I was able to attend a SAG (Screen Actor’s Guild) virtual master class for the Academy Award-nominated animated film Wolfwalkers from the animation studio Cartoon Saloon, where SAG members were invited to learn drawing techniques from artists at the studio. It was hosted by Wolfwalkers producer/director Tomm Moore, director Ross Stewart, as well as posing artist Maria Madelaire Forna and lead clean-up artist/wolfvision artist Tatiana Mazzei.
Wolfwalkers, set in the 1600’s in a time of superstition and magic, Robyn Goodfellowe (Honor Kneafsey) is brought to Ireland with her father (Sean Bean) where he’s hired to wipe out a last wolf pack bordering their town. When Robyn explores the surrounding forbidden lands, she befriends free-spirited girl, Mebh (Eva Whittaker), part of a mysterious tribe rumored to transform into wolves by night, the titular Wolfwalkers.
Wolfwalkers marks the first an Apple TV+ original film is nominated for Best Animated Feature category at the Academy Awards. The film is the third in a trilogy from Tomm Moore that is inspired by Irish folklore. The other two films, The Secret of Kells and Song of the Sea, were both also nominated for Academy Awards.
One viewer asked during the Q+A if it was a love letter to Kilkenny, the Irish city where their animation studio, Cartoon Saloon, is located. As Maria Madelaire Forna is not from Ireland, she had an interesting perspective.
“It feels a bit like a love letter to Kilkenny, but also just to Ireland,” she said. “It showcases the really beautiful nature and as someone who doesn’t come from Ireland, that stood out to me a lot with the forest. I feel like it captures that magic a lot.”
The four hosts of the day tried to recapture that magic for us showing us how to draw the wolves, trees, Mebh and Robyn. In the next portion of this article I wanted to give my experience with the event as I created my drawings through their tutorials. The following drawings are ones I completed Sunday, March 21, and haven’t been altered. I will note that my drawings are reflective of me not being a great artist, and not a reflection of the great animators guiding us through this.
SAG also put the masterclass event on YouTube which can be found here.
Tatiana Mazzei started off by showing us how to do draw the wolves. She explained that the best technique is to start with a rough sketch of the wolf and then trace it on another piece of paper on top of it where you can see your old drawing and work from it.
I didn’t have enough paper or enough light to do this part well, so my wolf ended up having an additional leg… If I would have had more paper where I could trace the leg, said leg would be gone. I still like to think my wolf would be accepted into a wolfpack.
For the actual design of the wolf, Tomm Moore said the wolves were animated in a fluid motion as they wanted to contrast the wolves with how the soldiers move as they’re “stiff and uptight and only see the world in a very rigid way.” He adds on that the townspeople match so well with their town backgrounds because, when they’re in the surrounding woods, they’d look “somewhat removed from nature.”
Maria Madelaire Forna then guided us through drawing Mebh. She started by having us draw a circle for her head and then explained that her body looks like a “jellybean.” It’s explained later, by Tomm Moore, that Mebh has a lot of circles in her design, while someone like Robyn has a lot of squares in her design.
My Mebh is my personal favourite of my drawings as she looks like a small version of Appa from The Last Airbender. She also looks heroic with those arms by her sides. I traced my lines with a pen – and not pencil as I was ill-prepared – but out of my drawings I think this is the one that’s most obvious that she could eventually be Mebh. That’s especially if I colour her hair surrounding her body.
This drawing session was led by director Ross Stewart as he took us through the details where we started with a circle for where one of our characters could hide in.
I really thought this one would be made for me because I can draw a mean tree. However, I totally forgot how much detail was in the nature of Wolfwalkers.
My tree looks nothing like the trees in Wolfwalkers and how detailed they are, but it’s definitely an improvement over the Robyn drawing. As well, I put a helpful “birb” subtitle where the bird is in case no one could tell. It only gets worse from here, by the way.
Tomm’s so full of interesting tidbits and information that I do admit I got distracted by writing what he was saying instead of completely focusing on my art, as he starts by explaining that Robyn is formed by many squares, which reflects how her father sees the world and their town.
In her design, too, he told us Robyn’s based on his wife when she was a child, as some characters can be based on people from your own experiences. “You can base it on a person you know, or someone you don’t like if it’s a villain,” said Moore.
There was more involved in Robyn’s animation as it’s a lot of technique and details; and I know I made her too tall as an Irish girl from the 1600s.
He talks about his love of hand-drawn animation and how the look of Robyn changes throughout the film, as she starts out with fine, tight lines and becomes rougher once her worldview and personality starts to change.
I don’t know if how beautifully he explains the character comes across in my own drawing, but you can definitely tell it’s a person of some kind. However, I’m not sure if you can even make out that she has a crossbow and arrows (the little thing next to her triangle head). It kind-of looks like three people stacked on each other pretending to be a person, doesn’t it?
The masterclass took place over Zoom and brought together over 530 guests. Director Tomm Moore consistently said how amazing it was that this event could bring together so many people from all over the world as the Cartoon Saloon team joined from Ireland to teach these drawing techniques.
Children were also urged to participate in the event and Tomm Moore offered some helpful tips as most artists start their careers and drawings with the basic shape techniques they taught throughout the session, offering encouragement to any aspiring artists.
“Over time if you practice using these techniques, you’ll find your own way to build your characters,” he said.
For me personally, I will stick to art of the written word but all four of these tutorials truly gave me a stronger appreciation for how detailed the animation styles are that are used in Wolfwalkers, especially considering it’s all hand drawn.
Wolfwalkers is available to watch on Apple TV+ and if you want to watch “Conversations at Home with Wolfwalkers” presentation, click here to watch the YouTube video.