Design, Presentation and Report · Final Year · Semester Two

Guest Talks: Gerard Dunleavy, William Simpson, Dog Ears, and Jam Media

Throughout the semester, I was fortunate enough to be involved in some of the events that were occurring both within the studio and out in exterior places, such as the Engine Room gallery exhibition. Each talk offered a unique perspective into the creative industry and provided valuable insight into their perception of the current employment climate.

Gerard Dunleavy 

I had been aware of Gerard from my period working with Arachnid Apps during semester two of second year – his piece for the Mulbury Project earned him the award of best VFX student worldwide, as well as an employment opportunity in San Francisco.

Fast forward a few years, and I am surprised to be sitting in university, across from the man himself. Gerard introduces himself and began the talk by explaining his background into the industry through multi-media design. He explained that he did not know for sure what it is that he wanted to do, but he knew what sort of materials and software that he liked to work with.

He describes himself as a heavily self-taught individual, building up his skills and experience through a cycle of trial and error. It is fantastic when we have the opportunity to listen to an artist with phenomenal abilities was once in the same position as we are currently; with a matter of months until graduation, the prospect can be very daunting. Luckily, he was able to give us a few pointers such as:

  • focus on timing; showreels are not kept by companies – you must keep regenerating your skills and increasing the quality of the amount you have to offer.
  • It isn’t always about luck; persistence is important too. Luck will not present itself to the unprepared.
  • Think about what skills you need to get the job that you want – do you have them? What is preventing you from getting them?
  • You will stagnate if you don’t constantly press and push yourself.
  • Turn unhappy jobs into a learning experience; what can you achieve that was not possible before?

The talk with Gerard left me feeling unsure about myself; despite the fact that I was aware that everything he said was the truth, it was difficult to hear it from a person within the industry. The insecure work, the potential to spend months without earning any money, the unsociable hours, the physical and mental demand from your job – to hear all that within the space of two hours was very mentally draining; but needed.

What I appreciated about the talk with Gerard Dunleavy, in addition to the fantastic advice that he had provided for us, was that he spoke to us as an equal. Listening to him, I did not get a vibe of superiority above us as he was the one invited in to speak about his years of experience, whereas we sit in the polar opposite position with no experience and no current industry employment. It was difficult to hear, but I appreciated that he did not sugar-coat his experiences.

He finished his talk with some suggestions such as maintaining a short reel – the shorter, matched with the impressive material, can impress a potential employer quite fast in comparison to one that is required to sit for a few minutes in order to reach the good quality renditions. He advised us not to be afraid of the ‘abyss’ after graduation; advising us that although someone may feel that they have discovered a short cut, there is no remedy for the effort of hard work and perseverance.

However, what I found to be most insightful was not the most outrageous of requests; don’t be a dick. I can understand why someone would be apprehensive to work with an unpleasant person, but this was the first time outside my experience during the Belfast Enterprise Academy that someone has directly referred to the issue of chemistry within a team. It reminded me that you can be a very talented individual, but if you cannot interact and support your team as they are determined to support you, outstanding work will constantly be just slightly out of reach.

William Simpson 

Figure 1.1 – Shown above, traditional painting and pencil pieces by William Simpson.

[NOTE: Unfortunately, the talk with Simpson was the only occasion during the events in which I was unable to acquire written notes about his seminar. I have an audio recording of the primary duration if that would be of interest]

Despite having only ever watched two episodes of ‘The Game of Thrones’ (2011), I was excited to attend an exhibition of the series storyboard artist, William Simpson. Tyrone, after having met with him previously on a solo basis – collaborated with Katie in order to arrange the event, and invited other members of the class to come along and be involved in the discussion.

The class attended the function, being able to take in the sight of his comics, pencil sketches, storyboards and traditional paintings. It was fascinating to see such versatility within the room – especially across such a board range of mediums. One thing that I observed about his style was that there was no evident consistency – he appeared to be adaptable, depending on the commission in question. Despite his proclamation otherwise, Simpson’s gallery space seem inundated with the imagery of angels and fairies – exhibiting a strong connotation to religious symbolism.

