The secret of kells 25

Irish animation a bright spot amid gloom

The headlines about the Irish economy may be doom and gloom but there is magical side to it if you look closely at some its exports. For example there's a sassy little pig named "Olivia," a skunk who knows KungFu, and little Brendan and a book, all fairytale cartoons created by Irish animators for the global marketplace.

Disney, Nickelodeon, Cartoon Network and PBS are among the broadcasters who commission and collaborate with these imaginative creators. In recent years, Irish talent has moved to the forefront of the international animation sector, attracting global admiration, not to mention three Academy Award nominations.

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I got a first hand look at Ireland's animation scene while working at PBS and the Jim Henson Company and witnessed a vibrant industry filled with talented animators. So it came as no surprise last week when award-winning Brown Bag Films announced 30 new job openings.

At the same time, Galway based Telegael and Cartoon Saloon are busy recruiting numerous technical and production crew to feed a demand for this kind of entertainment.

According to the Irish Audiovisual Federation, animation is the only independent audiovisual sector which predictsstrong growth this year in Ireland. Today it is the largest provider of full-time employment in the Irish independent film and television sector.

The Irish animation industry is still relatively young and so are the people masterminding its growth. It started slowly in the early 1960s with television commercials for Lyons Tea and other household items.

It wasn't until the 1980s, with the arrival of Sullivan Bluth Studios, that animation exploded. Attracted to Ireland by tax benefits and incentives, Don Bluth, a former Disney animator and Irish-American businessman Morris Sullivan, wanted to compete with Disney.

With a team of American animators and local talent they produced "An American Tale" and "The Land Before Time." In the mid-90s, Bluth helped set up the animation department at Ballyfermot College in Dublin. As a result, the Irish animation industry was shaped by an overwhelming American influence, and today still collaborates with many U.S. broadcasters in daytime television.

In the past ten years, several smaller animation studios have been set up in Ireland. Among the superstars are two time Academy Award nominated Brown Bag Films, Barley Films, Cartoon Saloon, and Telegael, all of them producing visually imaginative works.

Belfast's Flickerpix Animation is getting notice, while Kavaleer Productions recently moved into iPhone and iPad development for Sesame Street. It is a credit to Ballyfermot College that in last year's Academy Awards, four alumni were nominated - Tomm Moore for "The Secret of Kells," Darragh O'Connell and Nicky Phelan for their short "Granny O'Grimm's Sleeping Beauty," and Richard Baneham for special effects on "Avatar." Kevin Moriarty, chairman of the Audiovisual Federation steering committee, says that the animation industry is perfect example of the smart economy.

"There are innate advantages to animation. There is a wide audience given that animation is easily dubbed into other languages."

Today, Irish studios are moving beyond contract work for international clients and are busy producing and owning the rights to original content which will generate sales and merchandising revenue.

The digital world is evolving rapidly and luckily the Irish are easy adaptors to new technology. Combined with artist and great story-telling abilities, it's no wonder the Irish animation sector is thriving.

* Join the Irish Business Organization on June 15 for the Summer Networking Party at the Battery Gardens Restaurant, Outdoor Patio. Live Celtic-inspired Jazz music will be provided. For more information, visit