Industry Research: Damien O’Connor, Brown Bag Films

Day two of the Keyframe seminar included a talk by Damien O’Connor, a director at Brown Bag Films. He recently directed the short film Angela’s Christmas, which was broadcast on RTE over Christmas. I had emailed Damien prior to his talk and I got the chance to speak to him briefly before he gave his talk. Damien was very generous in sharing with me a little of his own path into the animation industry and recommended that I arrange a studio visit to Brown Bag. (I have subsequently arranged this and will be taking a tour of the studio on Friday the 6th of April.)


Damien also agreed to answer some questions that I had which I later emailed to him.


  • For you, what are the strengths of animation as a narrative medium?
  • You get a lot more control than live action, so you can (usually) achieve exactly what you want. The downside is the public perception that animation is for kids etc. Angela could have been live action so the medium is not all that important, other than animation allowed us to make it – this only applies to CG animation, see below re 2D


  • Are there any specific elements you hope to find when presented with a story idea?
  • Is it unique and does it hold my interest. Also always hoping there is an emotion to it – just out and out funny is fine, but poignancy is always better. Also can it be done in live action, if it is about say a bunch of teens talking, then animating it pointless.


  • What do you look for in the collaboration process with other writers and visual artists?
  • Collaborations are odd things because they are very hard to get out of if they don’t work out. A good track record is always a plus and do I like their work or do they have a GREAT idea that needs a push or guidance, if I don’t like their work then it won’t work, plain and simple. But equally if I am a fan then do they need me? People quickly lose interest in things unless they are employed to do them, so if it is a workplace collaboration I always try to make it work,I have never had a spec collaboration work out as people move on, get other work etc etc  


  • What do you think are the challenges of adapting a pre-existing story as opposed to an original ideas?
  • Pre-existing is easier as foundations there to build on. Original is harder as you need to convince more people it is worth doing, pre-existing removes some of the insecurity as it is already proven to work (someone has published it already etc).  


  • What is the most rewarding aspect of the process for you?
  • Making something people respond to, I love early stages, animatic, script etc which is v creative. Watching animation come in can be a bit of a slog to be honest as groundwork done, so now you are hoping work coming in matches what you want and fixing it if it does not.


  • In your talk at Keyframe you spoke about limitations and the challenge of engaging with them creatively. Do you feel that the ‘for children’ label attached to animation in western media is a limitation that is engaged with creatively?
  • Nope, there is a huge misconception about animation out there, festivals as guilty as anyone – they have animation strands, animation films – a film is a film, be it for kids, adults – the medium is irrelevant. Angela’s Christmas for all ages, but it’s first public screening was initially pitched towards kids … because animation means kids in so many peoples eyes. I am as guilty though, it takes a lot to make me watch an animated film,my preference is live action.

  • How do you feel the evolution of narrative forms within animation compares with technical evolution?
  • The technical evolution is the only reason I am now working in animation. I hated 2D animation as it has way too many limitations (bad ones) – and it is a pain to produce. When I first moved a camera in CG I was hooked. So CG now allows us tell stories we want, no more waiting three weeks to change a BG. Having said that a foundation in 2D is hugely helpful as you carefully choose every cam move instead of throwing the camera around. But ultimately none of it matters if the the story or ability of creators not up to scratch. But the reasons there are better animated films now is because creators freer to get results. tech helps them achieve it.

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