17/01/23 • News & Happenings

The Lightbulb Moment

With David Monaghan

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Cartoon Saloon’s The Secret of Kells

Ireland has long been a land of bards and poets, where the age-old tradition of storytelling is passed down through generations like a treasured heirloom. Over the years, these stories have woven a rich tapestry of folklore and myth that forms part of our very cultural identity. It’s a tradition that has had no problem lending itself to the medium of the day, be it the storytelling circles of tribes long ago or the movies of today.

Today’s Lightbulb Moment comes from production coordinator, David Monaghan, whose own story of what first inspired him to work in animation is linked inextricably to those stories of long ago.

Tell us more, David!

As a child, I always loved watching the behind-the-scenes footage of animated movies. I remember sitting there, fast forwarding the videotape, just to get to the bit at the end about how the film was made. One vivid memory I have from that time is watching the Toy Story animators figuring out the movement of the toy soldiers by attaching boots to a wooden board and walking around the office. What really cemented my desire to work in the animation industry, though, was going to the cinema to watch The Secret of Kells and being introduced to a new way of storytelling that reflected my environment. I was so excited by it.

For those not familiar with The Secret of Kells, the story revolves around the adventures of Brendan, a young apprentice in the scriptorium of a monastery in 9th century Ireland. The interplay between fantasy and historical concepts makes the piece an exciting coming-of-age story set during the golden age of Irish Art. The setting is always tinged with a fantastical threat that is reminiscent of Irish myths, creating a landscape that is both hostile and personal. It’s the first feature film to come out of Cartoon Saloon, and the first in the studio’s Irish folklore trilogy.

Growing up in Ireland, I was raised on the old Irish myths and legends, but until that moment, I had never seen them translated into a film. It was exhilarating. I remember just sitting there, feeling completely blown away by this very individualistic art direction. The use of geometric shapes and distorted perspective against the backdrop of the Irish landscape was something I had never seen before. I was accustomed to animated films following a Disney aesthetic and to me this movie really broke the mould.

The Secret of Kells ignited in me a deep adoration of Irish culture and storytelling in all its forms. As a small island on the edge of Europe with a rich tradition of storytelling, it’s important that we chart our sails and communicate our unique perspective on the world. Animation is one of the tools we have at our disposal to be able to do this on a global level.

The Secret of Kells is the first in a trilogy that includes Song of the Sea and Wolfwalkers, with all three movies celebrating the beauty of Irish art and folklore. If you’re interested in learning a little bit more about the Irish legends, I recommend checking out The Blindboy Podcast, which has specific episodes dedicated to Irish folk traditions and their relation to contemporary Ireland.

David Monaghan is a Wexford native in the Kilkenny heartlands. He recently finished his MA in animation from Ulster University where he researched the potential of animation to be a cathartic peace building tool in post-conflict zones. The research was awarded a North-South Scholarship. 

Like this? Then stay ‘tooned’ for more lightbulb moments! 

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