I talk to Damian Byrne winner of ReelshowInt Online March Film Competition about his winning film Lament his hopes for the future and lots more.
Hi, tell me a little bit about your background. What got you into filmmaking, and who do you draw your inspiration from?
Hello. Well I would be considered a traditional & digital artist, from Dublin, Ireland. There I initially studied at The Irish School of Animation. After graduating in 2003 and with no prospect of employment, a lifeline arrived by post. I was granted a trading license to exhibit on Ireland’s largest outdoor art market, Merrion Square, Dublin. So having recently been introduced to the work of Jim Fitzpatrick (remember the Che Geuvara iconic image? Also some Thin Lizzy album covers, that’s him), I turned to painting Celtic themes.
After moderate success there, I moved from one meaningless job to another before I began work in the Hugh Lane Gallery as an assistant in 2006. This job, although boring at times, served a purpose in inspiring me, keeping me sane. After all, Monet, Renoir, Bacon decorated the walls!
Where did you get the idea for your film? It looks like a Celtic folk story/legend.
It was while working in the Hugh Lane Gallery that I discovered the lamentable medieval story of ‘Aided Oenfer Aoife’ (The death of Aoife’s only son). I had been researching Irish mythological stories looking for themes to paint but this story made my throat run dry. I immediately began sketching characters and layouts on a gallery information pamphlet. It had such an emotional effect on me that it surely wouldn’t be enough to paint it. I wanted to bring it to life!
The software and studio space required were beyond my means and my animation skills had dwindled over the years. There was only one real option. I could make it a ‘university project’ and immediately began applying to Dundee University in Scotland as it had a great reputation.
The story ‘Aided Oenfer Aoife’ is from the Book of Lecan, a 15th century manuscript written in Middle Irish. There are various translations available and some include more characters than there are in my film, which I have added in the graphic novel (Currently in production and re-titled ‘Cú Chulainn’s Lament’). Cú Chulainn is a very prolific character in Irish folklore and maybe compared with Achilles from Greek mythology. Also worth mentioning is that Simon Bisley’s (2000AD) ‘Slaine’ comics are heavily based on Cú Chulainn.
Inspiration can come from anywhere but you must put yourself into situations. I threw myself into photography and felt that it has helped me with lighting, tone and especially composing shots. Two films worth mentioning were hugely inspirational to me, Disney’s ‘Firebird’ (from Fantasia) and ‘Destino’ which was a collaborative project with Salvador Dali. Actually there were three but this film hasn’t been made yet, ‘Slaine, the horned god’. There is a video trailer on YouTube. It’s incredible. These videos kept me going when things got really tough.
Tell me about the casting process, did you use just professional voice artists or friends as well, and pre-production, how did you approach this difficult project?
I relished the opportunity of working with actors. Animators are said to be ‘actors with pencils’ but when you devote more time to a certain craft, well, you usually become better at it. I had heard great things about the Lip Theatre (from Dundee, Scotland), who have performed in the Fringe Festival in Edinburgh.
Casting the boy Connlach was always going to be very difficult – if he was indeed to be a boy – but I remembered that Bart Simpson was voiced by Nancy Cartwright! Sara Preston from the Lip Theatre was magnificent and really worked hard to capture the emotion and character of the young boy. Also the president of the Lip Theatre, Mr. Paul Creegan narrated wonderfully.
It also must be mentioned that there was an opportunity to seek the voice of Brian Cox (The Bourne Supremacy, Troy) as narrator, as he had just been appointed Rector of Dundee University. Mr. Cox is from Dundee yet he was busy while the project was being handed in for assessment. The remaining voices were animators from my class (Daryl and Lucy). Daryl had a terrific passion and enthusiasm for the story and is from Northern Ireland, which is where Cú Chulainn was from.
For the final scene when Cú Chulainn laments, Daryl almost had me weeping with his performance. However, we had so much fun in the sound studio that I couldn’t resist taking part and so I am the voice for the king. On a funny note, I am also the ‘horse’ in the scene where the horse rider gallops through the forest…
The pre-production involved a mammoth amount of research.
Additionally reading various translations, photographing models & props, daily observational sketches, regular production meetings and learning new software were all required. Most of the project was spent on a certain drawing style, only to drop it at the final stage. This was a learning curve.
What did you shoot the film on, and with which particular equipment?
The entire film was actually hand drawn in Adobe’s Photoshop using a Wacom Bamboo graphic tablet. This was a new technique to me and was purely to minimize the work in traditional ‘clean-up’ and scanning. The layered files (psd) were then imported to Adobe’s ‘Premiere/After Effects’ for additional editing & compositing. Smoke from incense sticks was use for the mist effects. Since Lament is very figurative, I required models for key framing poses etc. These were largely sketched or shot with my Canon 30D and held for reference.
How long was your shoot?
Lament, which also included writing a thesis for my BA degree, took less than two college years 09/2008-04/2010. Ironically I’ve made a ‘making of’ documentary of the film which is the same length as the film itself but could have easily been much, much longer. I’ll upload that once I’ve finished the narration
Where was it shot, and were there any issues with locations? Did you use college or University facilities?
Lament was largely produced in Duncan of Jordanstone in Dundee University. However I did make trips to Dublin and to the Isle of Skye for research. The University has fantastic facilities including a ‘Mac lab’ (with dozens of high end machines and processing power) and recording studios of a very high standard.
What did you edit the film on?
Adobe ‘After Effects/Premiere’ for all audio and visuals. Additionally, Pro Tools for the ‘voice over’s’.
How are you finding things since winning the Reelshow Int competition? Do you have a show reel – if so you should upload that as well..:-)
It’s been overwhelming really. I wasn’t expecting anything let alone a screening here and there, and yet Lament has screened in over a dozen festivals internationally. It is absolutely wonderful when put your heart and soul into your work and you are rewarded for it. I do have a reel and it’s available on http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WybrweLyWpc
What’s your ambition and what are you working on now? What aspect of the industry do you aspire to be involved in?
If I could do it all again, I would, but with a team. I genuinely loved every minute of making Lament. My ambition, now, is to work on storyboarding and get my foot in the studio door. I will make more Celtic folklore films. Irish folklore is so rich in narrative and we are really only scratching the surface. The recent success of ‘The Secret of Kells’ by Cartoon Saloon Studios is testament to that.
You graduated from Dundee University in 2010. Can you also tell us a bit about your years at university, do you think your BA in animation and electronic media was essential for your career path?
In my experience the BA is merely a piece of paper. Maybe that’s harsh but experience is everything. At the moment I’m struggling to gain that ‘studio experience’ because I haven’t worked in a studio. It’s a catch 22 situation or like being in quick sand. You need to get free, but if you move, you begin to sink, but you’ve got to get free…
Who is your favorite filmmaker?..and why
Hmm, for me it’s hard to beat Stanley Kubrick as 2001 & the Shining are my favorite films. The music he chooses and the composition and timing of shots is sublime.
Finally, what’s the last film that you saw and the best film that you have seen in the last twelve months?
Actually, I’m in the middle of watching the Lord of the Rings trilogy. The ‘Long Way Back’ by Peter Weir was and is one of the most emotionally powerful films I’ve ever seen.
Thanks Damian – we wish you all the best for the future.