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Wolfwalk on the Wild Side - Tomm Moore and Ross Stewart
From the Secret of Kells to Wolfwalkers, Cartoon Saloon has been a studio of unmatched style and story. Listen as directors Tomm Moore and Ross Stewart share their vision
At School of Motion, we always focus on motion design but lately you might have noticed that we're talking to a lot of animators—specifically people working in feature and TV animation. These professionals bring a new perspective to our day-to-day work. They can inspire us, confound us, and blow our dang minds. As artists, we all share the same goal: To create.
When we talk about motion graphics, we talk about two different things: motion, the movement of things; and design, the physical appearance of those things. Cartoon Saloon takes that approach to the next level with their animated feature films. From Secret of Kells to Song of the Sea to their new film, Wolfwalkers, their unique style stands out even in an incredibly saturated market.
Is there another studio that thinks so much like a motion designer? Take a look at the trailer below and you'll see what we mean. They put so much time into the physical design of their production: the characters, the worlds, even down to the hand-drawn and hand-painted coloration.
When you watch Wolfwalkers, there is a sensitivity to the design of the characters in the world. Every mark is motivated by the characters, the story, and the world. While only a few animators think so deeply about their creations, it's a mindset every motion designer can understand.
Animation isn't just about key frames and poses, but about cultivating your voice and your vision, and that's evident from Warner Brothers Termite Terrace to Studio Ghibli with Miyazaki and—today's guest—Tomm and Ross from Cartoon Saloon.
So shed your human suit and howl at the moon. It's time to get a little wild with Tomm and Ross.
Wolfwalk on the Wild Side - Tomm Moore and Ross Stewart
Ryan Summers: At School of Motion, we always focus on motion design but lately you might have noticed that we're talking to a lot of animators, people working in feature animation, TV animation. I really enjoy talking to these professionals because they bring a new perspective to our day to day work and there's no studio that I'm more excited to talk about than the one you're going to hear from today, and it's for a specific reason.
Ryan Summers: Now, obviously when we talk about motion graphics, we talk about two different things. We talk about motion, the movement of things, and we talk about design, the physical appearance of those things. There really isn't a studio that concerns themselves with those two separate things, motion and design in the animation field like Cartoon Saloon. From Secret of Kells to Song of the Sea to this new film, Wolfwalkers, and all the work that they've done in between. I don't know of another studio that thinks so much like a motion designer. They put so much time into the physical design of their characters, their worlds, down to the way that they make their marks.
Ryan Summers: If you ever get a chance to take a look at Secret of Kells, you'll know what I mean, but you really need to watch Wolfwalkers because not only is there such a sensitivity to the design of the characters in the world. The actual mark making is motivated by the characters and the stories and the world that we're experiencing, and that's something I haven't seen very often in animation, but it is something I've seen a lot in motion design. So, with that in mind, take a listen to Cartoon Saloon and, as soon as you can, either get that art of Wolfwalkers' book in your hand, or just go over to Apple TV and take a look at the movie itself.
Ryan Summers: Motioneers, one of the things that I talk about endlessly here at School of Motion is that animation isn't just about key frames and poses but it's also about cultivating your voice and your vision, and in my opinion, there's really only three studios over the course of the history of animation that have really allowed directors to develop those two things, their voice and vision. We can go back in time and we can talk about Warner Brothers Termite Terrace, Studio Ghibli with Miyazaki and also the guests that I have today, their studio, Cartoon Saloon. Today I have Tomm Moore and Ross Stewart to talk about their new film, Wolfwalkers. I cannot wait to dive into animation, but thank you guys so much for being a part of our show today.
Tomm Moore: It's a pleasure. Thank you for having us.
Ryan Summers: So, guys, this movie, I've watched it three times now and it's amazing to me because I'm a huge fan of Secret of Kells and I feel like when I first watched that film, I never thought that there'd be anything that would top it just in terms of visual design language and how the story and the source for all of the inspiration and the final animation kind of connects together and melds, but I really feel like as part of your trilogy, I think that this film, Wolfwalkers, bests that film in almost every single way. Can you guys tell me, how did this film start? How long ago did you start and where did the inspiration come from?
