“I don’t know what the hell I’m doing here, to be honest. If you had said to me three years ago, ‘You’re going to speak at Yale in three years,’ I would’ve laughed in your face and poured whatever I was holding on you.”
So said animation artist David O’Reilly as he opened a talk on his video work at the Yale School of Art on Monday night. Before an audience of about 40, O’Reilly emphasized the versatility of animation and the independence he said it has given him as an artist.
O’Reilly has created short films featured in the Venice, Berlin, Ottawa and Sundance Film Festivals, in addition to animating a music video for Irish band U2’s single “I’ll Go Crazy if I Don’t Go Crazy Tonight.”
O’Reilly said he started his art career as a young teenager in what he described as a “boring” town in Ireland. Obsessed with anatomy drawings, he constantly sketched figures using ballpoint pens to hone his technique. A few years later, O’Reilly said he started his animation work from his Berlin apartment.
When he began experimenting with animation using Microsoft Paint, O’Reilly said he noticed many people in the art community had mixed feelings about the emerging medium, which had begun to compete with more traditional forms of art.
“A lot of their concerns were legitimate. People were losing jobs because computer animation was taking over,” he said. “But I was really curious about it, and I tried making short films myself.”
In 2008, O’Reilly said he experimented with putting his work on YouTube. For anonymity’s sake, O’Reilly said he posed as a 9-year-old boy under the username “RANDYPETERS1,” posting a series of films crudely constructed on Microsoft Paint. The videos, which feature an eight-legged cat named “Octocat,” have received hundreds of thousands of hits.
With fences that never stop growing, large floating heads and screaming monsters, the five-episode drama inspired a huge response, O’Reilly said. Stuffed animal versions of Octocat, video games and other artwork based on the original character sprung up around the Internet.
“People even made pornographic pictures featuring Octocat,” O’Reilly said. “These videos caused my biggest fan response to date.”
O’Reilly said discovering animation enabled him to experiment beyond his training in more traditional media. In response to critics who argued that animation is inorganic and lacks spontaneity, the artist said he collected screen shots of computer glitches to prove its validity as an art form with its own surprises.
“I put together a gallery of what happens when software flips out, and I always looked at it for inspiration,” he said.
O’Reilly’s showed audience members his most recent film, called “The External World,” which features multiple surreal story lines: in one, a son kills his father after being pressured to learn a piano piece perfectly, while another gives life to a Kleenex box that screams in pain every time someone removes a tissue.
When a student asked why he was so obsessed with showing cats in his videos, O’Reilly responded in a deadpan voice, “I just love to have sex with cats. It’s a weird fetish of mine.”
Though he said he was joking, O’Reilly did concede a fascination with putting cats in his films.
“It’s an aesthetic thing. Graphically, they’re so close to humans, you can make shapes look like cats so easily,” he said. “And things just tend to be funnier with cats.”
Four students interviewed said they appreciated O’Reilly’s willingness to engage the audience and felt they could relate to his low-key demeanor while discussing art.
“He’s super young, and I think it’s really interesting that he’s working with Twitter and these really basic things we think about all the time,” said Rick Yribe, ART ’13.
Since premiering at the Venice Film Festival, “The External World” has won over 20 awards.