Sketching Success: Brown Bag Films Go to the Oscars

By Gillett, Sinead | Estudios Irlandeses - Journal of Irish Studies, Annual 2010 | Go to article overview

Sketching Success: Brown Bag Films Go to the Oscars


Gillett, Sinead, Estudios Irlandeses - Journal of Irish Studies


The first decade of the new Millennium witnessed a number of noteworthy accomplishments for the Irish audiovisual industry. The greatest success of all however has undoubtedly been the considerable growth experienced by the Irish animation sector. Powered by indigenous companies, built from the bottom up by talented and innovative practitioners, the animation sector in Ireland has established an international reputation for quality content production and is now the largest provider of full-time and permanent employment in the Irish film and television independent sector. Over the past decade or so these companies have proved their worth on the world animation stage; accruing substantial international sales and distribution, as well as critical acclaim and recognition. The latest achievements of the Irish animation sector come with the recent Academy Award nominations for two home produced films, Cartoon Saloon's The Secret of Kells (Moore 2009) in the Animated Feature category and Brown Bag Films' Granny O'Grimm's Sleeping Beauty (Phelan 2008) in the Short Animation category, as well as the nomination of Irish animator Richie Baneham in the Visual Effects category for his work on Avatar (Cameron 2009).

For Dublin-based Brown Bag Films the 2010 awards mark their second Oscar campaign. The company was first nominated in 2002 for Give Up Yer Aul Sins (Gaffney 2001), also in the Short Animation category, which--in a double coup for Ireland--they shared with Irish animator Ruairi Robinson and his film Fifty Percent Grey (2001). With two prestigious Oscar nominations along with a host of awards from international festivals, Brown Bag Films has established itself as a producer of world-class animation. From humble beginnings to Hollywood status, this essay takes a look at the acclaimed animation studio and the films that have brought it into focus.

Up until the mid 1980s the animation sector in Ireland developed at a relatively similar rate to that of other Western European countries; inextricably linked with the arrival of television, the sector slowly built momentum, with the national broadcaster commissioning small-scale projects from indigenous talent, while the advertising industry provided business to commercial studios. In 1985, the Industrial Development Authority (IDA), recognising that animation was a labour intensive growth industry, implemented a campaign of industrialisation by invitation aimed at enticing large US studios to Ireland. An attractive package of incentives, consisting of employment grants and a low rate of corporation tax (10%), was targeted at companies looking to relocate outside America. Aided by Ireland's low wage cost and English speaking status, the impact of this package was immediate, resulting in the arrival of three major studios--Sullivan Bluth, Emerald City and Murakami Wolf. The largest of the three, the Sullivan Bluth Studio, was the first animation company to rival Disney on any grand scale.

A boom in animation production ensued, with employment peaking at 530 people in 1990. In order to meet the demand for skilled labour, animation courses were established at third-level institutions: Assisted by the Sullivan Bluth Studios, the animation department at the Senior College Ballyfermot produced classically-trained graduates, while the programme at the Dun Laoghaire Institute of Art, Design and Technology (IADT) focused more on artistic experimentation. What had constituted a small cottage industry in 1985 had, within a relatively short period, transformed into a thriving sector.

However the boom did not last. A number of factors, including financial difficulties experienced by the American companies and Ireland's diminishing competitiveness in the face of the new international division of cultural labour, combined to effectuate the decline of the sector. By the mid-1990s Murakami-Wolf had been substantially downsized and both Sullivan Bluth and Emerald City had closed their doors. …

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