Tomm Moore: It was about seven years ago and Ross and I just sort of got together and kind of came up with all the themes that we felt would sustain us for the journey of making a feature, because we knew it would take a long time. So we were just melding in all the things we were passionate about, things that we knew we wouldn't get bored of and things we wanted to speak to. Ironically a lot of those themes carried all the way to the end and a lot of those things became even more prescient as we made the movie.
Tomm Moore: So, you know, like speaking about species extinction, environmental issues, polarization within society and characters being true to their own inner selves and finding their own identity against a backdrop of a kind of conservative or repressive society. All those kind of issues, those things that we wanted to speak to, they grew stronger as we worked with the team and as the project went along. So it was a very organic beginning and development process and then we had about three years of full production that we just wrapped up there in July.
Ryan Summers: That's amazing. I don't think you could have predicted how prescient so much of the backdrop of this film is to modern times. Living here in America, there were multiple times where I just had to take a big exhale watching characters kind of go through the process of the story. Were you kind of surprised by how modern this movie ended up feeling at the same time that it's talking about ... It starts in the, I think, 1670s, 1650? It's amazing to see those themes from that long ago still feel immediately present while watching this film.
Ross Stewart: Yeah, we were surprised but also a little bit dismayed because we'd hoped that by the time we finished the film, maybe the world would be in a better place. There wouldn't be forest fires burning through California, Brazil, Australia and everything, and then also maybe world leaders might work together to solve some of these climate change problems but instead it got worse and yeah, it was a little bit disappointing to see.
Ross Stewart: There was one time when the color background artists were doing forests on fire for the film and the reference that they could pull from was just on the news. Just all over the world there were forest fires, so it was pretty dismaying, really, to see that.
Ryan Summers: Yeah, it's amazing to watch the film because our listeners ... When you watch a film, the characters go on an amazing emotional arc and I really felt like ... especially the character, the father, Bill, the personal moments of kind of the realization of what's going on in not wanting to lose his daughter but also just his realization of his place in the world. There's just this moment of kind of awakening that I feel like a lot of people are kind of going through now in a lot of different ways.
Tomm Moore: Yeah, it's a harder journey for the adults and the parents, I think. In a way that transition time, even as you go through it as a teenager, it can feel very huge and like everything is changing and it's all out of control but you're still young enough that you're kind of resilient and you're able to face into it with a little bit less fear. I think there's more resistance. That same kind of transition. If you look at the arc that Robyn goes through, she's ready for a change, she wants a change and she needs a change, and she embraces it when it comes to a fair extent. But that is like ... Bill is resisting it and I think that's true of people today.
Tomm Moore: I have discussions with friends and we feel like things are on the precipice of crumbling down but maybe it's like those games where we have to let things kind of fall apart and keep what's really, really important rather than trying to cling to everything, because the way we've been living is so destructive. We might have to relearn how to live in a way that is maybe more traumatic for us older people than it will be for the young people.
Ross Stewart: Yeah, and a lot of the time the adults only change when they're really backed into a corner, when things have actually become as bad as they possibly can and are about to fall apart.
Ryan Summers: Absolutely. I felt that way watching the film the whole time, was that Robyn feels like she's ready to blossom, ready to explode into the world, but you're almost rooting for the father to have that moment. You're rooting for him to just open your eyes, just understand, and I have to say, going back to Secret of Kells, I feel like, Tomm, you're kind of in ... I'm trying to think of the best way to say ... an expert of showing two worlds or two cities at the same time, and it's not just in the storytelling, which I think has improved immensely, even from Secret of Kells, but the way that you guys approached the visual design language in this film, I've honestly never really seen something so intentful but also something so loose and relaxed in the sense that the two worlds that we live in, the city and the forest, the characters of the humans and then the world of nature ...
Ryan Summers: There's a shot I think four or five shots into this movie that I knew we were in for something special. We see a deer kind of raise its head and you can actually see the construction drawing lines, the overdrawing underneath the tighter lines, and immediately I'm like, "This movie's doing something very, very different." Can you talk about how you approach that sense of these two worlds in your film?
