Here's how supervising sound editor Michał Fojcik and Foley artist Heikki Kossi brought the wintry world of 'Moomins and the Winter Wonderland' to life with sound:
Written by Jennifer Walden
The Moomins are beloved children’s book characters created by Finnish author/illustrator Tove Jansson in the 1940s. Throughout the years, they’ve been a childhood mainstay in countries across the world, from Japan to the UK. The hippo-esk Moomins made the move from comic strips and picture books to TV series and film adaptations dubbed in multiple languages. But they didn’t stop there! The Moomins even have their own island theme-park called Moominworld, accessible via bridge from Nunnalahit, Finland. Not even the Smurfs have their own island.
The latest film, Moomins and the Winter Wonderland, opens in theaters today. It’s a Christmas-themed, stop-motion animation film that visually reminds me of those classic Christmas shows I watched as I kid, like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964) and The Year Without A Santa Clause (1974).
Michał Fojcik, owner of Sound Mind post production studio in Kraków, Poland, was the re-recording mixer/sound designer/supervising sound editor on Moomins and the Winter Wonderland. He’s joined on the film by Foley Artist Heikki Kossi of H5 Film Sound in Kokkola, Finland. Here, they share their experience of using sound to bring the charming stop-motion world of the Moomins to life.
How did you get involved with Moomins and the Winter Wonderland?
Michał Fojcik (MF): The movie is Polish, a Finnish co-production, fully based on animation from a series made in the ’70s, which was shot in Poland. I was invited onto the film by Polish producers from Animoon — a production company that is doing amazing animated movies. Across the years, I had great experience working with them on numerous projects. Moomins and the Winter Wonderland has two directors — Ira Carpelan from the Finnish side and Jakub Wroński from Polish.
I must say, I love working on animated films. It’s always a huge challenge to create sound for animation and it’s very exciting when it starts to live and breathe when it’s done.
What were the directors’ goals for sound? How did they want to use sound to help bring this story to life?
MF: We talked a lot about the world of the Moomins before I started working. Moominvalley is a magical place. In the movie, we meet many different characters there, sometimes even scary ones, but the Moomin’s house is always a safe and cozy place. We wanted to express this diversity with sound. And because it’s stop-motion animation, we needed to add life to the puppets and make their adventures and emotions believable.
It needed to be a bit stylized, yet the world needed to sound full of life. We wanted to clearly hear the details of autumn passing and winter coming, since this is the first winter that the Moomins are experiencing, being awaken from their winter sleep.
The Moomins characters have been around since the 1940s. It started as stories by Finnish author Tove Jansson and turned into TV and film adaptations. Did the sound of those play a role in this film at all? Or did you take a fresh approach?
MF: I grew up watching it on TV in Poland and reading Moomins books, so I was familiar with all the characters. And recently, I was reading those books to my daughter, so it was a very emotional turn out for me. Of course, I did research to refresh and learn how the Moomins sounded in other films, but everyone wanted to make something fresh. So I was basing my approach more on the directors’ guidance than following references.
This isn’t your typical animation. There’s a definite style to this classic-looking puppet stop-motion animation. How did the look of the film impact your approach to the sound?
MF: It was our main challenge to make it believable and absorbing. We meet different characters in the movie and this diversity is the beauty of the story. But I wanted to stay small and cozy with sounds most of the time.
It was an interesting experience from the mix perspective, observing how this traditional 2D animation affected the sound. Because of the visual style, it felt much better when the dialogue was mixed closer and much drier than we usually mix. I quickly realized that and followed this direction on both the English and Polish versions I mixed.
As with any animation, there’s no production sound. How did you help the voices of the actors, which were recorded in the studio, to fit into the visuals of their puppet characters?
What’s special for this project is that none of the characters in the Moomins world have lips, so there’s no lip-sync!
MF: We didn’t use any special processing on the voices, just regular mixing tools. All performance comes from the actors. What’s special for this project is that none of the characters in the Moomins world have lips, so there’s no lip-sync! Thanks to that, we could shift around some lines that were stepping on music or sound effect accents, or shift them to fit better with body language even on the final mix! That was quite unusual and offered amazing possibility.
