Interview: Paul Young, Producer of ‘Song of the Sea’

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Paul Young is co-founder and CEO of Cartoon Saloon and Producer of the Oscar-nominated animated feature Song of the Sea.  Lynn O’Reilly, an animation student at BCFE, caught up with him at the recent Irish VFX + Animation Summit to ask for advice on breaking into the animation industry and the role of the Producer of an animated feature film.

 

Do you have any advice for any animation students who are trying to decide what they want to do when they leave college?

 

It can be hard when you’re young. I was lucky because I went to study in Belfast first and went through lots of different art and design disciplines before I settled on illustration and then on to animation. The best advice I can give is whatever part of it you enjoy most, like you if you enjoy the drawing or the writing the most, just try to draw as much as you can, or write as much as you can. Then get out and about and meet the studios. Try and call in and talk to people who work in those studios. Talk to past students. Try to get to places like Annecy [the International Animation Film Festival] and you’ll meet so many more people from other places and other colleges. And then you suss out more from them. The most important part of the college experience is the people you’re with, the people in your class. Obviously you learn from your tutors and your classes, but you learn more from each other.

 

You’re Producer on Song of the Sea, and the role of Producer is not something people get much of an insight into compared to other roles in the filmmaking process. Would you be able to shed a bit of light on this? What’s involved in being the Producer of an animated feature film?

 

It varies. For big studio films a Producer is more like what we would consider a Line Producer or a Production Manager, and that’s the only thing they do, that’s their one focus. Whereas with smaller studios, as a Producer I’m doing lots of things. I’m not really as hands-on with the day-to-day production like a Line Producer or a Production Manager. I’m trying to get money for the next film, like a Business Director or a Company Director.

Studios do need a lot more Production Managers, because there is a lot of people interested in animation. We’ve hired fantastic people from colleges like Gobelins and colleges in Denmark, who, in their final year, just focused on Production Management and learned how to be producers. Maybe after spending some time studying animation they realized it’s not for them or they’re not getting the skills, and for them there’s a great career to be had in Production Management.

The best people you can find are from colleges who have been through the production process, who know what it’s like to make something themselves, then they’ll understand what it takes. I studied animation and illustration and I never really thought I’d be a Producer. I just kind of fell into it, because we had to find money to fund our projects. I never really got any training. So what I had to do was hire a Production Manager who’d worked on a TV series or hire a Line Producer who’d done a feature film –I’d try and bring them in and at least they might know more about the pitfalls. And now I’ve learned a lot after making a number of films. So really, it’s just about doing it.

 

 

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Interview: Kyle McCulloch, Visual Effects Supervisor

 

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Kyle McCulloch is visual effects supervisor at Framestore in London, UK. His impressive list of credits includes Iron Man, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1, Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity and Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy. He’s currently working on Warner Brother’s Pan. Kyle was recently in Dublin to attend the 2014 VFX and Animation Summit, where Lynn O’Reilly, an animation student at BCFE, had the chance to fire some questions his way.

 

This past weekend was the second VFX Summit, and let’s hope there are many more to come. Any words on the importance of having events like this one?

Events like this are really important to the industry, and the people who work in it. Being able to get together, learn about what other artists are doing, connect to your colleagues, and share your passion with like-minded people is key to growing as an artist.

 

The summit was open to students and graduates who are starting off in the industry. Many of them came out of your talk feeling very inspired. Where did you look to for inspiration when you were starting off? And where do you look for inspiration now?

When I was first starting out in the industry, the community was a lot smaller. For me, the magazine Cinefex was my connection to the industry, and the cutting edge of what people were doing. I read it religiously. Once I found SIGGRAPH [an international community of researchers, artists, developers, filmmakers, scientists, and business professionals who share an interest in computer graphics and interactive techniques], I started going to that convention, and left every year feeling hugely inspired to go back to work and try new things.

 

More than anyone else, artists learn a lot from their mistakes, and from trial and error. We saw some examples of this in different talks over the weekend. What is the happiest accident you’ve experienced when working on a film?

That’s a tricky one. I’d probably say that my happiest accident is a particular straight-to-DVD movie I was working on ran way over-schedule. At the time, this meant that I missed out on returning to LA to the job I had lined up, but meant that I was able to take a last-minute project with the Orphanage, where I wound up staying for 4 years, and working on projects like Iron Man and Die Hard 4.

 

You’ve worked on films like Harry Potter and Iron Man, which have the real world as a backdrop, and the fantasy elements and visual effects are then built on top/around this setting. In Guardians of the Galaxy, apart from Peter’s past on Earth, we are in a totally fictional world. Was it freeing to have that kind of blank(er) canvas to work on? Or what challenges did it present not to have the real world as a foundation to work the visual effects elements upon?

For me, the challenges of creating something fantastic, or replicating something from the real world are quite similar. Even though we were making a giant alien world in Knowhere, we still needed to fill it with details and structures that make sense to our human viewers. We needed to show the viewer how big it was, how complex it was, and still have it feel ‘real’. Part of how we achieve that is to find things in the real world as inspiration, and use those in the design.

 

When I watched Guardians of the Galaxy for the first time, I was struck by just how jam-packed the visual elements were, and we got an insight into this in your talk at the Summit. The Knowhere set alone was very detailed, and on top of that you have a large volume of both practical and computer generated effects, not to mention all that lighting, the vivid colours and all the characters – again both physical and computer generated… the poor compositors had their work cut out I’d wager! As a visual effects supervisor, how did you deal with such a visually heavy film? Was it difficult to ensure all that visual information would not overwhelm the audience?

With a project as big as Guardians, you really depend on your team. I was fortunate to have some of the very best artists in the industry working with me at Framestore. Like any huge project, you have do divide and delegate – I had sequence and department supervisors doing an incredible amount of work to move the project forward. Without them, we would have never finished the film!

 

 

The 2014 VFX and Animation Summit  was funded by Screen Training Ireland, Animation Skillnet and Enterprise Ireland.

 

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