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Celebrating 30 Years of Brown Bag Films!

We can hardly believe it, but our studio is celebrating our 30th anniversary this year!

That's right—the studio started up in 1994 when a pint of Guinness was under 3 quid, Meat Loaf was insisting he'd do anything for love, and the World Wide Web was still under construction.

The same month that the Eurovision Song Contest was taking place in Dublin's Point Theatre, Brown Bag Films got its start in the animation business with a 2K loan, some blue pencils, questionable hairstyles… and a love of all things animation!

Since then, we've produced over 1500 half hours of content, earned 21 Emmys, and even snagged 2 Oscar nominations along the way. It's been a wild and frenzied ride, with constant change and evolution—growing from a company of 2 to a global studio of over 1000, our processes changing from painstakingly hand-painted individual cel animations shot on 35mm film to CG animation encompassing 2D, 3D and hybrid pipelines, from producing our first commissioned series Peig for RTÉ to working on award-winning international hits like Doc McStuffins, Vampirina and Blue's Clues & You!, viewed by millions of kids around the world, for our clients Disney, Netflix, Apple TV+, and Amazon Studios to name but a few!

Over the years, countless animation festivals were attended, numerous production pitches were given, and our studio racked up a flurry of incredible awards for the stunning work our artists create time after time. The past few years have introduced a lot of change for the business, with the usual ups, downs and loop-the-loops that come with those changes. But one thing that still holds constant is our evergrowing love of animation. We're truly grateful and proud to be celebrating 30 years of the fruits of that love, with our exceptional teams in all corners of the globe and an outstanding roster of productions, partners and clients. It's been quite the journey!

If you wanted to visualise what that messy, chaotic journey looks like, then you've come to the right place because we've got just the image for you—a flatlay photo featuring memorabilia from our 30 incredible years!

Take a closer look below and see if you can spot those hairstyles we mentioned.

And while we have some formal party plans scheduled to mark this milestone coming later this year, this month we enjoyed a mini-celebration with our teams in our studios in Dublin, Toronto and Bali, where there was of course some cake dished out… and co-founders Cathal Gaffney and Darragh O'Connell reflected on how they got into animation and what they've enjoyed most throughout the studio's history.

Dublin studio team
Dublin studio team
Toronto studio team
Toronto studio team
Bali studio team
Bali studio team

“Darragh and myself were both in Ballyfermot College together, and when we finished up, the only thing we knew was animation, so we figured we’d collaborate and make some short films. That's all we wanted to do, was make short animations and get down to film festivals. We'd no idea we were going to set up the studio. It was just always a very, very simple idea about making great work at a very small scale.”

“What I’ve enjoyed the most over the years is seeing people's career progression. We've seen so many people come into the studio with one set of skills and leave with another or staying with us and doing something completely different altogether. I think that's been wonderful.

We've seen so many people who've come in as assistants and ended up as producers. I think that's something that's really, really important, creating an environment where people can thrive and creativity can flourish.”

—Cathal Gaffney, Managing Director, Brown Bag Films

“I was just always a huge fan of comic books. I loved the stories that they told, and I wanted to tell stories myself. There was no way to get into comic books in Ireland at that time but the closest there was, was animation. And then in animation college making your first film, seeing it in front of an audience, getting that audience reaction, and then I was just hooked, and all I wanted to do was make animated films.”

“[What I love about animation is that] You have to create everything, you have to invent it from the ground up, and I think my first moment is cracking a design, getting a character so that suddenly you can see the whole world, based on one single drawing, you know what it needs to be. I think the next time, is when you see a character walk, when you see that walk cycle it just brings it to life, and for me those are just the two most exciting moments.”

—Darragh O'Connell, Creative Director, Brown Bag Films

Before we let you go, we wanted to take this moment to revisit the early years and the studio's journey to this point, and invite you to scroll along with us down memory lane.

A Brief History of Brown Bag Films: Timeline through the years

1990s: The Early Years

The year is 1994—Cathal Gaffney and Darragh O’Connell were studying animation and decided what they wanted to do most was get into the business of making animation. They borrowed £2,000 and founded Brown Bag Films. Naming the company after their friend Steve Woods' brown leather bag which now hangs lovingly on our Dublin studios' reception wall… but you might have spotted it making a guest appearance in the flatlay photo.

Peig, the studio's first series, is commissioned by RTÉ and produced with hand-painted cels that are shot on 35mm film.

