meaningful to children. Nevertheless, it is with animation that I choose to do that and for very good reasons. Animation really is a wonderful medium. It truly is. It creates life.

Annecy is a celebration of that.

Sometimes, whether through a festival like Annecy or other ways, it’s important to take ourselves back a bit. Important to remind ourselves why we love particular elements of what we do. It is too easy to lose sight of our passions when it all becomes a business or career.

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So how was my Annecy?

Well, really interesting and varied. The Irish were out in force and it was great hanging out with everyone from the different studios, something all too rare at home. I got to spend a lot of time with a veteran I have huge respect for, Jimmy Murakami, director of When The Wind Blows. I love hearing Jimmy’s stories. He’s a unique treasure. I finally met some people in person for the first time who I know through twitter or have known and loved their work. Found myself inspired by students and really enjoyed their company – the next generation of animators. I got to meet Peter Lord (yay!). I had some meetings over at the MIFA market end which went really well. Met some really interesting people there with some new, different ideas. Looking forward to building on some business relationships from that. I ate cheese. Lots and lots of cheese. And while having lunch with the Brown Bag Films crew (who are fantastic by the way), I got to eat the biggest burger I have ever seen:

And the Irish celebration, well that was far bigger and more successful than I could have imagined. The Bonlieu was decorated with the Irish flag colours and the 40 Frames of Green programmes went down really well and had people talking about so many Irish short films. The networking wine reception was a success and, introduced by James Hickey of the Irish Film Board, Tomm Moore gave a beautiful speech about story which brought us all right back to our childhoods and inspired us all. Tomm rocks.

And then there was the Irish party. Organised by us at the Screen Directors Guild of Ireland along with Animation Ireland, we got set up before 8pm and wondered if anyone would turn up. Well we didn’t just get anyone. We got everyone. It was jammed full of animation folk from all over the world and some real heavy hitters. Top people, animators, directors, producers, broadcasters, distributors all just enjoying the company and getting to know each other. It couldn’t have gone better.

I’m hoping it will become an annual event.

So well done to everyone at the SDGI and Animation Ireland for making that happen, especially Steve Woods, Birch Hamilton and Gary Timpson who worked so hard on it. Thanks to everyone who spread the word and everyone who attended. I really hope you enjoyed it. I know I did. Even that nightclub after…

Lastly, I took part in the pedalo boat race with some students from IADT. We came third last and I got soaked when the boat was bumped right under a fountain but this is the important part – it was fun. It was fun and I almost didn’t have a go. I was reluctant but was nudged by Steve Woods (thanks Steve!) and it was great fun. Of course it would be. It left me wondering where the reluctance came from… maybe I’ve been feeling old recently.

Note to self: have more fun.

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This is the week of Annecy, the world’s largest animation festival, and it’s a special one for us this time as Annecy shines a creative spotlight on Irish animation. If you’re heading to Annecy, here are some things to look out for:

40 Frames of Green – an extensive programme of Irish animation including short films, TV shows and more, curated by Steve Woods, with the assistance of the SDGI and IFI. Among the programme, one of my favourite episodes of Fluffy Gardens will be showing along with an old short of mine, Not There Yet, that is sadly as relevant today as it was when it was made.

Animation Industry Panel – a Territory Focus panel discussion on what Irish Animation has to offer in co-productions, taking place on Wednesday 6th.

Irish Film Board Networking Event – on Thursday, there is a wine reception hosted by the Irish Film Board and Enterprise Ireland with keynote speech by director, Tomm Moore. A great place to make introductions.

SDGI and Animation Ireland’s Green Night – this is going to be a big one! A night out at Finn Kelly’s Pub on Friday 8th to celebrate with Irish directors, producers and animators and, of course, all are welcome from every corner of the world. It promises to be a fun night out for everyone where you’ll build relationships, meet people from all ends of the industry and, most of all, just have a good time. It’s the no-pressure ‘just enjoy it’ night, so come along. And if you see me there and we haven’t met yet, introduce yourself.

With Cosmo being so incredibly busy right now, I won’t be there for the full week but I’m flying in on Thursday and will be there until Sunday representing the Screen Directors Guild of Ireland, Cosmo and Monster Animation so I’m looking forward to seeing you there if you’re going.

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One other thing to look out for, whether in Annecy or not – the latest issue of Film Ireland magazine has an excellent focus on animation. You’ll find a great article by Anna Rodgers on the state of Irish animation right now, which includes plenty of my own views on where we are right now and what we need to focus on. There’s also a really good interview with fantastic Irish director, Tomm Moore. Tomm is a wonderful talent and this issue is well worth checking out for his insights.

I’ll leave you with just a little something from me in that animation article…