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Meet Art Director Bronagh O’Hanlon #Interview

Meet our amazing Episodic and Art Director Bronagh O'Hanlon, currently working on Doc McStuffins! She's won the Brown Bag Films Halloween costume competition TWO years in a row, with costumes she made from scratch. She's got a penchant for putting things together beautifully, in fact, many of us want her to decorate our homes! We managed to grab a few minutes with her to chat about all things animation.

How did you get into animation?

I always wanted to get into animation after watching ‘Morph’ on the Tony Hart art show as a kid. I was pretty single-minded all through school about gearing my portfolio towards getting into an animation course. So I started taking life-drawing classes outside of school hours from the age of fifteen.

How long have you worked in the animation industry?

Thirteen years. One year freelancing after college, then 12 years in Brown Bag Films. When I started in Brown Bag there were only five people working here, now there’s…...oh about 160!

What are your biggest influences/inspirations?

I love the work of Mary Blair and Gerald Scarfe. But nowadays, with different artists blogs and Pinterest pages available to view, there are so many amazing artists work to be inspired by, that you previously wouldn’t have seen.  Each day is a surprise as to who is going to influence you with their unique style.

What’s your favourite tool to use and why?

Reference pages. Before you start anything have reference pages for style, colour, lighting etc set up beforehand. Nothing gets across your vision more than showing some reference images and talking through what it is that you like about the tone (visual and emotional) in each image and how you want to imbue that into your work.

What advice would you give someone considering getting into animation?

Do it, it’s awesome!

But seriously, if you are talking about getting into art college, I would say write a four page short animation script (one page per min).

Then assemble your reference pages for tone and character ref.  Only then do you start to draw, five very stylistically different designs for each character in the short (to show how adaptable your drawing is, as no one wants to hire someone who can only draw a manga style etc).

After this pick the final characters you want in the film and do turn arounds and colour keys for each.

Then copy the process for trying different styles for the main backgrounds in the story, colour and lighting options etc.

Finally storyboard out the whole movie. This is basically a huge lump of what it takes to develop a show. And making a project out of it gives your work a focus, a strong direction and shows your thought process. It’s also something to talk through in the interview process.

If you are looking for work in design in Brown Bag and the like, I would say something similar: Show a good variation of drawing styles, for a large variety of characters, props and backgrounds.

Then selectively pick some of those props and characters and do very accurate turnarounds for them.

Also look at the styles of the shows being made by the companies you are applying for work from, and gear at least 60% of your portfolio to styles of a similar tone.

No point in sending in a portfolio with designs of violent, blood-drenched warriors decapitating trolls to a studio that makes pre-school shows!

What do you like most about working in animation?

For me the variation of the work, from art direction, to episodic direction to development work. Doesn’t hurt that I work with a great bunch of very talented people too!

What’s been the most challenging thing about working in animation?

The catch-22 situation of the work: you need experience to get into the industry, but you will find it hard to get into the industry without experience!

College is great for getting that experience early, by doing as much freelance and work experience as you can do, and for trying to build up contacts. Take on whatever you can so your CV is fleshed out for when you leave.

Another challenging aspect is the demanding and high pressured nature of the job, deadlines are pretty much set in stone. You have to learn to work fast, and that can take some getting used to!

Are you interested in getting into animation? Keep an eye on our Behind-the-Scenes and Tutorials pages for more interviews, #TopTips and #AMAs!

Anahita Tabarsi

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

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