Interview: Creators of the new Moomin animated TV series explain its unique look

Digital Arts

Beautiful concept art released ahead of the new Moomin animated series for TV garnered a lot of excitement, including from ourselves.  But it wasn't enough - we wanted to find out more about the overall aesthetic of the series, based on Finnish illustrator and writer Tove Jansson’s original novels.

The voice cast has just been announced, and includes Rosamund Pike (as Mooninmamma), Kate Winslet (Mrs Fillyjonk) and Kingsman's Taron Egerton as Moomintroll. It reunites The IT Crowd/Garth Marenghi's Darkplace's Richard Ayoade and Matt Berry as The Ghost and Moominpappa respectively. As appearing are Warwick Davis and the author Will Self. There's also some new concept art, which you can see below.

Series director and head writer Steve Box (who worked on Wallace and Gromit), and series producer John Woolley (who used to work for Aardman Animations), tell us about the series' visual development and character design. And rest assured, both Steve and John have been huge lifelong fans of the Moomins, so the series is in knowledgable hands.

Moomin is expected to air in Spring 2019. Contrived of 13 22-minute episodes, it will be created by production company Gutsy Animations and animation and illustration studio Piñata, both of which are based in Tove Jansson’s Finnish hometown Helsinki. The series will be made with characters rendered in 3D and a hand-painted 2D environment with a Nordic influence - essentially using “the best of both worlds” according to Steve.

Original concept art for the new animated series

Tove Jansson’s Moomin characters first appeared in The Moomins and the Great Flood in 1945, and still happen to be Finland’s biggest cultural export with Tove’s original books now translated into over 50 languages. The protagonist, Moomintroll, embarks on emotional journeys through Moominvalley, where lessons of love, friendship and bravery are explored.

The Moomins have appeared in animated form before as a stop-motion TV show in the late-1970s/early-1980s (shown in the UK through the 1980s), an anime show in early 1990s, and an animated film in 2015. But where previous works have been focussed on a younger audience, the new series aims to cater for the whole family, extrapolating complex emotional angles of the storyline and characters for young and older viewers.

Original concept art for the new animated series

Steve Box’s love for the Moomins started when a teacher read Comet in Moominland to him at school when he was around five or six years old. His fascination grew to a life-long passion - he was even admiring Tove’s other illustrative work when he was asked to get involved in creating Moomin. Similarly, John, who worked on Aardman's Shaun the Sheep feature film alongside Steve, said love for the Moomins began when we was young.

John says a fully 3D animation wouldn’t translate the subtle emotion from Tove Jansson’s original work, so an extensive use of matte paintings - much like backdrops in theatre - will be used in conjunction with the 3D characters. Steve and John will work alongside the Piñata animation team who have an understanding of the changing nature of light across the seasons in the Nordic region. Piñata works on pre-production, using techniques from traditional drawing to 3D, creating content for TV, print, web and mobile.

John says a lot of time was spent analysing the characters and identifying what drives them emotionally, what their strengths and flaws are.

"Even though we are all familiar with the characters, this will be the first time they will have been created in 3D for the moving image. As anyone who has been handed 2D artwork and had to translate it into three dimensions will tell you, it’s not a straightforward process."

Inspiration for traditional hand-drawn techniques stemmed from a 2013 Studio Ghibli film called The Tale of Princess Kaguya, watch the trailer below, and a 2012 black-and-white 3D short film called Paperman by Walt Disney Animation Studios, which blends traditional animation with computer animation.

"As a reader, you can really sense the environment - it’s an important part of Tove’s work. 3D will allow us to create a lighting and an atmosphere that has that same effect. We want to show the depth of feeling and experience within the original stories, but to retain a sense of the graphic/illustrative look of the original books," says Steve.

The production team aim to follow Tove Jansson’s original novels as closely as possible within a television format - creating a new but familiar version.

"While the illustrative and painterly elements we will be using are certainly a reference to Tove’s work, and a connection to her original art, we won’t be slavishly copying her illustrations. During her life Tove constantly created art using different styles and media. So to fix on a particular ‘look’ would be missing the point," says John.

Original concept art for the new animated series

Steve says the team wants this series to be the most faithful adaptation to the original works for on-screen.

"We’ve spent lots of time revisiting the source material and we've also done a lot of research into where the ideas for the Moomin stories came from and why Tove wrote them. We really wanted to understand what was behind their creation."

When Steve and John worked together on Shaun the Sheep, they spent a lot of time cutting animatics and making the stories as funny as possible, and John says that’s something they want to recreate for Moomin.

The animation will be produced by an Oscar, Emmy and BAFTA-award winning team including creative director and executive producer from Gutsy Animations Marika Makaroff, and writing duo Mark Huckerby and Nick Ostler.