Animation maker

Brownstein: the Montreal animation studio is dancing on Netflix

Cinesite’s Riverdance: The Animated Adventure has 400 cast and a crew of 400, including Pierce Brosnan, Brendan Gleeson and Lilly Singh.

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The city is taking it to another level on the animation front: Montreal studio Cinesite has just launched Riverdance: The Animated Adventure, which is now streaming on Netflix.

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Five years in the making, directors Eamonn Butler and Dave Rosenbaum, leading a cast and crew of 400, including Pierce Brosnan, Brendan Gleeson and Lilly Singh providing the voices, had myriad challenges to overcome. . While the pandemic has certainly been classed as one, the biggest may well have taken hit Irish mega-show Riverdance as the source of this ‘toon’ feature.

Riverdance has all the major elements on stage. But to become a film, a mandatory element was missing: a narration.

So its creators had to don their fantastical caps to create a mythical world in which the main characters, human and animal, could demonstrate their intricate leg – hoof – work in their celebration of Irish culture. No small task. And so it is that an Irish boy named Keegan (Sam Hardy) and a Spanish girl, Moya (Hannah Herman Cortes), along with viewers, enter a land inhabited by very powerful Megaloceros giganteus – giant Irish elks and off – and learn all about the joys of Riverdancing.

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“The stage show isn’t based on a narrative, but rather on a musical journey,” says Rosenbaum, also a co-writer. “So for the movie, you’re locked into basic dance sequences that you know the audience wants. And those sequences that we used as a structural tentpole, and then we played around with various character and plot combinations that could navigate anything. We looked for things you don’t often see in animation. Like the Megaloceros giganteus. We’ve spent over a year researching Ireland, past and present, because it’s the real star of the show.

Butler adds: “And these Megaloceros giganteus creatures did indeed roam Ireland thousands of years ago. They survived the dinosaurs. If you go to the Natural History Museum in Dublin you will see a 15 foot Megaloceros giganteus in the lobby. It was a huge source of inspiration for us. And sprinkle that with some magic dust to lure him into a story.

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More magic dust had to be dusted in order for the choreographic movements of these elk to be brought to life with precision.

“It was really hard work, and I wasn’t even sure we could pull it off, get those stags dancing, let alone all the characters, Irish dancing style,” Butler says. “It’s such a technical dance form. There are so many footsteps and taps between frames and accurate capture has become very important. So we worked closely with the choreographer, Padraic Moyles, who had been a principal dancer in Riverdance.

Characters (and viewers) enter a land inhabited by Megaloceros giganteus – giant, extinct Irish elk – and learn all about the joys of Riverdancing.
Characters (and viewers) enter a land inhabited by Megaloceros giganteus – giant, extinct Irish elk – and learn all about the joys of Riverdancing. Courtesy of Cinesite

Those with two left hooves will – as they should – be left green with envy watching these critters move their lower limbs beautifully while keeping their torsos upright. The music is the most important. To that end, Bill Whelan, composer of the original Riverdance score, recorded the score for this film remotely with a 73-piece orchestra on a concert stage in socially distanced Vienna during the lockdown.

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“Bill is the heartbeat of this movie,” says Rosenbaum. “He is a master of his craft, always reinventing himself and challenging everyone.”

The directors also had no trouble recruiting former 007 portrait artist Brosnan to lend his voice to the proceedings.

“Pierce was a huge fan of the Riverdance show from the start,” Rosenbaum says. “He actually introduced him to the Royal Family when he was first introduced to them. He came on board immediately, as did Brendan Gleeson. We looked for top talent, like Lilly Singh, always keeping bearing in mind that our target audience was children, a new generation to whom we introduced the actors.

Cinesite — located in the building on St-Antoine Street that once housed the Montreal Gazette — has been a force on the animation and visual effects fronts in the city for seven years and during that time has directed 11 animated feature films.

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Next on Cinesite’s slate of releases are two heavyweight toons: Blazing Samurai, based on Mel Brooks’ classic comedy Blazing Saddles and featuring vocal contributions from Brooks as well as Samuel L. Jackson, Ricky Gervais and George Takei; and Hitpig, from Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Berkeley Breathed, with Peter Dinklage, RuPaul, Hannah Gadsby and Singh providing some of the voice talent. The studio is also producing the six-part series Iwájú for Disney Animation and Kugali Media. Set in Lagos, Nigeria, in the future, the series explores themes of inequality and challenges the status quo.

“Montreal is world-class and exploding on the scene tremendously,” says Rosenbaum. “The people we’ve been able to attract and the way we’ve trained the crews has been (incredible). The quality of each production over the years, both in animation and visual effects, soars. The public is delighted, the customers are delighted, the crews are delighted.

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