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Interview: The Creative Team Behind ‘Wolfwalkers’ on the Making of Their Golden Globe-Nominated Animated Feature

February 3, 2021Ben MK

Praising a film as suitable for the whole family is a commendation that gets thrown around far too easily. But in the case of Cartoon Saloon's Wolfwalkers, the acclaim is more than just mere lip service. The latest from the studio that brought us the beloved The Secret of Kells and Song of the Sea, the movie had its world premiere at the 2020 Toronto International Film Festival before debuting on Apple TV+. But now that Wolfwalkers has been nominated for a Golden Globe award in the category of Best Animated Motion Picture, it's the perfect time to revisit one of the most charming animated films in recent memory.

I recently caught up with the creative team — Production Designer Maria Pareja, Rough Animation Supervisor Svend Rothmann Bonde, Head of Compositing Serge Ume, and Editors Darragh Byrne, Richie Cody and Darren T. Holmes — to chat about the making of Wolfwalkers.

As the third movie in Cartoon Saloon's trilogy of Irish folklore, what were some of the lessons learned from the previous two films that you took to heart in creating Wolfwalkers?

Bonde: My first job on a feature was on Song of the Sea, so I've worked on two of the films. I think you can see from The Secret of Kells over Song of the Sea to Wolfwalkers that things are getting richer — more volumetric. It was an intentional choice to play a little bit more with different themes as well. I see Wolfwalkers as more of an action movie, in some ways, than the first two.

Pareja: [The directors] Tomm [Moore] and Ross [Stewart] always say that. For example, in this one, they added a lot of crowds on the shots. And for them, that was a big step, because on the previous movies you would have a maximum of five characters per shot [whereas] in this one we have the town sequence, where you have a lot of characters. It was also a chance for them to use more [of] other programs and try to solve those problems. So that was something that was an "improvement" from previous movies.

Ume: I was involved in [all] three movies. [At] the beginning, Tomm and Ross wanted to have something more simple, but [by this last project] it was more and more complicated. And it's strange, because on The Secret of Kells and on Song of the Sea there was a 3D technique used, but [on Wolfwalkers] only the wolf-vision was made with CGI. [It] was [also] more difficult because there were a lot of shots — 1,800 shots — and it's much, much more than the previous projects. It's really an action movie, and there are a lot of different and very short [shots]. All these shots needed to be prepared and put in place. It's why this project was more difficult.

In terms of things that were left on the cutting room floor, were there any scenes that you were especially sad to see not include in the film and why?

Byrne: There was a great comedy scene we cut out for time. And I don't think Darren has forgiven me yet, but it had to go. [laughs] It was a very good scene with the woodcutters that was very funny, but for time it was that or other stuff that's in the film. So, yeah, that [scene] leaving was tough, but you have to make those hard choices. I think it is good that it's gone.

Holmes: There's enough of those smaller character moments that still play, so you don't lose them completely.

Byrne: Absolutely. The comedy elements are still in there, but sometimes if it's not moving the story forward stuff has to go. And there were a lot of early [story]boards that were gone. [In] act one there was a scene between [Oliver] Cromwell and Bill [Goodfellowe] that went on for nearly 10 minutes. I think we're all glad that's gone. [laughs] There were a lot of changes made early on in the film's [first] act. All those elements are in the film, but it's a lot better than it was. Cuz it was very slow before and now it gets straight into the story much quicker.

Cody: Yeah, all of those changes that were made to act one really just simplified the whole situation. You still had the same personal journey that Bill and [his daughter] Robyn embark on. But in very early versions of the story they actually were living in the forest before moving into the town. And that was a lovely element and it showed them at home in the forest together, but it just confused the beginning of the film — like why did they leave the forest to come into town if all they want to do is get back to the forest in the first place.

Byrne: There were ten different ways of starting the story, and I think we started it the right way.

Cody: For nice elements like that — ideas that you like but that don't serve the story — I'm actually opposite to Darren and Darragh. I love getting rid of those moments. I'm so satisfied I can get rid of something nice or something beautiful if it means that the story feels better because of it. If you watch the film and you don't notice it's gone — as nice as the scene is — it's probably not worth its time.

Byrne: And I think it leaves you a lot longer to play with the lovely scenes in the middle of the film between Robyn and Mebh, for they are friends. And maybe they don't serve the story, but they're such beautiful scenes that it's better to fight for those. Your central characters have to win out.

Wolfwalkers is now streaming on Apple TV+.

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