In this new regular feature we’ll get to know some of the women working in the animation industry in Ireland. Today we interview designer Alana O’Brien who gives some great tips for those getting started in the industry.
What is your current job description?
I am the background designer for Inis Spraoi, in Magpie6Media.
What does your job entail?
Well I will always look at the animatic first, before I even touch photoshop! I need to get a feel for the story, characters, sets, locations and general mood of the episode. I will get a key background for the episode of the art director Frank Montagna. This will typically be a birds eye view of the general area for the episode. Then my job is to use the storyboards to bring the camera view down to our characters level, and redraw everything using a much lower perspective. I am also designing costumes and props.
How long have you worked in the animation industry?
I’ve worked in the animation industry 3 years.
How did you get your start in animation and what drew you to the field?
After college, I worked as a storymatic colourist in Brown Bag films for about six months. I applied to work as an intern, but thankfully while I was there, they needed somebody to colour in the storyboards to create colour animatics. The team in there taught me so much. Working in a studio compared to working in college is incomparable. With deadlines that can effect the entire production, you learn very quickly. So, this of course led into future jobs in storyboarding, background painting and designing backgrounds.
Where did you study?
Irish School of Animation in BCFE for five years.
What roles have you performed during your career in animation?
I have worked so many different jobs! In the beginning I was a story-matic colourist. Story-matic colouring is a great job to begin you career in animation. I was studying these boards from Disney and was learning from some of the best boarders in the industry. Then I freelanced for a while as a storyboard artist. After storyboarding I worked as a background painter. This job is a great way for you to learn from great background artists, and it got me ready for when I got promoted to design the backgrounds myself. Recently I have also animated in Toon Boom Harmony for the series I’m working on.
Is there a project you have worked on that you are particularly proud of?
I loved working on Doc McStuffins, because firstly it was my first job after college, and secondly it is amazing to see this show become such a huge success. I am also really proud about working on the show Inis Spraoi. It’s without doubt the most fun I’ve had working with a team. We are constantly bouncing wacky ideas off eachother, so I’m really excited about the show and can’t wait to see the reception it gets!
What has been your favourite animated series or movie of the past few years?
Wow there is so many to choose from! I loved Up, Wreck it Ralph, Tangled and Ponyo, not to mention the brilliant tv show Gravity Falls (the animation is film quality!) But what really stands out in my mind is the magical Spirited Away. The story (although slightly more western friendly) is out of this world, and it really transports you to a fantastical place. The characters are not as black and white as other animated films. There’s real depth here. Also as a background designer, I was in awe with the locations. If you haven’t seen it yet your missing out. It’s my go-to film for when I’m in need of inspiration.
For a young professional interested in animation, would you recommend they focus on learning new computer skills or building an art portfolio?
Honestly do not focus only on one in particular. You need a balance of basic art skills, with a good understanding of the classical principles in animation. This is what you will learn in college of course in a good animation course. So you can’t expect to get a job as an animator simply by knowing the software really well, your animation will be terrible! From what I’ve seen, employers want to see an art portfolio. If you are still in college start a blog now, it’s never too early. Fill it with paintings and sketches and all other explorations. The computer skills will improve with time. Of course, this depends on what job you want..if you want to be a rigger or a modeller for instance, practice your Maya/3DsMax skills constantly. But remember, your would be employer would be really impressed if he saw clay models on your blog. Traditional art skills is what employers what to see, they expect you to have the computer skills.
The Internet has offered new ways to distribute and consume animation. Do you have any suggestions or tips on how young animators can get their work seen?
If you got along well with your fellow classmates, I’d recommend making a short film. This is what I did after college. We made a music video for the Dublin band ‘The Radioactive Grandma.’ It was an amazing learning experience of course, but you are also creating more work for your blog, while showing potential employers you can work well in a team. If the project goes well you will develop a good reputation. And word spreads quickly in the animation world, esp in Ireland. I would also recommend getting an internship in a studio. It’s what I did in Brown Bag Films, and it just led onto more and more work after. While your interning you should be positive and create a good impression. Everyone has to get the coffee at some stage so don’t be disheartened, show them that you are willing to learn, and any skills you do have your willing to help out in any way. I think showing your employers you have a passion for animation and you are excited about working in the studio is the most important thing.
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