Camelot challengers go to Children's BAFTAs

What are the chances of an animated short about Camelot attracting the MTV generation? Moving Still Productions, an Irish animation…

What are the chances of an animated short about Camelot attracting the MTV generation? Moving Still Productions, an Irish animation companywhich set out to achieve that, has been nominated for a Children's BAFTA award. Katherine Blake reports

In a listed building overlooking the River Liffey, the talk at Moving Still Productions is all about the British Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) awards or, more precisely, BAFTA Children's Awards.

This small animation company has been nominated for an award for its production of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, a film commissioned last year by Channel 4.

"The target audience is 14- to 16-year-olds, an age group recognised in the industry as the most difficult audience to capture and hold," explains Tim Fernée of Moving Still. "We gave ourselves the task of telling them a mediaeval tale of knights, Camelot, heroism and chivalry. But coming of age, resisting temptation and making one's way in the world, are all timeless topics." Sir Gawain is up against Angelina Ballerina, Bad Baby Amy and The Cramp Twins in the Best Animation category.


"The film tells the story of the hapless Gawain, a knight of King Arthur's court, pitted against magic and the seductive power of the older woman and, of course, the Green Knight who is like a ringmaster/executioner from a pagan past," explains Fernée. "The Green Knight extends a challenge to the knights of King Arthur's court daring one of them to swing his axe once at his neck on condition that the Green Knight have a return swing at the bold knight a year later.

"None of the knights comes forward to accept the challenge and just as Arthur himself steps forward, Gawain, the youngest of the knights, lunges at the Green Knight and chops off his head. Unfortunately, the Green Knight merely picks up his head and tells Gawain that he will meet him one year hence at the Green Castle. We then follow Gawain a year later as he makes his challenging and fearful journey beset with temptation and tests of chivalry. There are so many layers in this story that the challenge in making the film was to deliver everything in 30 minutes."

Moving Still Productions has worked with Channel 4 many times since the company's inception in 1990, contributing animation for Channel 4 Schools and a short film called Young Fionn MacCumhaill for the Animated Tales of the World series, a project dreamt up by Chris Grace, director of animation at S4C. While walking on a beach in Wales one day, Grace had the idea to invite people from all over the world to make short, animated films for children about aspects of their country's myths or legends.

"Sir Gawain is very different from Fionn, says Fernée. "It's over twice the length of Fionn, which was 12 and a half minutes long and Fionn was hand-rendered which gave it a soft look like the film The Snowman, whereas this film is more linear-based. We took our visual inspiration from the stained-glass work of Harry Clarke, an artist from the early part of the 20th century. His drawing is beautiful and simple, which makes it very translatable into animation and it is quite sexually charged, which is just right for a mediaeval tale of thwarted love and tortured chastity."

Fernée works closely with animators, Scott McDonnell and Paul Shanahan at Moving Still.

"I plot the film out in a series of quick drawings and they come along and clean them up," explains Fernée. "Then we start to explore the interface between the drawings and the technology. We decided to ignore the more conventional Digipainting and we used Photoshop to colour the drawings. It allows the individual artist's hand to come through which is important and can be difficult to achieve in animation.

"We worked with the same editorial team to make Sir Gawain as we did on Fionn," says Fernée. "The text was adapted by Martin Lamb and Penelope Middleboe, who are both based in Wales and the producer is David Rane, from Vinegar Hill Productions. We work so well together that it hardly seems like work now," says Fernée.

"The music was composed by Laura Forrest-Hayes, a musician whose work I had come across in the theatre here. She has a great understanding of narrative and appreciates how vital music is in animation."

The text of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight used in universities throughout the world is edited by J.R.R. Tolkien and E.V. Gordon, but the original writer of the late 14th-century story is unknown.

Channel 4 has shown Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and S4C is dubbing it into Welsh and broadcasting it over Christmas.

"We have shown it to RTÉ and we would love them to air it at Christmas too," says Fernée.

"Unfortunately, it wasn't nominated for an award here but there is good sustained support for animation in Ireland with the Frameworks scheme from the Irish Film Board, RTÉ and the Arts Council providing money for people who want to make five-minute films. The result is a plethora of short films, a variety of highly-skilled animators and people like Brown Bag being nominated for an Oscar for Give Up Yer Auld Sins.

"At the moment, we are working on a number of projects including The Marsh King's Daughter, one of Hans Christian Andersen's darkest tales. We are also discussing a co-production with a London-based company of The Good Soldier Schweik, a proto-Homer Simpson from the Austro-Hungarian army of 1914. But on Sunday, we're off to London for an awards ceremony."

The British Academy Children's Film and Television Awards ceremony takes place on Sunday