Brown Bag Films draws out new generation’s creativity

31 Oct 2014

Anahita Tabarsi, a member of Brown Bag Films' online digital team

Brown Bag Films is going from strength to strength, and Anahita Tabarsi wants to get viewers and animators involved in its success.

If you share your house with someone under the age of about five, you are probably familiar with the work of Brown Bag Films.

And even if the names Doc McStuffins, Henry Hugglemonster, Octonauts and Bing aren’t part of your everyday vocabulary, the fact Brown Bag Films has earned Oscar nominations for Granny O’Grimm’s Sleeping Beauty and Give Up Yer Aul Sins, as well as being nominated for BAFTAs for children’s animations and scooping three Emmys for Peter Rabbit should give you some indication of just how important this Irish animation studio has become.

Brown Bag recently had to expand its office space in Smithfield, Dublin 7, to accommodate an almost doubling in its staff, and a tour of the facilities introduces a hive of talent – from the 2D artists who quickly sketch with pencil and paper to the modellers, riggers, editors, software engineers, producers and myriad other experts that translate a story into a visual feast.

Brown Bag Films engages with viewers

Anahita Tabarsi, who is on Brown Bag Films’ online digital team, looks to bring the wider community in through online content and social media platforms.

“We try and engage with our audience more,” says Tabarsi, who works on the studio’s Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus and YouTube channel and gets feedback, drawings and ideas from kids and parents.

Doc McStuffins has a particularly strong following, and Tabarsi is always happy to hear the programme is making a difference.

“We get a lot of pride and satisfaction in the impact it has made on kids’ lives,” she says. “It shows diversity on TV. Doc is a female role model and we hear that kids are not afraid of going to the doctor, they go in singing the songs now.”

It’s not just the kids who are taking notice – next Monday, Women in Animation in Ireland will be hosting ‘The Women Of Doc McStuffins’, a panel discussion with crew members of the animated TV series.

Tabarsi also wants to encourage a new generation of animators, and Brown Bag’s ‘Labs’ offers tutorials, profiles and a ‘sneak peek’ into what goes on in the studio.

“We want to give the opportunity to aspiring animation students or people who are already involved with animation to see how it works in a studio environment,” she says. “We offer feedback on their work and we hope they could end up working with us or collaborating with us.”

Tech enables young creators

Tabarsi keeps her ear to the ground at conferences, festivals and awards to keep up to date with trends in the animation industry, and it strikes her that the technology is enabling younger creators.

“The age is getting younger for sure and it is interesting to see the open-source software out there and how people are sharing their files and what formats they’re using,” she says.

Kids now have technology at their fingertips to learn and create animations and she encourages anyone with an interest to jump in.

“It’s amazing the speed and the pace at which things have changed, and there’s so much accessibility, children have tablets and they are tech savvy, plus there’s a wealth of information free online in YouTube tutorials and forums where you can chat with people about animation.”

Best of both worlds

For Tabarsi, her work in Brown Bag Films combines her loves of art, creativity and digital technology. A graduate of computer science and software engineering from Maynooth University, she worked in a telecommunications company for several years before starting in the studio.

“I began in admin first and then I veered to the digital side,” she says. “So I get the best of both worlds – I get to collaborate at a creative level with artists and I also get to do the digital stuff, which I love too.”

Attention to detail in animation

One of Tabarsi’s roles is to moderate when Brown Bag hosts weekly ‘Ask Us Anything’ sessions online, and one of the most frequent questions is how long it takes to produce a programme. Believe it or not, it can take several months to bring an episode to air, and Tabarsi herself was surprised by the time involved when she joined Brown Bag.

“There is so much detail,” she says. “But the production managers are amazing and our team includes co-ordinators and assistants who set everything up to be streamlined.”

That said, you don’t have to spend several months in a studio to unleash creativity in animation, and Tabarsi has seen a rising tide of excellent short videos and vines where young animators are bringing their ideas to screen.

“Some of these productions are really amazing, and you can see the attention to detail they put into those few seconds.”

Back to basics

And even if you don’t have the software or devices for digital art creation, the pencil and paper is still at the heart of the process – Brown Bag 2D animator Derek Horan hosts online tutorials about how to draw characters the more traditional way.

“We are hoping kids at home will start drawing along and it’s amazing to watch him work,” says Tabarsi. “So if you are into animation, keep up the drawing and send it to us. We love traditional artwork, I don’t think it will ever die out.”

Women Invent Tomorrow is Silicon Republic’s campaign to champion the role of women in science, technology, engineering and maths. It has been running since March 2013, and is kindly supported by Accenture Ireland, Intel, the Irish Research Council, ESB, Twitter, CoderDojo and Science Foundation Ireland.

Dr Claire O’Connell is a scientist-turned-writer with a PhD in cell biology and a master’s in science communication