Tomm Moore: Yeah. I wouldn't say it's me now because Ross was art director on Secret of Kells so these are ... all the visual ideas are stuff that Ross and I have been talking about and working with since Secret of Kells and I think we just brought them to the fore. We were able to, as well. So many ideas we had in Secret of Kells, like having those rough lines and stuff in for the wolves and all, it didn't fit that story. That story had to have a different look, and also that pipeline was very divided. We had to send in-betweens and cleanup drawings to Hungary and stuff to get done. It wasn't going to work but this time we were able to work with teams that were closer together where assistant animators and animators were working closer together and the final line team were able to keep carrying the construction line through.
Tomm Moore: Those kind of choices, those kind of decisions are stuff that Ross and I have been talking about for years. We played with it a bit on The Prophet [inaudible 00:08:48].
Ross Stewart: Yeah, like the short segment that we directed for the Prophet, we were experimenting a little bit with different cleanup styles and expressive line that could maybe describe the inner turmoil or the inner emotions or moods of the characters, but yeah, the Wolfwalkers design style also ... like Tomm and myself had ideas but really it was a collaboration with a great team of concept artists and scene illustrators as well. We wanted to show two contrasting worlds, one that was ordered and very much like a cage for Robyn and then one that was very free and instinctive and wild, that would show the world of Maeve, and the two characters then had to find this balance. Robyn had to become a little bit more wild and Maeve had to become a little bit more ordered or a little bit more responsible.
Ross Stewart: So really, to try and push those two worlds as far apart as possible in visual terms would help with the visual language of the whole film, that innately you know that all the people in the town are oppressed and innately you know that the energy and the color and the life that's in the forest is something very healthy and something that maybe the townspeople are missing. So yeah, we had a great team of artists that helped us to push those two worlds in that order.
Ryan Summers: How hard was that to finalize and really come up with the language itself? Because there's one shot in particular ... I wrote down the list the second time I watched this movie of my kind of gasp out loud moments. If I was watching a Marvel film, I'd call them the Marvel moments, but in this list of things, there's so many amazing moments. There's this super wide town shot where Robyn's being carried away by her dad and you see the city kind of in this almost completely flat perspective. It blew me away when I saw it and I can go down this list. The wolves waking up in the cave for the first time as Robyn walks past them.
Ryan Summers: There's a really beautiful transition that I think is only used once in the film, where you wipe to almost a sketch and then it goes to almost blank paper. All of those just build up to this one moment and what I loved about it was it was an acting moment where the visual design language, the acting, the emotion of the character all built to itself, but Robyn almost wakes up when she's going into her wolf form. She collects herself and she pulls her hair back.
Ryan Summers: But that visual design language, you literally see in one shot the character go from super tight lines to starting to go sketchy and then she waves her hand back and it goes back to she collects herself to being all ... I've never seen that actually pulled off in a film before.
Tomm Moore: I noticed that you're pointing to something that I'm really proud of, is that every department had to think like a filmmaker, so [crosstalk 00:11:25] example you've got there comes from a different stage of production and a different input from different teams. And that's what it was. Everyone was onboard for the ideas that Ross and I had at the concept stage, so that flattened out town, I remember, came from looking at old maps from the time period and the way they drew that sort of weird two and a half D kind of fractured look and kind of style. So we were thinking about the way the maps ...
Tomm Moore: At one point we were even going to leave the writing in where they wrote in strange handwriting. We were really pushing into that because they were like, "That kind of shows the mindset of people taking over the country. They're flattening it all out and making it into a map and making it into a territory rather than a habitat."
Tomm Moore: Then all the other things you were talking about, like when she first comes into the cave, I remember that was a motion that Louise [Bagnew 00:12:14], one of the storyboarders first came up with and [crosstalk 00:12:17]. I'm trying to think, but yeah, the cleanup ... Oh yeah, the wipe. Each background was made with a team who drew the black and white drawings in pencil and charcoal and then painted and colored by another team, but then those layers were delivered to compositing, so that was just an idea we had in compositing. We said, "Hey, wouldn't it be nice to make that kind of Warner Brothers wipe where we finished a day with a circular wipe and then iris out? Why don't we show the underlying drawing, show the layers of the drawing while we do that?" And so that came at compositing.
