Animation is set to play a central role in Ireland’s plans to harness the huge potential economic benefits from sustained growth in film production.
In March, a PwC report proposed raising the €70m per project cap under the Section 481 tax credit regime for up to 32% of expenditure on all cast and crew and all goods and services sourced in Ireland.
The PwC report said that the Exchequer receives a 3.5 to one return on the section 481 investment. By way of comparison, each €1 of direct payments to farmers is estimated to be worth around €4 to the broader economy.
Of course, while film is a far smaller industry than farming in Ireland, it is quite labour intensive. The sector’s goal is to double employment to 24,000 people employed, delivering a gross value added of €1.4bn.
Figures released this week by state body Screen Ireland (formerly Bord Scannán) show that animation projects now generate 50% of all Section 481 spending in Ireland, up from 20% in 2014.
Animation Ireland is the trade association for Ireland’s animation studios. The animation sector directly employs more than 2,000 people, a number that is rapidly growing every year. Animation Ireland has 33 member studios, up from 25 in 2018 and just 14 in 2015.
“Animation has seen a very positive jump from a 20% share to a 50% share in just five years,” said Ronan McCabe, CEO of Animation Ireland. “The sector is growing rapidly. Several of our 33 animation studios are full-service studios, with several hundred employees. Of course, many of the others are smaller bespoke studios providing services to the big film studios.”
The Screen Ireland report also pointed to a huge share of the spend made across film, animation and TV productions stays. In proportionate terms, animation is the strongest in terms of the total spend.
For animation, €179m of the total €372m value of projects in 2019 was spent here. For TV drama, €92m of the €220m total was spent here. For film, that €74m of the total €151m value was spent here.
The national economic benefits highlighted by the Screen Ireland report underline the key findings of the PwC report in March, which analysed a representative sample of nine film and TV productions, finding that their total economic contribution was more than €155m.
The PwC report high-lighted the fact that global demand in the sector is set to grow 30% over the coming five years. It also stated that “Ireland is poised and ready to take best advantage of this growth”. Leading animators like Cartoon Saloon, Boulder Media and Brown Bag Films have all featured prominently in the Annie Awards, the international animation communities version of the Oscars.
Alongside them have grown the likes of Jam Media, Kavaleer Productions, Keg Kartoonz, Magpie 6 Media and countless others capturing global attention.
For Ronan McCabe and Animation Ireland, there is much cause for optimism for Irish film an animation. He only began his role as CEO of Animation Ireland in March.
A leading producer of Irish content, he has spent over 20 years as managing director at Double Z Enterprises (creators of Zig & Zag and Podge & Rodge, among others), where he produced shows for RTÉ, BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and MTV.
He is also a former chairperson of Screen Producers Ireland and has been treasurer of Animation Ireland since its founding in 2015.
He has also worked with Enterprise Ireland and Animation Skillnet, providing advice and education to animation start-ups and new production studios.
“The Screen Ireland figures show that Ireland is now a major global player when it comes to animation production, and this is something we should all be extremely proud of,” he said.
“The creativity, talent and expertise we have on this island is extraordinary. We have been saying for years that the Irish animation sector has enormous potential and these figures back that up.”
Film and animation are closely linked and are part of the same success story. While animation projects have continued, switching to remote work since the advent of Covid-19, the sector also needs live-action filming to resume as soon as possible.
“The fact that we were able to pivot so quickly and get people working remotely so quickly is seen as a great positive for Irish animation,” said Mr McCabe.
“However, in any creative industry, you’re always project-driven, you’re always looking ahead to the next project.
“With Covid-19, it has been a bit of a baptism of fire since taking on the CEO role in March. We’re staying positive, planning for the worst and hoping for the best.”
Ireland hosted 39 animation Section 481-supported projects in 2019, with a total value of €372m.
The 21 TV dramas produced here were valued at €220m and accounted for 26% of the tax credits. The 38 film projects worth €151m represented a 20% share. The 26 documentaries valued at €17m accounted for 3% of tax credits.
“The figures on spending in 2019 once again highlight the amazing growth of the animation industry in Ireland over the past five years. To put these figures into context, in 2014 animation projects that received Section 481 support were valued at €85m, which was 20% of the total. In just five years this has grown by 438%” said Mr McCabe.
He took on the lead role with Animation Ireland in a period of rapid growth for Ireland’s animation sector, with investments tripling since 2015 to €180m last year.
While Covid-19 represents as much of a challenge for creative industries as it does for any other sector, those working in animation have great faith in their own resilience.
“The Irish are globally renowned for our storytelling,” said Mr McCabe. “We have people now with great technical skills in animation and in film production, but it is very important that we also have people who are great at telling stories.
“That creative ability will always be the most important thing,” he said. “It’s all about telling stories, and the rest of it is just about the medium in which you tell them.”