From the Ground Up

20 years ago Kirby Atkins was newly married and starting his family. He was also starting a career in animation. He began developing a story partly inspired by the time spent as a child on his grandparents’ farm not long after his mother’s death. The themes were about loss and learning to walk upright.

Kirby began writing-- but soon a script seemed insufficient. The story was primarily visual-- inspired by the pastoral landscapes of early 20th century American artists Andrew Wyeth and Grant Wood. Over the next several years Kirby storyboarded the entire film. Beside him constantly was his young daughter, Leah, who at five years old took to drawing these strangely yoked creatures plowing the fields. All artwork was pencil on paper, eventually scanned into the computer for editing. Soon stacks of drawings were piled high in Kirby’s office, an odd and often embarrassing achievement to his neighbors and friends. And for years it remained a private world— a story primarily shared by a father and daughter.


The Best Acting is Playing

Child actors are, more often than not— actors. But the best performances by children in movies are never fake. “Let’s pretend,” kids say, and they do. In the summer of 2004, when Leah Atkins was seven years old, Kirby decided he would record himself and his daughter playing the story as they had played it so many times before. “Let’s pretend,” and they did. The characters took on a whole new life.

Though Kirby went on to professionally record his voice for the movie, Leah's beautiful, unhindered performance is the very one you’ll hear in the final film, MOSLEY.


Draw, Edit, Repeat

For the next several years Kirby drew storyboards and edited the film, having friends and family contributing voices. The story started to play out beautifully but was seen as an oddity in the animation business, both for its more dramatic tone and level of detail. “I had nightmares,” Kirby said, “of Richard Williams and Orson Welles telling me not to put too much of myself into a single project.” Jobs came and went. Leah went to high school. Nevertheless, the drawing and editing continued.

Artists Across the World

In 2018 (when Leah turned 20 and Kirby, 50) MOSLEY became the first New Zealand/China co-production on a feature film. Animation director Manuel Aparicio and Lead J. Randy Hayes led several teams in China and the core team in New Zealand to create astonishingly honest performances from the characters. Other leads include Markus Kristensen as art director and cinematographer, Mark Bowen as comp lead, Jo-Ellen Bowen as lighting lead, Chris Omundsen as effects lead, Tahlia Garnier as surfacing lead, Brandon Dunn as Texture lead, Morgan Loomis as character supervisor, Simon Jackson as dynamics lead, Kathy Toon led editorial with Grant Watkins and Brent Walsh assisting.

Finally, the brilliant Alain Mayrand supervised a goosebump inducing score that had the crew reeling. Such a pleasure to work with such amazing artists.