Tomm Moore follows up his Oscar-nominated “The Secret of Kells” with an even more ambitious Irish folk tale, “Song of the Sea,” which plays Toronto on Saturday. Produced by the Ireland-based animation studio, Cartoon Saloon, and distributed by Gkids, “Song of the Sea” (opening December 19th) looks to be a sure Oscar contender for its exquisite hand-drawn beauty and stirring story about the last Seal-child trapped between two worlds.
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.”
“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.
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.”