Tuesday, February 24, 2009

interview with Tom Caulfield

When in your life, did you know you wanted to become an animation artist?

Ah that one, that was the question that freaked me out the most because I don’t know. For ages I didn’t know, I didn’t know what I wanted to do. It was always one of these things that you saw animation on TV but you never knew how it was done, how to get into it or what it was all about. Yeah I guess, there was one event, where I considered getting into cartoons, it was when I saw Beauty and the Beast. I think that was it, because before that, you know, I think I fell into animation by fluke. I mean, it was never something that I had planned to do. Like, in school, I had applied to business studies, but the business studies class was full so I ended up in art class. They said at school 'aw, we gotta put him somewhere, if the business studies class is full and the art class needs filling, we'll just throw him in there'. From there, I think the whole interest in drawing and art started there. I'd always draw before, you know, but they were doodles, drawing lions and tigers on the back of copy books and the usual crap. Once in the art class, it opened your eyes and you started to see what art really is and em, I think that’s when the interest in art, sort of, took over and I wanted to be this artist. Especially when the academic side of school wasn't really my thing so in hynesight, it was probably a good thing that the business class was full and I was chucked into the art class. The animation thing came, probably when the Beauty and the Beast came out. Beauty and the Beast was advertised to the hilt, and it sort of gave the background story to how animation was made, and gave the knowledge that people do actually sit there and draw every frame. It must have been a big PR drive for the company to show how these films get made and you actually see the people working and you see the different departments and think 'yeah! I could do that!'. Especially, not knowing that Don Bluth was only a DART ride away. So I think that’s when it happened, was seeing Beauty and the Beast.

Where you interested in illustration drawings or comic books when you were in school?

No, not any of that, I'd have to say it was never something that I'd ever thought I'd be doing or contemplated before Beauty and the Beast. I know its bizarre. Its one of those things, nobody in my family draws, it was just me being 'the black sheep of the family', you know.

Yeah, like 'how are you suppose to make a living out of drawing'

Yeah, exactly, that’s the thing, because it was sort of seen back then as, especially the folks were like 'how is he suppose to make a living out of drawing, how are ya going to get a job out of drawing'. So it was putting on your sensible head and saying, 'yeah I have to get an education'. Yeah it was a bizarre set of events, but yeah, I never illustrated or I never even read that many comics before that so, I don’t know where it happened, it was just a fluke.

A good fluke I'd have to say, I fluke that I am really glad of.

Can you tell us a brief history of your career in animation that got you where you are today?

Yeah well, I suppose it starts off in school with the business studies class being full, doesn’t it. And yeah, ended up in the art class, and that’s where the appreciation for art came. Like ask me for dates and names while I was in school, that just upset me fierce, but seeing the drawings and paintings really sort of, inspired me and you're saying 'somebody actually sat down and done that'. So yeah, then that lead to me applying to Ballyfermot, and I done the ADS course (animation drawing studies), which was a year. Then I went and did the DAP (Diploma in Animation Production) which was a 3 year course and you know yourself, once you go into something like that and make the dedication to it, you just know, you cannot do anything but learn and get into the whole environment of being in an art studio. It’s fantastic, just being around people, all doing and trying to do the same as yourself. Everyone had the same goals and wanted to be animators, some maybe layout, some clean up but all within the same industry and it was fantastic to be in that environment. So yeah, just being there, day after day was just amazing and it just made me think, yeah I want to do this for the rest of my life, I really loved it. While I was in 'Ballyer', I was really lucky to get the Disney Internship, to head over to France, jesus!, history repeating itself. Yeah so I headed over to France to do the Disney Internship for two weeks, and that was like a mentor/student programme. And that was like one of the animators would give you a project, and you'd go off and animate it, and that was just fantastic. That was around the time of Tarzan, they had just finished Tarzan, that was cool. So then, that was at the end of 'Ballyer' and I left in 2000, and I went straight to Kilkenny then. I'm probably getting the dates wrong but yeah it was around 2000, so I went to Cartoon Saloon, and then they were just starting out on 'The Rebel' and then they were getting Brendan all together. So I stayed in Kilkenny for a year, and then I left and the whole wanderlust set in and that’s when I headed over to Australia. So I started over in Disney Australia, I sent my portfolio over, and the usual, I got the job in Disney Australia. I was there for three and a half years, I got the one year visa thing and three and a half years later I was still there. So em, yeah that was the best time over there to learn animation, because one of the best ways to learn animation is to be in the work environment and you've got all these people to bounce off and the studio environment is amazing. These people, having been animating for years before you've even considered doing a drawing and they're there right beside you to ask for help, so it was fantastic. When that place closed down, I came back to Ireland. I went to Barley Films, I don’t know the dates, but yeah once I got back to Ireland I just worked on a few frameworks films, character designs, test animations and all that stuff. Then there was jobs in Galway, A Man and Ink, and again I was just doing Character Designs and storyboarding and yeah I ended up back in France. And that’s where I am now; it’s sort of gone full circle from the Disney Internship over ten years ago.

