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The Celtic Tiger : Inside Ireland's New Animation Boom

When you think or major animation producing nations, you'll think of the United States, Japan and maybe the U.K. Ireland isn't exactly the first country that leaps to mind. That could be set to change soon as the small country has really begun to punch above its weight, with dozens of animation studios pumping out quality work. Huge industry names such as Cartoon Network, Nickelodeon, and the BBC are turning to the Emerald Isle to produce a growing number of their shows. Cartoon Saloon's Tomm Moore's recently released second feature Song Of The Sea has received rapturous reviews all over and multiple award nominations- including his second nomination for Best Animated Feature at the Oscars. But Moore's considerable achievements are just part of what is fast becoming a booming animation scene- so much so that this year sees the first ever Irish Animation Awards taking place in Dingle.

The boom has really taken place over the past half-decade or so. According to Animation Ireland the industry currently employs in excess of a thousand people across both creative and support staff. That's not a huge number compared to much larger countries but the sector is growing fast, thanks to tax incentives and support from the government.

A large part of the industry is currently focussed on work-for-hire, producing content for export abroad, mainly for American and British producers. Among the most successful at this is Brown Bag Films, who have produced numerous high profile series for kid's channels including Peter Rabbit, Octonauts and Doc McStuffins. In the process they've bagged three Emmy Awards for Peter Rabbit as well as numerous nominations from BAFTA, Emmy and the Annies. Dublin's Boulder Media worked on shows including The Amazing World Of Gumball and El Tigre and are currently producing the remake of Danger Mouse for Children's BBC.

It's not actually the first time Ireland has been a centre for outsourced animation. The country was once home to the largest animation studio in Western Europe Sullivan Bluth Studios (established by animation legend Don Bluth). The studio worked on a number of 80s and 90s productions including An American Tale and The Land Before Time, before falling prey to the decline in the demand for traditional animation. In more recent years, advances in digital technology (and a tech-savvy population) have enabled the island to be a force to be reckoned with once again.

Of course, working on these projects- as well as for commercials and the gaming industry is only part of the story. Companies such as Brown Bag and Boulder may earn a bulk of their money this way, but in doing so are able to fund more personal shorts that originate and are entirely produced in Ireland. Brown Bag has produced several successful shorts and even scored an Oscar nomination for one. Several of the studios have also got their own original features in development.

Cartoon Saloon was established in 1999 by Tomm Moore and Paul Young. They first registered on international radars however with the release of their first feature The Secret Of Kells, which scored them their first Oscar nomination. The stunning film directed by Moore and Nora Twomey was co-produced by other European studios but is an unmistakably Irish film in feel and execution, firmly establishing Moore's style. Following the first film's success animation enthusiasts world-wide keenly anticipated their next release. Their second feature Song Of The Sea saw Moore direct single-handedly, and was pegged as a potential Oscar nominee from day one. The movie arrived in North America to great critical acclaim- and did, in fact, prove to score that nomination from the Academy. The film will finally open in it's native Ireland (and the UK) in July of 2015.

As a double-Oscar-nominee Moore is now recognised as one of the foremost talents working in animation today and has even earned some comparisons with Hayao Miyazaki. He attracted the attention of Lion King Director Roger Allers who invited him to direct a segment in the forthcoming anthology Kahlil Gibrain's The Prophet, which will be released in America by GKIDS this spring.  Moore's Kells co-director Nora Twomey is working on her first solo feature The Breadwinner, due for release in 2017.

With several features and dozens of series in production, it's pretty clear Ireland's animation scene is only getting started. Even if Moore goes home empty-handed on Oscar night, a nomination in such as strong year is an impressive achievement indeed. Meanwhile, Brown Bag are doing so well they have recently opened an off-shoot studio in Manchester, England. Look out world- the Irish are coming!