INTERVIEW: Tomm Moore talks Song of the Sea

Gearing for the Irish release of Song of the Sea, I asked director Tomm Moore about working with voice actors and musicians and directing a 2D animation in a world of 3D and IMAX.

The story is based on the ancient Celtic myth of the selkie. What was it about the story that appealed to you?

For me, the selkie stories had a powerful melancholy metaphor to them, about loss and grief and the sadness of loving someone too much and trying to hold on to them even if it’s not whats best for them. Also they had a connection between humans and the natural world that I feel is common in a lot of mythology and is important in the modern world to remember our place as part of and not removed from, the environment.

I was watching the extras on The Secret of Kells Blu-ray recently and you said you were influenced by the Book of Kells when it came to the look of the film. I was wondering what were the influences behind the look of Song of the Sea?

Song of the Sea was an evolution in many ways from The Secret of Kells’ style, it grew from that production organically. The art director Adrien Merigeau was a background artist on Kells and when we started to work on Song of the Sea he brought his amazing style and approach to watercolour painting to the table. I wanted a timeless, picture book quality and we looked at the paintings of Paul Henry as well as the rock carvings in Ireland and Scotland from Pictish times, which Adrien surprisingly found parallels to modern art in, such as Klee or Kandinsky.

In a world of IMAX and 3D, it is refreshing to see a traditional animated movie. Is that an important element to you?

Only in so far as it’s what we do in Cartoon Saloon, it’s our medium of choice and it’s how we envision any project we get involved in for the most part. Not to say some of the other directors in Cartoon Saloon won’t try their hands at other mediums but for now we find it’s the best way to tell the stories we want to tell, and we still get to spend our days drawing and animating in the timeless style of traditional animation, and finally it’s a way to stand out, animated movies have begun to look very similar and “samey” these days so being 2D and hand drawn really does help differentiate us.

You have an excellent cast. I was wondering how much that influences the finished product in an animated movie. I assume most of the creative process is completed before actors come on board.

Not at all. We cast some of the voices before we even had final designs, characters such as Fionnula Flanagans Granny and Macha evolved to fit her performance, similarly Brendan Gleeson was always our first choice for the kids father Conor and his design reflects Brendans physicality. Also for all the other characters we were able to get our first choice everytime and that was amazing .

Liam Hourican us a very funny and talented man who did many voices for The Secret of Kells and it was great to work with him again. He seems to be able to do any accent and is great at improvisation.

Pat Shortt and Jon Kenny are definitely two of my favourite performers all the way back to the days of D’Unbelievables. I was really delighted both were willing to be part of the voice cast.

We had to think harder for the part of Bronach with the part requiring someone who could act as well as sing, it was Colm O Snodaigh from Kila who suggested Lisa Hannigan and she did an amazing job not just of the singing which she is so well known for but of the acting parts as well.

Casting kids is always difficult but I was lucky enough that my young nephew Kevin could play the part of little Ben adding a layer of authenticity to the part that we could never get with an adult or older child playing the part.

For the role of Saoirse we found a super talented young girl from Kilkenny where our studio is, Lucy O’Connell who is definitelya star in the making and who amazingly enough even looks like Saoirse a little bit!

Maybe the hardest role to cast was Ben the main character, who carries so much of the movie himself, luckily we were doing the animation for the TV series Moone Boy in Cartoon Saloon so were able to benefit from Chris O’Dowds discovery of David Rawle, probably the most talented and experienced 11-year-old actor in the country at the time!

David has a great natural acting ablity and sense of comic timing and fun, I think he really did so much work for us with his performance in helping the character come to life.

You also have musicians like Lisa Hannigan and Kila on the soundtrack. What was it like working with them?

We are old friends with Kila and long time fans too of their work. They worked with Bruno Coulais on The Secret of Kells so it was our first choice to work with them again on this production. It was much more involved process, beginning when we first started writing. Bruno loved Lisa’s voice and ended up including her singing right thru the score, bringing a presence of her character into the film.

You’ve already won Prix Spécial du Jury at the Festival International des Voix du Cinéma d’Animation. It must be nice for all your hard work to be recognised. Are you hoping for one of those gold statuettes this time out?

I’m not really focusing on awards and nominations – even if they are always nice to help with publicity.

I know it might sound corny but the best prize for me is if people, especially young kids and families enjoy the film and get something out of it.