Animator Eamonn O’Neill joins us to discuss his career so far and the films it has produced, whilst also taking a look back at his studies at the RCA and the inspirations that have shaped his work.
When I was a little older my best friend Billy and I would talk about becoming animators but I don’t think we really understood what it meant – we just knew they drew cartoons. I veered away from that idea in school – I kept drawing but thought maybe I would be an engineer or an architect; it seemed a bit more realistic. I changed my mind before finishing school and haven’t looked back. I suppose initially I was attracted to the idea of drawing for a job. Filmmaking and storytelling came afterwards but soon took over.
I’m from a small coastal town on the South East coast (of Ireland) and try to get back there as much as I can. In doing four years of animation training in Ireland I met some great people who I continue to work with now. Then there’s my old life drawing teacher who continues to be influential and is always brilliant to talk to and mull things over with – a great friend. It’s hard for me to contemplate how Ireland has affected my work – I don’t really think about it, it’s just part of who I am! I think my work would be very different if I didn’t grow up there.
Whilst studying at the RCA, Eamonn was also involved in the creation of some other popular animated shorts:
Matter Fisher – David Prosser
Role: Assistant Animator
This is not Real – Gergely Wootsch
Role: Additional modelling and animation
Belly – Julia Pott
Role: Assistant Animator
After finishing his four years of studies at Ireland’s Institute of Art and Design, Eamonn made the journey across the Irish Sea to join the ever-increasing number of talented animators studying at the UK’s Royal College of Art. In recent times the RCA has become well-known for nurturing the talent of many DN favourites including Max Hattler, Mikey Please, Matthias Hoegg and Tom Judd to name a few.
It’s absolutely been an inspiration. I’ve only begun to think about it now that I’ve finished the course. While you’re on the course there’s barely time to come up for air. But there’s a long history of great animation at the RCA and as a result it really pushes you to use the time as best you can. Studying on the course helped focus my work in the sense that it gave me two years in which I had complete freedom to explore, think and try out the things I wanted to do. It also gave me the opportunity to make two more films – that doesn’t come around too often so I tried to make the most of it. More than anything I think it’s the people you meet and friends you make through course that are most impactful.
“As a director I’m pitching a lot, it’s great because week by week I can design and try different things”
My animation training at IADT was very traditional which I’m very grateful for now. Before the RCA I worked as an animator on TV shows and other people’s short films. In that instance it’s more about being able to work within somebody else’s style and match their sense of timing. In a way going to the RCA meant I had the perfect opportunity break out of that. So I tried to follow my own interests. Now, as a director I’m pitching a lot, it’s great because week by week I can design and try different things. In the end you can’t help but do certain things instinctively. It’s often the case where I will make a mistake with a drawing or will be drawing absentmindedly, you notice a new shape or form that will trigger something new – it sends you in a new direction. That can be really exciting.
MY DAY – 2008
Yes it is from personal experience. I did my BA in animation at IADT National Film School in Ireland. On the weekends I would commute home. The conversation as it is in the film is pretty much what I experienced. It bothered me for a really long time, of course this guy’s story was terrible, but it was also the fact that he just unloaded all of this information and made me feel so uncomfortable. After a couple of months thinking about it, talking to people and finding they had similar experiences I began to think it might be a good basis for a film. After making the film it didn’t really bother me anymore. But yeah – people on buses – that seems to happen to me a lot!
ON THE QUIET – 2009
I’ve slowly come to learn that for me an idea needs to have some sort of human truth at its core. It can be vague in the beginning but if I don’t feel something then it’s hard to stick with it, especially with animation as it’s such a time sink. My Day was my first time working with actors too so that was a learning experience. On the Quiet was a much more difficult film for me to pin down and as a result I don’t think it works as I intended. In terms of technical process – My Day was created completely digitally. With On the Quiet I wanted to introduce more analogue processes so all of the backgrounds were drawn with pen and charcoal and then composited with the digital 2D animation.
I’M FINE THANKS – 2011
Up until I’m Fine Thanks all of my work was in black and white or used very desaturated colours. This was largely because I didn’t feel that colour was my strong point or that I knew enough about it. When I finished my BA I slowly began to work more with colour. Mainly through painting. Then going into the RCA I knew they had a great colour reference library. When I got there I made a point of working with colour to try get past that fear. With I’m Fine Thanks it just seemed right to juxtapose the bright cartoon world against a darker story. I tried to use the colour to support the narrative – as things fall apart the colour becomes more intense.
LEFT – 2012
“I think Left is definitely my most ambitious film yet. It centres around a friendship between two boys as they grow up in a small town. I don’t want to say much more about the story. It took 13 months to make. Again it was a big jump for me in terms of the scale of the production. I feel lucky to have found such a brilliant cast and crew – some of which I’ve only met online. The film premiered at Cork Film Festival in Ireland (where it won the Best Irish Short Film award) and Bradford Animation Festival here in the UK so it’s exciting times.”
That’s a big question. There’s so much stuff. I tend to watch a lot more live action than animation so directors ranging from Haneke to the Coens. I like Lynne Ramsay’s and Andrea Arnold’s short films in particular. Roy Andersson’s observations on day to day life are amazing. I just saw The Master so PT Anderson is on my mind. I love comics too – my absolute favorite cartoonist is Jason – he evokes so much emotion with such restraint. His book ‘Why Are You Doing This?’ was hugely influential. Chris Ware goes without saying too. I try to read as much as I can but not nearly enough as I should. I particularly like short stories – Raymond Carver’s writing is a big inspiration. Then there’s drawing and illustration, way too many artists to list. Anything with a great sense of storytelling. In terms of my source material for my own films I think just day to day life, things that bother me, things I notice, conversations, feelings, observations, experiences!
It’s vital. Not only am I amazed at people’s responses and generosity, it’s also been great to get to know and regularly speak with other animators around the world. Right now I’m involved with a brilliant collective project called Late Night Work Club. A teaser has just launched and we’re beginning to work on our first project due early next year. Most of us, with a few exceptions, became friends online first. Something like that would never have happened if it wasn’t for online distribution and communities.
My festival going experience is pretty limited. I went to a few festivals with My Day and On the Quiet. But as soon as I’m Fine Thanks started to tour I was already into pre-production on my latest short film Left. So I ended up missing my screenings at big festivals like Ottawa and later Annecy. Now that I’m starting to distribute Left I definitely want to try to tour along with it – anywhere that will have me really! Nothing can replace seeing a film with an audience and meeting people face to face.
Other than my commercial work at Studio Aka I’m starting to work on my piece for Late Night Work Club which should be done early next year. Beyond that I’m starting to think about and research my next film but who knows where that’ll take me.
Find out more about Eamonn’s work on his website.