Gavin Kelly is founder, director and studio creative at the award winning Creative Content Studio, Piranha Bar. Based in Dublin the post production and visual effects studio founded in 2002 has risen to the top of the industry, but how did it start for Gavin?

Gavin Kelly at OFFSET Dublin 2016

I was an avid sketcher, painter and comics guy from an early age – I really worked the creative angle when it turned out I couldn’t do soccer or basically anything else. I came across computers in the last few weeks of my degree in Fine Art Sculpture at NCAD. Some Photoshop doodles combined with impressive spoofing got me a job at Picture Company, a traditional post production house in Dublin.

The studio was founded out of a frustration with how post production was run at the time and a want to see a studio that was artist rather than facility led. As an opportunity arose to buyout the old Picture Company, Gavin and his partner, Dave Burke took the plunge and the name Piranha Bar was established.

We had a huge tank of piranhas in the basement. Not the most ornate fish in the world. They just sort of float there staring at you until it’s time to feed. Eventually the tank ruptured and they ended up flapping on our basement floor (although one did escape into the sewage system). At the time, we wanted a name that referred to the studio as a place to visit instead of a fancy concept with which to limit ourselves and irritate everyone.

With numerous successful projects under their belts ranging from animation to live action and VFX, a breakthrough moment for Gavin came in the form of the award winning Avatar Days in 2009.

Avatar Days was a turning point that we didn’t see coming. I directed this short film for the Darklight Festival many years ago as part of a ‘day in the life of’ project. We had four days to concept, script board and shoot. We sat on the film after the festival, busying ourselves with post production work. It was only after it got accidentally noticed online that we realized it was really our first live action project. It started winning stuff and went mental online with 2 million views. That told us that we were allowed to use a camera as one of our tools, a highly unconventional thing for a post house then.

Some of Piranha Bar’s most recent work that has grabbed attention is the interactive online documentary Last Hijack. The feature film was directed by Tommy Pallotta and Femke Wolting while Gavin worked as animation supervisor and developed the ‘paintmation’ look that then translated to 3D animation with an expressive style. 

I love how in this film the animation style fits the story. The protagonist is haunted by memories of his past and by visualizing the traumas he lived through we gain a deeper understanding of his choices in the present day. As memory itself is subjective, biased and even fabricated, the fluid and imprecise expressionism of paintmation helps us represent the shifting sands of our mind’s eye.

Piranha Bar are continuing to direct commercials for their long list of domestic clients as well as just finishing work for a Taiwanese agency. Gavin himself is also of course keeping busy.

I am currently finishing our next short film, an extremely ambitious live action genepunk story called ‘Doom Newt’. We developed a performance capture pipeline to transfer the live performance of an actor to a complicated 3D facial rig. We’re actually replacing his head (and adding two extra arms) for the full short. Gulp.