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Your Weekly Inspiration: Cartoon Saloon

Drawing art and craft inspiration from the amazing films of Cartoon Saloon

Cartoon Saloon is an animation studio based in Kilkenny Ireland. Their recent release of Wolfwalkers naturally blew up my timeline, and reminded me anew of how much I love the work of this studio.

Cartoon Saloon films have a really unique ability to inspire me, and make me want to make my own arts and crafts. Judging by the amount of fanart that their films always generate, I’m not alone in this feeling. Director Tomm Moore is always gracious about fanart, and often shares it or responds to it on his social media.

Character animation is complex, slow, and expensive. When Cartoon Saloon were making their first two films, Brendan and the Secret of Kells, and The Song of the Sea, the studio had very little funding.

When you don’t have the money for complex character animation, you need to rely on shots that you can execute on a low budget. This means leveraging beautiful illustrations, repeating patterns, and animation of on-screen art elements more than character animation.

Cartoon Saloon executed these principles beautifully, making every sequence and keyframe a work of art that is so beautiful, the audience doesn’t notice the limitation in character motion.

The use of color and composition is obviously derived from the storyboards, setting the scene and creating drama and motion.

The shots are designed with strong, dramatic, organic shapes, and then completed with intricate textures that add lush detail in every shot.

The result are films that are absolutely gorgeous to look at, but also not so perfect, refined, or complex that they seem inaccessible. You can easily imagine borrowing these textures, patterns, and shapes and applying them to your own art projects.

For example, almost every one of these images looks to me like it could be a quilt, or executed in decoupage. Strong shapes, organic forms, visual texture, and depth.

Like Cartoon Saloon, you could achieve depth with literal depth, layering shapes on top of each other, and also with color, moving colors through gradients from light to dark, or from one color to its complement.

Creating color contrast with light and dark has the effect of guiding the eye of the viewer, drawing attention where you want it. Transitioning color from one shade to another creates tension and drama: the image is moving from one state to another.

Adding this wealth of texture over all the shapes creates detail and complexity, even where you aren’t actually creating new shapes and adding details. For example, in the image above, the overlapping of the slanting sun rays on the right pushes that part of the image into the background, while the darker textures on the top left suggests motion and transition, and these elements are simple (and inexpensive) to create.

I love the unique visual quality of these films, and a design philosophy that makes every work from this studio both utterly distinctive and immediately recognizable. It’s such a joy to see a studio achieve success by staying on their own path and doing their own thing.

So this week let’s take inspiration from Cartoon Saloon: break out your favorite papers and fabrics. Your stamps, rollers, and sponges. Your scissors and paint markers, your rotary cutters and your favorite adhesives. Play with textures and gradients, plan your composition, and make something extraordinary.

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