IN THE WINTER of 2010, when I first spoke with then-first-time Academy Award nominee Tomm Moore, the Irish animator who crafted that season’s “Secret of Kells” said he hoped to return to the Oscars circle in three or four more films.
It took him a total of one.
Moore’s follow-up, 2014’s “Song of the Sea,” garnered the director and his international Cartoon Saloon team a second Oscars nod.
“It’s amazing to be back just five years later,” Moore tells The Post’s Comic Riffs this week, from Los Angeles, just ahead of Sunday’s Oscars ceremony.
“Song of the Sea” is the most satisfying animated film I saw from all of 2014. It’s a visual stunner, on par in that regard with co-nominee “The Tale of Princess Kaguya,” from legendary Studio Ghibli. And from art to story, it’s as joyful and transporting a marine-life film as Studio Ghibli’s “Ponyo” and Pixar’s “Finding Nemo.”
As such, Comic Riffs caught up with Moore to deep-dive into the magic of “Song of the Sea”:
MICHAEL CAVNA: Congrats on your second Oscar nom, Tomm. Upon your last nomination, for “Kells,” you told me you weren’t taking the moment for granted, and that you might hope to be back in the Oscar ring in three or four films. Well, it took you ONE. So, how’s it feel, the second time around? And could you speak to how the awards season whirlwind has been for you?
TOMM MOORE: It’s amazing to be back just five years later and not something I would ever take for granted, that’s for sure. It’s really a great endorsement for the whole team, and it’s lovely to be able to enjoy everything more now that we know how it all works a little better.
MC: Speaking of awards, you were at the Annies the other weekend, and took a [great] photo with John Lasseter and Hayao Miyazaki. Now, I happen to think “Song of the Sea” is one of the most visually dazzling and mesmerizing marine-life animated films of recent vintage, alongside Miyazaki’s “Ponyo” and “Pixar’s “Finding Nemo.” In general, do either Pixar or Studio Ghibli provide any inspiration, and/or did these animation giants ever inspire you to even want to be an animator — or did you have other filmmakers who inspired you to be what you are today?
TM: My early inspiration was more from animation that was being done in Ireland, from guys like Don Bluth or Jimmy Murakami — and in college, I became inspired by Richard Williams and Eastern European animation, as well. But classical Disney stuff was always an inspiration, too. As a young professional, I realized what I loved about those films was more the artifacts — the art and craft of them rather than the films as a whole in general. And [I] started to see that both Ghibli and Pixar, while technically amazing in the craft area, were pushing the filmmaking, the storytelling, into new territory.
It’s an honor to be considered alongside artists and studios of that caliber.
MC: “Kells” was a visually stunner, but somehow, “Song” looks and feels even *more* textured and detailed. Every frame feels positively filled, in the most balanced and compositionally clever ways — with tints and textures, geometric expressions and depth of background — that cause the eye to join in the visual dance. Did you learn things in, or after, “Kells” that you’ve appied here, and if so, what might they be?
TM: I worked on this movie from the very start with Adrien Merigeau, a talented French director and background artist, who was one of the main artists in “The Secret of Kells.” We developed the style together, with Adrien ultimately becoming the art director and overall background supervisor.
His style is very modern, but with a traditional skill-set based in water-based inks and watercolors. He brought a modern art sensibility to the creation of the images, and the design inspiration we took from Pictish carvings and megalithic rock patterns in Scotland and Ireland.
I focused mainly on composition and the broader strokes of the shape language and design. Adrien and his talented team, many of whom returned from “Secret of Kells” days, really brought a new level to the backgrounds, and the atmosphere in general, I feel.
MC: What one or two things about “Song” most made you say to yourself: THIS I why I need to make this film? THIS is why I’m willing to labor for years on this, to fully realize it? Was it this area of folklore and myth — of selkies and the sea — or did you really want to take your visual sensibility beneath the surface?
TM: For me, the family story — the relationship between the brother and sister, and the dealing of the loss of the mother — were what drove me to want to make the film. I was also motivated to take everything I had learnt from “Secret of Kells” and apply it to a new project.
MC: What was the most challenging thing about making this film?
TM: The most difficult aspect was probably first getting the story right. Will Collins and I worked on so many drafts over the years — it was a real learning curve. Technically, the sea was very challenging, too, and we struggled for a long time to get the right technique and look for the various ways the sea would appear throughout the film.
MC: If you had to vote for one 2014 animated feature film to receive an Oscar that wasn’t yours, what might it be?
TM: If I was to pick another movie from all the amazing films this year, I would have to go with “Princess Kaguya,” the wonderfully expressive and transporting film by Takahata. To me, it’s the pinnacle of handdrawn animation’s ability to express so much with grace and power.
MC: Anything you want to say to American audiences about why they should see this film — and to the Americans fans who already have?
TM: Well, to the American audiences who like it: Tell your friends, and congratulations on having such great taste! To anyone who hasn’t seen it: I hope you will give it a try; it’s a movie designed for families and children, but also for adults who still love a good fairy tale.
I just hope American audiences, especially families will discover this film and enjoy it. Maybe they will just be entertained, or maybe it will give them a taste for Irish culture. And just maybe, if we are lucky, it can speak to them about the family issues we all face from simple stuff like sibling rivalry to the pain of loss. …
That’s my hope, anyway.