Re-Animating the Moomins

Finland’s Filmkompaniet gives a familiar European children’s classic a shimmering 3-D polish.

A white inquisitive hippo-shaped family of trolls prepares for the crash landing of a mysterious comet. This intriguing plotline alone should spark an interest in the upcoming stereoscopic 3-D movie produced by Finland’s Filmkompaniet. The fact that the project is based on the hugely popular characters created by Finnish novelist and comic strip author Tove Jansson, which have inspired several puppet-animated TV series since the 1970s, adds more excitement to the mix.

As Moomins and the Comet Chase‘s producer and Filmkompaniet founder Tom Carpelan tells it, it took his studio about 15 years to secure the rights for the material, but it has been a worthwhile effort because the 3-D format serves the material quite well. ‘The fantastic, beautiful figures and the backgrounds leave a unique, in-depth impression,’ he says. ‘The original 2D puppet animation turns into a tangible, real 3-D world. The Moomin characters are round and fluffy’and when you see the movie, you feel as if they come alive and you can touch them with your fingertips. It’s as close to hugging them as it can get!’

Working with an approximate budget of one million euros, Carpelan and director Maria Lindberg’s goal was to maintain the charm of the original property while exploring the exciting promises of the new medium. ‘Since the film is based on existing material, the process was a bit different than with a film that would have been made from scratch,’ explains Lindberg. ‘It was a challenge that although I had the responsibility of all the creative decision-making, there were things I couldn’t influence any more. On the other hand, since the original material had already been hand-made so beautifully, we were saved one very cumbersome part of the production, freeing time to put more effort and focus on the other parts.’

Lindberg points out that Moomins have been a phenomenon in the world of books, comics, TV and movies in many countries around the world for 65 years.

Apart from the appealing design of the characters, there’s something more complex about their world and storylines that makes them quite unusual.

‘There is certainly something universally appealing about the witty stories, and interesting and well-rounded characters,’ says Lindberg. ‘The stories are fun, but not simplistic; they contain a lot of different levels and reveal deep thinking, which sets them apart from many of the formula-driven children’s entertainment we have today. There is a small element of anarchy; the characters do not always behave as is expected by the norm. However, despite their individuality and freedom there is also a lot of warmth, tolerance and caring for others.’

Children are not underestimated in these narratives, says Lindberg. Of course, adults who fondly remember Moomins from their childhood are happy to introduce the next generation to them as well. ‘There are surprising numbers of adult Moomin fans; some have grown up with Moomins, some have discovered them later on,’ notes the director. In fact, One of these grown-up fans is none other than international musical star Bj’rk, who has recorded the movie’s enchanting title song.

The filmmakers have been especially careful to make sure the 3-D qualities of the film are specifically fine-tuned for younger moviegoers. ‘It is one of the first movies out there where the 3-D depth planning has been done specifically considering child viewers,’ claims Lindberg. ‘We wanted to ensure that that it will be comfortable viewing for children’s eyes, so it should attract younger audiences who haven’t had a chance to experience 3-D films in theaters before. At the same time, it provides a good adventure to be enjoyed by children and adults alike.’

Lindberg says the classic Moomins’ Polish production employed a low-tech approach to the artform, shooting the material on 35-millimeter film and moving the 3D felt Moomins characters between layers of glass, while the background and foreground were meticulously painted onto the layers. The new animation for the beginning and end credits was done by animation artist Antonia Ringbom, incorporating traditional puppet animation. Overall, the film employed over 40 people in various disciplines (3-D conversion, visual effects, restoration, music, etc.) ‘Back when the original animation was made in Poland there were about 20 key people involved, but I’m sure there were many others uncredited,’says Lindberg. ‘Making such tasking handmade animation is no stroll in the park!’

The director also points out that the original animation was overseen and approved by Moomins creator Tove Jansson. ‘This reverence for the original property has been the basis for all the decision-making. However, within these limits, there’s at all times been a consideration where it would be possible or necessary to inject something a bit more modern and striking’since we have a totally different set of technologies at our disposal now’so the end result is a 3-D film made for 2010.’

Lindberg, who grew up in the 1970s, says she has a special fondness for many of the European puppet animated series of the era. ‘Although I never got a chance to see this version of the Moomins as a child, I loved shows like Paddington Bear, Sandman and the Polish floppy-eared teddy bear, Nalle Luppakorva. Some of the cartoons I enjoyed were more rudimentary stylistically, but had a real quirkiness that appealed to me even as a child. Of course, Disney films played a big part in my childhood; I think the first film I saw in a cinema was Snow White and the Severn Dwarfs, and I still find that animation era striking.’

When asked about the state of animation worldwide, Lindberg says she is quite pleased with the fact that technology isn’t the main raison d’etre of many exciting projects. ‘I think there was a time when technology ruled over plots and character development, but in recent years, we’re seeing refreshing movies like Coraline. For us, it’s been rewarding to see the old dusty and scratchy material come to life again, and then see the movie’s world expand to 3-D in a very natural way.’

Carpelan hopes that the world will re-discover the beloved creatures in 2010 and that the Moomins’ profile will rise beyond cult status in Europe. He adds, ‘Our movie offers an exciting storyline, beautiful world-class animation, and state-of-the-art 3-D technology. That’s why we want Moomins and the Comet Chase to be the 3-D movie of the year!’

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