the hand drawn Irish film about Pixar and Disney at the Oscars
Recently, director Tomm Moore, 44, dreamed he was back in animation school, claiming the grade he was given in real life years earlier. “Reward the nerves,” he jokes, as Wolf walkers, the beautiful, another final film in his Irish folk triptych, faces off against the power of the Disney and Pixar heavyweights for Best Animated Film at the Oscars (it has already won several smaller awards and been nominated for a Bafta).
Moore, who co-directed Wolf walkers along with his longtime friend and host Ross Stewart, has been here before. The other two films of the triptych, The secret of Kells (2009) and Song of the sea (2014) were also Oscar nominees and lost to Up (Pixar) and Great hero 6 (Disney) respectively. While Moore is happy that the animation category exists, it’s like comparing apples and oranges, he says.
It’s not just that this is a battle between David and Goliath over budgets and staff, though it certainly is. Pixar’s Oscars Hope Soul cost of US $ 150 million, compared to Wolf walkers“$ 15 million and it was considered important by his studio, Cartoon Saloon. Their previous film, Song of the sea, costs half of that. Pixar also has 1,230 employees, Cartoon Saloon has only 300. But these are also the very different design goals of the studios.
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Wolf walkers, almost entirely hand-drawn, tells the 17th century story of an English girl, Robin, and her hunter father (voiced fondly by Sean Bean), who was charged by the malicious “Lord Protector” (aka Oliver Cromwell) to wipe out the remaining wolf population near Kilkenny, Ireland, where wolves – and nature in general – are viewed with fear. But then Robin meets Mebh, a wild child of the forest, and discovers that she is a “wolf walker”, transforming into a wolf when she sleeps, and the two become friends.
The beautifully drawn movie uses the freedom of hand-drawn 2D animation to create thematic dots. Mebh is round and expansive, her red hair is a wild and windswept mess, disproportionate to her body in a way that is unrealistic but is rather expressive and reminiscent of the woods she comes from. Robin, as for him, like the city which imprisons him, is all in jagged lines and pointed nose, rigid, confined.
Hollywood animation studios have been heavily focused on realism ever since they started moving away from hand-drawn animation 25 years ago, following the success of Toy story (1995), which was the first fully computer-animated film.
Disney closed its 2D animation studio in 2013 and much of it has been left to other studios around the world, like Cartoon Saloon in Ireland and Japanese studio Ghibli, the team behind Hayao Miyazaki. Abducted as if by magic (2001) and Howl Moving castle (2004), to preserve and promote older and more traditional animation methods. Hollywood has been doing computer-generated animation for the past few decades, but the emphasis on realism couldn’t be more different from the more lyrical goals of Cartoon Saloon.
“Animation speaks in the language of dreams. It’s very free, ”says Moore. “Trying to convince you that this isn’t animation seems cramped to me. All over the world there are people performing their own local folk art in animation that we just don’t see because it’s not Disney. I think there is a whole artistic visual language in animation, especially hand drawn, that we can play around with.
Wolf walkers draws inspiration from traditional medieval art forms, including 17th-century woodcuts that influence the more rigid portrayal of the city, as well as the Celtic spirals of more surreal forest paintings, where Mebh transforms into a wolf in the middle of his loyal pack of wolves.
“We now have files and records of all kinds of bullshit on our server, with stuff from architectural drawings from the 1600s, pictures of random torture devices they were using back then,” laughs Stewart. “You really need to keep track of things because you don’t know, two years into the process, if someone is going to say, ‘Oh, where is that picture of that woodcut of that person being burnt on. the pyre.
“You always go from offshore to private and back,” says Moore.
Hand-drawn animation takes significantly longer than its computer-generated counterpart, with around 110 animators working to produce 12 drawings per second for every character you see onscreen – and that doesn’t include the many drafts. , storyboards and rough animations that precede that. (Computer generated movies at Pixar and Disney typically shoot at 24 frames per second but can go up to 64, which makes them appear more realistic).
Things can change a lot in this process. Robin started out as a boy, but the themes of the film – the confining nature of medieval life for girls, the friendship of Robin and Mebh, and the matriarchal overtones of the story (Mehb’s absent mother is the missing leader of the wolfpack) – inevitably led to rethinking. .
With such a long and collaborative process – Wolf walkers started life seven years ago – it helps that Moore and Stewart get to know each other well. They have been friends since the age of 11, when they bonded to be arty in a sports school. (“Ross was better than me at drawing Batman,” Moore says, shocked.)
In 1999, Moore started Cartoon Saloon with Paul Young and Nora Twomey, fellow animation graduates from Ballyfermot College of Higher Education. They started working on a trailer for The secret of Kells pretty much right away, although proper production didn’t start until 2005 due to lack of funding. Today the studio employs 300 people and has international collaborations with Apple TV + (Wolf walkers) and Netflix.
Moore and Stewart made up the story together, loosely drawing inspiration from the werewolf mythology of Ossory, a local myth about the Irish who would not convert to Christianity for St Patrick and were therefore cursed by him, forced to transform into hunted wolves. Stewart says, “It’s also a throwback to pagan belief systems. A culture more in tune with nature. We took all of that and created our own mythology.
It is certainly a film full of nostalgia for a more ecologically integrated past, and full of anger for the English colonialism that won. But it is also a film about tolerance and conciliation, embodied by the friendship of Robin and Mebh. Moore and Stewart had only one disagreement in the production, they say: about Robin’s bird friend Merlyn, and how human her expressions should be. “We have found a compromise. Tolerance, you see? said Stewart.
“I won,” Moore says, laughing.
How has their work evolved through the three films? “We started out by just trying to push hand-drawn animation and show what it could do that CG animation couldn’t. But I think we have become more courageous. Larger budgets have helped. This time, for example, we were able to test a virtual reality program to plan the scenes where you see the world through the eyes of the wolf, ”says Moore.
“Yeah, we call it wolf vision,” Ross said. “We would put on virtual reality glasses and see what the wolves could see, build the forest, etc.
“But all you see in the final cut is actually still pencil and paper,” Moore adds. “Computers can help, but I still think fairy tales work best in the hand.”
Wolf walkers is now available on Apple TV +