Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Cartoon Saloon and Mercury Filmworks Launch Lighthouse, Will Create 140 Irish Animation Jobs

Two independent animation studios with reputations for high-quality work are joining forces to launch a new 2D-focused animation studio in Ireland, Lighthouse Studios.

Lighthouse, which is expected to create over 140 jobs in the next three years, is a partnership between Ottawa, Canada’s Mercury Filmworks, and Kilkenny, Ireland-based Cartoon Saloon. The new studio will also be located in Kilkenny, which now makes the small town of 25,000 something of an animation hub, with two significant animation studios.

Cartoon Saloon is the company behind the Oscar-nominated films The Secret of Kells and Song of the Sea, and is currently wrapping up on its next feature, The Breadwinner. Meanwhile, Mercury has made its reputation in recent years as Disney TV’s go-to service provider for top-shelf productions, among them The Lion Guard, the Mickey Mouse shorts, and the upcoming Tangled series. The studio recently spearheaded its own series Atomic Puppet, now airing on Disney XD.

The new Lighthouse partnership, supported by Ireland’s Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, will develop children’s and family animated content and provide end-to-end production services, from script writing, design, storyboard, animation and compositing to post production services. The studio’s 2D production pipeline, which will include some CGI intergration, will mirror Mercury’s Canadian operation, which means that it will rely primarily on Toon Boom Harmony.

Lighthouse will operate autonomously with its own management team, and report to a board of directors comprised of executives from both Mercury and Cartoon Saloon.

“We have enormous respect for Cartoon Saloon and could not be happier to announce this collaboration,” Mercury Filmworks CEO Clint Eland said today in a statement. “They are one of today’s most creative and well respected animation companies with goals, perspectives, and philosophies that complement our own. Conceived as a studio with its own unique identity, Lighthouse Studios is neither wholly Mercury Filmworks nor Cartoon Saloon, but rather the best parts of each, transplanted in the rich Irish soil and nurtured by its own talented team of artists into a studio with its own unique and distinct creative perspective.”

Lighthouse will soon announce development and production projects, as well as launch a hiring initiative to bring aboard production management, as well as designers, animators, compositors, technical directors, 3D modelers, riggers, lighting, and texture artists, among other roles.

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Meet Spain’s Hottest Animator, Alberto Vázquez, Who Swept The Goya Animation Categories Tonight

Since his debut short film Birdboy seven years ago, Alberto Vázquez has achieved nominations for all his films at the Goya Awards, Spain’s equivalent of the Oscars.

Birdboy earned him his first Goya, and tonight in Madrid, Vázquez won two more Goyas. The first was for his latest short film Decorado, co-produced by French production company Autour de Minuit and Uniko, a young studio in Spain’s Galicia region that also shares his passion for daring stories. The second was for his feature film, Psychonauts, the Forgotten Children (Psiconautas, los niños olvidados), that Vázquez co-directed with Pedro Rivero. It marks the first time a Spanish animator has won both the feature animation and short animation Goya in the same year.
With a dark sense of humor, Vázquez’s films show an innovative approach to translating the techniques and devices from his original comics to animation. In a video chat with Cartoon Brew from his studio in the Galician city of A Coruña, he revealed the strong influence of his past as a press cartoonist and illustrator. “My artistic background is rooted in the underground comics tradition,” he explained. “That was how I taught myself to embrace my technical limitations, developing my own unique style and growing as an artist.”
Despite using just pen, ink, and a simple color palette, Vázquez creates entire worlds with just a few drawings. But he came to a creative crossroads where comics met animation. “Comics allow endless narrative possibilities that cannot always be easily translated in animation,” he said. “For instance, time can be suspended between two panels, but in animation this isn’t always so easy to represent. Though all my animated films started as comics, I’ve always found it tricky to adapt them.”
Decorado, for instance, is a dark surrealist fable fusing elements of The Truman Show with the pursuit of the meaning of life from Bergman’s The Seventh Seal. It resists usual narrative conventions; an intertitle bearing the film’s name constantly interrupts the different sequences, dividing the linearity of the story into disorienting micro-sketches. It also manages to be an extremely funny black-and-white film with a distinctive artistic style that doesn’t look like anything made before in Spain.

Vazqued reflected, “The original comic that I drew a few years ago, didn’t use most of the ideas that appear in Decorado, like the modular structure, or the use of 19th-century engravings in the style of Gustave Doré as background sets. All these elements arose later during pre-production.” The contrast between the dense line engravings of the background and the unsettling design of the characters are used as a metaphor for the central themes of the short film, the thin lines between truth, appearance, and deception in the age of social media.
Other themes from underground comic culture also appear frequently in his films. For instance, in the feature Psychonauts, Vázquez offers a bleak depiction of violence, sexuality, and teenagers under the influence of drugs. His second short film, Unicorn Blood, doesn’t hide its mockery and derision of the cliches and inherent conservatism of Disney films and commercial television.
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