February 26th saw Cartoon Saloon’s Studio Technical Director, Mark Mullery, deliver an influential lecture to BA (Hons) and MA Animation Production students about the leading animation studio’s workflow and projects.
Based in Kilkenny, Ireland, Cartoon Saloon is an animation studio that creates award-winning shorts and television series. In addition to this, they have produced three animated features – The Secret of Kells, Song of the Sea, and most recently, The Breadwinner. Each feature has also been Oscar-nominated for ‘Best Animated Feature’.
The initial part of the lecture focused on their latest feature, The Breadwinner (2017), directed by Nora Twomey, and based on the best-selling novel by Deborah Ellis. Set in Afghanistan, the poignant story follows 11-year-old Parvana, who gives up her identity to provide for her family and save her father. Mullery spoke in detail about the role of the film’s two Art Directors – Reza Riahi, who focuses on the characters and Ciaran Duffy, who covers environmental details – and working with a cast of talented Afghan voice actors.
Mullery went on to cover many aspects of the animation ‘workflow’, which included how Cartoon Saloon works with layouts and backgrounds in the film. For this he recalled the use of ‘master’ layout drawings that are later repurposed to provide multiple backgrounds. As an example, he explained how one background could be repainted to represent a different time of day or season.
Delving further into the studio’s process, Mullery talked about how they take initial rough animation through the ‘clean-up’ phase and then finalise the image with lighting effects via compositing (the compositing process for The Breadwinner expertly provided by Toronto-based studio Guru). Mullery spent some time talking about the remarkable scenes in the film where the animation mimics a ‘paper cut-out’ aesthetic. Throughout, the presentation was interspersed with illustrative clips to give everyone a real feel for Cartoon Saloon’s practice.
The talk was followed by many carefully considered questions from a room of keen students. Later in the week, Mullery kindly reviewed some of the students’ portfolios. He was very impressed by the high quality of their work and their diligent attitude towards the course and practice. He also had some excellent advice for the students and the Animation team about how graduates could take the skills they have learned and make the most of them in a professional studio context.