With a career in animation spanning almost 30 years, Andrew Kavanagh of Kavaleer Productions discusses life in the industry and why he believes it’s an exciting time to get involved.
There has perhaps never been a more interesting time to be working in the animation industry. With streaming services providing increasing competition to traditional broadcasters, and plenty of differentsoftware platforms to get to grips with, what can people joining the field expect to find?
To learn more, we spoke to Kavaleer Productions CEO and founder Andrew Kavanagh. His career in animation has spanned 30 years to date and so he’s very familiar with the types of jobs, skills and trends making waves in the trade.
Kavanagh set up Kavaleer in 2001, having spent some time in production and making short films. He had previously dabbled in producing corporate work, e-learning tools and apps.
Now, he specialises in pre-school animation, focusing on such elements as concept development, broadcaster placement and scripts for productions aimed at children up to seven years old, all while jointly managing the company. Since it was founded, Kavaleer has produced children’s TV programmes such as Pablo, Abadas and Wildernuts, as well as apps and advertisements.
‘It is a good time to be in animation’
According to Kavanagh, the animation market has been “in flux” for some time now, with the influence of big broadcasters waning and more streaming businesses – such as Netflix, Apple TV+ and Disney+ – stepping in to “take up the banner”.
What that means for people in the industry, he explains, is greater opportunities to work directly with streamers on the development and production of TV shows.
‘The key thing that you need to have on your CV is to be able to animate’
– ANDREW KAVANAGH
And seeing as things have changed since the days of analogue TV, “fragmenting” the traditional idea of putting out short episodes every week of the year, life has been made “a little bit easier and a bit more agnostic” for animators.
“So, I think there are certainly opportunities,” Kavanagh says. “It is a good time to be in animation.”
Where are the jobs?
The idea of the pursuing a career in animation might initially bring to mind images of directors or artists, but there are plenty of roles that are just as crucial in making it all come together, Kavanagh explains.
“If you look at any periods where we’re hiring, the hardest positions to fill are production managers, production assistants and production coordinators – the people who organise the creative and make sure it happens to schedule,” he says.
A good production professional will of course enjoy animation and creativity, but the “hen’s teeth of any production hire”, according to Kavanagh, is organisation. Another sought-after skill is proficiency in storyboards.
“Storyboard arcs are dealt with on most of the [animation] courses, but there isn’t really a specialised training outlet for it and it can be very difficult to find people. And it can be quite a well-paid job,” Kavanagh adds.
‘You can be retrained’
To succeed in the world of animation, the right combination of skills such as organisation and coordination are needed, alongside more technical knowledge. In terms of software, Kavanagh highlights that it’s good to have knowledge of Toon Boom Harmony and Maya.
But, he emphasises, “there are dozens of different platforms that people can learn, which will hopefully get them into jobs”.
“If you’re an animator, the key thing that you need to have on your CV is to be able to animate – to be able to make realistic movements on screen,” he says. “And the platform that you learn in, well, it’s important, but it isn’t a deal-breaker.
“You can be retrained. It’s easier for us to retrain somebody to use a digital platform than to teach them how to be an animator.”
Balancing technical proficiency with creativity
A career in animation – particularly in Ireland – will see you work with plenty of different people in international territories. As Kavanagh explains, “not all the same work is happening under the same roof”.
“The pipeline, for example, is vital,” he says. On a technical level, the lead producer usually decides on what kind of pipeline is in place.
“If this were happening in France or Belgium or Winnipeg – or wherever it might be – it all needs to be feeding that same pipeline, you know, using the same sort of technical standards and specifications.
“And that needs to be coordinated somewhere. So, each individual co-producer will coordinate their own piece of the work. But there needs to be central coordination from the lead producer. In that regard, there’s a hell of a lot of organisation involved.
“So, you’ve got your creative happening, but you definitely have a point person in-house who needs to be very technically minded and who understands that and also understands what the point person in the other studio requires.”
— Kavaleer Productions (@KavaleerTweets) September 9, 2019
Thinking beyond the director’s chair
For anyone considering a career in the animation industry, Kavanagh recommends keeping an open mind.
“I think when everybody graduates, they want to be a director. I think that’s just the way colleges are set up,” he explains.
“The director is, you know, an essential part of production. But there are maybe 10 directors in the country who are doing most of the work. So, it doesn’t give you huge scope if you’re walking into a studio looking for that job.”
Kavanagh advises being “adaptable” in order to navigate the industry. If you apply for a particular role that you’re not suitable for, it’s likely that a company like Kavaleer will be gauging how you could fit into the team elsewhere.
‘It’s easier for us to retrain somebody to use a digital platform than to teach them how to be an animator’
– ANDREW KAVANAGH
“We have to sort of be mindful of that. Like if we’re hiring an animator, for example, if they don’t fit the criteria, we’re still kind of asking them, ‘What are your design skills like?’, so that we can maybe find another role for them in the studio,” he explains.
“But I don’t think people apply for the production jobs quite as much. Everybody wants to start as an animator. But the animators are 50pc of the hires that we do. There’s another 50pc there with many other roles.”
‘A quick career trajectory’
And once you do take up a role in a studio – whether it’s the one you originally envisioned yourself in or something else – Kavanagh believes that plenty of opportunities will arise.
“I think once you’re on the ladder, once you’re in studio and you’re there and you’re showing what you can do, other opportunities will open up.
“There is usually a quick career trajectory if your manager is aware of where you want get to. And they’ll usually try and make that happen for you, if they feel you have the capacity for that.”
That’s certainly the case in Kavaleer anyway, he adds. “We often have people who start off in one job and end up in another. And they get to where they want to go eventually. But when you’re starting out, apply for everything.
“Even apply for the jobs you wouldn’t necessarily consider yourself suitable for, because really the most important thing is getting a foot in the door. And then you have time to show your abilities.”
You can keep an eye on any upcoming positions at Kavaleer by checking out its jobs page.