Tomm Moore, the writer/director of this year's Oscar-nominated animated feature, Song of the Sea, sat down with MovieFail to discuss his career, the challenges of following up his 2009 animated film, The Secret of Kells, and the need to distinguish himself apart from animation powerhouses in the USA and Japan. Most importantly, he is a staunch defender of hand-drawn, 2D animation, and seeks to keep the tradition alive in the modern computer age:
Is there something hand-drawn 2D art brings to the table that you prefer computer animation?I think hand-drawn has a lot still to do. I think it’s a medium that hasn’t really been fully used because for a long time, people working in hand-drawn were so influenced by Disney [that] they just copied Disney. And Disney’s look was limited by the technology of the time where they had to paint cells and layer the backgrounds and shoot them with a camera. You can only put so many cells underneath, you can only paint the characters flat. Now we’ve got this wealth of opportunity because we can use the computer to really make a hybrid style where we hand draw, hand animate, use all the language of painting and art history. And at the same time we can do loads more techniques…You can make films with much smaller teams, much more specialized rather than having this huge factory of two hundred people painting cells. We can focus on the organic side of it and then move to the computer to help us with stuff like coloring the characters and things like that.So I think that hand-drawn animation has an opportunity to reinvent itself and do whatever computer animation doesn’t really do well. And that’s basically did when photography came in. I think hand-drawn animation has huge potential that way. But just for me personally, I enjoy drawing. It’s the language that we’ve developed here in the studio – a certain visual language, a certain way of thinking. When we develop stories and films, especially the ones I’m going to direct, I think of something that’s going to take advantage of hand-drawn animation. Not to say that we wouldn’t try computer animation if it was the right story.I was hanging out with the guys who did Big Hero 6 the other night, and you know – that’s a movie that makes sense in CG. (Laughs.) Superheroes and sci-fi tech. It doesn’t need to be hand-drawn watercolor painted; it doesn’t make sense. Different stories for different mediums.You think these forms can coexist?Yeah. I hope – artistically, yes. What does the audience respond to, that’s another question. Will they respond to hand-drawn animation? I really hope they will. It’s tough. A few years ago, John Lasseter was talking about bringing back hand-drawn animation. He said that people were blaming hand-drawn animation for the movies not being good and said that was like saying the cameras were the problem rather than the people, or the story, or the actors. I thought that was a really good analogy.But at the same time, there really hasn’t been a successful blockbuster in 2D animation in a long time. I wonder if it’s the case that hand-drawn animation is going to end up being a specialized artistic process and never really be a mainstream form again. I’m ambivalent about whether that’s good or bad. (Laughs.)It kind of leaves us that are still practicing it very free, without a huge expectation on us to make super blockbusters. Maybe that’s better – I’m not sure. Maybe we’re going to be relegated to the kind of area that stop-motion, or maybe sand animation are. (Laughs.) And maybe that’s not such a bad thing.But honestly I think 5-10 minutes maximum into a movie, you really shouldn’t be thinking about how it was made. You should be engaged in the story and the characters and the world.