Search Results for: Kells

The One and Only Reason We Don’t See More Diverse Animated Films

 The Secret of Kells most definitely counts as diverse animation.

On Sunday, Nora Lumiere posted a very passionate call to arms with a wonderful post that expounded the very many areas that we have yet to see in theatrical animated form. Far from a wistful wishlist, it’s a well thought out look at the various genres and styles that are rare or unheard of in animated form.

Hinting on the success of Tangled’s “painterly” style, Nora rattle off style after style that could easily be used on a theatrical scale today thanks to modern technology.

The only caveat with her post is that she is speaking for theatrical animation. We already see plenty of diversity in shorts for the simple reason that they are inherently more independent examples that are created at the whims of the animator themselves. Nora touches upon one reason why we don’t see more diverse animated films (emphasis mine):

It’s time to dare to push the animation envelope and break out of the children’s toy box.  Forget about box-office profits for a minute, hire some innovative scientists and adventurous animators to research new artistic software.

Ah, therein lies the dilemma. As much as we like to think of theatrical animation as an artistic market where the dreams of the artist make it to the silver screen, that is the view that is presented to the great unwashed masses. who truly believe that Hollywood is a “dream factory”.

Not to say that Nora’s post does not acknowledge this, it does, however the fact remains that no matter how right she is, unless there is enough (notice I said enough, not any) money in it, the main studios won’t touch it.

The Big 6 will only ever play within a safe set of boundaries when it come to films because they are incredibly risk averse, and justifiably so. If you were coughing up in the region of $500-600 million (including promotion/marketing) you’d be making princess movies all the time too.

That’s the current problem with the way things are set up at the moment. Independent, inspiring and mould-breaking movies are well within arms reach. Sita Sings the Blues was done by one person, ONE! Why on earth don’t we see many more films like that? The simple answer in this case is that Nina Paley busted her butt and her bank account to get the film made and released. There aren’t too many people who are willing to make that kind of commitment, let alone do it regularly.

Since cost/risk is arguably the main problem when it comes to genre-defying films, there is a logical argument that subsidies could be a potential solution. This is true, certainly in the case of The Secret of Kells, which benefited from a few grants from the European Union and tax credits from the Irish government.

Such subsidies are the sad reality of the style of films that Nora calls for. They are too risky for mainstream, commercial studios, but they clearly have more than enough potential to succeed based on their many merits.

That is the reason why we don’t see more diverse animated films. The unholy mix of risk and cost which combine to make most films that are outside the mainstream too much of a hot potato. Hopefully in the future, as traditional distribution shenanigans break down, we will see more daring films that push the envelope.

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An Animated Irish Celtic History Lesson

It’s been almost a week of videos here on the blog so in the fashion of in for a penny, in for a pound, here’s some Irish animation.

The stories of Cú Chulainn is known by everyone in Ireland. A fierce warrior, he was rightfully feared and respected in equal doses. There are many tales surrounding this mythical man including this one, where Cú Chulainn is tricked into slaying his only son.

Animated by Damien Byrne, it’s Celtic animation in an altogether darker shade than The Secret of Kells. Don’t forget to check out the blog for the obligatory behind the scenes story on how it all came together.

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People I Respect: The Irish Guys

This is the second in a series of posts in which I explain why I respect certain people in the animation industry and why you should do the same.

Paul Young and Tomm Moore Via: IMDB

Cathal Gaffney and Darragh O’Connell Via: Brown Bag Films

Yup, I’m shoehorning four lads into this post, but with good reason, for without them, the Irish animation scene would look quite different than it does today.

The name Cathal Gaffney may not ring much of a bell with you but he is someone I have a lot of respect for. Together with Darragh O’Connell, Cathal founded Brown Bag Films, based in Dublin and has had tremendous success over the last 14 years including not one but two Academy Award nominations. Both men have worked hard to promote the indigenous industry within Ireland as one that has a lot of potential for long-lasting prosperity.

Tomm Moore and Paul Young started Cartoon Saloon in Kilkenny back in 1999 and since then, they too have found tremendous success with the crowning achievement being the Academy Award nomination for their feature, The Secret of Kells, which itself was a remarkable achievement considering that it was only shown in one cinema prior to nomination!

