Animation is leading the way for the audio visual sector.

Ballyfermot College of Further Education’s (BCFE) Irish School of Animation, with support from the Irish Film Board, is to introduce industry delivered training classes for students on the BA Animation programme from mid October 2012 onwards.

The industry delivered training classes, will be used to address specific needs within the animation sector in Ireland which are due to start in mid-October, will run for 20 weeks on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Classes will be designed and delivered by industry professionals from studios like Brown Bag Films, Boulder Media and Monster Animation, who have expertise in specialist areas.

Gareth Lee, Programme Leader of the BA (Hons) Animation programme at BCFE, said:

“These classes, which will be offered to students on the full time animation degree programme, will enhance the students skill set and go some way towards addressing current specialist skills shortages in the animation industry.”

Sessions will focus on specialist areas like 2D Flash Animation, Storyboards/Backgrounds for the Flash Animation Pipeline, Compositing, VFX and modelling, rigging, lighting, texturing and animation with Autodesk Maya.

The foundation for the success of today’s Irish animation can be traced back to the early 1980’s with the arrival of American animator Don Bluth. Having left The Walt Disney Company, in partnership with Morgan O Sullivan and  Irish tax incentives, created a small animation company in Dublin, called Sullivan Bluth Studios. The company had international success with “An American Tail” and “The Land Before Time”. However it eventually ran into financial difficulties and the company operations were wound down in 1995. One of the lasting legacy’s from this period was the setting up of an animation course at Ballyfermot Senior College now known as Ballyfermot College of Further and Higher Education  by Don Bluth and his colleagues.

Today Ballyfermot has earned a reputation for turning out some of the top animators and visual effects people, its graduates have won many accolades including Richard Baneham, whose work on Avatar won him an academy award for Best Visual Effects in 2010. Other graduates include Nicky Phelan and Darragh O’Connell, of Brown Bag Films, were nominated for an Oscar in the Short Animation category for ‘Granny O’Grimm’s Sleeping Beauty’ and Tomm Moore of Cartoon Saloon was nominate for an Oscar in the Animated Feature Film category for ‘The Secret of Kells’.

Over the past 10 years the Irish animation sector has matured and become internationally recognised for the high standards. This year Ireland was hailed at the International Animation Festival in Annecy, France, where a showcase of Irish animation was celebrated by over 7,000 international industry professionals. Animation is the largest provider of full-time employment in the Irish independent film and television sector and is true to say that Irish animation has been the star performer in the audio visual sector in Ireland in recent years. While the film and television sector still commands more column inches for its success in the national media for its many awards, however  despite all the hype  film & TV as a business model it has not performing to its full potential and is in need of a major overhaul.

So why is Irish Animation continuing to perform so well?

In an Irish Independent article earlier this year CEO of Brown Bag Film, Cathal Gaffeny said

Animation is a fusion of commerce and art, and the Irish animation community has successfully created internationally focused businesses that represent the very essence of a smart economy; it has a high level of permanent full-time employment and a highly skilled workforce in a hi- tech environment producing content for a global market. The sector is almost entirely export focused and invests in both content and technology R&D”.
  • Irish animators have worked closely together for the overall development of the industry and there is a strong team spirit among the studios. They have gained much from studying the business models of computer gaming firms on the commercial opportunities.
  • Like any leading Irish business they understood from the start their focus must be export driven to survive.
  • Its workforce are highly skilled and predominately in permanent full-time employment.
  • They closely monitor the global industry and are constantly adapting to new technologies and industry changes.
  • Animation sees itself as a fusion of commerce and arts, its focus has not just been on awards.  It has developed a clear 5 and 10 year business plan on how it can also achieve those commercial rewards.
  •  One distinct advantage animation does have over film and TV sector is its products can easily dubbed into other languages.
  • It has had to invest in developing its own studios capable of competing with the major players on the world stage, to a point where Brown Bag films have 150 full time staff working from its hi-tec studio spaces at Smithfield.
  • Animation companies continue to work closely with Ballyfermot College of Further Education’s (BCFE) to ensure that  the content  of the courses matches current industry demands, and thus ensuring that the animation sector has a stream of new graduates coming through to serve the sector. Fulfilling the much abused political buzz phrase “the knowledge economy”

While everything is not applicable to Irish Film and TV sector there are many areas of the animation sector where lessons can be gained. Ireland was one of the first (if not the first) country in the world to introduce a film and TV tax incentive and it has been copied widely and improved upon since. The industry in general has “rested on its laurels” in recent years while most of the world has passed us by in a rapidly changing environment.

In 2011 the Department of Arts commissioned a report chaired by Brendan Tuohy entitled Creative Capital. It identified the Irish audiovisual sector as having the potential to deliver growth and jobs to the Irish economy over the next five years. So far the findings of the report have not been acted upon, largely because some of the key stakeholders are dragging their feet.

With the downturn in the economy many Irish politicians talk ambiguously of leveraging our cultural heritage, that’s all very well but the sector must be based on a good business model. For any industry to be successful it must be operated as a business and generate profits.

Our cultural heritage is a vital asset and investment by the Government must along with the artistic accolades bring commercial rewards to the country through the development of a sustainable industry and the creation long term jobs, and animation is leading the way.

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