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How Piranha Bar Found Its Creative Teeth



Piranha Bar has reinvented itself as an international studio collective – and it’s creating some of its best work ever

How Piranha Bar Found Its Creative Teeth

Piranha Bar is a creative studio with bite. From navigating the treacherous waters of recession-era Ireland to completely over-hauling their business in order to make a splash with the international creative community, the journey they’ve been on over the past few years has been impressive. Having observed the shrinking pool of Irish clients they knew they’d also have to cultivate real global ambitions – an interesting creative crew that happens to be based in Dublin rather than embedded and limited to the Irish market. 

When it was founded in 2002, Piranha Bar began life as a post production and animation studio – and while it retains its editing, grading, VFX and finishing capabilities it’s otherwise unrecognisable. They swam upstream into production, added live action filmmaking into the mix and have established a solid creative vision. Co-founder and creative director Gavin Kelly has been joined by fellow director/creative director Richard Chaney. Having full time creative directors in-house has allowed the team to take more of a collaborative, studio approach. 

They number the likes of Shilo, Blacklist and Brand New School among their inspirations and it shows in the quality of their work. What makes them a particularly interesting proposition is that, outside of adland they also do TV work (they’ve been involved in everything from The Voice of Ireland to The Great Irish Bake Off), so they’re well set up for longer format branded content too. 

Though the past few years have been tricky (they found themselves increasingly pitching against production company clients), the bold move has paid off, with a stream of great work.

LBB’s Laura Swinton caught up with Piranha Bar’s Richard Chaney and MD David Burke to find out about their journey so far and their plans for the future…

LBB> So where did the ‘Piranha Bar’ name come from?

The ‘Piranha’ part was about being a small, but lethal boutique at the time. The values of a collective of talented individuals being more effective as a group was also part of the original philosophy, which is probably even more applicable in our present guise.

The ‘Bar’ was about creating a welcoming, relaxing environment that people want to come to that doesn’t feel like ‘work’.

LBB> You’ve shifted up your business model in recent years and expanded your creative offering, as well as having a full service post facility, you also produce animation and live action and have a roster of talented directors. Why did you decide to change things up and how have you found that journey?

Even back then, we were an animation studio as well as a post facility, doing full animation productions for agencies. As animation and VFX became more integrated into live action we were increasingly being asked to originate the full production. The global meltdown was merely a catalyst for the inevitable change we felt was naturally coming. So Piranha Bar embraced the collective studio model of production; in-house directors driving a studio of VFX artists, animators, compositors with a solid base of producers. Bringing Richard Chaney, a like-minded director on board, to extend the Studio’s scope and put in place the final piece of the production company puzzle.

LBB> These days Piranha Bar is a global-facing creative studio that happens to be based in Ireland – why do you think that’s the right approach to take?

The international standard of our studio talent yearns for a broader pool of creative possibilities and a scale of project that would properly allow it to flex our muscles. The quality of our product has proven that we can deliver the standard of creativity and craft this requires.

LBB> Do you think Dublin has the potential to become a strong creative hub for advertising at an international level?

Sure, the talent is here. Agency and production wise. When agencies get the chance to work with international marketers, the creativity hit rate tends to be much higher than on local Irish work, for fearful, conservative Irish marketing clients. So it stands to reason that to create an Irish hub for creativity, both agencies and production companies (hence Piranha Bar’s aspirations) need to venture beyond our isolation.

LBB> I know the recession hit a lot of production and post companies quite hard in Ireland – what sort of shape did it leave the industry in? And how are things now? More upbeat?

Yes the whole industry felt the brunt of financial fear-mongering. The marketing budgets were slashed to an average third of what they were before 2007/8. Even though some of the spend is creeping back up, the lingering effect of fear is the disease that’s keeping the industry on its knees here. Agencies still want to do great creative work. We production companies are hungrier than ever. But the marketing clients became, and remain, so fearful that there’s no outlet for creative, and therefore further economic recovery.