Why do I respect these four guys? For one, they helped start animation studios in Ireland when the industry was next to non-existent and have grown them into internationally-recognised companies that work with such large global players as Nickelodeon/Viacom and Disney.

Even more admirably, all four have managed to grow businesses at a time when Ireland has seen one of the worst recessions in the Eurozone, which is no mean feat! All four are also as ambassadors for Irish animation around the world and is continually promoting the industry at home and abroad.

For this and more, Cathal Gaffney and Darragh O’Connell, Tomm Moore and Paul Young are four guys I respect.

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Anomaly Appraisal: Fern Gully: The Last Rainforest

Via: The Internet Movie Poster Awards

Fern Gully: The Last Rainforest is one of those films that I must have seen when I was younger. I was smack in the middle of the target audience at the time and I definitely did see Aladdin when it came out mere months before/after.

Yet I had forgotten about it for years until last week when I was at Wal-Mart. Having picked up a bicycle seat (as you do), I strolled past the DVD section. Lo and behold! There was a $5 bin stuffed to the gills with DVDs.

Since I like animation in all shapes and forms, I have become accustomed to rummaging through such bins because you never know what you’ll find. Naturally I came across Fern Gully. For $5? How could I not! So I did, and the other night, I watched it.

What can I say? It’s a decent enough film that left me pleasantly surprised. The animation is superb with plenty of lovely traditional animation and hand-painted backgrounds. There’s also some 3-D CGI that is as good as anything Disney put out at the time. Hans Perk (of A. Film L.A.) did some animation, as did Ralph Eggleston. So it seems that at least a few famous folks were involved in making this film as beautiful as it is.

The plot is fine, if somewhat generic. Sure, it plays on the whole ‘environmentalism’ fad that was happening at the time (remember this was the early 90s) although it is quite believable in the context of the setting. The script itself is slow. A large portion of the movie is devoted to the main characters travelling around the world they live in. It may be a side effect of the short running time (80 mins) that leaves the actual plot to do with Hexus as something of an afterthought.

The music (as excellently composed by Alan Silvestri as it is) is now rather dated, as is the film itself. Besides the music, the big giveaway is the language. “Tubular” and “bodacious” are just two and are far from the only examples. Yes, this film is very much from the late 80s/early 90s.

Indeed, Fern Gully has company in this regard. Tangled walks the very same, fine line that divides a film between being timeless and being time-framed. I have no doubt that in ten years, Tangled will look much the same age as Fern Gully looks today, unfortunately.

As for the characters, they are certainly likeable. There’s nothing wrong with that except that their development is cut short by the running time. They are the usual motley crew that inhabited animated films before Pixar came along. I.e. the smart one, the good-looking dumb one. the hangers-on, the hero, the villain. Nothing makes most of them stand out from the crowd. Having said that, I did find two characters who did.

Crysta, our protagonist, is by far the most interesting of all the characters. There is a lot on her shoulders (as we learn throughout the film) that weighs upon her mind. She is strong character that is determined in her ways while at the same time caring for the bewildered human (Zak) who has literally fallen into her life.

She has that happy-go-lucky charm that imbues all the virtues of a good female character while being assertive enough in her ways to avoid being labelled a pushover. Look at the screencap below.

Now there’s a great shot. The crossed arms, the lip-bite and the dozens of eyes staring out just scream the inquisitive nature of our heroine. How about another one:

I’ve seen that face literally dozens of times. She does exactly that with my face as well and every time it makes me wonder whether I’ve missed my calling as a clown.

Crysta is the most developed of all the characters, so much so, that without her, the film would be indubitably more boring.

The second characteris given some criminally short screen time. That would be Hexus, voiced by the one and only Tim Curry, who manages to bring out so much of the sleaze and evilness in the character, it makes you wonder how awesome the film would be if he’d been given more screen time.

Tim Curry provides a superb balance to Robin Williams who hams it up as Batty. Hexus is effortlessly sublime to Robbin’s lunacy, which is far more abrasive than his other performance of the year as the Genie in Aladdin. Of note is something Brad Bird posted over on Cartoon Brew a few years ago (how I manage to find these things I do not know):

Very few people remember that Williams was also the voice of a key character in FERNGULLY that same year and it didn’t help the film’s boxoffice.

Sadly it didn’t, although the film is no worse for it. Williams is given a wild script but it is clear that he was not given the same freedom that he was for Aladdin, where the character of the Genie was so dependent on him being who he is.