The following year Brown Bag Films moved into the first floor of an old Georgian house off Gardiner Street. Still using an electric typewriter and awaiting the advent of the internet, we produced a few commercials and illustrations. Trying our hand at everything from short films to CD Rom games (remember those?!) and commercials, we produced service animation for ITV series Wolves, Witches & Giants and scrambled around trying to develop shows. Darragh finds himself in Russia producing animation on a CD Rom Game.

In 1997, we moved into a dodgy building at the back of a fast food restaurant. An investment in computers was finally made and Ireland’s first digital ink-and-paint work station, Animo, found its way to our studio. We worked on the Warner Bros feature film The King & I, coordinating European animation with LA via the internet (a 56K modem!). We continued to grow our commercials business while producing two 2D animated series Barstool and Taxi for RTÉ.

We followed those up with another series for RTÉ called Why? which went on to sell in over 100 countries worldwide. We began working on our first short film The Last Elk, written, animated and directed by Alan Shannon, produced by Darragh and Cathal, with music and sound design by Darren Hendley. The short film re-imagines the story of the last of the wild Irish elk, with each animal represented by a different musical sound. Released in 1999, The Last Elk goes on to win numerous international awards.

Towards the end of the decade, we had begun to dip our toes into some very crude computer animation, gradually integrating it into our animation workflow. Starting off pretty basic, the most you could do was touch up backgrounds and add texture. There was understandable skepticism about veering away from the age-old method of hand drawing and painting but unbeknownst to us computers would become an integral part of our business in the coming years.

2000s: Oscar Nominations, Internet and the Digital Age

Having avoided being annihilated by the Millennium Bug we continued to produce high-quality commercials for a growing number of clients. We began work on our second 2D animated short film Give Up Yer Aul Sins, which was based on rediscovered tapes from the 1960’s of Dublin schoolchildren retelling bible stories to their teacher. Over the years there are benchmarks that led to the success of our studio and in 2002, we were nominated for our first Oscar for Give Up Yer Aul Sins, a feat which put us on the map as an animation studio. Needless to say, it was one of the most memorable and proud moments in our company’s history.

In 2003, we invested in our own post-production facilities and moved to a nicer premises at the back of a hotel. We produced the short film, The Boy Who Had No Story and the Tales Wot I Know series for ITV.

Our commercials business was thriving and we did work for Coca Cola, The National Lottery, Aer Lingus and other clients as far away as Dubai and Beirut. We continued to invest in technology and in-house post-production yet we firmly remained a hand-drawn animation company.

As we moved into the mid-2000s, we began working on some of our most challenging yet rewarding projects, including our first 3D series' Olivia, and Noddy-in-Toyland. We also produced our first 3D short films, Ding Dong Denny’s History of Ireland and the Oscar nominated Granny O’Grimm’s Sleeping Beauty directed by Nicky Phelan.

Little known fact, we got the opportunity to work on a music video for rock giants Oasis. Five-minute-long The Masterplan was voted best Oasis video of all time by fans.

We also had our first major international breakthrough with Wobblyland, a pre-school 2D animated series based on director Cat Little’s student film, for HIT Entertainment/ Nickelodeon UK.

We moved into a state-of-the-art new studio in Smithfield (where we still reside, slowly sprawling!).

In 2009, Brown Bag Films was named European Producer of the Year at the Cartoon Forum in Norway. We started production on a second season of Olivia and added new 3D series Octonauts for Chorion/BBC to our growing slate. To help us put total focus on our growing TV business we closed down our commercials division.

2010s: 9 Story Media Group, the World of Streaming, and the Rise of Social Media… Oh my!

Granny O’Grimm’s Sleeping Beauty netted us our second Oscar® nomination for Best Animated Short. Octonauts premieres on CBeebies and within three months becomes the top-rated pre-school show on the channel, going on to receiving a Bafta nomination and break big in Australia.

We begin production on Doc McStuffins – the first show commissioned by newly-rebranded Disney Junior US, which premieres in 2012 and goes on to break rating records for the most watched pre-school premiere ever, immediately becoming the No 1 pre-school show in America. We follow this with our own original series for Disney Junior, Henry Hugglemonster, based on a book by Irish author and illustrator Niamh Sharkey.

We continue adding to our 3D slate and our technical skills with a series based on the iconic Beatrix Potter property, Peter Rabbit, which premieres on Nickelodeon to over three million viewers in the US.

During the mid-2010s, we add additional 3D shows to our roster – Bing, based on the book series by author and illustrator Ted Dewan, The Stinky and Dirty Show, based on the 'I Stink!' book series by Jim and Kate McMullan, and Vampirina based on the book series 'Vampirina Ballerina' by Anne Marie Pace.

