In conversation with FRANCES O'ROURKE
is a musician and composer who writes music mainly for animated films, many of them Brown Bag productions. He played in a rock band as a teenager and became a full-time composer in 2005. Originally from Kimmage, Dublin, he now lives in Crumlin with his wife, Cat Little, and their son Alfred (3½)
I rented a house with Alan Shannon who was in college with Darragh. I’m from Kimmage, and when I was 15, I was in a rock band, the Aloysius Fontaines. I was working full time at the time, as a credit card machine technician. When Alan got a grant to make The Last Elk, he asked me to write the music.
Darragh was like us, he was full of life and as passionate about music as I was. I liked playing live music, but was shy of audiences, and didn’t dream of being a rock musician full time. Brown Bag asked me to pitch to compose the music for a kids’ show they were doing for RTÉ – I got that gig and I’ve had a relationship with Brown Bag since then.
I thought Darragh and Cathal were very brave at the time they set up the company – at the time, animation was companies like Disney making big huge shows, and here were two Irish guys taking on the world. When I left school, I trained to be a sound engineer, I never considered I could write music for TV.
I did the credit card machine work to pay the bills – I’d be out on the road, doing my work as quickly as possible so I could get home early to compose. I decided in 1999 that that was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life; it took six years before I could go full time.
There’s no difference between composing for film than for animation but the majority of my work is for animation. I did write the music for a film called Satellites and Meteorites that starred Amy Huberman. For a series like Octonauts you need a whole palette of skills – I have to write 20 minutes of original music a week for Octonauts. It is high pressure.
I went to the Oscars when Give up Yer Aul Sins was nominated – it was a surreal experience, like being stuck inside TV, seeing faces all around you knew from movies or television. I walked in behind Jennifer Lopez.
I met my wife, Cat Little, at Brown Bag: she created Wobbly Land for them. Now we have a son, Alfred, who’s 3½. He’ll come and sit and watch me in my studio at home as I’m writing the music.
Working for Darragh is great, he’ll give an outline of what he’s doing, let you go away and work on it. It’s great artistically to work like that. We’re very similar – he’s up for having fun, enjoys what he does, enjoys life. We’re on the same page.
But it’s not all work – if we’re on the phone, we’ll be talking work for 10 minutes, the next 20 minutes we’re talking about our lives, our families.
co-founded film animation company Brown Bag Films in 1994. Its films – “Give Up Yer Aul Sins” and “Granny O’Grimm’s Sleeping Beauty” – have been Oscar nominated and its TV series the “Octonauts” for an international Emmy. He lives in Co Kildare with his wife Lina and children Dexter and Roxy
One of the guys in my class in the animation school in Ballyfermot College was in a band with Darren, but I didn’t get to know him well until we started working together. Darren worked on the first Brown Bag film and we’re still working together now. He composed the music for his friend Alan Shannon’s short film, The Last Elk and went on to compose the music for films such as Give Up Yer Aul Sins. We liked the same sort of music, The Smiths, rock music. We learnt the business as we grew up – and Darren met his wife here.
In the early 1990s, Ireland was in a recession and there was no work in full-time animation, or being a full-time composer. We had to create it ourselves. Cathal Gaffney and I left college and started Brown Bag in 1994. I never really followed the curriculum because I wanted to tell my own stories.
I always wanted to be a comic book artist. Some of my teachers thought I was throwing my life away when I decided to study animation. Who would have thought that an animation job in Ireland would now be safer than a job in banking? Although I think my mum is still wishing that I had a real job to fall back on.
I met my wife Lina in Beirut when I was working on a commercial and we have two children, Dexter (3½) and Roxy (1½). It has changed my work; when I see them sitting down to watch one of our shows, entranced, I get a real sense of pride.
It’s my first year to be a judge for the Sightsavers art competition for primary schools. I used to enter competitions as a child – getting a silver medal in the Community Games art competition when I was 14 was even better than getting an Oscar nomination.
Competitions like this do help encourage kids. Picking winners can be difficult – but the important part isn’t the judging, it’s getting kids to push themselves to draw a lot, have fun and enter.
I don’t see Darren that much socially but I don’t see much of anyone, now we’ve both got young children. But we’re good friends. The thing with Darren is that you can give him a quick brief and he’ll know what you’re looking for. We’ve developed a kind of shorthand, and trust.
He’s incredibly grounded – but he’s got a soft spot for classic French cars, I’m a bit jealous of that.
Darragh O’Connell is a judge for Sightsavers Junior Painter Awards, an art competition for Irish primary school students. The closing date for entries is Friday, November 30th – see sightsavers.ie/juniorpainter