Interestingly enough, Fern Gully is set in Australia and was partially produced there. As such, I asked Australia’s favourite son and my good chum, Elliot Cowan what he thought of it:

Fern Gully is an enormous pile of shit that is about as Australian as Abraham Lincoln.

So The Secret of Kells it isn’t. That should not detract you from seeking Fern Gully out though. You will be rewarded by a lovely looking film with some very 90s songs that may provide a bit of a respite from all the CGI that is being thrown your way these days. Fern Gully: The Last Rainforest is available at Wal-Mart and Target for the low, low price of $5 (plus tax).

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The Only Surefire Way To Make Money From Your Film In The Internet Age

With the rise of the internet, the media and entertainment landscapes have been irrevocably changed. Gone are the days when getting people to see your film meant cajoling your friends down to the local cinema where your short was being screened. Today, thanks to the internet, you can throw something up on YouTube and get a million hits within an hour (if you’re really lucky, in which case, you should play the Lotto as well).

Such a scenario is great for a lot of people, certainly the viewers, but if you were to listen to the likes of the MPAA, the sky was falling down. “We’re losing money” they cry, as they trip over themselves trying to figure out ways to make money off the internet.

When it comes to animation, making money has always been a little bit trickier than live-action. For one, you can’t have your actors show up at a party and have them start gushing to everyone they meet about what a great film you made and why everyone should go and see it. Nope, you can’t do that with animated characters.

So let’s assume that your film is on the internet and people can watch it for free on YouTube. How can you earn money from it? The answer is surprisingly simple.

Know the difference between what is scare and what is not. People will pay for scarce things, but not for something (or a substitute product) they can get for free relatively easily.

Having your film online is not making it scarce, in fact, it’s making it about as plentiful as you can get. Even if you took it down, it would continue to live on for years, decades even in cyberspace.

There’s a good chance that you’ll  have to figure out what it is about your film that is ‘scarce’. Is it the physical drawings used in the film? It might well be. Bill Plympton draws everything on paper and if you were at MoCCA this past weekend, you could have bought one from his latest short, The Cow Who Wanted to Be A Hamburger.

Physical objects relating to a film will always be scarce as they are harder to duplicate and there is often a limited supply out there. That’s why you see cels from the likes of The Little Mermaid selling for $1,200 or more. There’s only one of that particular cel out there and that’s how much people are willing to pay for it.

If selling the original art doesn’t appeal to you, you can always create some more! If you decide to sell, say, a DVD, why not throw in a quick sketch, like Tomm Moore did with The Secret of Kells. If you go the T-Shirt route, why not sign your name on it or something like that. Consumers love something that appears to be unique, that they have the only one or one of the few of in the world.

I know I keep coming back to the idea of scarcity, but that really is the secret to making money from your film. If you figure out what is in limited, supply about it, then you are in a position to start making money from it.


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Irish Week: At Least The Irish Government Recognises The Cultural Value of Animation

It’s that time of the year again, when everyone pretends to be Irish and the real Irish milk it from the American tourists for all it’s worth. St. Patrick’s Day is on Thursday so until then, this post is part of a series on Ireland and Irish-related animation. You can browse the full series here.

Via: Brown Blog Films

What you see above is the real deal, sent to both Tomm Moore (Cartoon Saloon, The Secret of Kells) and Nicky Phelan (Brown Bag Films, Granny O’Grim). By the sounds of the respective blog posts, it was nothing short of a complete shock for both invitees.

Now St. Patrick’s Day is a huge deal for the Irish government because unlike any other country, March 17th is for the Irish and the Irish alone (everyone’s Irish for a day, etc, etc). As a result, the government and the country have long realised that they have been given this extraordinary opportunity: a whole day to market Ireland to the entire world without interference from other (non-catastrophic) events. In fact, the combination of St Patrick’s Day and the opening of NCAA March Madness is seen by some (including my boss) as a perfect storm of events.

You’d think that for the Irish Government and the embassies and so forth that this would be a great day of relaxation and celebration. Not so, I was talking to a guy from the Irish Embassy in Washington DC last year and he told me in no uncertain terms that St. Patrick’s Day is by far the busiest day of the year, when everyone is frantically organising things, meeting people doing interviews, etc. So it would seem that the only civil servants getting a rest are the ones at home!

