Two weeks later we met in a function room above a pub/bed and breakfast in Northern Ireland. We had brought with us hundreds of storyboard panels from the students in the South. Producer Ivan Keilly and teacher/ assistant director Graham Toms had collected the artwork from the teenagers in the North. We decided to pin all of the panels on the wall. In a room, 10 feet by 20 feet, every inch above waist level was covered with the brightly colored panels, ideas for the animated segments. It was a kind of a two dimensional fantasyland; though several of the sequences did not deal with fantasy. The reality was there on the walls – images of weapons, blood, hate, sorrow and death; juxtaposed against images of leprechauns, Irish dancers, Catholic and Protestant mice, Guinness and St. Patrick.
As we reviewed each panel, the room appeared as a mish-mosh of ideas and styles. Then we decided to let each segment stand on its own and break the film down into themed sequences – the major groupings were “the troubles”, Irish traditions, mythology, Ireland today and hope. We were amazed at the work and we were overjoyed several of the students included the theme of hope.
Next, we organized the panels into the different sequences. We were careful to vary the sequences from North to South when possible and to mix design styles. Finally, we had the order of the sequences for the film.
Over dinner, Graham, Ivan, Tricia and I continued to discuss the project. We discovered the pub we were eat and slept, had people killed in two separate attacks.
With the sequences organized, we were ready to begin animation. Thus began a six month process where every other weekend we would conduct an animation workshop/progress report in North or in the South.
We were able provide the students with examples of character design and model sheets that depicted the structure, proportion and design. We also provided movement examples of two and four legged characters as reference. Individual tuition with the students on specific movements or approaches for their animation kept their animation moving forward.
The most difficult aspect of the production phase was communication between the groups. The project pre dated Skype, facebook, text messages, websites or twitter. Even though Dublin and Belfast were only 100 miles apart –it seemed more like 3,000 miles. With our visits we tried to bridge the communication gap. Regular calls to the teachers kept the energy up for the students. We even published a small newsletter with contributions from the students and teachers
At some point, Tricia and I included our children - into the mix. We were an American family working with the Irish students and teachers. We felt very comfortable with their inclusion – it gave us a softer façade to the students. Here was a family engaged in their activities.
The production goal was to continue work on the sequences until the end of March and then meet in the Dublin area for another intensive and shoot the finalized sequences.
During Easter break in April, the entire project moved to a Presbyterian retreat near downtown Lucan – 12 miles outside Dublin’s Centre City. The site provided activity, eating and sleeping areas for the students and separate quarters for the teachers.
We had established a very specific time frame to utilize the facilities and staff at Senior College Ballyfermot (site of the European School of Animation). Many students had completed their animated sequences - some students needed help with coloring their pages. What ensued over the next few days was a sublime, chaotic slice of heaven! It was one of the seminal moments of the project. At this point, the wheels could have come off the project. There were time pressures, facility issues, staff and teacher issues.
Most important was the students and their projects; that they finish and be successful. The students took it upon themselves to fix the glitches and move forward. A list was created of the student work that was “camera ready” and the work that needed assistance to finish. As some students were shuttled to Ballyfermot to shoot their work; the remaining students joined in to finish the animated sequences of others. This process continued for two days and nights. Many of the students stayed up both nights – the North/South identity was gone – the only thing that mattered was that the sequences were finished. Even our children joined to pull an “all-nighter”.
By the third day, a group of blurry-eyed students and teachers celebrated – the last sequence of ANIMAGIC had been shot.
Soon it was time for everyone to go home. The students lingered as long as possible and later had to face the evitable prospect was that their time together was done. Theirs’ was the sadness and the sweetness of victory. The “goodbyes” were tearful and jubilant! They had accomplished the impossible.
Even as the final scenes were being shot, an idea to enhance the structure of the film had developed.
The sequences would be depicted as pictures framed in a in a museum or gallery. An animated character named Joey was created. Joey would go from picture to picture. Each picture would introduce the different segments of the film. In total, a minute and a half of animation was planned. A small crew was formed and the animation was completed and shot in roughly three weeks.
The raw footage was sent to England for processing and for a workprint. The workprint would be edited and the original film negative conformed to the workprint.
Using the Joey footage as a guide the film was edited together. Simultaneously, the music for the film was being composed. Ballyfermot touted a Rock Music program and student musicians were brought together to develop music.
When a rough cut of the film was ready it was screened for both the groups North and South. The group in the South was very pleased with the images and the music. The group in the North were pleased with the images, but the music was not acceptable to some. The musicians had used Uilleann pipes – and we found out that Uilleann pipes were considered a “Catholic” instrument. The students did not object it was the parents and teachers who took umbrage with the music.
We had to break free of the old ways of thinking. The student’s thinking had advanced beyond their parents. The students now knew people (other students) from the South. They had developed friendships and more with their participant friends in the South. In the end, the students of the North upheld the use of the Uilleann pipes in the film. The music stayed!
In June, I was hired by The Walt Disney Company to head up animation at the new Disney Institute at Disney World in Orlando, Florida.
The final cut of the film I had edited before I left for Florida. The sound effects were added in Ireland.
The finished ANIMAGIC film was presented on December 7th, 1995 at the CINEMAGIC FILM FESTIVAL in Belfast. Actor, Bob Hoskins introduced the 15 minute film. The 15 minute film in length meant that the students had animated over 30 seconds of animation each. Only one student (the oldest) had dropped off the project. All the other 31 students and teachers were there. I could not attend the screening. Ena McHugh told me it was a huge success. The film resides in the permanent collection of the Northern Ireland Film Council and in the South, the Irish Film Centre.
Just before, we left Ireland for the United States, we listened to radio interviews with some of the students involved in ANIMAGIC. Sixteen months before these students were timid and completely unsure of themselves. What we heard on RTE (Radio Television Eireann) that day were confident, proud voices – proud of their participation in ANIMAGIC and proud of their new found friends on the other side of the border.