After having an opportunity to look around the space, Simpson gathered us together in a large circle before delving into the story of his employment history – sharing personal tidbits about his life at the time that he was in such a job, and even becoming self-deprecating at one point as he referred to himself as a hoarder; maintaining his mass of drawings in an array of storage boxes both within his home and at his studio space.

It surprised me immensely when Simpson said that he had no experience not work in digital format. His processes are all entirely traditional – including his storyboards for the GoT. The message that he wanted to communicate with the audience is that it is not how you create the work, but why you create the work.

He seemed hesitant to address himself as primarily a storyboard artist, listing all the other accomplishments that he had achieved during his time in the creative sector. He vocalised his recommendation on marketing versatility – demonstrate that you have multiple talents, that you are interested in a challenge and that you can commit to achieving the work required of you. Adaptability and ambition are key elements in remaining employed, and maintaining job satisfaction.

I found the opportunity to be a fascinating insight into the process and thought patterns of a seasoned artist, with many claims of industry work beneath his belt. Additionally, Simpson was willing to spare precious time to stand and have a very thorough conversation with those in our class that attended. He had some advice for us; help one another, contribute to other projects and build your body of work. Gaining experience in every opportunity is vital for showing that you are committed to your tasks and are ambitious to learn.

The most important part that I took from his speech was to consider alternative approaches to break into the industry and stressed the importance of flourishing your skills in personal projects. The concept of entering into the industry straight out of University with my degree and a just-okay portfolio is not how I wish to present myself to potential employers. I want to spend some time developing my skills, learning new software and focusing on the why – why do I want to do this? What inspiration does it provide me? Why do I want to develop these particular skills?

The conversation with Simpson has really given me some food for thought. I feel that a time will come soon that will require me to reflect what events and decisions occurred to have brought me on this path; what decisions will keep me on the path that I wish to go, or what may cause me to lose my way? Personally, I disagree with the concept of strict black-and-white right and wrong answers. Every choice is an opportunity to gain experience and learn from what you have done.

Dog Ears and Jam Media 

 The intention behind the visit for both companies was a shared interest in testing the pools of the placement and graduate market within the university, hence why I have chosen to talk about these talks under one category. It is an exciting time for the animation industry within Northern Ireland, and within the past three years, we have witnessed the growth and expansion for companies such as Sixteen South, Dog Ears and Jam Media. The creative sector is humming with adrenaline and ambition – the work being produced here continues to spread in worldwide distribution.

From my impression of both meetings, occurring one week after another, I felt that Dog Ears expressed their passion and excitement in a way that invigorated the audience; with Jam, I got the impression that they weren’t entirely sure what it is that they were trying to communicate, but it seemed to be using as little three-dimensional animation as possible.

My intention is not to criticise one talk for not being as good as the other – I did not find that to be the case at all. It is an attempt to illustrate the impact of preparation and pitching skills, and their impact on the audience within the room.

The Dog Ears talk laid out a clear path of intentions, stuck to a business plan format and enticed the situation by showing examples of work that were visually appealing and very heavily stimulant on colour choices. Jam, by contrast, chose to address their intentions outright before showing the audience what they wanted their contribution to target towards. It was just a very different method of public speaking that caused me to get a little distracted, but both had an equally good conversation that encouraged the audience to think about their talents and reflect.

To conclude, it appears that within every single one of these talks there are key elements which can be identified. Those are experience, drive, ambition and passion. Self-explanatory, when you consider the same sort of traits that you would like to see within your team members. The purpose of these talks is to evoke reflective thought; encouraging you to address your skills (or lackthereof) and what steps you may be able to take in order to continue on track to your ideal job.

It is a lot of information to think about over the next coming weeks. Creating the illusion of a brand will be part of the requirements for the end of year show; being able to self-reflect will benefit us by the way we communicate ourselves to the general public, and potentially, a potential employer. I feel that it is important to attend talks such as these, as you can easily get caught up in the human side of the story – it is the reliable quality. Quite often, we as artists only see the masterpieces that people publish, but may not necessarily think of them as human – only creators. The generosity they display as they sit down with us and share their wisdom is a patient reminder that they are human too; susceptible to issues of confidence and mistakes. It fills me with reassurance to know that by working hard, I may be able to return the favour someday.


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