Pins and Needles, a short animation created by Brown Bag Films Dublin-based duo Kerrie Costello (Post Production Supervisor) and Julien Celin (Editor) is scheduled to air on RTÉjr this Saturday 22nd, Sunday 23rd AND again on the big day itself, the 25th of December at 5.27pm!
Pins and Needles was commissioned by RTÉ Animated Shorts Scheme earlier this year and our duo have since been hard at work getting the short together with the help of their Brown Bag colleagues. We grabbed them for a quick chat to discuss what inspired the short and the process involved in taking the idea from script to screen.
Can you give us a short little summary of Pins and Needles without giving anything away?
It's a story about the “new kid on the plot” trying to fit in.
How did you come about the idea? What inspired Pins and Needles?
Kerrie: We knew we wanted to tell a story about relationships - the good and the bad. These are universal themes that resonate with children and adults alike.
Separately, myself and Julien share a love of plants. The botanic gardens in Dublin was the original setting of this film, in fact! But we changed that when we realised that creating a 65 foot high greenhouse might be a tad ambitious.
So, we stayed with the themes of relationship, friendship, rejection and plants, and the story sort of fell into place. The idea of a cactus which is literally hard to get close to just seemed rife with potential. The writing process involved several iterations of the script, lots of back and forth, and a few characters left behind in the end.
Can you explain a little about your roles in for Pins and Needles?
Kerrie: Myself and Julien worked together as co-writers and co-directors on this project. This meant we were involved from the initial abstract idea, all the way through to hitting ‘send’ to RTE, which was hugely satisfying.
We worked as partners which was an amazing support for someone who has not directed for animation before (which neither of us had). Finding a work partner that you engage with well can be tricky, but in this case we encouraged each other’s creativity, bounced ideas back and forth and gave moral support.
Working as directors on a small project like this, (I say small comparative to the more long-form TV or film productions we're used to, but we had a huge number of people working on this at various stages), meant that we were able to be involved in so many aspects of the film. This was really rewarding and also hugely educational. We got to be involved in initial character designs right through to online editing, and were able to see the work of so many talented people.
Julien: Being a duo was super helpful, we realised quickly that we would have collapsed under the weight of the work if we would have had to do it alone because the amount of extra hours on top of our daily jobs was really colossal. On a day to day basis, I would focus on all the editing / visual tasks, like updating the timeline with any new playblasts coming in from the animators, when Kerrie would work her magic finding resources in the studio or giving creative directions to other heads of departments. And obviously, we would spend ages giving notes on animation.
What are the stages involved in bringing a concept like Pins and Needles to the screen?
Kerrie: People outside of the animation/VFX industry would be shocked at the amount of hours spent making a 2 minute short.
The first stage is of course writing. While that is the least technically challenging, it is one of the more creative stages and until you have that concept or story right, you can’t go anywhere.
After this we began storyboarding and character/set designs. This was the point when a lot of specialised, talented folk started making their mark on this film and usually blowing us away with their work.
Character modelling and sculpting provided challenges (never make a hedgehog!) and getting the lighting right meant lots of testing.
Voice directing was a really fun new experience and difficult to get right; unlike live action you’re directing voices without visuals.
Animation was key to get the acting right and involved the most amount of people on the team.
Online editing and sound design were the last ‘invisible’ touches to make everything look and sound as polished as possible.
Throughout all of this, the art direction was ongoing. Having a strong art director is really important as they will tie everything together and really bring your vision (and theirs) to the screen.
How long did the development of Pins and Needles take?
Kerrie: We started writing this almost exactly a year ago and delivered the piece finally at the end of October. The development stages took about 5 months and the production itself (including post) took about the same.
Julien: We started in December, toying with concepts and subjects over Christmas by mail, then we prepared for the pitch to the Creative Leadership Team in January. After that initial pitch, Brown Bag Films supported us in sending an application to RTE at the end of January. Then we were called for a pitching session in RTE mid march (scary!), and finally the project was greenlit in April! Soon we were able to gather an incredible core team and production started in May.
What were the biggest challenges involved in making Pins and Needles?
Julien: Time and resources. We would have never completed without the help of Brown Bag Films and the talented people in the studio, but we did have to be pushy to meet the (hard) deadline. As we are a big studio and everybody is really busy, we had to ask lots of people to give us a bit of their time outside of work - but it was all worth it!
What advice would you give to first time short animation directors?
Kerrie: You need to love your concept - if it’s CG, you are going to be spending a lot of time with it and asking a lot of other people to do the same.
Be adaptable - you may start off with one idea but technical issues, time, or creative choices could change it. You also need to be open because someone else - a storyboard artist or animator for example - could have a better twist on a shot, and if they do, go for it! This is a collaborative process, so you should enjoy that about it.
Lastly, have a great support network - be this on the project itself or in your personal life. You’re going to be pouring your time and energy into it. Even if you have the ability to work on your film full-time, it will still need your creative energy so having a good team is key.
Julien: Have clear ideas, but be open to suggestions and changes. Be aware of limitations and play with them.
Anything else you'd like to share?
We would like to thank the team, all the talented people in the studio who helped us - everybody did a fantastic job, the short looks great and it is all thanks to you guys!
There you have it! Be sure to catch Pins & Needles on RTÉjr airing on December 22, 23 & 25 at 5.27pm. RTÉjr is found at Saorview Channel 7 - Sky 623 - Virgin Media 600.