We continue production on new seasons of Henry Hugglemonster, Peter Rabbit, Doc McStuffins and Octonauts and a flurry of awards start to come in with Emmy®, Kidscreen and NAACP Image Award wins!

Social media is on the rise and we add a Brown Bag Films Instagram to our growing social channels, go back in time to 2013 and enjoy our very first post there.

We launch Bookbag, a children’s book-gifting initiative established by picturebook maker and creator of the Henry Hugglemonster series, Niamh Sharkey, during her term as Laureate na nÓg (2012–2014), in partnership with our friends at Children's Books Ireland. It marks the first of MANY epic monster doodles.

In August of 2015, we announce we are now part of the 9 Story Media Group family and our animation catalog expands alongside our studio spaces across Toronto and Bali.

Honk, honk! All aboard the Brown Bag Films BUS! That's right, in-between working on animatics and walk-cycles, our intrepid creatives craft up a colourful collaboration with Expressway coaches as part of Irish Design 2015 (ID2015). We were delighted to get the opportunity to showcase our creations in such a playful and unusual way.

Our Toronto studio finds itself busy working on adorable new 2D animated shows Let’s Go Luna!, Blue’s Clues & You! and Xavier Riddle and the Secret Museum.

We begin production on our animated holiday special, Angela's Christmas, based on the popular children’s story from Pulitzer Prize winning author Frank McCourt, which makes its global premiere as a Netflix Original on the streaming service in 2018.

Kidscreen announces its HOT50 companies, ranking the most happening companies in kids entertainment, and we're ranked NUMBER ONE in production two years in a row… but wait, Brown Bag Films and 9 Story Media Group shows also receive a whopping 20 nominations combined at the 2019 Daytime Emmy Awards capping off this decade for us momentously.

2020s: A Pandemic, Hybrid Working, and AI Enter the Chat…

March 2020 hits and well, you know the rest… we navigate the Covid-19 pandemic, which results in many unforeseen challenges and uncertainties. Thanks to the incredible efforts of our teams around the globe, we find new ways to work, stay in touch, and continue to knock out a record amount of animation.

We bid farewell to our beloved Doc McStuffins, a show that's been a 10 year journey for us from start to finish! Spanning five seasons, an unprecedented run for an animated preschool series, making it one of the longest running Disney shows at the time.

We see the worldwide Netflix release of our animated holiday special, Angela's Christmas 2, the sequel to the Emmy® nominated special Angela’s Christmas.

In 2021, while our incredible teams continue to work from home, we launch an incredible slate of new shows: Ridley Jones, Ada Twist, Scientist, Karma's World, Get Rolling with Otis, and Hello, Jack! The Kindness Show!

We celebrate the 10-year anniversary of hit-series, Wild Kratts and our tenacious Ada Twist, Scientist soars to unimagined heights as a giant parade balloon for her inaugural flight in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

The “Ada Twist, Scientist” balloon is taken for a test flight. J.C. Rice

2021 also marked 9 Story and Brown Bag's return to the number ONE spot on the Kidscreen Hot50 Production list… we love you Kidscreen!

Did someone say new shows? The following year we launch another batch of incredible new series: Eureka!, Rosie’s Rules, Sago Mini Friends, and StoryBots: Answer Time! We also celebrate 10 Grr-ific years of Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood along with Fred Rogers Productions and PBS and see new season drops of Ada Twist, Scientist, Ridley Jones, Karma’s World and Get Rolling with Otis.

Karma’s World gets its own Happy Meal treatment around the globe, and most recently a whopping new slate of shows Lu & The Bally Bunch, Super Why's Comic Book Adventures, Open Season: Call of Nature, Eva the Owlet, Dee & Friends In Oz, and Dylan's Playtime Adventures hit screens… and we're about to go bananas with the launch of our newest comedy Let's Go, Bananas!

The landscape of animation begins to shift again as conversations around AI artwork and animation ensue… but we remain artist and creativity focussed viewing the technology as a potential assist in the future.


...We want to thank all of our talented artists across Dublin, Toronto and Bali as well as our audiences, clients, and partners who have supported us for three decades. You have each contributed to our journey, making it possible to do what we love best. While so much has changed since we opened the doors 30 years ago, one thing has remained constant:

We Love Animation®!

Anahita Tabarsi

Anahita is Brown Bag Films' Marketing Director, Digital & Social and drinks more than five coffees a day...

We Love Animation®

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