The award-winning animator and our regular cartoonist shares his love of drawing.
Interviewed by Jo Reynolds.
I guess I want to control an imaginary world.
Where are you from originally?
Dublin. I'm from the classic large Irish family, two younger brothers and two older sisters: I'm stuck in the middle.
Was your upbringing religious?
Yes. It was like living under the Taliban, only Catholic.
Did you rebel against that?
No, but my sister did. She became a Muslim. She got married and lived in Saudi Arabia for 24 years. She's back in Ireland now.
How was that viewed by your parents?
My mother went to church every day, and my dad was the church organist, so I guess not very well. It was a fear-based culture and it lasted till the scandals.
Were you seen as a traitor for leaving?
No, because so many Irish people leave. But, it was nice coming to a place like London where it was all different people and everything was accepted. It was quite liberating because Ireland back then, in the seventies, early eighties, was quite oppressive. It changed in the nineties when the scandals hit the Irish church.
How did you catch the drawing bug?
My grandmother and my mother were both artists, and my dad was a photographer before he became a management consultant. I guess it was in the family. Our house was full of paintings. I went to quite a posh school in Dublin – my dad had gone there – but it wasn't geared up for art, so I went to a Saturday class, which I started when I was eleven.
How did you catch the animation bug?
Animation allows you to do anything or go anywhere. You start with nothing – a blank screen, or blank page if it's hand-drawn or an empty studio if it's stop-motion. Nothing appears for free. With animation nothing will happen unless the animator makes it happen. There's no cutting corners or cheating. I like that discipline. I like the process. What some would find boring, I find enjoyable. I guess I'm a control freak. I guess I want to control an imaginary world. Trouble is, it doesn't always work in real life.
How did you learn to animate?
The BBC had a programme about do-it-yourself animation and one episode had Terry Gilliam showing cutout animation. I just loved it. I still have the BBC's handbook on my shelf. I ended up working with him on the titles of his film, 'The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus' so that was like coming full circle.
Were you a comic reader?
Yes. My granddad used to get all the American comics and give them to me from the age of five. He was into comic books. There is a different cultural attitude to cartoons here. In France, Italy, Germany, America and Japan, adult commuters read comics on the train but here it's never crossed over into the mainstream. Or in Ireland. People are embarrassed, which is odd because we've got a lot of artistic talent and it's somehow seen as childish.
Who were your favourite cartoon characters?
Batman and Dick Tracy. And the Disney stuff. My favourite animators are Chuck Jones and Tex Avery (Looney Tunes: Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Porky Pig, Road Runner et al).
Which cartoon character are you most like?
If someone said they hated cartoons, whose work would you show them to change their minds?
Maybe Quentin Blake (Roald Dahl's illustrator) and Ronald Searle ('St. Trinian's'). Their work is art. And Ralph Steadman.
Why did you call your animation studio Voodoodog?
When I set it up with my business partner – he's got a great name, David Z Obadiah, like a prophet from the Bible – we were in a panic for a name so we just named it after a cartoon character. Once, an American client thought we were into black magic.
What do you animate?
A lot of film title sequences. One of our first was 'The Life and Death of Peter Sellers' for HBO which got us an Emmy nomination. We've done lots of title sequences for kids' movies like 'Nanny McPhee'. And we've worked with directors like Edgar Wright on 'Scott Pilgrim', and Mike Newell on 'Love in the Time of Cholera', the Javier Bardem film about Gabriel Garcia Marquez's classic. And we do lots of commercials. There's a simplicity with communicating with a drawing, for corporates and social media. We've just animated a pilot for the Coconut Collaborative, the yoghurt people, a series about Adam and Eve falling in love. We also try to do our own projects in between. We're currently developing an animated film based on Tchaikovsky's 'Swan Lake'. It came about through a friend, Christina Arestis, a Royal Ballet dancer. People think ballet and classical music are highbrow but we think animation will show that it's just a beautiful and moving story.
Are they prohibitively slow to make?
It is slow. You have to be very careful with planning everything out with storyboards. 'Swan Lake' will be stop-motion. It's a harder sell because everyone is used to the (computer-generated) cookie-cutter style, but that's become a bit samey. From a financial point of view, the producers like it because they know they can get a film done in a year and a half whereas something like 'Wallace & Gromit' takes more time, but it stands out. (The Iranian animation) 'Persepolis' stands out. That was hand-drawn and black-and-white. That's brave, because a lot of kids won't watch black-and-white. My boys will only watch the colourized 'Laurel & Hardy' versions.
Now that you're a father of twins, does it give you a double excuse to be a kid again?
I now appreciate a lot of the films I'd written off, like 'Planes' or 'Cars', which I dismissed as derivative but, seeing them with seven-year-olds, you start to realize they're very clever and perfectly aimed at the age group. So, I've learnt not to be so sniffy. 'Kung Fu Panda 3' is great.
Do your sons like your animation?
They give me critiques. They read a lot into things that I didn't think they'd get. I think it's good for them having a dad who's into art and painting. And they're quite competitive with me. I drew Mary Poppins once for one of them and he scribbled it out and said, it isn’t right. He's already acting like an art director. I draw with them. We do improvised drawing games where one person draws a scribble and the other has to make a picture out of it. They love it. I love it. It gives me ideas.
Thank you, Paul. It's been a pleasure – as always.
You can see more of Paul's work on www.voodoodog.com.to top | home