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A Day in the Life of a Background Team Lead: Alana O’Brien of Boulder Media Animation Studio
10 May 2017 : Katie McNeice
Alana O'Brien, BG Team Lead
At IFTN we put you in touch not only with the latest film and television news in Ireland, but the latest training and job opportunities in the industry.

Our new day-in-the-life series sheds some light on what skills, interests and training you need to break into certain roles in the industry, or transition from one area to another.

Over the next few weeks, we’ll be talking to distributors, producers, festival programmers and more, but our first stop is the booming field of animation.

Boulder Media increased its workforce by over 30% in 2016 and the IFTN Jobs section has been busy updating their many new roles for junior and senior staff alike. The company plan to expand from their current 170 staff members to over 400 employees over the next two years. BG Team Lead Alana tells us what her time is like in the studio, from the tasks she tackles daily to the projects she works on as part of the the award-winning Boulder Media team.

IFTN: What are your primary responsibilities as a BG Team Lead?
“As a Background Team lead, I must assign scenes to the Backgrounds team and create backgrounds myself, then I review the output of the team and provide feedback on their work, assigning retakes where necessary. I also participate in management handover and retake meetings.”

“As a Background Team Lead you are still a member of the team and need to be be able to create the backgrounds as well as give retakes and do all the other jobs as a BG team lead. It’s still a very artistic role, and because you're leading a team ensuring the standard is high all round, your artistic eye sharpens and you become quicker at noticing discrepancies in the backgrounds.

“You are constantly keeping an over-head watch on all the Backgrounds in the episode. Is the style consistent? Is the standard high? Is the perspective correct? Has the BG Artist exported all the elements in the BG for the animators? These are questions you will be constantly asking while you look through the hundreds of BGs. Being a team lead is a lot different to being a BG Artist, as you are now a manager, and need to look out for the team, not just your own work anymore.”

IFTN: Talk me through your training background and what key skills you need to work in this role?
“I qualified from Ballyfermot College in 2011 with an Honours Degree (2H1) in Animation. I also have a Higher National Diploma in Print Journalism. My specialty is in Background Designing/Painting. To be a Background Team lead, you need to be able to work well with people, and have excellent communication skills. You also need to have outstanding organisational skills and be a great multi-tasker. You have to manage stress well, and have the people-managing skills necessary to perform such a role.

“There can be a lot of different personalities in your team, and you need to foster an environment where everyone is comfortable and able to work at their creative best. And it goes without saying, you have to be a very strong background artist, with excellent use of Photoshop and use of perspective. You would also need to be fluid with adapting to different styles.”

IFTN: What kinds of projects do you work on or can it change from one to the next?
“Boulder Media produce TV animation. Currently my team are working on ‘Danger Mouse’ for the BBC. Before that we were working on ‘Randy Cunningham Ninth Grade Ninja’ for Disney. So it is usually the same in structure, as in we are given a set number of episodes within a certain time frame to complete. The biggest thing that will change is the style and difficulty level from show to show. So you need to be adaptable to different styles, and I would say it’s a huge advantage if you are fast at creating BGs.”

IFTN: What tips would you give young IFTN readers who are training at the moment or other professionals looking to branch into your area?
“I had numerous jobs in different companies ranging from storyboarding, layout, prop design to storymatic colouring. In each role I tried to learn and grow as an artist by constantly asking questions and taking on extra training. Even if you are between jobs, your job at that time is working on your skill and building your portfolio and then applying for jobs. You need to always keep an ear out and be prepared, as you never know when a job opportunity might pop up.

“If you want to become a BG team lead, my biggest advice would be to first be a BG artist. Work on different shows and become very confident at creating backgrounds. Secondly I would say work on your organizational and communication skills. They are just as important as your skill level as an artist in this role. And thirdly, just go for it! Don't be too afraid to apply, because you think you might be too shy, you might be amazed at what you can do outside of your comfort zone.”

Client Profile: Boulder Media

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