Patrick O’Mahony is an animation student originally from Newcastle West, Co. Limerick, who is studying at the Royal College of Art, London. Focusing on stop-motion animation, Patrick has begun to build an impressive portfolio of short films and adverts, and had his work shown at several film festivals in countries including Ireland, England, Italy and Greece.
Hi Patrick! What first got you into animation?
I honestly couldn’t tell you! It’s just always been a thing I wanted to do or found myself doing. I once asked my mother when she thought I first became interested in it and all she said was that I used to watch a lot of Power Rangers… which really doesn’t explain it.
Personally, I think the films I saw growing up really shaped what I was interested in, and it led me to wanting to draw and create things. Like when I first saw The Nightmare Before Christmas it introduced me to stop-motion which, to me, was the next logical step for bringing my ideas to life. At least, that’s the short version!
You’re working on a big project now, but there’s been a lot leading up to that. Can you tell us about some of your previous projects?
My current project, which will be my graduation film from The Royal College of Art, is the end of a long road studying animation – almost eight years, which is just insane to think about.
My first proper short film was my graduation film from my BA course at The University of East London called LAMPS, a short stop-motion comedy about a Victorian lamplighter. It’s something I’m really proud of, because after years of doing animation as a hobby on YouTube (and drawing in the back of class at school all the time), LAMPS became my first real shot at directing, writing and animating something to a professional standard.
After a lot of hard work, patience and at least two points where I said “Nope, I’m done, I can’t do this,” it ended up doing really well in the festival circuit where it was shown in quite a few countries, which was surreal. It felt like everything up until then had paid off.
LAMPS became my first real shot at directing, writing and animating something to a professional standard—Patrick O’Mahony
From that film I was accepted to study at the Royal College of Art for my Masters, and this time last year I won a pitch with two of my collaborators to create an animated ‘advert’ of sorts for Fair Trials, a human rights organisation. This was a professional job for a client that had a budget, and after the excitement of getting the job the three of us very quickly realised we would now actually have to make something quite good!
What we ended up creating used stop-motion techniques that were new to us and really stood out from anything else we had made individually, but because of that it ended up being quite successful and another thing to add to my ‘proud’ list.
A still from Fair Trials
After eight years of study, does it get any easier?
If it got easier I don’t think I’d have had to keep studying, haha! It really doesn’t, the weird thing is the more familiar with it I become, the more difficult certain things become.
It’s hard to explain, but suddenly making a character walk forward just isn’t enough so I want them to walk and talk and wave their arms around while trying to avoid a T-Rex or something like that. Half of what makes it harder is my own push to do harder things, to not repeat myself; the other half is that I learn new ways of doing stuff all the time or a better way of doing something and usually those things are harder but with a better pay-off.
“Half of what makes it harder is my own push to do harder things, to not repeat myself.”
A still from LAMPS, or a self-portrait of the artist?
Concerning your new project, what has been the biggest challenge with it so far?
I think it’s fair to say my current film, Under the Weather, has been the toughest project I’ve ever worked on for a multitude of reasons. It’s set in a world where everyone’s emotions are shown as weather patterns above their heads (Happiness = sun, Sadness = rain, etc.) and the story follows a man named Ed who, no matter how he feels, always has a rain cloud over him.
His job is to water plants, as jobs are based on what emotions people are feeling, and one day, due to a series of events, he discovers he’s involved in a conspiracy that sets him down a life-changing path.
The upcoming Under The Weather: Ed at his ever-important job
Straight away, the scale of the film, which is longer than anything else I’ve done, with multiple sets and puppets, makes it incredibly difficult – but that’s something I set out to do and was prepared for.
The thing that really challenged me was getting the script finalised. It took a couple of months to get it right: short enough to be actually able to do in the given time, but long enough that the story isn’t damaged. It was a really tough process and at points I lost track of what I wanted to make, so I had to take a step back every now and then.
I was lucky that actor and comedian Tom Rosenthal (who voices Ed in the film) sat down with me and really polished the dialogue to the point where it became natural, punchy, funny and far more concise than I was able to do, so I owe a lot to him for that.
Alongside that, it’s weird because a man with a rain cloud over his head is already a strange subject to try and tackle, but personal experiences in the last few months suddenly made that subject very real, and working full-time on the film while dealing with everything else has been some of the most challenging times I’ve had.
I honestly don’t know if I’ll be able to look back on this film and feel how I do when I watch LAMPS for instance. This film suddenly became more personal than I ever wanted it to but there’s good that comes out of that as well.
Different perspectives: Multiple sets and puppets
I’m sure your dedication will pay off! Concerning your career, what is one thing you’re looking forward to this year—apart, of course, from finishing Under The Weather?
It’s going to be strange heading out into the creative world as a graduate for the first time. Any work that I’ve done, I’ve done while studying so having one without the other will be a new experience at first.
It’d be nice to think I can join a company and work my way up, doing different jobs here and there, but I keep myself thinking realistically these days (which is sometimes hard to do in an industry where you play with puppets all day), So I’m keeping my options open for whatever might come up.
There’s the possibility of going freelance for a while, or teaching, a bit of which I already do at the moment, so there could be a lot to look forward to.
In this line of work you never really know what’s coming next, it could be a music video about cats, an advert about a new type of chair, or work on a feature film, so I look forward to not really knowing what’s coming next. It’s probably the only time I look forward to having no idea what I’ll be doing the day after tomorrow.
A still from Fair Trials. “I look forward to having no idea what I’ll be doing the day after tomorrow.”
And finally, what advice would you have for someone who is thinking about becoming an animator?
Go for it! If it’s something you’re interested in doing or learning more about, give it a shot!
When I was in school no one, apart from my parents, ever said I was doing the right thing and no one ever told me to not give up. If I could tell my 15-year-old self about where I am now, I don’t think I would even believe me!
The aforementioned 15-year-old Patrick, with our-then-14-year-old interviewer
I know it can seem like what you want to do in life might not happen but if you work hard enough and give it the time it deserves, good things can come out of it and that really does go for anything.
The creative industry is constantly updating and changing so there’s a role for everyone. You don’t need to be an animator to work in the industry, you can be a set/character designer, create the lighting, build rigging, produce, direct, make tiny costumes…
It’s incredibly diverse and at the end of the day, if your output is making a funny cartoon or working with puppets, it’s never going to be a dull job.
That being said, I’m going to be out of education soon and need a job, so anyone who’s interested and good at it, just give it another 5 years so I can get a head start before all the good jobs are taken by the next set of graduates.
Nicely put, Paddy.
You can follow Patrick’s descent into madness via Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.