Interview – Animator Tomm Moore on making the PUFFIN ROCK movie

‘Puffin Rock and the New Friends’ is the feature film debut of everyone’s favourite denizens of Puffin Rock. We were lucky enough to sit down with one of the creators of Puffin Rock, Tomm Moore, and they discussed the origins of the animated series, as well as his pride knowing his granddaughter not only watches it, but also makes her feature film debut in it.

Tom, congratulations on ‘Puffin Rock and the New Friends’. What made you decide to come back to this world after seven years?
Yeah, it’s been a long time that we wanted to go back. And we got an opportunity to develop a feature with our partners in Dog Ears and in China. And it was a story that kind of needed to be told about climate change, but also about all the new children arriving into Ireland and the movement of people all over the world that we wanted to speak to, and it felt like a feature was the right way to talk about, and the puffins seemed like, a nice neighbourhood for new kids to move into, you know.

You’ve been involved in Puffin Rock since the very beginning. Do you remember how it all started? What was the first egg that you helped you crack this idea?
Nice, the egg I laid way back. Yeah, I co-created with Lily Bernard and Paul Young, but I had the first idea. I’m very proud to say I was with my son down in Kerry and there’s a puffin island down there. And we were going out to Skellig Michael. And he was a little boy at the time, and he loved the idea that this was an island where no humans were allowed on, and it was just for puffins and guillemots. He also loved nature documentaries.

So, I sort of had the idea and that’s what I said to Lily at the beginning. And there’s about as far as any credit I can have goes. I started with that basic idea. Imagine like a nature documentary with a sort of bumbling kindly David Attenborough type, which ended up being Chris O’Dowd. And we’re just following the life of the puffins, you know, and in my first notion of it, I didn’t even imagine them speaking. But that all came later with Paul and Lily and our partners and Dog Ears and stuff. They developed it up, but yeah, that was the seeds of it, on holiday in Kerry. I often say to the studio, I had the idea for Puffin Rock and Song of the Sea while on holidays down in county Kerry. I feel like they should send me on more holidays down to Kerry.

It’s a wonderfully designed world with the new characters of Isabelle and Phoenix. We also have Marvin, who is a particular favourite of mine. You know, what was it like designing those characters and incorporating them into the world,
It was an interesting challenge, especially Phoenix, who is sort of a nod to the Chinese partners who wanted to have a bird that was, you know, from there as well. But it made sense, because we’ve got animals arriving from all over the place onto Puffin Rock because of climate change, as it is part of the story. So, it was nice to have other characters. Lily was a big part of the character design, because she’s always been, you know, she was the art director in the original series. Also, I remember we did a lot of work to research other types of puffins, like tufted puffins and stuff. Then to try and make them feel like part of the world of Puffin Rock was a nice design challenge at the very beginning.

Do you remember when you and the team got together to talk about the idea of climate change and the accepting of refugees?
I don’t particularly remember. It was kicking around as the different themes that we wanted to look at. And because Puffin Rock is supposed to inspire care for nature, that was very present when we were first working on it, you know, but what also happened is like, we have a young Ukrainian woman living with us, and it’s amazing how it became more and more topical, as we were in production.

A lot of people had to welcome people from Ukraine to their homes, here in Ireland, and I mean, it’s in the future for all of us that there’s going to be a lot of movement. And so, we sort of felt that was a nice thing to talk about, but gently. Like my little granddaughter is five years old, and she’s even a voice in the movie. When she watches it, she’s not thinking about climate change, or refugees or anything like that. She’s watching a story that’s very familiar to her. She’s in a school, a new school, not school, she started in and she’s the new kid. And I think in a way the movie just speaks to kids who are new to a neighbourhood as well.

How long has this film been in production? Cartoon Saloon is famously not known for resting on your laurels. There have been a lot of projects in the recent past. How long has this one been going?
‘Puffin Rock and the New Friends’ is about three years in production. We went through the pandemic and everything. And it had certain challenges at different times because of the pandemic. It’s been a long production, and it’s been talked about even longer. Sometimes I feel really old when I think about how long ago, we had the first ideas for things, and my son is 27 now, and so if I had the idea for the first Puffin Rock series when he was a little kid, it doesn’t bear thinking about.

How does he feel now? Is there a sense of weird nostalgia?
Well, he likes showing it to his daughter. So, it’s kind of sweet.

Was there a particular scene that you worked on or were excited to see on the big screen when you finally got to see it all finished.
I think I love those Chinese brushstroke sequences. That to me was an innovation. Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse has come out now, animation has evolved, but for nearly 25 years our studio has been kind of known for pushing new techniques and new looks and stuff. But the best part of the whole movie for me is when the egg hatches and Lala Puffin comes out. And my granddaughter says “Lala” because I think we’re looking forward to the Oscars. She’s going to get nominated for her performance. Don’t you think that 5-year-old is the best most talented 5-year-old you’ve ever heard? Right?

I mean, she’s up against Baba, but yeah, she’s, she’s a breakout star. It’s been a fantastic experience watching the film. What do you hope audiences get out of it?
I hope now in the summer holidays, and thank goodness, the weather isn’t too good. Families will enjoy going to the cinema, and they won’t come out with their ears ringing, you know, they’ll be able to enjoy and there’ll be lots to talk about in a gentle way. And I do think it’s the kind movie that isn’t that often offered to young audiences. So I think we’re offering something for young audiences to be able to enjoy the whole cinema experience as well, which is kind of fun.

Interview by Graham Day

‘Puffin Rock and the New Friends’ is now showing in Irish cinemas