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‘Wolfwalkers’ Ross Stewart and Tomm Moore


10:37 am
January 14, 2021



Posts: 19


As co-founder of Irish animation studio Cartoon Saloon and director of the Oscar-nominated Celtic folktales, “The Secret of Kells” (2009) and “Song of the Sea” (2014), Tomm Moore has become the most prominent hand-drawn creator since Hiyao Miyazaki. His secret weapon: art director and childhood pal Ross Stewart, who ascended to co-director on this year’s “Wolfwalkers,” the final film in their trilogy about preserving Ireland’s cycle of life.

Moore and Stewart immediately hit it off in grade school in Kilkenny (the current home of Cartoon Saloon). That’s when they competed in a draw-off to see who could make the better Batman. When Stewart won, Moore knew instantly that he was an artist to be reckoned with. “He always had a strong sense of graphic design,” Moore said. “We had been friends for so long that it was natural to work together on ‘Secret of Kells.’ We were like Beavis and Butt-Head.”

“What I love about working with Tomm is we share the same visual taste, and if you came up with an interesting idea, he would say to push it further, let’s go as far as we can,” added Stewart, who has been able to leverage his own experience as a painter and fine arts enthusiast to expand the look of their movies. “Tomm would never say an idea was too crazy. He was as energized as I was in pushing animation as far as we could [at Cartoon Saloon].”

After studying animation together in the ‘90s at Ballyfermot College in Dublin, the duo dreamed of one day becoming part of the Studio Ghibli of Ireland, which they’ve accomplished at Cartoon Saloon, partnering with indie distributor GKIDS and Apple TV+ as co-producer of “Wolfwalkers.”

“Ross and I were really into comics and self-published [one] with friends in the ’90s, and the original idea for what was to become ‘The Secret of Kells’ was cooked up around then,” Moore said. “We could never do it as a school project, and, in, the end, we got some financing in 2000 from the Millennium Arts and Culture Project. We were in pre-production for several years until it came together at Cartoon Saloon [as French/Belgian co-production]. It was a crazy journey.”

“Kells” follows 12-year-old Brendan, who lives in an abbey and helps complete the sacred “Book of Kells” — Ireland’s most precious religious artifact — as a defense against the invading Vikings from the north. It’s a coming-of-age story full of mystical forest-set wonders, overcoming oppression, and achieving a liberating sense of individuality and artistry. Moore and Stewart thought it would be exciting to translate that into 2D with a hand-made aesthetic inspired by medieval stories and legends of the period.

The pair got a printed copy made of “The Book of Kells” manuscript from Trinity College, which Stewart studied and applied as the basis of the shape language for the movie, including its emphasis on spirals, which formed Brendan’s cape. They envisioned a pop-up book style of animation, which would carry over throughout the trilogy. But it was important to stay true to the Celtic shapes found in “The Book of Kells” as much as possible; that’s where they found coherence as well as historical accuracy.

And yet they also needed to find a style of their own, and that’s where Stewart excelled. He depicted life in the abbey for Brendan as flat and dull in his drawings, whereas the scenes in the magical forest were colorful and bright, full of dreams and flashbacks. And this contrasted with the darker scenes involving the battle with the Vikings, which had the look of a horror film.

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