Tomm Moore: And then the final example you gave was the cleanup department or the final line animation department where that was something that I remember Ross and I talked about. "Wouldn't it be cool to do something like that where we actually showed the character kind of going between different mindsets in how they're drawn?" And I remember talking to the cleanup department at the beginning, like John, the supervisor and Tatiana, the lead, and saying, "This is something we'd like to try," and they were really excited about it because we were asking them to be artists, not just technicians. Asking them to bring something to it.
Tomm Moore: So it's not just like ... I think Deanne animated that scene and she did a lovely job, but it wasn't until the final line was done because the final line brought another level of storytelling and emotion to that scene by the way they changed from the different line styles. So I'm really delighted, you're exactly the audience member we were dreaming of [crosstalk 00:13:36] things.
Ross Stewart: And remember the cleanup ... John and Tatiana, the cleanup supervisor and lead, they were obviously aware that it was going to take the artists longer to do scenes like that, but they were so thrilled, the fact that cleanup could take more of a center stage, because usually cleanup departments are the ones that are tidying up drawings and they're kind of like polishers and they're ... Maybe it's a bit more of a craft that doesn't get its due reward onscreen whereas we wanted to make cleanup as much a part of the artistry of the film as possible.
Tomm Moore: Maybe like comic book inking rather than tracing.
Ross Stewart: Yeah, so we decided to not call them cleanup artists and more final line artists, because they were bringing so much more to the animation.
Tomm Moore: Yeah, and the background team had layout artists, final line background artists and color artists, so each department were mimicking the animation steps where the layout was the overall composition and shapes and then the final line could get really into the different types of line style for different environments and then the color background artists were kind of like the final step in the three step process to create the environments.
Ryan Summers: It's really amazing because it really does feel so unified even though it's a tale of two different worlds. I honestly feel like this film ... it's as tactile as like a stop motion film. One of the movies I love, and I think, Ross, you worked on this significantly, ParaNorman from Laika always felt like the height of tactility, like I could reach out and feel not just the characters, because they're puppets, but like the world itself had these different textures. It amazed me watching this film that having so many different things, the woodcut mark making of the city itself, the off registration painting, even just there's this really nice self colored line on a lot of the characters when the light hits it that all of those different little things ... It really makes me feel like this film sits right in what I think is the golden age of animation right now, or a new golden age, that you have a world like Into the Spider-Verse that's obviously produced totally differently. It's 3D, but that care at, like you said, every single step, it can only come from everybody working together.
Ryan Summers: How hard is that to keep the crew kind of engaged and focused on it? Because I'm sure it's a little bit of a moving target at the beginning, right?
Tomm Moore: Yeah, and getting people to kind of buy into what we're trying to do.
Ross Stewart: Yeah, but I think that comes from a love of the medium that you're working in. Like just going back to when you mentioned ParaNorman there, I think the one lovely think about Laika is that they really love the medium of stop motion and they want to show that onscreen. I remember watching The Corpse Bride and the Corpse Bride was so polished and so towards CG that I didn't know it was stop motion until someone told me afterwards.
Tomm Moore: I told you.
Ross Stewart: Yeah, and I was like, "What? I thought it was stop motion" because it really looked so polished and so clean and everything, and I think Laika would be more on the [inaudible 00:16:50] side of things where they wanted to show the craft that goes into stop motion. They want to make it like the little costumes that are made of actual textiles and hand stitched and everything. They wanted to show that craft onscreen, and I think it would be the same for us here at Cartoon Saloon that we want to show the drawings. We want to show that if there are backgrounds that are painted with watercolor and paper or like wolfvision done with charcoal and pencil and paper. We wanted to show that it's an actual hand-drawn element, not clean it up afterwards so that it looks as realistic as possible or it looks as CG as possible.
Ryan Summers: Right, right.
Ross Stewart: I think that's maybe one thing that all the crew buy into probably when they apply to Cartoon Saloon or when they decide to work on one of the productions, is that they know that it's a studio and also a production that wants their artwork to end up onscreen and not be overproduced.
