What is your name and your current occupation?
Gary Blatchford. Owner and director of “illusion Animated Productions”. I have lots of hats, I direct, draw storyboards, animate, create layouts, I used to slug and write x-sheets in the good old 2-D TV animation days. Increasingly I have been putting together teams of freelance artists to provide pre-production services to other animation companies.
What are some of the crazier jobs you had before getting into animation?
I never really worked before getting into animation, I worked for Richard Taylor Cartoons after leavingSt. Martin’s School of Art in London. Dick was one of my tutors and became a major influence and mentor to me. While I was a student I used to draw portraits in my local pub to earn beer money. The craziest thing I did was, I was the singer in the worse pub band in the world. We were quite capable of emptying a busy bar in 10 minutes. I taught animation at Dun Laoghaire college of art and design (now called IADT) in the mid 1990’s, but that is not really crazy is it?
What are some of your favorite projects you’re proud to have been a part of?
I am proud to have been associated with just about all the projects I have been part of. Even the less successful were learning curves. I have also met some really talented people along the way. In 2004 I directed a seven minute short 2D animated film called “The Pope’s Visit”, with funding from the Irish Film Board, RTE and the Arts Council. The great Aidan Hickey wrote a terrific script and acted as producer for me. It is being shown at the Annecy Festival this June as part of the Irish Animation show. In recent years, I have been providing storyboards for the TV series made by Brown Bag Films, including: “Olivia”, “Noddy”, “Octonauts”, “Doc Mc Stuffins” etc. They have lovely projects and a fantastically talented team of creative people. For most of the 1990’s I was studio director at Murakami Wolf Dublin, which became Fred Wolf Films Dublin. Starting with “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles”. We also worked on “Speed Racer”, “Sinbad”, “Zorro”, “Dino Babies” and I directed all three seasons of “Budgie the Little Helicopter”. In 2005/ 2006 I directed the “Slim Pig” series for Cheeky Animation. I have animated on a lot of commercial spots and music videos, for which you seldom receive a credit, but they are often the projects where you get to stretch yourself creatively.
How did you become interested in animation?
As a child I loved cartoons on the TV, particularly Bugs Bunny and Tom and Jerry shorts. I loved the Jerry Anderson “Telemarionation” puppet series, like “Thunderbirds” and “Captain Scarlett”. They were not animation but they showed that you could make a film without a cast of actors in front of the camera. The idea that a film and especially special effects was a sort of magic trick and not reality was seeded in my mind. I liked the idea that you could fool the audience into thinking that they were seeing something which did not actually exist. That you could care about what happened to a character, who was evidently not alive was a revelation! Then of course every year Disney released an animated feature, which we all went to see and admired greatly. I was terrified by Pinocchio turning into a donkey.
Where are you from and how did you get into the animation business?
I was born in Plymouth in Devon England. Which is a big sea port and a major city in the South West of England. The South West seemed to be pretty much cut off from the rest of the UK when I was growing up. we only got a second TV channel when I became a teenager. As a creative young person, just about everything interesting seemed to happen “Up the Line”. As a teenager in Plymouth we all felt trapped like bugs in a jar, it felt like you were expected to settle down , be like your parents, to know your place, get a steady job and not rock the boat. When I was an 18 year old art student I decided that I wanted to make a 16mm film based on the works of JRR Tolkein. Some school friends and I used to make short 8mm films in the style of Monty Python’s Flying Circus. Not having any money, but huge ambitions, animation seemed to be the logical way to realise the images in my head. I was living in Devon and did not know that people in the UK made animation. I thought that all animation was made in the USA. or at least a long way from where I lived. Of course I had no idea how to make an animated film, it seemed to be impossible without an army of artists. Then the BBC ran a series fronted by Bob Godfrey about animation and the possibility opened like a doorway to another reality. I realised, that I had to get to London if I was to have any chance to get into this magical business. Luckily the three minute short cut-out animated film of “The Hobbit” that I made helped me to get into St. Martin’s School of Art BA Graphic Design course and I was on my way. After St. Martin’s I went to work for Dick Taylor. Working on BBC educational series, Open University Scientific films and Central Office of Information public announcements. Then I got a job working on Tony White’s film “Cathedrals”…..etc.
What’s a Typical day like for you with regards to your job?
I start at 9am work until 1pm, have lunch with my wife Breda. At 2pm I start again, finish at 6pm. I then start again around 7:30 and work to between 9pm and 11pm. If I have a tight deadline I used to do all night stretches, but I am getting too old for that now.
What part of your job do you like best? Why?
I love reading the script and building a film in my mind. Bits are necessarily vague, but that is the perfect form of any project, before you have to compromise in order to make it a reality.
What part of the job do you like least? Why?
I don’t enjoy feeling the pressure of deadlines, but I realise they are a necessary part of the process. Otherwise we would never finish anything or let it go. I don’t enjoy the hunt for the next project when your current one is coming to an end. It would be great to be part of a big company like Pixar, where there is always another project in development coming along behind the current one.
What kind of technology do you work with on a daily basis?
I am currently drawing storyboards, so I use Toon Boom Storyboard Pro on a PC, I also use Photoshop, Adobe Premiere, and flash depending on what element of the job I am working on. I use a Navisis EZ Canvas, which is a bit like a Wacom Cintiq. A lot of people don’t seem to know there is an alternative to Wacom products if you are drawing on screen.
What is the most difficult part for you about being in the business?
At the moment I am working in a studio on my own drawing storyboards. I really miss the cut and thrust and the social side of working as part of a team of people. It is very easy to get cabin fever when you are working on a fairly solitary part of the business.
In Your Travels, have you had any brushes with animation greatness?
In 35 years of animation, I have worked with so many great talents, many of whom no one outside the company would know. I have worked with some very famous animation people too. If I made a list, I would be bound to leave someone out which is unfair, so I am not going to try.
Describe a tough situation you had in life.
I have lived a charmed life, I have lost people I loved, I had periods where I did not know where the next job was coming from, but in general things have been good, so far. I am lucky to have the support of my wife Breda and our family to help me weather the storms.
Any side projects or you’re working on or hobbies you’d like to share details of?
I always have a few ideas on the back burner, most of which never come to anything. My hobbies are pretty standard, I love to go on walks in the countryside, I paint in oils and have a couple of sculptural projects going. I must get back into life drawing again. It has been a while, I miss the mental workout.
Any unusual talents or hobbies like tying a cherry stem with your tongue or metallurgy?
Did I tell you I could empty a pub in 10 minutes just by singing?
Is there any advice you can give for an aspiring animation student or artist trying to break into the business?
Animation is a quickly changing business, so any talents for specific techniques is likely to become out of date at some point. I used to be an expert in slugging and x-sheet timing, now hardly anyone uses these techniques. There were people who were professional cell painters fifteen years ago. Now no one uses paint or cells, thanks to computers. The only thing that is constant is storytelling. So it is important to hone skills in visual storytelling, it is the only feature of animation likely to continue as the form evolves. Look at the natural world around you, it is the basis of everything we do.
Gary’s one hell of a Cool guy, folks! The tv show with Bob Godfrey (The Ever Open Eye – as I remember it) was my entré into the Animation world, too. Spooky. Good ol’ BG has a lot to answer for!