As the Dingle Animation Festival prepares to showcase the triumphs of an industry worth over €100m to the economy,surveys the future of animation here.
If an Academy Award nomination can be taken as a definition of film success, then the Irish animation industry continues to be one of our nation’s unfaltering triumphs over recent times.
Kilkenny-based Cartoon Saloon picked up their third Oscar nomination for The Breadwinner this year, adding another string to the company’s ever-expanding creative bow.
In 2010 the studio’s first feature film, The Secret of Kells, received its initial Oscar nomination, followed by its second five years later with Song Of The Sea.
Its fellow animation studio, Brown Bag, has also raised the Irish animation industry’s international profile with its first Best Animated Short nomination in 2001 for Give Up Yer Aul Sins.
The company repeated the feat in the same category in 2009 for Granny O’Grimm’s Sleeping Beauty.
Other recent successes in the industry include Boulder Media’s Bafta-nominated Go Jetters; Moetion Films’ box office sensation Two by Two; and award-winning series, Roy from Jam Media.
Basking in the glory of such a major global profile is a far cry from just a decade ago when there were fewer than 100 people employed across the entire animation sector.
Animation is currently worth over €100m annually to the Irish economy, having doubled its growth since 2014 and with 85% of the output for overseas companies.
The industry continues to increase in size, with a 12% increase in SME animation creation between 2013 and 2014.
There are now over 650 highly skilled people employed full-time, alongside over 1,000 skilled contract workers employed on ongoing projects.
Flourishing through a continual pipeline of animation graduates, the Irish penchant for storytelling, a high level of studio research and development activity, and continuous up-skilling, the industry is now an accepted and respected part of the global animation community.
As a showcase to demonstrate where this impressive sector of the film industry currently stands, the Dingle Animation Festival this weekend, on March 23 and 24, will see top executives from major global studios like Amazon, Disney, Cartoon Network, Netflix, Apple and Nickelodeon converge on the Kerry town to meet with major Irish companies like Brown Bag, Cartoon Saloon and Jam Productions, to share their views on the many opportunities both at home and abroad.
“Ireland is very well respected internationally for the quality of its animation work produced,” says John Rice, co-founder of the festival and CEO of Jam Media.
“The festival was originally set up to celebrate the work of the animation colleges and the studios, and to serve as an annual forum to connect them both,” he says.
Speed pitching sessions and a variety of workshops over the two-day festival will help prepare students for a career in animation, as well as celebrating their creativity with the Animation Dingle Student Awards.
“It’s about preparing young animators to grow the already successful story of animation in Ireland and internationally,” Mr Rice says. “The kind of people coming to Dingle are key decision makers in huge global companies, and they come here looking for the next big thing,” he adds.
Keynote speakers this year include Orion Ross, who is vice president of content, animation, digital and acquisitions at Disney Channels; Bobby Podesta of Pixar Studios, who has produced A Bug’s Life, Toy Story 2 and Monsters, Inc; Alice Webb of BBC Children’s and responsible for CBeebies and CBBC; and Peter Lord, creative director of Aardman Animations whose hit Early Man is currently in cinemas.
Ed Catmull, president of Pixar and Walt Disney Animation Studios, encapsulated much of the success of the Irish industry during his visit to the 2015 Dublin Web Summit.
“I think it’s really remarkable to have a local industry that is so healthy and represents something from the culture,” he said.
Having presided over the development of global animation blockbusters like Frozen and Inside Out, Mr Catmull believes the Irish industry model could be duplicated by more countries around the world.
“The healthier the film community is, and the more representative it is of the culture, the better off we all are,” he said.
He added that the animation industry “is not like a win-lose” situation.
We want everybody who goes to movies to enjoy all of them because we benefit from that too. That’s why it’s a different kind of relationship between the studios.
The European Commission has recognised the importance of the sector and facilitated discussions with the animation industry on how best to exploit the opportunities that the industry offers.
The European Animation Plan, launched last September, explores how the sector could develop and identifies three objectives for the next five years: To foster the global reach of EU animation; to make Europe an attractive workplace for European and foreign talent; and to make access to finance easier.