‘Just remember those Disney shows and Marvel comic book artists that you love, are made in Ireland… and artists like Declan Shalvey and Will Sliney are working for Marvel and Star Wars remotely from Ireland.’
Writer’s Tuesday was delighted to chat to animator and illustrator David Butler this week. His thoughts on animation in Ireland and tips for young creators are incredibly inspiring – he’s multi- talented, having worked on several award-winning projects, including the BAFTA award-winning ‘Sir Gawain and the Green Knight’. In 2016, David published the graphic novel “Shackleton: The Voyage of the James Caird” for The Collins Press and Gill Books. More recently, he produced “The Land” a World War 1 short-film Drama for Frame It Productions which is currently in post-production. David is also working on a historical graphic novel on Michael Collins.
1. How did you become an animator and illustrator David, is it something you always wanted to do?
In primary school, I was always mad about films and loved comics and reading. I grew up for the love of Stephen Spielberg and Star Wars. At that time, a number of Animation studios were starting to happen in Ireland. Don Bluth Studios (All dogs go to heaven, Land before time and An American Tale) was working from Dublin and another TV animation studio Murakami/ Wolf was working on The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Also in comics, the English published 2000ad comic and Judge Dredd resonated with me because they were made and published in England and had some Irish writers and artists and were not off over there in America. It was possible to do this stuff.
I remember seeing a walk cycle of a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle in the Sunday World newspaper. It was about 5 walking poses of a turtle. That newspaper cut out stayed with me for years. I copied it numerous times and applied the steps to my own characters. I sadly lost the cutting over the years. I would frame it if I still had it.
The film Terminator 2 had an incredible effect on me. I was obsessed with it. I had a making-of video recorded and the process of it blew my mind. That came out as I was in 1st year in school. Strangely I went all the way through Secondary school knowing I wanted to study Animation. I had a great Art teacher Kieran Behan who was really influential in encouraging me to explore comic artwork and showed me artists who inspired the artists I loved. I am still friends with Kieran to this day. Sadly, those animation studios Don Bluth and Murakami Wolf studio were finished by the time I left college. But they left a great legacy of animation courses and studios in Ireland.
‘the entire Animation industry is working remotely from bedrooms and spare rooms of houses throughout the pandemic. It’s just incredible…’
2. Any tips for young artists out there interested in following a similar path?
Stick with it and keep chipping away. You will constantly improve but don’t be discouraged by artists on the internet. Be inspired by them – but believe that one day you will be that good.
Believe in your own ability and creativity but keep going. The internet is a great source for artists and modern artists show their process and behind the scenes and even reference pictures for artwork.
Animation in Ireland is now a huge sector of employment. The prospects of a career are much more available today than before. Amazingly the entire Animation industry is working remotely from bedrooms and spare rooms of houses throughout the pandemic. It is just incredible. Remote working might be a huge factor in the future of the industry. Just remember those Disney shows and Marvel comic book artists that you love, are made in Ireland and Dublin and artists like Declan Shalvey and Will Sliney are working for Marvel and StarWars remotely from Ireland. Brown Bag Films in Dublin makes TV shows for Disney. Doc McStuffins and Henry Hugglemonster were made in Dublin. The multi Oscar-Nominated Cartoon Saloon are telling Irish interest stories in their own way for companies like Netflix and Apple TV. They are based in Kilkenny and have another TV studio Lighthouse studios producing TV shows. Artists and filmmakers in Ireland are producing the content you love on Netflix and Disney+. If you want to “You Can Too”.
There are a few Animation courses and PLC courses in Ireland. Ballyfermot College and Dun Laoighaire are the biggest and longest. But others are really good. Dundalk, Clonmel, Limerick, Cork and Athlone now all have fantastic animation and Illustration courses. (David is a graduate of the Dun Laoghaire Film Institute of Ireland, Animation Production Course)
3. Is there a creative person an artist whose work particularly inspires you?
Without a doubt. Irish Celtic artist Jim Fitzpatrick is my absolute artist-hero. He created the famous artwork for Irish Rock band Thin Lizzy and created the world-famous iconic Che Guevara Red and black image. I have never met Jim But I would love to meet him, someday. But we are Facebook friends and is a true gentleman.
