EXCLUSIVE: Interview with IFTA winning film-makers Giant Animation

The Irish animation production company won Best Short Animation for their movie "Geist"

The IFTAs took place last week, and upcoming Irish film-makers Giant Creative won Best Animated Short for their movie Geist.

We sat down with co-founder and creative director Sean Mullen to talk about how the movie came about, the current state of the animation industry in Ireland, and what's next in store for them.

Newstalk: First of all, massive congratulations on winning the IFTA. Are you guys still on a bit of a high from that?

Sean Mullen: Thank you so much, we're still in shock! There were some great films in our category so it was a big surprise to hear our name called out but we're absolutely delighted. We had an amazing night and got to meet so many great people.

Newstalk: You also recently won the Best Irish Short Film award at the Dublin Film Festival for Geist... Can we expect you to maybe be putting it forward for Oscar consideration?

Sean Mullen: Well it's screening at the Animafest Zagreb festival in June and if it picks up an award there then we'll be automatically eligible for Oscar consideration... so we've got everything crossed.

Newstalk: Where did the idea for Geist come from, and how long did it take to complete it?

Sean Mullen: The idea for the film came from a chat we had when we first started the studio. We all decided we wanted to try make a short film that pushed animation out of it's comfort zone and towards something more mature and cinematic. We all loved the horror films, and thought it would be great to see an animated film tackle the genre and give audiences something unexpected. After a few discussions we came up with an idea for a simple ghost story about a shipwrecked fisherman, and fleshed out a script and some concept art. We pitched it to the Irish Film Board and were lucky enough to receive funding as part of their Frameworks scheme. The project then took about 12 months of work spread out over two years.

Newstalk: Tell us a little bit about the history of Giant Creative, and what goals you guys have within the company?

Sean Mullen: Giant was founded in 2012 by myself, Ben Harper Alex Sherwood and Daniel Spencer. We first met in BCFE (Ballyfermot College of Further Education) and then worked together as a freelance collective from our bedrooms - very glamorous - before deciding to take the big leap to fully fledged studio. In the first year we mainly worked on ads, before broadening of scope of services to include apps, games, films, TV shows and pretty much anything with animated content. As our scope changed so did our size, and now we employ over 60 talented people from all over the world. The goals of the studio are very simple and have stayed the same since day one: to create great work that resonates with audiences, to try push animation in new and exciting directions and to create an environment where great artists can grow and flourish.

Newstalk: Animation seems to be a bit of a booming industry within Ireland at the moment, with so many success stories hailing from here. Why do you reckon that is?

Sean Mullen: I think it's a combination of many things. We have a culture that encourages and promotes the arts in all it's forms. We have some fantastic colleges like BCFE that have some of the best teachers in the world. We have a fantastic national film board that are always taking chances on new artists and ideas. There's also so much technology readily available these days that anyone can literally sit down and make a film by themselves. I think when you put all this in a pot together only great things can happen, and I think we're going to continue to see an explosion of talent in our country over the next few years.

Newstalk: Since starting up, you've worked with some big names - including Terry Pratchett - and your work has helped you travel the world, but is there an ultimate goal for Giant Creative? Do you want to be the next Pixar, or is it something more specific than that, maybe?

Sean Mullen: Describing our ultimate goal is a tricky one, as we're constantly adapting to suit the industry. Our short to mid-term goal is to get our own ideas off the ground - we've got TV shows, feature films and even video games all in early stage development in our studio. Our long-term goal is definitely aimed more at feature films, and our dream would be to get to a stage where we're like Pixar and constantly have films in development / being released that audiences really respond to. That said, we don't want to just mimic Pixar either, so we'll see what happens in the next few years and adapt as the industry and audiences evolve.

Newstalk: What's the best piece of advice you've been given about this industry that you'd like to pass on to others?

Sean Mullen: Surround yourself with talented people you trust and keep working as hard as you can. Animation is very much a team sport, and we'd have gotten nowhere without the support of our amazing artists.

Newstalk: What's next for Giant?

Sean Mullen: We're just about to finish up directing season one of Go Jetters for the BBC, their brand new preschool show. Then we've got The Overcoat, a 30 min featurette for TV starring Cillian Murphy and Alfred Molina. We'll also be working closely with HMH Publishing on multiple educational projects throughout the year, and then in the last quarter we're releasing the first trailer for our very own tv show, Creepers.