Tomm Moore: It was kind of empowering every department as well to feel proud of what they were doing and to give them an opportunity to have a say in the filmmaking. It was very collaborative, this film, you know? And everybody had something to bring to it. So even ink and paint and stuff wasn't just standard kind of point and click ink and paint department. They were all animators themselves and they were making decisions when to drag the colors to make blurs or when to push the kind of over ... the kind of offset effect that happens with printing that we wanted to get. So yeah, everyone was involved in kind of helping to create the final vision but I also do think that they had a lot of ... There was a lot of respect because we had a lot of [inaudible 00:18:22] people.
Tomm Moore: Not at least Ross who was an art director on previous projects, but each department head had sort of been through the fire of breadwinner. Some go back to Song of the Sea and Secret of Kells and so all the crew then were a mix of experienced and young, enthusiastic people and I think it really felt like everybody ... I don't know, it was exciting. It felt like an art school kind of vibe which I really enjoy.
Ryan Summers: I love that sense of experimentation and you mentioned wolfvision, which is ... It's obviously a cornerstone moment in the film, but it's also just ... it's visually stunning because it looks and feels unlike anything else. How did you guys develop that? Because I went back and I looked at ... I think there was a conceptual pitch for Wolfwalkers from something like 2017 and the-
Tomm Moore: Exactly, yeah.
Ryan Summers: The spirit of it was there but it feels so different in terms of the filmmaking. I love the amount of control that you guys demonstrate as directors within the film. There's a lot of locked off cameras. There's a lot of things on center, but I feel like because of that, it builds up this tension that as soon as you get into wolfvision that very first time, that first person point of view, the camera almost feels like what you feel like if you're in VR. Like you have an Oculus Rift on, but it still has this ...
Ryan Summers: I talked to Glen Keane before this and I feel like it has a spirit of his charcoal line moving through it. How did you guys find that look? And did it come from people just going off and experimenting? Or was it this very focused, "I know we need to achieve it this way. Let's go out and do it"?
Ross Stewart: There was a fair bit of experimentation. We knew that it had to be this rollercoaster ride that, once Robyn experiences it, she can't go back to her normal way of life living in the very flat, two-dimensional town. So we knew it had to be, like as you say, something that was unlike anything else in the film and would hopefully make the audience sit up and kind of go, "Oh wow, what the hell is going on here? This is a bit weird." So we knew that it had to be, as you say, like the little scene in the trailer, that had this kind of first person VR experience to it, but it also had to fit the style of the film in that it had to look hand rendered and hand-drawn.
Ross Stewart: The one that was done for the trailer was done by this amazing animator, Emmanuel, who did a grid of an entire landscape and animated a fly through and then afterwards put in trees and put in [crosstalk 00:20:46]-
Tomm Moore: But he did it all by hand.
Ross Stewart: Yeah, he did it all by hand.
Ryan Summers: [crosstalk 00:20:49]
Ross Stewart: And so that was amazing, but there's only animator we know of that could
Ryan Summers: And you couldn't give him a retake because it would be heartbreaking [crosstalk 00:20:55] you figured it out, you were like, "Great." Yeah [crosstalk 00:20:59]-
Ross Stewart: That's a one off scene and it's only maybe one animator could do something like that in the studio, so we had to make something that a team of people could work on and could fit into a pipeline. So we worked with this animation director, Eimhin McNamara, who works with Paper Panther Studios up in Dublin and he's worked a lot with traditional animation and all kinds of different media animation like oil and glass and everything, sand and all kinds of stuff. You name it, he's kind of dipped his hand into it. So he came down and we were trying out different working methods and different kinds of looks and he knew what we wanted to get. There has to be a kind of a Princess Kaguya of [inaudible 00:21:43], that kind of energetic mark making and everything, but he knew that it had to be a kind of much more of a VR experience.
Ross Stewart: So he started learning with some of the software in Oculus Rift. He got [crosstalk 00:21:56] headset here and he started sculpting some of the environments, some of the forest landscapes in VR, and he'd never done that before but he only learned it in a week or two. It was pretty amazing. And so he was building this environment for a couple of weeks and then he did camera fly throughs and-
Tomm Moore: And we could do retakes then because it wasn't so painful to say I needed the camera to be lower or slower or whatever. We could do lots of different versions of the shot before we committed to pencil and paper. And then, yeah, it went from that, whatever we locked on there. Eventually we started doing stuff in Blender and stuff too [inaudible 00:22:31] he worked with a team on the CG side but basically very small amount of work, a very rudimentary CG, but then that became the basis for the hand-drawn animation. That was all done on paper actually, so they would have printed out that as a kind of [crosstalk 00:22:46] a kind of rotoscope and then drawing it all on paper with pencil and charcoal to get that really hand-drawn feel.