In line with the various ‘promoting’ activities that the Irish government does is the now-traditional White House meeting, where the President of the United States (POTUS) presents the Taoiseach (prime minister) with a bowl of shamrocks (interesting note: it was George W. Bush who began this custom, before, it was just a plain ol’ handshake).

Afterwards there is the reception and dinner for the festivities where I’m sure there are many fine congressmen and senators who attend to whoop up their Irish heritage. Sadly many Irish-Americans are ignorant to the simple fact that corned beef and cabbage just isn’t an Irish dish. For some, their entire world falls apart when I inform them of this.

As the entire day is one to promote Ireland and Irish culture, it is delightful to see that two animators are included. The government could easily have chosen a few poets, singers, artists and so forth to attend (and probably have in the past) but they didn’t. Surely both invitations are a sign that the Irish government has recognised the ability of animation to transcend borders and cultures and to promote Ireland in a positive light to the world. Both animator’s Academy Award nominations last year have no doubt helped lead to tomorrows event.

Hopefully this is not the last time we see Irish animators being invited to the White House although I think we’re off to a great start.

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Irish Week: How The Tenacity of Irish Studios Is Doing Them Wonders

It’s that time of the year again, when everyone pretends to be Irish and the real Irish milk it from the American tourists for all it’s worth. St. Patrick’s Day is on Thursday so until then, this post is part of a series on Ireland and Irish-related animation. You can browse the full series here.

For a long time, there were not studios in Ireland, production studios I mean. Then one day, Don Bluth and Morris Sullivan decided to set up shop in Dublin, but more on that later this week.

Since that first, initial explosion of animation in Ireland, there has been an almost continuous expansion of the industry and although the original Sullivan-Bluth Studios are defunct, the educational course that studio started is still very much alive.

The advancement of the industry over the years is nothing sort of amazing when you think about it. Here was a country with no real prior animation experience getting thrown head-first into the topsy-turvy world of cartoons. Since then, numerous studios have popped up as Irish-trained animators began to venture out into the industry on their own, and despite the harsh business environment, have succeeded!

In terms of gaining business, Irish outfits have very much followed the lead set by the various Japanese and Korean companies in years past. That it, to become an offshore production studio for major studios and gradually use that experience to create you own content. It is a well-worn yet tried and tested method that has indeed helped Irish studios gain familiarity and knowledge of the world-wide industry and of course allow them to attain a reputation and personal relationships along the way. Of course the old irish charm helps a lot too. 😉

The success of the likes of The Secret of Kells is proof that Irish culture and stories can have an international appeal and since that films success, other Irish studios have slowly but surely been heading in that direction hoping to emulate the unparalleled success of Kells.

Animation Ireland has a comprehensive list of Irish studios and what they do and it’s a list well worth checking out. There were even a few I didn’t know about!

The sometimes cutthroat nature of working in animation can be notoriously difficult to achieve success in and I think that all the hard work that people have put into making Ireland a hub for animation has certainly been worth the effort. It’s been proven that it can be done and I firmly believe that right now, we are on the cusp of a protracted age of Irish animation success.

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Irish Week: Why Everyone Ought to Read An tEachtaire

It’s that time of the year again, when everyone pretends to be Irish and the real Irish milk it from the American tourists for all it’s worth. St. Patrick’s Day is on Thursday so until then, this post is part of a series on Ireland and Irish-related animation. You can browse the full series here.


For those of you who aren’t Irish, the title of this comic won’t mean a thing. For those who are and who had Irish hammered into passionately taught to them, they know that a tEachtaire means messenger in Irish.

So who would happen to be the messenger in an Irish comic? Why St. Patrick himself of course!

The comic in question is written by Colmán Ó Raghallaigh and illustrated by…….Tomm Moore! It centres around the life of St. Patrick as he is kidnapped from Wales as a young lad and forced to mind sheep on a mountain. After he flees, he has a series of dreams where the Irish call him back to teach them the Gospel. Patrick does so and spends the rest of his life converting the heathens pagans into Christians.

That particular version of the story is a bit boring for a comic, so Ó Raghallaigh has spiced it up a wee bit with a focus on the drama and some marvelous illustrations by Moore. There are plenty of displays of agony, torment, confrontations and Celtic imagery, as can be seen below.