What would be the big differences between working in Ireland and working abroad?

Well, em, it’s hard, the big difference is, I don’t know, I think Ireland is afraid of animation in some ways. Em, I think they just make you jump through hoops in order to get what you want. I don’t know of any films, bar Brendan, that are coming out soon from an Irish company, it’s few and far between. Where it seems in France, that over here animation is accepted, that this is another form of media and has to be supported as well as film and it is seen as a separate thing and it’s not downgraded or discriminated against live action films. They hold animation as, totally an equal to film. In Ireland, I think, they will tend towards a live action film for funding rather than an animation. I don’t know if Australia is a good example, as working in Disney, they had the whole Island to themselves at the time, so they just had to pump money into projects and there were no real stop signs on animation. But between France and Ireland, France have a bit more of a level plain and are not as afraid of animation like the Irish are. The Irish Film Board do do their bits for the Irish short animation but.....well I don’t want to get myself in trouble, but in the past, I think there were choices available to them of which they didn’t invest in and I think it was appalling as there was so much talent, at that time, to show off and build on the animation industry within Ireland. And what they picked wasn’t a good representation of what Ireland was capable of. Recently, I think they've gotten a lot better but I still think they have a long long way to go to match how much support other countries give to animation. They really have to get their heads around something there. I think there’s an image around animation, where live action is preferred, not only as less of an economical risk but as higher form of film making. Like, I suppose, by the end of the day, it is a business and the film board are a business and must see some money coming back to keep themselves going, but I think there is a lot of quality animations going unseen because animation is very expensive and risky.

What advice could you give to young animators coming in and going out of college?

Well, the key is to work really really hard! That’s the one thing. You go into a place like Disney and you think, 'oh my god, they're all fantastic animators and they've got this magic thing that I want to learn that', but by the end of the day, there is no magic, there is no secret, it’s just all of those people worked really hard to get where they wanted to be. If you want to come up to their level in animation, that’s what you have to do, just work really hard and enjoy it at the same time. It is a fun job at the same time. As for coming out of college, I think you guys are doing the right thing, just coming out and working hard and creating your own things and you will get noticed for it. That’s the best advice I can give, work work and more work.

Was there a memorable moment in your career that you cherish over others?

Em, I don’t know, oh wait, when I was over in Australia, it was the very first time I got to see a scene of mine. It was one I had done and it was all finished, all in colour and the music was cut into the anamatic and we were all in the screening room. We were watching the anamatic and my scene came up, and it was all finished, I was just blown away, just like 'aughww!........quick rewind it so I can see it again!' That was just fantastic just seeing my finished scene for the first time. Not just knowing that it was my scene, but knowing that a lot of people worked on it to get it to that stage and I think that was just one of my favourite moments, just seeing that scene for the very first time. It would take a lot to beat that moment.

How do you keep on top of your dry periods out of work and keep motivated to draw?

I have to confess, I love TV, I love it! Well TV and all that is a visual medium and I think we're in the whole visual industry so I think the whole interest in programmes can lead to your work, or maybe I'm just giving myself excuses to watch tele a lot more than I should. I think any visual things, I guess, watching TV, looking at people, watching buildings, the whole observation thing. If you're into character design, I think you should read books because you just conjure up pictures in our mind of what characters look like. You visualise the sentences, and it forces you to use your imagination. Just doodling all the time keeps everything going, experiencing life and drawing those experiences. That’s what you're trying to do, just animate life, so you watch life all around you and adapt that into your own work. That observational work will just tap into your own work. Just watching and visualising will lead into your work.........for me.......its watching TV.

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