Tomm Moore: And yeah, we were inspired. We were looking at line tests from Tarzan back in the day and stuff. We love that energy as well, but yeah, Princess Kaguya was the real reference point and the energy of that, but we wanted it to be like a fly through or ... So we're kind of breaking the wall that we usually have in our movies. We usually kind of keep things pretty picture book-y and locked off but this was a bit different.
Ross Stewart: And the way that it kind of kept that Kaguya mark making energy is that the things that were printed out were very rudimentary shapes, like very kind of basic blocking shapes, and so the artist still had to draw in ... had to decide what details to put in and had to decide how to express contours and that. So they had to still think like animators. They weren't just tracing, so they had to still think like what to show and what not to show.
Ryan Summers: That's brilliant. I feel like that even goes back to back in the day, like the old Popeye animations where they'd film turntables for backgrounds and then draw ... It's amazing how technology just basically recreates experimentations from the past. That's super exciting.
Tomm Moore: I wonder why that never caught on. That was so crazy looking. I saw it again recently. The Fleischer brothers thing. I wonder why ... Disney never did it maybe, that was why.
Ryan Summers: Yeah, it's amazing to look at. I think any student that gets into animation school and sees that, it's almost a mind bender because it's hard to place what time period that was actually made because it's so, again, tangible and physical and real, but then you have this really disparate, really loose limbed kind of cartoony sensibility on top of it.
Tomm Moore: Yeah. We have a sister studio here in Kilkenny called Lighthouse and they mostly do TV show work. They're working on a show of Cuphead and it has that kind of sensibility. They kind of use that stuff as a reference. Do you know [crosstalk 00:24:38]?
Ryan Summers: Absolutely.
Tomm Moore: It's like [crosstalk 00:24:38]. Yeah, yeah. They're doing the same thing but they're using modern software to get the same effect. So the idea that they were putting a sheet of glass up and then [crosstalk 00:24:48] and stick a Popeye on [inaudible 00:24:51] into a sheet of glass, taking a picture, take it all apart, put another set ... Oh my God, it's amazing.
Ryan Summers: That's mind blowing. I wanted to ask you guys, because I have my personal kind of favorite single shot, but in this film full of just great layouts and very different style of backgrounds and great character moments, do you each have a shot that surprised you in its transition from either storyboarding or layout to the final animation, the final application of the style that, when you saw it in context, the whole picture, it kind of surprised you or took the wind out of your sails when you saw it? That you were like, "Wow, I didn't expect it to look this way or to feel this way?
Ross Stewart: It's kind of hard to pick out one scene. I mean there were so many times that the crew would deliver back work and we'd see it in reviews and it would blow our mind because we would have expectations of it being so high and then they would go way, way beyond that. So there were times when the animation was just, yeah, really astounding or color backgrounds would be painted so beautifully and all that. So it's kind of hard to pick one out, but I think usually in our montages is when we kind of try to push maybe a more artistic or clever framing or cheat perspective and stuff like that.
Ross Stewart: So there's a couple of really lovely shots in the montage at the end when Robyn is working. They were particularly nice, but then I think Tomm is of ... as regard to sequences, I think the running with the wolves sequence is one that we're pretty proud of because it kind of brings in every element, like amazing backgrounds and beautiful animation and wolfvision and all of our things that we're [inaudible 00:26:32] moments just during production and also in final compositing and blends them all together into one sequence, so I think that might be one that we're both pretty proud of.
Tomm Moore: Yeah, I'd say that would be the easy go to. [crosstalk 00:26:45] That goes for talking to animation people. I know your students are really into animation, is that we developed this technique of animating using really strong layout posing, kind of like Chuck Jones style, and we've done that since Secret of Kells. That was a way to know that things would work even if the animation was only okay, because sometimes we'd budget and schedule. Sometimes we had to accept animation that was just okay, but I felt like now all the animators, especially the guys in Luxembourg, also in France and in Kilkenny, a lot of them had worked on Breadwinner and they'd really pushed into much more subtle animation and they really upped their game.