It’s not overly long, although as you get into the story, length become rather irrelevant as your mind begins to wander as the illustrations come to life inside your head. Both authors have managed to create a very cohesive comic that simply could not be anything but Irish in origin.

I found my Irish had become rather rusty after a few years away from home although there is an English translation available so you’re not left completely in the dark.

I must say it was a very pleasant surprise to find this under the Christmas tree (kudos to my girlfriend for knowing me better than I know myself) and I found it re-awakened an awareness that Ireland has a rich and varied history that is more than capable of being translated for modern audiences.

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Is It Time for the New York International Children’s Film Festival Already?

Via: GKids

In a matter of fact, yes it is! Well, in less than a month’s time anyway. I mention it now because the pamphlet arrived yesterday with details of all the screenings and events that are going to take place during this wonderful celebration of cinema.

Of course, just because it has the word “children” in the title does not in any way preclude adults from being entertained too. On the contrary, the films are more than suitable for adults and besides, their are plenty of adult-friendly events held during the course of the festival.

Screenings and workshops are only held on the weekends, so if you happen to live in New York City, you have no excuses whatsoever for not making it to at least one screening. For the rest of us, the roster is full of top-notch films (both feature-length and short form). Many of the films showing are receiving their US premiere, which I think says a lot about the gravitas of the festival and its place in the film world.

Besides loads of great movies to see, there are also numerous workshops (on sound and the green screen) running during the festival itself in addition to ones that occur from February through till July that can give budding filmmakers a chance to learn a few of the tricks of the trade. One workshop that happened to jump out at me was the Flash animation one in July being held by the Rauch Brothers, two extremely nice brother who are more than capable of encouraging young minds towards a career in animation.

The festival normally has at least one big, mainstream film to show. Last year it was The Secret of Kells, which was then only an Academy Award-nominee, so there was much excitement in the atmosphere about whether it would triumph at the ceremony the following week.

The year, the main film is Mars Needs Moms, the motion-capture vehicle of Robert Zemeckis. Think what you will about the film (I know I am reserving my thoughts) but it will receive it’s world premiere at the Director’s Guild of America theatre on March 4th.

Last year I made the trip up for the day (in freezing weather and with slush everywhere) and it was well worth the effort. Sure it took up one of my precious, precious Saturdays, but I had a lot of fun and met plenty of interesting people. The festival is a wonderful opportunity to see films that otherwise might not be shown here in the US and I think they directors do a marvelous job of putting it on every year.

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The End of Animation in Britain?

Yesterday, I read with dismay on Cartoon Brew that the British government, with its current Tory-led cabinet, has decided not to renew the grants and other funding it had made available to Animate Projects, a group who sponsored various animation projects at all levels of the spectrum.

A study put out by the Royal Television Society last year highlighted that Britain has become increasingly incapable of competing with other countries on just cost alone! The main issue they cite is that said other countries (namely Ireland) have benefitted greatly from government tax breaks that have caused productions that would have been made in Britain move elsewhere. As an Irishman, you can easily guess on which side of that argument I fall on.

Should governments subsidise an industry? That’s a political hot potato which you won’t find me discussing here, but I will say that for a market as large as Britain (both culturally and commercially) there is little or no excuse for the government not at least encouraging animation as a viable artform. Other European countries do it, we just don’t see the results very often due to cultural differences.

Is there a bright side to all of this? Can there be a bright side at all? Perhaps it is not clear now and the shock of the announcement is still being felt but I think animation in Britain is in need of a rebuilding of sorts. I find it hard to believe that here in the US we get such excellent animated shows as The Simpsons, et al while in Britain there is almost nothing in comparison (correct me if I’m wrong). That country has been putting out top-notch live-action programmes like The Office so there are no excuses when it comes to animated shows of the same quality.

I think we need to see more action on the part of broadcasters (I’m looking at you, Channel 4) to help encourage a change in attitudes to animation that we are starting to see over here in the States, i.e. that it is not just for children. The success of the likes of The Secret of Kells in the US is proof that the cultural and geographical divide is not so great that it cannot be bridged.

Ultimately, the closing of a program that helps people discover and nurture their creative talent will only serve to homogenise the workforce to the detriment of society at large although it almost certainly does not bring the curtain down on the rich and quirky history of British animation. Now is not the time for moaning, it is time to pick ourselves up and carry on.

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