Thursday, March 12, 2009

Martin Malone Interview - Kildare artist and cartoon animator has plans for graphic novel

Martin Malone interview in the Leinster Leader click here
Published Date: 12 March 2009
The world of animation is something that Ireland has excelled at in recent years, and currently there is strong international interest surrounding the much hyped animated film, "The Secret of Kells".
Kildare man and freelance artist, David Butler, has worked on a number of animated projects for Channel 4, including the BAFTA award winning 'Sir Gawain' and 'The Green Knight', based on the Arthurian legend.

David says that he was interested in drawing and sketching from an early age; "I remember being about seven years of age and friends of mine were out kicking football and stuff, but I didn't want to do any of that..."

At that tender age he had a fascination with the mechanics of what made action work on the screen, and recalls seeing a behind the scenes documentary about the goings on during the shooting of the Superman film. Later, inspired by the film, 'Dark Crystal', he started to draw his own characters. Primarily sci-fi figures with beetle shell armour and so on.

"Comic books were also a major influence...'2000 A.D', which had Judge Dredd and similar characters in it. I latched on to the idea that this had been created closer to home, than say the likes of Spiderman and Superman. As a kid it somehow escapes you that you don't have to travel a million miles to make this stuff."

Around the time of his Junior Cert, an Irish animation production company was making the hugely successful "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles". The hit cartoon series hadn't initially been expected to create much of an impact on its release but it went on to become a global commercial success.

"The Sunday World published a piece showing the different poses of one of the turtles walking and this – well, this was only happening up the road in Dublin."

There and then he knew this was the sort of work he wanted to do. Subsequently, he studied at the Dun Laoighaire College of Art and Design and graduated in 1999. Shortly after graduating he was contracted to work with Moving Still Productions in Dublin.

"This was a real eye opener – the company was based on the quays and were working on a TV series called 'The Tales of the World' concerning myths and legends to do with a particular country. At the time they were working on a story about Fionn MacCumhail."

Financed by the Channel 4, this Irish tale sold into 60 countries and was translated into 18 different languages. This was David's first major production and lasted for about a year. The film itself runs for 12 minutes, an indication of the working time involved in bringing an animated film to the screen.

"David Kelly (Strumpet City, Glenroe, Mystics, Willy Wonka...) did the voiceover of Finnegas who coveted the salmon of knowledge."

When I mention the amount of time involved in creating such a short piece of work, David says that the timescale depends on the type of style used, "There are many different styles – for that particular animation film everything was hand drawn and hand coloured. We drew it in pencils and they were coloured in pastels – it has a shimmering effect. The process was really time consuming."

In addition to the experience, David was making money from something he liked doing and at which he was very good. When his contract ended he moved into doing whatever jobs he could find in addition to continuing to work freelance on TV ads, CD covers, infrequent work, which is often the lot with freelance writers, actors and animators.

A short while later, David was contracted by the same production company to work on what was to become a BAFTA TV award winning project, 'The Green Knight'.

"This Arthurian legend was drawn in a unique style of stained-glass window, based on the work of the famous Dublin based artist and illustrator, Harry Clark."

David worked on this project for 18 months. The film is 25 minutes long, twice as long as Fionn. Again, contract completed, David resumed freelancing and also working in other employments. He hoped to work for the same company again, building on their success.

Unfortunately, despite its major victory, the company downsized before ceasing to trade. For David being part of an award winning animation film did not open the doors he had hoped its success might have done for him.

"Within six-months the studio went from employing 14 people to a staff of three – this was about 2002 – hard to believe that the studio beat off the likes of Cartoon Network to lift that award and within such a short timeframe was gone."

He shrugs and adds, "I haven't worked in animation since then – I became a father and the responsibility and necessity to have a job where the pay was constant and dependable had to come first."
Moving away from Dublin involved losing contact with people in the know.

"When I lived in Dublin I was able to meet up the producer and the writer all the time..."

By now David was developing an animated cartoon series for TV.

"It was about a character called Frankie and how society had turned him into a monster – he's anarchic – I worked with a guy called Paul Woodfull who used to front the 'Glam Tarts', the house band on RTE'S 'Good Grief, Moncrieff show."

David says it was great to hear Paul bring his cartoon characters to life, to lift them off the page.

"We approached the Irish Film Board with the idea. They were very keen and we got some development money from them - it looked like we were going somewhere with Frankie."

Although RTE liked the premise of the idea and the characters they had no money to invest in production; as it turned out they'd already pumped funds into the Oscar winning animation film, 'Give Up Yer Aul Sins'. They were invited to return when the coffers were replete, but a shift of decision makers pulled the curtain on Frankie.

"It was quite disheartening. A real blow." So disheartening that David actually turned his back on animation for a while.

"A friend of mine was involved in hip hop music and one of his songs was called 'Why?' – Rapping in a Kildare accent about suicide."

David rang the singer and said he'd like to do something with it. Although hesitant about it, saying it was personal, the singer listened to David's suggestion. The first thing David did was to get permission from the families of the bereaved.

"We got this and then contacted the Samaritans to see if they'd like to have an input into the making of this short film and they were a great help."

David made sure that what they did was responsible. They shot the video, treating it in black and white and it was accepted in a few festivals and well received by audiences and adjudicators. Then the band involved in the film's music asked David to become their manager. "They were called the Gudmen," David says, "I was surprised that they asked me. But I said I'd give it a try. We booked a few gigs and did some music videos – we got a slot at Oxegen – we were really flying. We were a hip hop and a rap band. Before Oxegen we got a lot of pub gigs and the like, and were playing to full houses."

Within a year the band had had enough and split, but not before releasing their debut and only single 'Drunk and Disorderly' on the weekend of Electric Picnic. Ironically, David had managed to secure the band a spot on TV, "...a show on TG 4. By the time it was aired we had split – you can catch the gig on You Tube."

David's move into a house brought him back to painting. He wanted something for above the mantelpiece but found out that there was a dearth of decent material, and anything that was half-decent was way too expensive. He smiles and says, "I painted a portrait of Podge and Rodge in acrylics and then on canvas. Then I painted a tiger in a jungle setting for my father... and on word alone I've been getting a lot of business – which has surprised me, so I'm busy."

David paints the sort of material that you don't see too often in shops, and he's acutely aware that many people in this recessionary period can no longer afford the luxury of paying out sums of €200 to €300 for a painting, so he offers a more customer appreciative service. Unlike many artists he has awards to his name; an approved and certified validation of his work.

"There are two types of painting that I do: one for myself and the other for whatever people might like me to paint for them, such as a portrait or a landscape, something they'd like done for whatever reason: birthday, anniversary, shop front..."

Also these days David is freelancing and has already published a comic online, "I met Tommy Kelly who manages and he asked me to do something for him and I said maybe...and I got round to drawing a guest strip for him."

The response by readers has been so positive that David is already putting other scripts together, but he isn't too enamoured by the prospects of running a daily script and wonders if it's what he actually wants to do, "'d require a lot of time – a big commitment."

He has other projects in mind, including a graphic novel featuring Frankie, his cartoon character, who like a true anarchist hasn't entirely gone away.

David is contactable at 086 8974863

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