Gradwatch 2023: Pascal Deery, Ulster University

Animator Pascal Deery was chosen as part of our annual Gradwatch showcase, where we celebrate the next generation of talent in the creative industries

Picture the physical humour of 70s and 80s sketch shows, combine it with the aesthetics and comedic timing that early 2000s animations gave us, and you’ll get somewhere close to Pascal Deery’s film, Catching Rays.

“Catching Rays is a short film about a guy’s attempt at sunbathing in his back garden,” the animation graduate explains. “After a football gets launched over his fence and wrecks his garden, setting off his sprinkler system, it’s up to Ray to fix his garden.” Frazzled in more ways than one, our protagonist battles to get his garden back in order before a twist allows him to catch all the rays he wants.

The film was Deery’s final major project at Ulster University, where he was introduced to animation properly for the first time. “I loved first year because everything was just brand new to me. I had never tried 3D animation and didn’t even know what software was available, so being introduced to that whole new world was really interesting.” Although he would have liked to be taught more practical animation skills in class (he says that this aspect felt more self-taught) he still enjoyed his course, where he met a lot of talented people.

Aside from his lecturers, Deery also had the chance to learn from the leading lights in animation. His university got him and a few other students onto an online course run by Berkley College, which was taught by Pixar animator MontaQue Ruffin (the grad has since created his own animation inspired by the studio’s iconic lamp mascot). “We even got to talk to John Stevenson, the director of Kung Fu Panda, because he was able to video call our class as a guest speaker,” Deery explains. “I don’t know if he would have physically come to Belfast just to talk to us for an hour.”

These kinds of opportunities, which only really came about because of the shift to virtual communications, are partly why Deery says the pandemic had “little to no impact … maybe even a positive one” on his studies. The lifestyle changes also meant he could focus more closely on his craft. Although he says he could have taken more advantage of the extra time, “being stuck in my house made me practise some aspect of animation almost every day”.

One of the most important pieces of advice he’s been given comes from “the Richard Williams animator’s survival kit itself”, which is to make sure that you unplug (figuratively, that is). “Just don’t multitask when animating. No music, no videos, no TV, no distractions,” he adds.

Now that he’s finished his degree, Deery is looking ahead to what he’ll do next. “I think actually deciding what I want to do from here is the main challenge. Freelance, job at a company, try my luck at YouTube? All easier said than done.” One option he’s considering is the idea of animating logos for brands to use on social media or in promotional material, which has had a positive response so far. He’s still keen to make more shorts like Catching Rays as well, and is even thinking about a sequel to it.

Whatever route he goes down, his long-term ambition is simply to have a clear voice as an animator, and for that to resonate with people. “I’d like to be able to work on something that I have creative freedom on and hopefully gain an audience that likes my humour and style. It’d be nice to find an audience that appreciates the content.”

Catching Rays is an indication of what those tastes are: pure, lighthearted entertainment. “I like the thought of telling stories that have messages behind them,” he says, “but I [also] like the idea of making dumb fun entertainment with no deeper meaning other than to enjoy what you’re watching. Just making an absurd thing that hopefully gives the viewer a chuckle.”