Irish animation studio Cartoon Saloon is off to a flying start this year. The studio's stunning animated feature film Song of the Sea scored the team their second Oscar nomination in January 2015 and is continuing to win Cartoon Saloon international recognition.
What makes this year's nomination even better is that Song of the Sea is only the Kilkenny-based studio's second-ever animated feature film – and their first, The Secret of Kells, also received an Oscar nomination just five years ago.
We caught up with the Cartoon Saloon crew ahead of their talk at OFFSET 2015 in Dublin, one of Europe's biggest design and creative conferences, to find out how the studio has elevated itself onto an international platform.
Creative director Tomm Moore has already explained how to make an Oscar-nominated animation. Here, he reveals some canny advice for finding your studio's voice – and although he's referring to Cartoon Saloon's work as an animation studio, the advice is just as relevant for any creative design discipline…
01. Draw on a rich pool of resources
With The Secret of Kells we wanted to have a design style that reflected the art of illuminated manuscripts. But we also needed to use the full range of colour and shape language to influence the audience, so we also drew on German expressionism and other visual language tricks, such as limiting the palette and using unusual perspective choices to influence the audience during dramatic moments.
02. Ensure the design is relevant
The Secret of Kells celebrates incredibly intricate hand-drawn art, so we needed an animation style that honoured that. We looked at the geometric layouts of the pages, sometimes integrating that approach into our shots, using panel boarders to change the shape of the screen, and also in the way we composed shots.
We made sure the characters were drawn in a simplified version of the Book of Kells style, with thick outlines, and using shapes and features borrowed from the book. Also, the design of certain folios in the book influenced how we drew trees and the wilderness, as well as the interiors, such as the scriptorium and so on.
03. Carve your own voice
The intricacies add to the viewing experience and lead to repeat viewings: they help build out the world and make it more immersive. It helps us stand out from the crowd as every aspect of the design is made to suit the story.
We try not to fall back on generic cartoon designs. We developed the look for Song of the Sea over seven years, starting during production of The Secret of Kells.
Next page: more tips on how to make your studio stand out