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Tomm Moore’s Exquisite Animated Oscar Contender ‘Song of the Sea’ Hits Major Cities

Tomm Moore's Exquisite Animated Oscar Contender 'Song of the Sea' Hits Major Cities

Produced by the Ireland-based animation studio, Cartoon Saloon, and distributed by Gkids, “Song of the Sea” is an animated Oscar contender for its exquisite hand-drawn beauty and stirring story about the last Seal-child trapped between two worlds. It debuted in Toronto.

Ben and his enchanted little sister Saoirse (a Selkie) are hurled into a fading world of ancient legend and magic as they attempt to return to their home by the sea. The film takes inspiration from the mythological Selkies of Irish folklore, who live as seals in the sea but become humans on land.

“Song of the Sea” features the voices of Brendan Gleeson, Fionnula Flanagan, David Rawle, Lisa Hannigan, Pat Shortt, and Jon Kenny. The score is composed by Bruno Coulais and Irish band Kíla, who previously collaborated on “The Secret of Kells.”

“I had heard plenty of Selkie stories growing up and had seen the ‘Secret of Roan Inish’ but had not really thought about doing anything with those legends until I spent some time with my family in Dingle on the west coast of Ireland several years ago during the pre-production of ‘Kells,'” Moore recalls. 
“My son was 10 at the time and while sketching on the beach together he noticed something rather disturbing — a dead seal floating on the surf. We asked the woman we rented our holiday cottage from about it and she said that young fishermen in the locality had taken to killing seals — blaming them for the drop in fish stocks — which is of course crazy, as it’s human overfishing that’s killing the industry.

“She said years ago that no fisherman would dare harm a seal as there was a widespread belief in Selkies — people who could transform from seal to human form and — also a belief that seals could contain the souls of those lost at sea. I began to think about how the old stories served us well in protecting what is truly valuable and important and how by losing these stories we are losing a lot more than just folklore. 

“When I got back to the studio I was talking about all this to my friend Ross Stewart, who was art director on ‘Kells.’ He lent me a book called ‘The People of the Sea,’ which was full of stories of Selkies from Ireland and Scotland. Since there was no place in ‘Kells’ to properly explore this mythology and these themes, I began to dream up a story about a Selkie and the way we lost so much of our folk wisdom to the modern world.

“I set it in 1987 because I was 10 years old then and I imagine it as being the transition time in Ireland when the old ways were fading just before the coming of ‘the Celtic tiger’ and all that.”

Moore took inspiration from diverse sources ranging from the magical and ecological Miyazaki to the romantic and melancholy Yeats. Working with art director Adrien Merigeau and then his animators, Moore developed a far richer aesthetic than on “Kells.” He says the look is an appropriate mash-up of pencil, watercolor, and modern computer techniques.

“For the characters, we tried to soften up the geometry from ‘Kells’ and think in a slightly more three-dimensional way to allow for more soft and fluid animation, and we also developed a secondary style in the film which is more soft and ‘watercolor-y’ for certain scenes, using a rough pencil line and a torn paper edge.”

The animation was split between Cartoon Saloon, Noerlum in Denmark and Studio 352 in Luxembourg, and they used TV Paint with some vehicles and VFX done in Anime Studio Pro and Blender. “We also found TV Paint allowed for us to go faster to a first pose test and use some shortcuts at clean up and in-between stage to allow us to have fuller animation with even higher quotas than on ‘Kells.'”

The result is a very warm style of animation that’s both fluid and filled with expressive personality. “I really feel I learned a lot about story and character since ‘Kells.’ I think since we worked again with so many animators who knew our style and since we were going for a more organic and full approach to the animation that it went a lot smoother than ‘Kells’ with less of a ramp up time for the animators.”

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