Dublin Gets Animated: Welcome To ToonTown

Powered by Cpl Recruitment: It’s a golden age for Irish animation, with Dublin playing host to several major home-grown animation studios, producing work for a global audience.

Right now, Irish animation houses are booming with an eclectic mix of in-house productions and international co-productions, working across a variety of different mediums – from advertising to gaming to interactive media – and they can’t hire staff fast enough.

The seeds were sown back in the ‘80s, when Dublin played home to the largest animation studio in Western Europe, Sullivan-Bluth Productions, and the first animation course in Ireland, at Ballyfermot Senior College, spawned an entire generation of nascent companies. Today, Irish talent can be found at most of the major US animation and FX houses, amongst them Richard Baneham, an Oscar winner for his work on Avatar.

“The bar was set very high from the beginning,” says Andrew Kavanagh, founder and CEO of Kavaleer. “Disney regularly sent people over to headhunt. We had an expectation of scale because we were working for international companies from the get-go, like Bluth and Murakami-Wolfe, and when it came to producing our own animation, we utilized our natural tenacity and gregariousness and sold the product globally. Most importantly, the work is of an incredibly high standard, both technically and story-wise.”

Flag-bearers for Irish animation include Cartoon Saloon, the Kilkenny-based animation studio who landed Oscar nominations for their first two feature films, and have announced a third feature, The Breadwinner, to be co-produced (and voiced by) Angelina Jolie. Elsewhere, their fellow Oscar nominees Brown Bag were recently acquired by Canadian animation giant 9 Story Media, with founders Cathal Gaffney and Darragh O’Connell remaining at the helm. “Cartoon Saloon went to the Oscars, Brown Bag won a heap of Emmys last year, Jam won the BAFTA,” says Kavanagh, “there is genuine international recognition coming to Irish animation. This is a centre of excellence, something that’s possibly better known abroad than it is at home. And that’s fine. The more these companies sustain and grow, the more talent will come into the sector. And there’s still a lot of scope for growth.”

Here, then, is your one-stop primer to the cream of our animation crop, Irish founded and led – other studios of note include established production houses Geronimo (formerly Monster) and Telegael (also a thriving live-action studio) and a new wave of emerging talents: Salty Dog, Wiggleywoo, Giant, Studio POWWOW and Mooshku, led by industry veteran Jason Tammemägi

NB: To engage directly with the local ‘toon community, the best place to begin is the Creatives In Animation Network, who hold regular Dublin meetups and networking sessions, or via the Animation Ireland website.

Five Essential Irish Animation Houses:

Brown Bag:
Founded in Dublin in 1994 by Cathal Gaffney and Darragh O’Connell, Brown Bag have worked with some of the world’s biggest entertainment names, including Disney, Nickelodeon, the BBC and Amazon Studios, and recently partnered with publishing house Scholastic UK to jointly develop publishing and animated content for children’s audiences. They’ve won Oscar nominations for their short films Give Up Yer Aul Sins (2002) and Granny O’Grimm’s Sleeping Beauty (2010), won four Emmy awards for their series Peter Rabbit (2014), plus a rake of BAFTA, Emmy and Annie nominations for popular shows like Octonauts, Doc McStuffins, Bing and Henry Hugglemonster.

With offices in Dublin, Manchester and Los Angeles, last month they were acquired by 9 Story Entertainment for an undisclosed sum. Brown Bag Films recorded a 43% rise in pre-tax profits to €1.6m through 2013. Turnover through 2013 was €18.4m. @BrownBagFilms

Boulder Media:
Founded in 2000 by Peter Lewis, Anne Tweedy and Robert Cullen, Dublin-based Boulder have produced a string of acclaimed in-house short films and worked with leading broadcasters such as Cartoon Network US (Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends), Nickelodeon (El Tigre) the BBC (Funky Fables), and have co-produced a hundred episodes of Disney Europe series Randy Cunningham: Ninth Grade Ninja. Their co-production The Amazing World of Gumball has scored major international success, winning a number of prizes, amongst them Annie and Kidscreen awards. They’re in production on a revival of ’80s cult classic Danger Mouse.

Cartoon Saloon:
Kilkenny-based Cartoon Saloon were formed by Paul Young, Tomm Moore and Nora Twomey in 1999. They have produced a number of award-winning short films (among them From Darkness, Cúilín Dualach/Backwards Boy, Old Fangs and Somewhere Down the Line) and TV series (like Skunk Fu! and Puffin Rock, launched on RTE in Jan). Their crowning achievements to date are the animated features that won them back-to-back Oscar nominations, The Secret Of Kells and Song Of The Sea – the latter scoring a peerless 98% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Their preschool series Puffin Rock, co-produced with Penguin Random House Childrens and Dog Ears, is currently on Nick Jr and RTE, and will premiere exclusively on Netflix in a number of territories including the U.S. and Canada later this year. @CartoonSaloon

Jam Media:
Founded in 2002 by John Rice, Alan Shannon and Mark Cumberton (their combined names are where the J-A-M moniker comes from), this Dublin animation house have created a number of in-house pre-school series, amongst them Picme, Baby Jake and Tilly And Friends, and have won BAFTA, IFTA and Royal Television Society awards for their popular CBBC show Roy: they’re currently in production on a prequel, entitled Little Roy. In recent years they’ve expanded their operations to Belfast, and are co-producing a new animated series featuring beloved alien siblings Zig & Zag. @jampips

Kavaleer:
Founded by CEO Andrew Kavanagh in 2001, Dublin-based Kavaleer maintain a diverse portfolio and skillset that mixes TV and web with interactive content and apps for the e-learning and games sectors – it’s telling that their decidedly analogue short film Hasan Everywhere, comprised of over 10,000 hand drawn frames, won both Best Animation and the Grand Prix at the 2010 Digital Media Awards. Current projects include a series entitled Wildernuts for RTEjr, and a suite of brain-fitness apps (developed with neuroscience lab Cortechs) for children with autism and ADHD. Their recent short film Deadly took the Best Short prize at the inaugural Irish Animation Awards in March: previous productions include Garth & Bev, Lifeboat Luke, Abadas and Boj. @KavaleerTweets

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