The year started off on a high for this young illustrator with the news that he’d been nominated for a BAFTA. Having only recently graduated from an MA course, it’s a great achievement for Eamonn O’Neill and a superb place to start on his career path.
Seeing the bursts of style and colour pouring out of even the small snippets in the trailer for his nominated short, we were keen to find out more. Not only did Eamonn take the time to answer some questions, he also gave us a special viewing of one of his other films, ‘Left’, which was produced while at the RCA.
We were impressed with the amount of heart and sentiment in the short animation. It deals with quite intricate emotional themes but presses on them subtly, without forcing them onto the viewer. It tells it’s story beautifully and we can’t wait to see what comes next for Eamonn.
Can you tell us a little about your background and how you got into animation?
I grew up in a small town called Arklow on the south east coast of Ireland. My route into animation is fairly typical. After school, I studied animation for four years. During my summers as an undergraduate I interned at different studios in Ireland. I graduated at 21 and worked in Ireland for just over a year.
Soon after that I left the seaside behind and moved London to do an MA in animation at the Royal College of Art. I finished the course in June last year and in September signed with Studio AKA as a commercial director.
Films that you’ve written and directed like ‘Left’ deal with quite complex subjects on an emotional level so seem quite personal. Do you draw on your own experiences or elsewhere when looking for writing inspiration?
I’m most interested in stories that have an emotional depth and humanity at their core. These tend to be the types of films I really like to watch myself. As animation takes so long to do, it’s hard to keep the enthusiasm for a story and to carry that through a whole production – I need some sort of connection to the story to keep me engaged.
The films I’ve made are drawn from a combination of my own experiences and feelings or from those I have observed or talked about with others.
What kind of process do you go through when thinking about the character design for a project?
Early in the process, I prefer to write and research as much as I can, leaving the design ideas to bubble away in the background without necessarily putting pencil to paper. The story and the emotions behind it should inform everything from the character design through to the editing and final mix. So each film demands something different. If the characters in Left looked like the characters in I’m Fine Thanks the tone of the film would feel completely different.
I’m not sure it would sit well with that story. With Left, I knew it was a much longer film than anything I had done before so I was conscious of simplifying the design to make the film achievable and still communicate what it needed to. I try to take a pragmatic approach to the design of the whole film.
Does it take a lot of collaboration to develop what we see as the end product or would you say you work with a thought-out vision of what it will be from the beginning?
I tend to avoid showing anything to anyone too soon. Usually, this is because the film isn’t clear to me yet so I like to let it simmer for a while. I don’t usually have an exact idea of what the film is from the beginning. Mostly, I’m working from a feeling or something I’ve been pondering, a small nugget of something. It always feels slightly out of reach.
As you continue the idea grows and develops – it becomes a layering process. Once I know where I’m going I become more concerned with trying to refine it and make it as lean and as clear as possible at each stage. At these later stages it’s great to have somebody to discuss it with.
Can you give us some details about the specific equipment and techniques you use?
I use standard equipment. All of my films so far were made on my laptop. The animation is usually drawn in Flash or Photoshop frame by frame. For the first two films I used a tablet and then for the last two I used a Cintiq. I’m always more excited when I go to visit the recording studio or work with my sound designer. Their equipment is more interesting and exotic to me. With regard to actual animation technique, more often than not it feels like I’m just trying to cover up for my own shortcomings with the craft.
In ‘Left’ in particular, there’s a lot of symbolism and parallels being drawn to name but a couple of the narrative devices. Is there anything in film, literature or anywhere else that inspires you in relation to that kind of story telling?
I think, at first, this comes from the tone you have in mind for the film. At the early stages I tend to gravitate towards films, music and books that have a similar atmosphere. I love Raymond Carvers writing in particular. Then I leave all that behind and try not to consume much else in the making of the film. There are some uses of symbolism but often this is more unintentional than you might think.
When someone sees the film and observes something like that it always makes for an interesting conversation. It amazes me when somebody reads something into a film that you had no idea was there or intended. It’s like your subconscious is bleeding in.
How would you say your recent time on the RCA Animation MA course has influenced the development of your work?
I met some very inspiring people during the course. It gave me the space to really focus on my work, experiment and work out what I wanted to do. There’s nothing like it. I’m really grateful for my time there.
If there’s someone reading this who loves what you do but doesn’t have the faintest idea how to get into it themselves, what advice would you give?
I’m not the most qualified to answer this. I’m still starting out myself. I began animation at 17 and never saw myself making my own films. As I progressed I became more interested in storytelling and more personal filmmaking. That was definitely due to the kind of animation I was exposed to throughout college. So, I would say don’t get locked into one idea of what animation is or can be. Don’t shut yourself off to other ways of working. Try to soak up as much as you can from all across the arts. When you work, put all you have into it. Don’t stop.
The year’s newly started, have you made any plans?
The year kind of started out with a bang in hearing about the BAFTA nomination. Much of the past month has been geared towards that. Beyond my day to day duties at Studio AKA I’m involved in a brilliant collective called Late Night Work Club.
I’m making a small film for that due out online later this spring. Something is simmering away for my next film too. It’s always a slow process for me but something is starting to form. My spare time is spent distributing Left out to festivals and of course watching plenty of films. A holiday would be nice further down the road too!
© Eamonn O’Neill, 2013