There’s another factor that’s limited recovery here. As budgets move from traditional broadcast to ‘online’ and more ‘experiential’ media, the agencies and clients feel they can achieve the same brand impact with tiny budgets for cheap ‘stunts’ and their resulting ‘viral’ coverage. The local ad industry hasn’t yet caught up with the leading edge of the Branded Content and tech-driven content wave which is driving content creation internationally. We’re hopeful that riding that wave will be the saviour of the content production industry.

LBB> Tommy McAinery – the singing canary – from the Gas Networks campaign is a brilliant advertising icon who might be unfamiliar to some of our readers outside of Ireland. For those who don’t know – who is he?

Tommy McAairey is a grizzled and slightly morose Irish ballad singer with a pre-occupation with death. Coming from a long line of canaries that met their end at the bottom of mining pits, suffering the effects of carbon monoxide poisoning, he was the perfect spokesman for this awareness campaign.

LBB> And what are the biggest challenges with bringing Tommy to life?

Bringing a dark edge to an animated character that could quite easily slip into the world of ‘cutesy’ was the big challenge. The combination of the aesthetics and the facial animation went a long way to communicating this character. The technical challenges of feathers are what are army of CG artists live for, so that challenge was music to their ears.

LBB> One recent job that we really enjoyed was carwow, the wheel-o-trope! What were your initial thoughts when you first saw the brief? 

Ah, a case in point. An Irish agency (Guns or Knives – an off-shoot of Rothco) working on a non-Irish start up brand, a company willing to use creativity to promote innovation – a lovely recipe isn’t it? 

We loved the carwow job from the start. A great product with a core idea that’s about innovation and re-invention. As lovers of all kinds of animation and animation history, we were intrigued to get our technical and creative heads around the challenges of telling a relatively complex story, with a visual technique that demands simplicity. 

LBB> I’d guess one of the big challenges with a project like that would be the mathematics and calculations involved in making sure the animation was as fluid as possible – while not losing sight of the creative vision. How did you balance these?

I’ve always loved doing work that straddles that fine line between rationality and creativity. I think the confines of commercial’s short form means almost every job we get demands this same level of planning the minutiae of the visual storytelling. The mathematics of animation is the language we speak everyday here at Piranha Bar, so it wasn’t as taxing as you might imagine.

LBB> The recent Safefood obesity spot was another interesting one – a striking blend of modern technology and Peter Pan’s shadow! I believe you used motion capture to achieve that?

To allow the metamorphosis of the character to happen without cuts meant we needed the shadows to change seamlessly through time. Being able to cast photoreal lighting onto the wall from the various practical sources, meant a 3D CG character was critical. To animate it, motion capture was the logical choice for realistic movement. 

We’re actually in the depths of our own short film ‘Doom Newt’, which uses motion and ‘emotion’ or performance capture to drive the animation of half-man, half-newt, on a man’s body. So we’re very close to the technology at the moment and used the same pipeline we’re so familiar with on that project. 

LBB> Which other recent pieces of work are you particularly proud of and why?

The AIB GAA football sponsorship campaign we recently worked on was one of those rare occasions that you can get to have real creative fun with such small resources.

(GAA is Irish football, the one with lots of handballs and kicking the ball over the cross bar!) AIB’s (Bank) new sponsorship deal gave us the chance (through Rothco) to create a buzz about its stars that stand out from the millions of TV promos for GAA.

By keeping the production emphasis of research, creative thinking and motion graphics, we were able to create a campaign that’s made a huge splash and looks as fun and fresh as the summer sport deserves.

LBB> And what are your plans for Piranha Bar going forward?

To pursue a broader, more creative outlet for our growing aspirations. The global market would potentially offer us more substantial opportunities. We’re also hoping that local marketers start to see the value in more robust branded content that will allow us as a creative studio collective to be more involved in the development of longer form content, that still calls for the standard of craft we’re known for. Roster extension and our passion for growing local Irish talent is also an area we’re actively pursuing for growth in the fear future…

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Piranha Bar, Tue, 08 Sep 2015 16:05:41 GMT