Tomm Moore: There was one sequence where Robyn had to talk to herself. She's pretending that she's talking to her dad and her dad is the hat, and she's just talking to the hat. It's pure pantomime and it's just like a locked off stage kind of acting. I remember Nick [Dubrey 00:27:38], the supervising animator in Luxembourg sending that stuff through and I was just so happy with it because it had so much more personality. The storyboard was already funny and the voice acting was great. Honor did a great job impersonating Sean Bean and all, but then whenever he brought the ... He just brought so much more to it than the poses. He brought so much more in between the poses, and just gorgeous weight and timing and acting and all which was such a ... so nice to see.
Ryan Summers: I'm glad you said that. I love that moment because I feel like that moment and the moment I referenced before where she almost wakes up and then collects herself, I feel like 2D animation gets a lot of ... it gets dragged a lot for its capability to create believable and emotional acting. I feel like a lot of times people say we use the crutches of music and art design and all of those things, all those elements together, and 3D just theoretically is capable of better acting, which I don't believe it at all, but I feel like there were definitely moments in ... especially for film where it's so designed that I feel like there's the danger of it being ... audience sometimes can be distanced from it because the design is to tight and so specific that they can't pierce through that to have the ... I felt like you totally that that in those two moments.
Ryan Summers: I wanted to ask, this is just a super animation nerd question, you had a small crew of animators, at least in the main team, but I did notice that in the list of additional animators there was one James Baxter was listed.
Tomm Moore: Yeah. We tried him out. He [crosstalk 00:29:07] couple of shots but they weren't great so we told him [crosstalk 00:29:11].
Ryan Summers: There's this new young animator on the scene.
Tomm Moore: We recommend that he do your course actually [inaudible 00:29:15]. No, he was great. James and Aaron Blaze are kind of the quadruped kings of 2D animation [crosstalk 00:29:26]. Kings of 2D quadruped animation. They're not quadrupeds themselves. [inaudible 00:29:31] But anyway they both visited the studio and they both did a fantastic workshop on their approach to quadruped acting and quadruped animation and they were very inspiring for the crew. Aaron helped a little bit with character design early on but James did a couple of shots in the running with the wolves sequence.
Tomm Moore: It was funny, I met him at a party after Song of the Sea was released in summer in Beverly Hills, somebody's house. Mariam's house or someone's house. Somebody I know there and it was a fancy party, and then he came up to me. He said, "I really want to work on your next film," and I was like holy [crosstalk 00:30:07]. He was like, "My daughter is a singer and she loves Song of the Sea and she's singing the song from Song of the Sea all the time." So that was really sweet and then they ended up on the executive committee of our branch of the Academy for the last two years and I was often sitting beside James and every time I sat beside him, he was like, "I want to work on your ..." It's like, "Okay James." [crosstalk 00:30:30]
Ryan Summers: We'll find a shot for you. We'll find a shot.
Tomm Moore: "Okay, listen kid, tell you what. I'll give you a chance. I'll give you a break."
Ryan Summers: We'll try you out. That's amazing. It's such a great film and I feel like the echoes to your previous films, the growth that it's shown ... I think the maturity in storytelling is amazing. Kells is a wonderful film but I've always felt like tonally it took some sharp turns, and this movie ... It's an hour 45 minutes which is rare for a film but it flows so well. It feels so loose and free and then those last 20 minutes fly. I couldn't believe when I was ... The second time I watched the film, I was like, "When does this last act actually start?" It moves at such a clip of the ... The film-
Tomm Moore: [crosstalk 00:31:15] As well. I always thought it was interesting, what we tried. Not many people know this but we kind of built up to the point where Robyn would leave Dad behind as if she was leaving him behind for good and join the wolves and you could finish the movie where her and Mol and Maeve are reunited and they all could leave [crosstalk 00:31:32] Dad behind in the cage of his own choosing, but then it kind of picks up again. Yeah, that was kind of something that I was excited to try out structurally.
