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Be inspired every day with Living North
Virpi Kettu's Amazing Aminations
People
May 2022
Reading time 6 Minutes

Skipton-based Virpi Kettu is an award-winning director-animator and digital artist, inspired by her local area, its community and its history

With her newest project, Dogs’ Dales, releasing a TV series and augmented reality app in April, she tells us more about this paw-fect way to have fun while learning about this part of Yorkshire

Originally from Finland but having lived in nine different  countries,  Virpi  has  travelled  all  over  the world during her 20 years in the animation and  film  industry.  Yet  it’s  Skipton  where  her  heart truly lies. ‘I came to Skipton because I met the love of my life’, Virpi explains. ‘Initially I only planned to come for 10 months and now it’s been almost eight years.’

Virpi’s  first  glimpse  of  British  soil  was  in  2000,  when  she came for two weeks of work experience at the world-famous  Aardman  Animations.  ‘I  landed  in  London  and  the  bus  arrived  that  said  Bristol.  It  may  as  well  have  said  Heaven,  I  was  so  excited!  The  same  thing  happened  –  I  was supposed to stay for two weeks and stayed for seven years. I always plan to go somewhere for a little while and end up staying.’

A  career  highlight,  Virpi  worked  on  a  number  of  well-known  creations  during  her  time  at  Aardman  including  Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit, Shaun the  Sheep  and  Creature  Comforts  to  name  just  a  few.  ‘I  really enjoyed it there, you learned a lot but it was exciting at the same time. Just getting to do something for a living that you really enjoy and are good at is amazing.’

Kettu  Studios

She’s  also  worked  with  The  National  Film  Board  of  Canada, DreamWorks, Passion Pictures, Max Films, Cuppa Coffee  and  Universal  Pictures  in  animation,  consulting,  production and directing, as well as creating a number of academic papers, informercials, advertisements and music videos  –  one  of  which  earned  itself  a  Royal  Television  Society Award last year. 

‘In 2020 I got an email about making a music video for Katy Perry. That was done in lockdown in just three months, so it was hard work but the song is called Resilient and we felt really resilient after that too,’ Virpi recalls.

‘Then  when  the  video  won  the  RTS  Award  for  best  animation in Yorkshire that was a really nice nod to the quality,  world-class  animation  created  here.  It  just  felt  really good to have local peers’ recognition for animation in the area.’

This was a particularly proud moment, as despite having won Oscars as part of Aardman, it was Virpi’s first award on  her  own  behalf  for  Kettu  Studios,  Virpi’s  very  own  boutique  animation,  film  and  immersive  technology  company which she set up in 2012.

Reflecting  on  her  own  work  she  says:  ‘I  had  already  worked so much for other companies and it felt like the time to go it alone. My life goal used to be to work for certain people, but once I had done that I thought, no, I want to create my own things.

‘I love being a small business owner doing my own hours, but  I  can  also  create  these  stories  and  create  parallel  universes  and  worlds  with  animation.  I  like  the  impact  of entertainment in animation form because it’s gentle, and  it  makes  life  better  –  to  be  able  to  create  that  is  so  rewarding. I always wanted to make a positive impact on the world and I try and do that every day.’

It was Virpi’s work at her studio which earned her a grant from  Great  Place:  Lakes  and  Dales  in  2019  for  Dogs’  Dales  demo  app,  and  in  April  the  studio  is  launching  the  brand  new  app  with  funding  from  the  Heritage  Action Zone. Dogs’ Dales is an immersive media project in  which  stories  about  the  Yorkshire  Dales  are  told  –  however, everyone’s a dog! 

'This  place  has  so  much  history  and  so  much  heritage,  but  it’s  always  told  in  a  kind  of  similar  way.  So  Dogs’  Dales  is  trying  to  shine  a  new  light  and  new  way  of  telling the story of the Yorkshire Dales – and everybody loves dogs,’ Virpi explains.

These aren’t just any stories however, as all the dogs and the locations are inspired by real local people and places which  Virpi  has  needle-felted  into  animated  characters  and  sets.  ‘Anthropomorphic  animals  are  not  new  to  animation but there was something very heart warming about the amount of dogs in Craven District. It was like the dogs owned the Dales!

Kettu Studios

'We have giants, goblins, fairies, dragons, pirates and gnomes – there’s so many amazing stories around here'

‘Also the people I met here reminded me instantly of the content, the loyal, happy and mildly mysterious nature of dogs and everyone was also surprisingly a writer and a storyteller. So, the history of Skipton and Craven could not be more fruitful for inspiration,’ she continues.

Aimed at children from five to 15, but also for the whole family,  the  stories  will  be  told  through  a  stop-motion  animation TV series, as well as an augmented reality trail app in 14 different locations across the Dales.‘

For  the  14  locations,  I  studied  the  towns,  the  villages,  the  history,  the  heritage  and  the  local  legends  and  it’s  so  exciting  because  there’s  nothing  we  don’t  have!  We  have giants, goblins, fairies, dragons, pirates and gnomes –  there’s  so  many  amazing  stories  around  here.  The  area’s so full of amazing stories that I don’t want to be forgotten, so I just try to tell them in a new way. I weave the tales into the Dogs’ Dales story and it makes a really lovely, entertaining TV series.’

For those who are a fan of the show, the location-based mobile  app  is  bespoke,  depending  on  where  you  are,  you can meet the characters from the Dogs’ Dales in real life. ‘When you travel around these places you can meet a  dog  through  the  app  who  will  ask  you  local  heritage  questions so you can learn things about the places and appreciate them in a new way.  

‘The  app  may  also  take  you  to  new  places  in  the  area,  so  it  really  aims  to  inspire  you  to  know  more  about  Yorkshire Dales and the locations while being accessible and family-friendly. At the end of the trail it generates a voucher for a local business so you can support the local economy too,’ Virpi adds. 

Virpi believes that animation and new technologies like augmented  reality  are  the  future  for  rural  areas  such  as  the Dales. ‘The virtual reality industry is growing rapidly so  we  would  be  silly  not  to  get  involved,  especially  as  the  local  area  is  very  keen  on  retaining  its  history  and  architecture and this is the best way to do it.

‘The  app  is  active  24  hours  a  day,  you  can  visit  rain  or  shine,  in  your  own  space  and  time,  but  it’s  invisible  so  heritage-wise  and  tourism-wise  it  is  a  perfect  way  to  preserve the area. It’s the natural way to go to for what this area can offer,’ she says.

Virpi  loves  the  way  Yorkshire  feels  like  ‘rooted  ground’  and  explains  that,  for  her,  keeping  business  in  her  local  area  is  extremely  important.  ‘We’re  trying  to  do  everything in Yorkshire. Our funding is from the North and there’s so much talent here,’ she says. ‘I really want to create a sustainable, creative digital industry and believe we definitely can if we get the funding for these things. We just have to start somewhere. As they say, build it up and they will come.’

Virpi is looking for local funders to keep the industry in the area, so if you are interested in supporting the project, contact her at virpi@kettustudios.com.
She also has a Patreon site for anyone else who would like to become a member of the Dogs’ Dales community patreon.com/dogsdales, or you can follow along with all updates on her websites kettustudios.com and dogsdales.com, and on social media @kettustudios and @dogsdales.

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