Illustration & Meaning in The Secret of Kells

I loved the illuminated forest scenes in The Secret of Kells because of the bright colors and juxtaposition between sharp geometric shapes and lines, and the movement of the watercolor-like animation. As we mentioned in class, the forest resembled a place of wonderment outside the walled-in community of Kells. While watching the film I distinctly remember noting the interesting wall-like appearance of forest from the outside view. I paused the scene and looked at the following image:

This image could be interpreted in a variety of ways. At first glance I did not even notice the path or the entryway of the forest, I just saw a barrier of trees, but now looking at the image the entrance seems obvious. The trees were illustrated in a way that gave life beyond the walled in community a meaning of wonder and intrigue. As mentioned in class, illustrators actively make decisions on what to include, what to leave out, and how to style things in a way that articulates the right meaning. Viewing the forest entry as only slightly emphasized, I’m led to believe that the animators wanted to send a message about the characters’ relationship with nature and exploring outside of the norm. In the movie, Uncle viewed going into the forest as unacceptable because it seemed dangerous, but exploration of the forest was encouraged by Aiden and fascinated Brendan. I think the animators decided to present the forest as this barrier to show the Uncle’s feelings, but intentionally included beams of sunlight over the subtle entryway to represent Brendan’s underlying curiosity. The illustration of the exterior line of trees are all uniform and symmetrical, which represents order, and I though this was interesting because usually when one thinks of a forest it’s typically irregular and disorganized. Do you think this has any significance? I think the trees could have been illustrated in a totally different way that still invoked a place of wonderment, but it might have missed the forbidden forest symbolism. The animators were extremely thoughtful in creating scenes, like this one, that would represent important ideas surrounding The Book of Kells. What do you think this image represents?

One Reply to “Illustration & Meaning in The Secret of Kells”

  1. You pose some intriguing questions in your post, Jess. To me, the forest represents a classic conundrum of what it means to be growing up. On one hand, Brendan is eager to get out of Kells and explore the world without the strict guidance of his Uncle. However, Brendan is also afraid of the forest – afraid and curious because he has no experience venturing out into the woods. Perhaps the doorway in the still footage you posted represents a physical manifestation of the journey all youth must eventually take; that of self enlightenment, even though that road is riddled with setbacks and fearful encounters. I liked what you said about how the forest is orderly – it reminded me of differing views on nature and the wild in general. Some settlers in the United States viewed nature as adversarial, whereas the contrasting mindset is one of acceptance and being one with, and immersed in the nature and wild that is all around us. The artists for the film clearly made decisions regarding this shot. I believe it is one of the more thought provoking and cool drawings that the film has.

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