Back in the day, Don Conroy was a huge influence on me. I had the pleasure of meeting him at the Rathdrum Cartoon Festival a few years back and we had him as a guest of honour at our Celtic Con events in Portlaoise Dunamaise Arts Centre and Newbridge JuneFest in 2019. Celtic Con is a Midlands comic convention in Laois and Newbridge Co. Kildare.
4. What work of your own are you most proud of, or fond of ?
The project that changed everything for me is our first self-published Children’s book “Do fish wear Pyjamas?” the launch of that book had 120 children in Kildare town library. It truly was a special moment for myself and Mario Corrigan the writer of the book and the fish pyjamas series. But my graphic novel on Irish Antarctic explorer Ernest Shackleton is my proudest book to date. It is a full colour 96-page graphic novel telling of the famous Endurance Expedition when the crew were stranded in Ice and had an amazing journey for survival. The story is in development (Not my book but the historical event) for a major motion picture and Tom Hardy will hopefully be playing Ernest Shackleton. Produced by the guys behind Harry Potter.
My Shackleton book has taken me to new places, and I have met so many great friends through both making it and travelling to events with it.
5. Can you tell us what you are working on at the moment, David?
I have just finished filming Principal photography on a WW1 short film – The Land – directed by my good friend Joseph Butler (no relation) which I produced with Richard Kearney of Frame It Productions. Hopefully, it will be appearing at a few film festivals in the coming months. I have been trying to fund make this film since 2014.
Another planned project with writer Paula Elmore my Editor in the Collins Press is on a Cork doctor Aidan MacCarthy. “A Doctors War,” tells his amazing WW2 story as he survived Dunkirk was captured by the Japanese and held as a Prisoner of war where he then survived the bombing of Nagasaki. He brought home an authentic Japanese sword which hangs in his family-run Mac Carthy’s bar in Castletownbere in Cork.
Keeping my love of history and adventure. I am currently working on a graphic novel on Irish revolutionary, soldier, and politician Michael Collins. This graphic novel is written by Mario Corrigan who I have collaborated with since 2010 on our 4 books in the Fish Pyjamas series. It is currently with an editing team of a major Irish publisher so fingers crossed it gets picked up for publication.
‘Bringing these characters to the next generation and hopefully inspiring the next generation of writers, artists and filmmakers is a great joy to me.’
6. What is your favourite part of your work?
My favourite part of my work is bringing history to life in hopefully visually interesting storytelling. These stories and characters grab me in reading and researching about them and I truly believe I get hooked by them.
Every reader imagines what the words are telling or saying on the page of a book. I take those images that come from reading and try to translate them into artwork or a sequence of drawings in comic form or in film. The story always dictates the medium that it should be created in. It is a special feeling bringing words on a page to life and making them believable in artwork or visual storytelling. I treat them just like projects and research them just like homework or reading about them in a library.
When the work is released to the public, I love meeting others who are interested in the same stories and characters. Not just in person but in Facebook groups and Zoom seminars etc. I love bringing stories and displays to schools, festivals and Comic conventions and meeting the readers in person. Bringing these characters to the next generation and hopefully inspiring the next generation of writers, artists and filmmakers is a great joy to me. I love meeting parents of great readers who show me their shy children’s artwork and stories. Teachers in modern schools are just fantastic in getting children excited about reading and keeping that flame ignited in children. Modern libraries are just incredible, with ebooks and newspapers and online articles. The way libraries now share books and you can request books through the system is just fantastic. Librarians are so informed these days and I love the ones who go the extra mile to promote local books, authors and artists. The same people regularly visit the local bookshops and find out from the ground level what is popular. We truly love the hard work that goes into keeping everything fresh and relevant in our schools and libraries. Hopefully, the libraries and bookshops open back soon, and we can attend book launches and events in the near future…
I hope so too! Thanks so much for dropping by David! It’s been inspiring and informative – for more on David’s Work check out his brilliant website …
By Niamh Boyce March 2021