Pink Kong Studios will unveil Aurora, what is considered to be, the first 360 VR animation created in Ireland this month. They tell the story of its origins and theirs.
“Nobody really knows what they are doing in VR, there are no rules written yet.”
Earlier in the morning, The Breadwinner picked up a third Oscar nomination for Cartoon Saloon, the Kilkenny-based animation studio. It’s understandable that Aoife Doyle and Niamh Herrity of Pink Kong Studios are chuffed about the accolade and recognition being bestowed upon their industry.
“It’s amazing news. We’re so happy for them and Nora. It just shows anyone can get there,” says Niamh, who is a producer with the Studio. For Pink Kong, which was established by these life and business partners back in 2014, they are also entering into ground-breaking territory when they showcase Aurora at the Audi Dublin Film Festival this month. Having won a hackathon back in September, the accompanying €30,000 bursary is enabling them and their script writer Denis James Ryan, create Aurora which is assumed to be Ireland’s first 360 VR animation.
Working to the theme ‘The 25th Hour’, they conceived of their winning entry on the beer barrels of O’Donoghue’s on Baggot Street. “We were using circular diagrams on the top of our barrel and positioning ourselves in relation to the man, the deer and the user,” explains Aoife, the creative director.
“It’s been on our agenda since we started the company to get into VR,” explains Aoife. “We’ve dabbled in some immersive technologies such as AR (Augmented Reality) but this is an amazing opportunity.”
What they are creating is a five minute, dialogue free, immersive VR experience called Aurora. “Rather than focus on what this hour means, we wanted to make people reflect on time itself,” says Aoife. “It’s set in a beautiful forest clearing and brings people through from day to night, spring to winter, life to death. It’s centred around a young family and their journey through life and all of the animals who inhabit the world. And yes there’s a big aurora borealis at the end.” They are working with composer Rod Morris on a soundtrack for the piece.
Aoife started out through one of the mainstay routes by studying animation in Ballyfermot while Niamh made the leap from event management. The initial six months of Pink Kong Studios were spent working from a bedroom before they moved to their current base in the Liffey Trust building down near the Port.
And while Aurora has been a consuming and intensely immersive learning curve for them; they are also well aware of the day-to-day needs of a business. “We were conflicted about entering the competition in the first place” admits Niamh. “Animation takes a lot of time and costs a lot of money and we had just finished a Frameworks short for the Film Board called Departure which was supposed to be six minutes but ended up being over nine. Therefore, length and turnaround time concerned us.”
“We do a lot of commercial and corporate work and then create our own stories and IPs,” says Niamh. “We are currently in the early stage of financing for a kids TV series – and all of the other commercial work. it’s just a question of scheduling things correctly. While we love these types of projects, they don’t keep your company afloat. You still need the surface jobs.”
One such project they are developing is Urban Tales – a Canadian co-production which they pitched in Cartoon Forum back in 2016 and are close to closing finance on now. And in a ten second pitch, Aoife describes it as: “urban animals singing urban music in different cities around the world, with each episode two minutes long.”
In terms of their work/life balance, both will readily admit to it been slightly askew. “We very rarely switch off besides our wedding, honeymoon and Christmas when nobody else is doing any work,” says Niamh. However, they do see the value of both setting the agenda for, and assessing, the day in the car. Niamh has just started a Wimp 2 Warrior – six-months of MMA training which sees her getting up at 5am and will result in her “fighting in a cage” at the end of it.
It is this adrenaline rush which seems to infuse their creative practice also. Returning to the world of VR, Aoife admits part of the thrill is being in unchartered territory. “Nobody really knows what they are doing in VR, there are no rules written yet. It was the same when Cinéma vérité happened but through amazing films, they figured out the best way to do things.”
Aurora will premier at Immersive Stories, the Virtual Reality Conference at ADIFF which takes place in the Round Room of the Mansion House on Saturday February 24 and Sunday February 25. Tickets range from €55 to €95
Words: Michael McDermott
Image Credit: Photo of Niamh and Aoife – Brian McEvoy