Lighthouse M.D. Claire Finn Shines Some Light on Studio’s Busy Slate

We recently had the chance to catch up with talented Irish animation veteran Claire Finn, the managing director of Lighthouse Studios, a joint venture of Mercury Filmworks and Cartoon Saloon. Formed in 2017, the studio has worked on several acclaimed new animated shows including Little Ellen, The Cuphead Show, If You Give a Mouse a Cookie and Bug Diaries, to name a few. Here is what she told us:

Animag: Can you tell us a little bit about your background and how you came to join Lighthouse?

Claire Finn: I had lived away from Ireland for over 23 years in many countries around the world, working in live-action content primarily, and as Ireland had positively and dramatically changed in that period, I felt the time was right to return to seek out a new opportunity. It was a delightful surprise to learn that animation, and the film industry in general, was now so prolific in Ireland. I happened to take part in a panel at a ‘future’s convention’ about ‘innovation and the future,’ and there I met Gerry Shirren from Cartoon Saloon, who told me of the managing director role they were looking to fill at Lighthouse. He then introduced me to Clint Eland of Mercury Filmworks’ fame, as Lighthouse is the product of a joint venture between the two studios and so my journey at Lighthouse Studios began.

Claire Finn
Claire Finn

What are some of the qualities that make Lighthouse Animation stand out in a very busy field?

I like to say we are the rebel child of two very different but extremely talented parents. Therefore, we bring both creativity and high-end digital animation to the screen. We are about quality over quantity and every project that comes through our doors or is created under our roof goes through a rigorous creative process to ensure we are delivering top-notch content. With a crew heralding from over 30 nationalities, producing quality content that is driven by diversity and inclusivity is at the heart of what we do and fuels our passion.

How many people work at Lighthouse currently and which animation tools are used in the pipeline?

We have a crew of 270 people and, due to COVID, about 70 are freelancers based in a number of countries and time zones. The rest are based in and around Kilkenny. We work in Toon Boom Harmony using ShotGrid as our tracking software.

What are some of the exciting projects you are working on right now?

We were commissioned by Warner Bros. Animation to produce the 2D animation for Little Ellen, and it fits so perfectly with our values of inclusion, so we were thrilled to play an integral role in the production process. We also are producing the animation for The Cuphead Show for Netflix, and it is such a hit with our crew due to the global success of the game! Although very challenging in terms of animation, the series looks stupendous, and we can’t wait until audiences can see how incredible it turned out when it premieres. We also have some other service projects that we can’t mention quite yet but one of them will be a three-part special based on the true life story of its author and  is anticipated to debut in spring 2022. This project also fits very well with Lighthouse’s values of diversity of telling stories that haven’t been told and need to be heard.

We also are in development on three short original films pitched by our own crew alongside some very interesting co-production discussions with creatives in various countries.

Alongside this, we’ve just acquired the rights to produce our first original IP–a gritty adult tale set in the turn of the century in an Irish town when Ireland changed forever. More about that soon!

Little Ellen
Little Ellen

Can you tell us a bit about Lighthouse’s work on Little Ellen? What do you love about the show’s animation?

We love the positivity that the show delivers and fast-paced storytelling. The vibrancy of the palette really shows up the lovely design done by Warner Bros. Animation. Grace McDonnell is our animation director and has done an amazing job managing the animation team as most of them have never even had a chance to step inside the studio due to COVID. This production has been done entirely working from home, and while we’ve had to add extra crew to allay the productivity loss due to technical or time zone challenges, we are really delighted with the result. The team, under Head of Production Cormac Slevin, have really strived to produce some amazing work.

What are the studio’s big challenges for the rest of the year and beyond?

We are planning a return to the studio beginning October 20th. It will be interesting to get everyone back into our Hogwarts style building, and no doubt it will take some adjustment. But as animation is a collaboration, it is vital for us to conduct most of our work from the studio.

Our goal is to re-establish our culture and develop even further in terms of learning and development and fine-tuning our processes. We have been doing a lot of background work to bring artists back to an improved and more efficient pipeline and even the building has had a bit of a make-over.

Our strategy is to continue high-end service work while growing our development slate.

If You Give a Mouse a Cookie
If You Give a Mouse a Cookie

What would you like the global animation community to know about Lighthouse?

We are a hugely diverse group of people who produce high end work and are passionate about it. Whether that work is for a production partner or coming from our own in-house creatives the drive and passion is still the same.

What would you say Lighthouse specializes in?

We specialize in high-end, 2D rigged animation content whether for service projects or the creation of our own IP.

What’s your take on the big animation picture in 2021?

It feels to us that there are huge amounts of animation content being created, and its tentacles are reaching to tell all manner of stories from all types of humans of all ages. However, the open-ended ceiling might be closing in a bit but perhaps it is still a bit too early to get a sense of how soon that could be.

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