Usually working on animation you record final dialogue very early and the characters are animated in sync to that. In this case, animation was first of course and final dialogue came later. I was amazed when I started getting recordings from all the actors. I just fell in love with how Stellan Skarsgård performed and created the Moominpappa character.
What did you cover with sound effects? Did you build out backgrounds? Or is there music driving most of the scenes?
MF: Together with the directors, we decided to have rich atmospheres to immerse the audience into Moominvalley. Since most of the film is taking place in the winter, there are many kinds and textures of wind. I’m obsessed with collecting and editing sounds of wind. I also arranged a dedicated session with a 6-person choir (3 females and 3 males) to perform wind-like sounds. It worked perfectly on some parts with a bit of pitch shifting, giving different textures to the wind pre-dubs.
I also cut a lot of sound effects for the film, sometimes doubling Foley to enhance a character or build more tonal sound.
I also cut a lot of sound effects for the film, sometimes doubling Foley to enhance a character or build more tonal sound. Also, all the snow sounds (except footsteps) were cut with effects. I recorded many different activities on snow across years, which turned out to be very useful. I also used many great libraries of snow sounds from Pole Position, Sonic Salute, and Perception Sound and ice sounds from Collected Transients and Kuulas Sound.
And yes, there is a lot of music in the film, which effectively creates magic and humor in the Moomins world. In fact, there are just a few moments in the film where music isn’t playing, so it greatly affected the way we prepared sounds. To help the sound effects stand out better, I very often performed Soundminer pitch slider in real-time while recording it at the same time. It helped me to create much more interesting and organic sounds.
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What was the scope of the Foley on the film? What was the biggest challenge for Foley?
MF: Because of the schedule, we had two Foley teams on this film. The first was the amazing Finnish Foley artist Heikki Kossi with Kari Vähäkuopus as a mixer who recorded all the footsteps. I’m a big fan of Heikki’s work. He worked on Foley for The Little Prince, which is one of my most favorite animated films ever. I’m very glad he was available and was interested in this film. And, of course, Heikki being Finnish he knew all the Moomins characters, so we communicated very fast. The other Foley team was the Polish Dreamsound studio in Warsaw, Poland, which covered props and movements. I had a great collaboration with them on many films before so I knew we are on the same page.
You can always tell if it’s Moomintroll, Moominpappa or Moominmamma walking.
Knowing that there will be music on most of scenes, we decided to create sounds that would stand out in tonality, texture and rhythm. Heikki did fantastic work distinguishing all characters. For example, you can always tell if it’s Moomintroll, Moominpappa or Moominmamma walking. He also created different textures of snow and added character to all of the many different creatures.
Because of the nature of stop-motion animation, there were some ridiculous tempos of FS (feet) sometimes, which he just covered on the spot. For movements, we did special “moomvment” which had this special fluffy, warm tone.
The biggest challenge I think was to create a ‘characterful,’ diverse world of sounds which wouldn’t be too big for the cute Moomins world and which will stand out against the music, but in a gentle way. I’m very happy with what we achieved through the brilliant work of the Foley teams.
Heikki, how did the look of the film impact your approach to Foley? Overall, what was the sound you were going for?
Heikki Kossi (HK): My part was Foley for all of the feet in Moomins and the Winter Wonderland. From very beginning, it was clear that there needs to be a difference between the main Moomin characters and the other characters. I mean Moomintroll, Moominmamma, Moominpappa, and Snorkmaiden. The way these characters were moving was interesting because in many places we just see them “moovin’” but we don’t see their feet.
The animation was really beautiful and I felt that I needed to follow the sync and feeling of the picture more than the “real sync” in a way. I also noticed that to reach good result the Foley cueing must be really sharp and detailed which Michal did really well. There were quite a lot of really short cues. So with good spotting it was possible to find characteristic feet for all the characters. Michal also did very good work with spotting the differences between different kinds of snow. There was crispy snow, soft snow, crunchy snow, icy snow, etc. That gave a lot of character for the locations. It was the same thing with the floors of different houses and the different floors of Moominhouse. To find those specific sounds and the creaks for each room we definitely needed good spotting.
Foley-wise, how was this film a unique experience?
