Eoin Butler: writer, journalist and Mayoman of the Year

Tripping Along The Ledge


Published: Irish Times, February 19 2011

“I learned everything I know from illegal downloading… So I don’t mind giving back.”

The External World from David OReilly on Vimeo.

Congratulations to Irish animator David O’Reilly, whose extraordinary short film The External World (above), won an Adobe Award at the Regebsburg Film Festival last night. Here’s his (King’s) acceptance speech.

My interview with him is after the jump.
What first sparked your interest in animation?
My dad, Patrick O’Reilly, is a sculptor. We’ve always talked a lot. He’s not someone who shies away from the big questions. When I was a teenager, the Cartoon Saloon opened just around the corner from my house in Kilkenny. They had just started working on The Secret of Kells , which was nominated for an Oscar last year. I began hanging out there and eventually they allowed me to direct a few things.

Like a lot of Irish creative types, you’re based in Berlin. What’s the attraction of that city?
I moved to Berlin four years ago because I really just wanted to dedicate myself to the type of work I’m doing. As an independent, that wouldn’t have been possible in Dublin or London, where the rents were just so high.

Your work exhibits a childlike sense of fun. Yet, clearly, you take what you do very seriously?
I like to have fun with 3D animation and storytelling. I believe it’s possible to push certain boundaries, while still entertaining people. If something isn’t enjoyable to watch, then it isn’t working.

The blog Boing Boing called you “a subversive animated genius . . . whose style lies somewhere between Kubrick, Kaufman and ketamine”. Do you think they meant Charlie or Andy Kaufman?
I’d guess Andy, but you’d have to ask them. What’s more troubling for me is that, subliminally, their over-the-top comparison spells KKK.

In 2008 you pranked the internet with ‘Octocat’, which people thought had been done by a nine- year-old boy. How did that project come about?
It was never intended as a prank. My whole background was in drawing and animating to a high technical standard. Octocat was so different from that – it was an extremely crudely drawn animation about a cat looking for its parents – that it made more sense to do it under a different name. In animation, there’s a huge emphasis on making things look polished and pretty, but what people respond to really is story.

What was the reaction?
The response was crazy, probably bigger than anything else I’ve ever done. People started making comics and doing paintings of the character. It was all completely unexpected. But festivals almost unanimously rejected the film. It just proves that the internet is a lot less bound by convention or expectation.

A year later you were asked to direct the video for U2’s ‘I’ll Go Crazy If I Don’t Go Crazy Tonight’.
Yeah, the band had seen my work online. After an exchange of e-mails with their management, Bono called me up one day and asked me to do it. Up to that point, I’d always worked alone. So this was a great chance to do something with a team.

Back up a second, did Bono’s assistant call you and put him through? Or did he just call you up himself and say “Hey, this is Bono”?
He just called me up. There had been an e-mail from someone saying that he might call. But it didn’t said when. The next day my phone rang and it was him. He was very positive, not at all egotistical and a really nice guy. He seemed familiar with lots of different projects I’d worked on so obviously that was very flattering.

Tell us about your latest work, the Ifta award-winning ‘The External World’?
My lawyers have advised me not to talk about it. But people can see it at theexternalworld.com.

Okay, I’ll make some observations and you can stop me when I’ve gone wrong: It’s very funny. It contains many Terry Gilliam-esque non-sequiturs. It’s obviously influenced by video games . . .
I wouldn’t say it was influenced by video games. It’s much more influenced by sketch comedy. Terry Gilliam was a big influence, but I wrote it with Vernon Chatman, who used to write for South Park, Conan O’Brien and Chris Rock. We both have a taste for strangeness, for things that aren’t laugh-out-loud funny. It’s supposed to be a punch in the brain.

You spent a year working on ‘The External World’, yet it’s currently available to view online for free. Do you see yourself ever being reimbursed for your labour?
You can buy the film, but I never expect to fully recoup the cost of it. I don’t mind because, honestly, I learned everything I know through illegal downloading. Whether it’s books, films or music – the internet has always been a huge library for me. So I don’t mind giving back. Besides, I’ve only collaborated with the people I have done because they’ve seen my work online. If I put it behind a paywall, no one would ever see it.

March 24th, 2011.

2 Responses to ““I learned everything I know from illegal downloading… So I don’t mind giving back.””

  1. massey Says:

    Thats some crazy (good crazy!) shit. How does he make out thats it not influenced by video games? Video game stuff everywhere in it

  2. Darragh Says:

    He’s a fucking Genius. If anyone hasn’t seen it, Octocat adventures: http://vimeo.com/1690174
    There’s some additional pop culture rationale trying to sum it all up here: http://bit.ly/feqX5z

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