Ross Stewart: Yeah. We had to cut quite a lot just even to get it down to one-40. You know, like there was even a sequence at the start of the film that we cut and quite a few shots. We had to trim and trim and trim, so yeah, the Wolfwalkers could easily have been longer than one-45, but we just felt that when we got it to the end, that we couldn't really trim off anymore without it feeling a little bit jarred or something.
Tomm Moore: Yeah, I had that pain with Secret of Kells. There was a whole kind of finishing sequence after Brendan returned with the book and we made a call to be bold and just say, "Okay, we can't go higher than he finished the book and the Abbott sees the book, the end." And we made a kind of artistic choice to cut it there even though we had more boards, and I was always unsure whether we did the right thing or not there. Some people thought it was cool and some people thought it was too abrupt, but definitely for this it was such a classic fairytale we wanted to bring it to a nice finish, a nice climax [inaudible 00:32:36].
Ross Stewart: Yeah, probably if Wolfwalkers wasn't an action film, it would have dragged and you would have had kids getting bored and stuff, but I think because it's such an action-heavy third act, maybe that's why ... and you're invested in the characters because of the work done in act one, that maybe that's why it doesn't feel like it drags. We have heard of really young kids sitting glued to the screen for that full amount of time, so that's a pretty good sign, if they don't get bored, you know? Especially in this 10 second attention span era, you know?
Tomm Moore: [crosstalk 00:33:06] in their seats.
Ryan Summers: Well guys, thank you so much, Tomm and Ross. I really, really appreciate the time. Our audience is going to love this. I just want to leave with one last question. Cartoon Saloon has been so dedicated to 2D but you guys are also ... you're so experimental in terms of finding ways to use software like Moho or like we just found out using VR. In this kind of rebirth of animation, I think, of director driven stories, what are you most excited about for the future of animation, whether it's personally for Cartoon Saloon or just the industry at large, in general, as we go forward?
Ross Stewart: I think the crossovers now is kind of nice. Like you have films like we talked about just here today, films that are embracing their craft and also like a Spider-Verse, even though it's CG, wanting to appear more like a 2D and then stop motion not afraid of the thumbprints, and then you have ... I just saw a beautiful Blender work just this week where it looks like we're moving through a watercolor background.
Tomm Moore: Cedric Babouche, yeah, [crosstalk 00:34:12] ...
Ross Stewart: So it's like CG has kind of gone so far into the realism that now it's turning back and embracing more traditional things, and then at the same time, like traditional hand-drawn animation is able to use software to do things that maybe it would have been too hard to do before. So there's a great crossover happening at the moment.
Tomm Moore: And subject matter-wise too, we've got things like [crosstalk 00:34:33] Lisa and How I Lost My Body and we're [crosstalk 00:34:37] into other stuff, hopefully challenging the idea that animation is a genre of fairytales for kids and I can actually do lots of other things. So, no, it's an exciting time and there's a lot of young creative people. There are a lot of diverse people, which is important, too. People come from all sorts of backgrounds, not just middle aged men like us, so it's great. It's exciting.
Ryan Summers: I think that's the best note to end on. Like you said, I think with Into the Spider-Verse, Sergio Pablos's Klaus and now to kind of round out this classic film trilogy, Wolfwalkers really kind of pushes what we can expect out of filmmaking in terms of mark making and director style. Thank you both so much. I really appreciate your time.
Tomm Moore: No, thank you. [crosstalk 00:35:14]
Ross Stewart: Thank you, it's great. It's a great chat.
Tomm Moore: I hope it's inspiring for all your crew.
Ryan Summers: Absolutely. Okay, there really isn't that much more for me to say other than get out to Apple TV, watch this movie and take a look at all those things we talked about. Take a look at the sensitivity to the mark making, the looseness, the drawn through lines, the way the character transforms based on the world that they're living in. There's so many wonderful things in this film, but it's probably one of the most re-watchable films, and the real thing to take here, think about how you can bring that sensibility, that sensitivity, that attention to detail and not just the colors and the lines but the way the lines are made, the way the forms are portrayed in your own work, and think about how it actually could portray your characters' personalities, even for just talking about a square or a box bouncing across the screen.
Ryan Summers: Well, that was another treat just like so many of the other podcasts we've had. We're going to go out and find more people for you to talk to, more people to learn from, more people to be inspired by. But until then, peace.