HK: I decided the footsteps for all the human-looking characters and all the main Moomins would be done with my own feet. Then for the small creatures I’d just use my hands. We tried a few scenes and this decision felt right. To combine these two ways of performing Foley was an interesting challenge to make them work together in the film.
As always, it was a lot of fun finding ways to make the characters come alive. I remember the dance scene where I used headphones to listen to the rhythm and feeling of the temp music and it was such an enjoyable moment. It felt possible to be in the shoes of these wonderful characters. In this kind of movie with this animation technique, it was just a pleasure to find out how the characters come alive. And I felt that the experience of diving into the Moomins world paid off. It’s always such a pleasure to playback the Foley after recording and find out it’s there. The world of this movie is not any other movie, you know.
Are there specific moments that standout for you in terms of Foley? Why? What went into creating that sound?
HK: The moments when the characters were walking in the snow, in the scenes where we didn’t see the feet of the Moomins. When performing the Foley it was definitely a question of my own feelings. I could just feel when I was doing it right as I was performing the Foley. If I didn’t do the Foley right, so that it fits with picture, I felt that too — even if it was kind of in sync. But that is why we do Foley, acting the characters and creating the character. It’s always the same. Foley is about telling stories.
Michał, were you able to sound design against the music? Or did the sound design and music mainly come together on the dub stage?
I almost never switched music off during my work.
MF: Most of the score was composed before I started working so I had the benefit of working with music mock-ups. And I almost never switched music off during my work. It helped a lot in finding the right spots and types of sounds that will be heard with music playing and it inspired me to create many music/effects interactions. We created many moments where sounds play together in rhythm or tune with music. It added humor to scenes and characters.
It’s tempting sometimes to listen just to the sounds, but it doesn’t make much sense, I think.
Of course, when I got final orchestral mixes I needed some time to find proper balance, but the most important part was done already.
What was the biggest challenge in terms of sound editorial on Moomins and the Winter Wonderland ?
MF: There are many magical creatures that we meet in Moominvalley. Designing sounds for them was super exciting. One of the most interesting characters is The Groke. Everyone is afraid of her, but the only thing she wants is to warm up and because of that she is drawn to the light. It makes her a very tragic figure. I wanted to give her a distinct sound, which is scary yet can change to emotional, miserable and disappointed later. Thinking of Groke, I imagined her as a lonely whale — big, cold and sad. But I soon realized that real whale sounds wouldn’t work and we’ll need something designed from scratch. I rented a recording studio with orchestral percussion and performed big drums (toms, taikos and timpanis) with rubber mallets. That’s the low, scary component. Then I added higher, more evocative sounds of different glasses bowed with a finger, recorded underwater with a hydrophone. It’s the emotional part of her voice. Both of them were tuned and edited together, building her emotional language. It took some time and experimentation but I’m happy with the result.
Mixing is about bringing all the sonic elements together and deciding how to shape them into the final soundtrack. Can you talk about some of the decisions you had to make on the dub stage and ultimately how those decisions shaped the final sound?
MF: Both the quiet/emotional and full-on action scenes are the same — fun and challenge for the mix. I always do my best to bring the best possible pre-dubs (mixed in my studio) to the final mix.
Frankly, there weren’t many big changes during the final. There were just a few scenes where having the orchestral score mix required us to rearrange the effects edit. I enjoy riding faders a lot and how it can incredibly enhance emotions, but first I always try to build clean structure in the edit, dropping and shifting single elements. For example, there’s a dramatic scene when Sorry-Oo dog meets wolves and music and effects were both driving full speed. Before doing the final mix pass, I started with choosing only crucial sounds for the story, shot by shot and dropping the rest. After a short while music became way more discernible and the sequence became much cleaner. Then after a few level riding passes for emotional touch, we quickly achieved what we wanted.
What are you most proud of in terms of sound on Moomins and the Winter Wonderland?
After the final screening, one of the producers — who is also co-author of the script and worked on the film edit (so he spent a very long time with the story), told me that he was touched watching it. For me, that meant that all our work with sound and music helped to tell the story in a new, emotional way and so our goal is done. That’s the best thing, in my opinion, that you can hear after finishing work.
A big thanks to Michał Fojcik and Heikki Kossi – and to Jennifer Walden for the interview!
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