originally posted at https://canmom.tumblr.com/post/667590...
I gotta say John McCloskey did not make it easy. I’m begging you dude, put your films up somewhere…. T_T
So! Tonight! I do not have the energy for a deep writeup, or indeed a long programme, so if you want to read something I said about Northern Ireland, the place where I currently am for the next two days, please go check out this Toku Tuesday post.
So what of animation? The Republic of Ireland is actually quite a big player in animation terms, home to studios like Cartoon Saloon (Animation Night 14, Animation Night 49), but the North end has at least one really good animator of its own…
Yep, it’s that guy who made this cool as fuck skeleton animation to Danse Macabre.
What can we say about John McCloskey? I’d love to write up his career, influences, etc., but honestly even getting a hold of his films is a surprisingly tall order. There is a 30-minute interview with him here, in which he describes his start drawing on rolls of wallpaper, and seeing brief clips of Disney films on TV. He went to study graphic design, leaving university acutely aware that he didn’t have much prospects for any work other than ‘government clerk’.
The article that first made me aware of him by ‘Culture Northern Ireland’ has some more details. We learn that he started animating in the 90s, at an arts centre in Derry called the Nerve Centre, where he was hit by the revelation that people in Ireland could animate, and got the chance to learn from animator Steve Woods.
From there, he got scouted by the Beeb:
Derry artist John McCloskey had been experimenting with 2D animation techniques since the Nerve Centre had acquired an animation controller (a device for capturing stop-frame images) at the beginning of the 1990s. Encouraged by Dublin animator Steve Woods and using trial and error, John created a 90 second animated sequence featuring Sir Walter Raleigh, Queen Elizabeth I and a potato. When this comic encounter was screened on 29 Bedford Street as part of a feature on the Nerve Centre, it caught the attention of BBC producer Michael McGowan.
Under McGowan, he started in TV animation on a five hour edutainment series about the life of the demigod Cú Chulainn, hero of the Ulster Cycle - though the only part I’ve been able to get is a five minute clip on iPlayer and I’m not even sure if that’s the same one, seems to be a different educational show about Cú Chulainn for the BBC he worked on in 2008? In any case, the animation here is pretty rudimentary… but it gave him enough of a taste to make that skeleton one! Let’s post it bc fuck yeah skeletons.
And this where things get interesting, because he adopts this gorgeously rough pencil style full of morphing background animation and extreme perspective - it’s reminiscent to me of the work of Joanna Quinn (see: annecypost) or even Shinya Ohira. It’s a really strong statement so I was like, OK, I just have to find more by this guy!
The background to this film is described a bit in that interview. It’s full traditional animation, photographed using a camera without cels on a video camera designed for stop motion. To achieve the look, the drawings were photocopied onto blue paper which they had to punch by hand.
Cue two weeks of frustration, DRM bullshit, etc. But I finally have managed to piece together enough to call a movie night programme!
In 2000, McCloskey directed The King’s Wake, another Cú Chulainn job, but a much darker take on the material. This one focuses on the tortured, guilty soul of King Conor - in this excerpt you can see him talking to the ghost of Cú Chulainn. Sadly it seems that McCloskey’s excellent traditional animation is let down by some pretty dodgy CG, but we’ll see how the full film fares thanks to someone who put it up on Vimeo.
Somewhere in that time came Guns Bees Tadpoles, which @mogsk found on Youtube (<3) while we scoured for anything accessible…
The way he describes it is essentially a film from memory about the experience of living through the Troubles.
And then we get a few years of nothing, at least going by IMDb. The article above mentions a satirical series about the Troubles called Flipsides, but I haven’t a clue where to find it or even when it came out. Is Guns Bees part of it? Wouldn’t that be nice information to have…
Loocymoon (2007) is the next one I can access, a charmingly janky CG piece about a child playing on an icy lake…
…and this was followed very closely by The Crumblegiant, which seems to have achieved quite an impact, BAFTA-nommed and so on… and also is totally unavailable on the internet outside of a 45 second trailer.
Apparently it was once up on his website, but the video is now private, and I was fully resigned to not seeing it… and then it turns out a significant segment is just, straight up in the interview I posted above. Still no idea where to get the full film. In any case, it uses stark silhoeuttes to tell a story about a girl giving up on life after her giant disappears.
In 2009, IMDb notes that he contributed some animation to a documentary about alumni of an old grammar school, and that’s all I have to say about that. And then… as far as I can tell it was radio silence for nine years…
…only for him to reappear in 2018 with an elaborate half-hour film in Irish called An Béal Bocht which can be viewed, DRM-encumbered, on brightcove here via the Irish broadcaster TG4. Per his site…
First published in 1941, An Beal Bocht is the only of Flann O'Brien’s handful of novels written in Irish using the pen name Myles na gCopaleen.
The novel was translated into English and published in 1973 as The Poor Mouth and has appeared in many other languages since. The title comes from the Irish expression ‘putting on the poor mouth’ which means to exaggerate the direness of one’s situation in order to gain time or favour from creditors.
McCloskey’s film is specifically based on a graphic novel adaptation of the novel by Colmán Ó Raghallaigh, which McCloskey also illustrated.
Should we still have the energy to go on after running down the John McCloskey list, I have a couple of other NI animations.
Anyway, I think I need to stop this post now or I’ll fall asleep halfway through the movies, so let’s get going - starting very shortly at twitch.tv/canmom !!