Virpi Kettu's Amazing Animations
Skipton-based Virpi Kettu is an award-winning director-animator and digital artist, inspired by her local area, its community and its history
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.’
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!
'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.’