As I sat down by The Secret of Kells panel, I looked around. Most of the audience seemed to be made up of animation students (you can tell because half of them had out sketch pads drawing Aisling in various poses), and there was someone going around giving out Aisling temporary tattoos to every member of the audience. After a few moments the projector and computer was set up and the panel began.
It started off with the New Video Distribution representative introducing The Secret of Kells director Tomm Moore and art director Ross Stuart. Then they screened the early concept trailer for Kells, then called Rebel, that Tomm and his friends put together to get their artistic kicks while they were just out of college working on commercials. He noted Aisling wasn’t in the trailer because she was added rather late into production. It took six years from the trailer to finally get into production, so the story evolved a lot over the years. Tomm said that there was a missing female element that prompted him to add Aisling, and she quickly became everyone’s favorite character. Without her it was just a little submarine movie with all these men stuck in a monastery. Aisling was needed to get out and about, into the forest. The narrator of the trailer is Brendan Gleeson, best known as Mad-Eye Moody from the Harry Potter films, who recorded the dialogue for the trailer in his house. After the early concept trailer finished, the US trailer was screened so audiences who hadn’t seen the film wouldn’t feel lost for the duration of the panel. Next was a slide show (which is also included on the DVD) which showed the production and evolution of the film, and rather than do a separate Q & A, the audience was encouraged to interrupt and ask questions.
It started off showing a picture of the staff, with Moore explaining that although all the preproduction and storyboards were done in Ireland, only 20% of the actual animation was done there. The rest of it is a co-production with Belgian and French animation studios as well as some work being done in Hungary and Brazil. This was the first Irish animated film with the lead studio being in Ireland and bits being outsourced elsewhere. Usually, they were the outsource, doing animation for big American films like Don Bluth’s. So it was very exciting.
Next Tomm began to discuss the animation style, saying while in college they wanted to make an animated film in an Irish animation style, using Gaelic art as a starting point, and as a result broke Pixar’s number one rule of “story first, visuals second”. Obviously the Book of Kells itself was a huge inspiration. “Anytime you got to an Irish pub and see someone with a Celtic tattoo, chances are it’s taken from the Book of Kells.” Said Moore, pulling up his sleeve showing a tattoo. “I just got this one a few days ago. It was just for con, but then I found out it was permanent.” He joked. Tomm also mentioned Richard Williams’ The Thief and the Cobbler as a huge inspiration, recalling seeing it on VHS that was delivered to the Don Bluth studio when he was in college . The Thief and the Cobbler played around with space and patterns, doing things that couldn’t be done in CG, and that’s what Moore was going for. Not only was the art an inspiration, but so was Richard’s business model of making a feature film on the back of doing commercials. He also went on to add Genndy Tartakovsky’s Samurai Jack and Star Wars: Clone Wars as a huge inspiration. As for the actual design of Brendan, the main character in The Secret of Kells, his design was purposely kept simple with little detail so the audience watching it would be able to see themselves as Brendan. As for Brendan having short hair, well Aisling’s hair cost enough to animate, so this made things a little easier.
It was brought to Moore’s attention that the film never mentions during the film that the Book of Kells is a bible, just saying it will bring “light and hope” to people without ever explaining why. Without knowing Irish history and lore, much or the movie may be lost on the average American audience. Moore responded that first of all, even much of Ireland don’t know about the Book of Kells, and he has thought about including an explanation in the beginning or end of the film, but “if you start, you’ll never finish.” He used Miyazaki’s films, specifically My Neighbor Totoro, as an example that even though he didn’t understand all the shrines and stuff, he still enjoyed the film. So Moore didn’t explain what the book was in his film and “if you’re really interested, you’ll find out more yourself.” He didn’t want to make it important because it’s a bible. To him it’s important because it’s a cultural artifact and the art is what’s important. It was meant to be a symbol of all books.
A young fan asked how Tomm Moore and Ross Stewart became interested in animation, to which they responded they were originally interested in animation at a young age, but then became more interested in making comic books and making Batman drawings. “Then at 14 we paid a visit to the Don Bluth studio and decided never to be animators.” Said Tomm as the crowd burst into laughter. It was only when they were in college and no comic book class was offered the when to try the closest thing and took animation. Then they were bitten by the animation bug.
While the film’s ending may seem rushed, Moore explained that it was originally 86 minutes long, and it opened with the ending with the Abbot in the tower and the rest of the movie was a flashback. The decided to change it during editing because they didn’t want to start with something so bleak and dark, or have the views be confused and spend the whole beginning of the movie asking lots of questions. So they recobbled the film in editing and actually ended up throwing out 10 minutes(!!!) of colored animation. “If we were Pixar or Disney we would’ve gone back and animated the third act, but we had run out of money and were already over budget. So we did the best we could with the ending. That’s the honest answer. The other answer is: We meant it to end this way,” said Moore as the audience laughed.
Then Tomm Moore and Ross Stewart finished off the panel by trying to sell The Secret of Kells comics written in Gaelic for “Only ten dollars each! It’s to help us get home!”