Animation 2D pipeline director Niki Kehoe

Headshot of Niki Kehoe

A course funded by the Animation Skills Fund helped Niki Kehoe improve her knowledge of working with 2D animation software Toon Boom Harmony.

She was working as a 2D pipeline director on the Netflix show DeadEndina in 2020,when she decided to apply for a technical direction with ToonBoom course, supported by the ScreenSkills Animation Skills Fund.

The five-day course was just what she needed. “I was setting up the Harmony database so the timing couldn’t have been better. I was able to learn from the course in the afternoon and implement what I had learned into our pipeline the next morning. I learned so much about scripting and the capabilities of it as well, which has been really helpful.”

As a 2D pipeline director, Niki has to make sure that the production she is working on runs smoothly across all departments from a technical point of view “It’s an extremely varied job that keeps me on my toes, so I loved it,” she says. “So far on this show I have created the folder structures, the naming conventions, the Harmony database, tested and reviewed remote access options, data management options and online review tools, created a tonne of ‘how-to’ documentation, conducted interviews and even managed to do a small bit of character rigging.”

Niki has had a love for animation from an early age. Born in Wexford, Ireland, she grew up watching cartoons with her brothers on Saturday mornings. “One of the most prominent memories I have of animation is going to see Fern Gully in the cinema with my mam. We sat in the front row and it was pure magic to me. I was totally hooked on animation from then on,” she remembers.

So when she had to do a career guidance project in secondary school on what she wanted to do in the future, animation seemed a logical choice. “I interviewed Tomm Moore from Cartoon Saloon over email for it,” Niki says. “I think because he had set up a studio in Kilkenny, which is very close to Wexford, it made animation seem like a much more attainable job.”

She opted for a bachelor’s degree in 2D animation in Dublin, a course with a heavy focus on hand-drawn animation. “The best thing about the course was the commitment to excellence in drawing skills,” she says.

After graduation it wasn’t easy to break into the industry. “There wasn’t much work available in animation when I finished college so I took whatever work I could get, on top of a part-time retail job. I did a lot of small freelance projects,” Niki explains.

“Some key moments early on were getting my job in Kavaleer Productions, which was my very first job in a studio. Working as an animator on my first TV show I’m A Creepy Crawly for Monster Entertainment and working in Treehouse Republic was my first long term job where I got to work on a variety of projects and moving to London in 2018 to work at Blue Zoo as a Harmony rigger on It’s Pony for Nickelodeon.”

Her advice to others wanting to make it in the animation industry is to never stop learning. “Strive to improve all the time. If you want to be an animator, then master the principles of animation. If you want to be in layout, learn perspective and have amazing linework. If you want to get into background paint, learn to tell stories with colour and lighting. There is a tonne of information out there.”

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