To understand the ambition, talent and artistry of the Irish animation industry, it’s worth watching Cartoon Saloon’s “Wolfwalkers” on Apple TV Plus.
A hand-drawn adventure set in 1650s Ireland, “Wolfwalkers” was nominated for an Oscar this week. It’s the latest in a string of Oscar nominations for Kilkenny-based Cartoon Saloon, which has previously been nominated for “The Breadwinner” in 2017, “Song of the Sea” in 2015, and “The Secret of Kells” in 2010, and short animation film “Late Afternoon” in 2019.
The Irish animation sector has flourished in recent years, earning a strong reputation for storytelling and visual artistry. Animation now represents around 50% of all audiovisual production spending in the country, according to Moe Honan, chair of industry body Animation Ireland, and CEO of Galway-based animation studio Moetion Films.
Honan says Animation Ireland has more than 33 member companies, directly employing around 2,000 people, as well as many freelancers. She stresses the diverse nature of the studios, which work across 2D and 3D animation through to VR, AR and games.
Honan’s Moetion Films, for example, has just released 3D animated kids feature “Two by Two: Overboard!” (also known internationally by the title “Ooops! The Adventure Continues”), the sequel to 2015’s box office hit “Two by Two – Ooops! The Ark Has Gone.” The film, which is sold by Global Screen, opened at the top of the U.K. box office in October, but has had a stop-start theatrical release since then due to COVID-19. “We’re planning other releases around the world now, including North America,” says Honan.
Cartoon Saloon, meanwhile, differentiates itself through its hand-drawn, graphic visual style, says managing director Gerry Shirren. The studio, which focuses on creating its own IP, has 175 people working in its Kilkenny HQ, many of them animating “My Father’s Dragon,” an upcoming feature for Netflix. It’s also working on U.K.-Irish-Chinese feature co-production “Puffin Rock” with Northern Ireland-based Dog Ears. Cartoon Saloon is also a partner with Canada’s Mercury Filmworks in animation studio Lighthouse Studios, also based in Kilkenny.
Shirren says Irish animation’s recent successes on the international stage are the result of hard work over many years, resulting in a mature sector with many experienced studios. Cartoon Saloon, he points out, was set up 21 years ago. “Angela’s Christmas” and “Butterbean’s Café” producer Brown Bag Films was launched in 1994, and “The Amazing World of Gumball” and “Danger Mouse” producer Boulder Media was founded in 2000.
Shirren also says Screen Ireland and the country’s enterprise agencies have been very supportive of the industry.
This is a point echoed by Honan, who cites “very strong partnerships” with Screen Ireland and training body Screen Skills Ireland to help fund and train talent. The “competitive” Section 481 tax credit has also helped, says Honan, as has Irish production companies’ track record at building relationships internationally to co-produce and finance projects. “Two by Two Overboard,” for example, was a co-production with partners in Germany and Luxembourg.
“It’s an ecosystem that we are always trying to nurture and improve,” says Honan.