Ukrainian Community step out for a very special Puffin Rock premiere

Puffin Rock and The New Friends revoiced into Ukrainian by actors based in Ireland

by Alison O'Hanlon
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There was great excitement as a Ukrainian version of the animated feature, Puffin Rock and The New Friends premiered at Lighthouse Cinema in Dublin

Produced by Oscar© nominated Irish animation studio Cartoon Saloon and Northern Ireland’s Dog Ears, Puffin Rock and the New Friends Ukrainian version will be made available for educational and non-commercial use across Ireland and Europe.

Voice Director Lorraine Lordan, Casting and Voice Direction Consultant Alyona Osmanova ,Director Jeremy Purcell and Chief Executive Screen Ireland Desiree Finnegan with cast members at the premiere of Puffin Rock and The New Friends in Ukrainian at the Lighthouse Cinema, Dublin. Cartoon Saloon’s acclaimed animation has been re-voiced featuring voices from the Ukrainian Community based in Ireland. Pictures Brian McEvoy

The Screen Ireland supported film provided a unique opportunity to collaborate and connect with the Ukrainian community in Ireland and across Europe. The Ukrainian version of Puffin Rock and The New Friends is entirely voiced by Ukrainian nationals that have relocated to Ireland.  A casting call open to all Ukrainians in Ireland, regardless of experience, was shared with the Irish based Ukrainian community in Ireland in August of 2023, with over 150 respondents for the 18 roles available. 

Cast member Zlata Medianyk who plays Silky pictured at the premiere of Puffin Rock and The New Friends in Ukrainian at the Lighthouse Cinema, Dublin. Cartoon Saloon’s acclaimed animation has been re-voiced featuring voices from the Ukrainian Community based in Ireland. Pictures Brian McEvoy

Featuring a female narrator, Alla Bineeva, an experienced theatre and film actress living in Kerry to take on the role made famous by Chris O’Dowd, the voice cast also features Anna Svidruk from Dublin playing Oona and Polina Vorobei from Cork playing Isabelle.

Speaking about the revoiced version, Director Jeremy Purcell said “‘Puffin Rock is a wonderful place to live, but what if it just doesn’t feel like your home.’ During the production of the film this was a guiding statement for us, for how Isabelle may be feeling as a new puffin coming to live on a new Island, far far away from her home. We always tried to talk about her character in the simplest ways, for us she is an 8-year-old child moving to a new school or an 8-year-old child whose parents have to work away from home. We tried to focus on universal themes and experiences for our audience.But sadly in the world we live in, she is also an 8-year-old child forced to leave all they have known, not because of climate change but because her home has been destroyed by war. It was quite late in production when the idea of making a Ukrainian version of the film was introduced. We absolutely knew it was something we wanted to do.”

Making this version of the movie proved a new and rewarding experience for both the cast and Cartoon Saloon crew involved, and the resulting film is testament to the universal language of film and stories.

Speaking at the Premiere Désirée Finnegan, Chief Executive, FÍs Éireann/Screen Ireland said “Screen Ireland is delighted to support this very special film and screening of Puffin Rock & The New Friends, translated into the Ukrainian language by the team at Cartoon Saloon, with the work and support of the Ukrainian community in Ireland. The film promotes themes of community and connection – it’s a wonderful, timely message for young audiences to connect with around the world.” 

There were many new and exciting challenges on the project, not only was this the first time that Cartoon Saloon would take the lead creating a foreign language version of their films, a job that usually outsourced to the respective country. It would also be looking to fill all the roles from the newly arrived Ukrainian community. 

Casting and Voice Direction consultant, Alyona Osmanova, and Director, Jeremy Purcell, reviewed each of the tapes submitted through the open call, and were very impressed with the level of talent that applied – from experienced actors to newcomers. 

Julia and Chrystyna Kyzylishyna pictured at the premiere of Puffin Rock and The New Friends in Ukrainian at the Lighthouse Cinema, Dublin.

They eventually whittled it down to 52 in person auditions.  The in-person auditions were held across two weekends in Cartoon Saloon’s Barrack Street Studio. Hopefuls travelled from Kerry, Cork, Clare, Galway and Dublin to attend the auditions. 

At the auditions, Head of Post Production, Alan Slattery, tried his best to replicate the dubbing record experience which can be quite a technical experience “In many respects our Ukrainian cast would have the more difficult job of not only acting and bringing their characters to life but also ensuring they keep in time with the existing scenes and animation. Not only did our cast need to be brilliant actors they also needed to take direction and adjust to line changes quickly.” 

The in-person auditions were a brilliant experience for the studio team and the auditionees but the tough job of choosing the final cast was still ahead. 

Oleh, Yulia, Antem, Roman and Viktoria Yanchuk pictured at the premiere of Puffin Rock and The New Friends in Ukrainian at the Lighthouse Cinema, Dublin

One of the biggest challenges for the casting team was to figure out who could fill the shoes of the original Puffin Rock Narrator, Chris O’Dowd. “Chris is such an integral part of what makes Puffin Rock so special for audiences so it’s hard shoes to fill,” said Director Jeremy Purcell. “But that challenge presented us with an opportunity to try something new and we decided to go with a female Narrator, Alla Bineeva.”

Puffin Rock and the New Friends was Alla’s first experience in animation acting but she is an experienced theatre and film actress living in Kerry.   

The team had the difficult job of filling the 17 other roles before records could start. Anna Svidruk from Dublin was chosen to play Oona & Polina Vorobei from Cork was chosen to play Isabelle.

Voice Director, Lorraine Lordan noted “Our cast travelled from all around the country for the record sessions. They were more intensive than we initially expected but we were blown away by the enthusiasm, commitment and hard work of our cast and their parents, grandparents and/or brothers who travelled with them. The final performances are a testament to everyone involved. And I think Puffin Rock and the New Friends is every bit as moving in Ukrainian as it is in English.”

The rest of the cast came from all over the country, all travelling to Dublin for multiple days across August, September and October. Every mode of transport was used to get the far-flung cast to the records, trains, planes and automobiles. 

Alyona Osmanova, an actor and producer from Kiev, provided voice direction services to the project alongside the film’s Assistant Director and Puffin Rock veteran Lorraine Lordan.

The translation was recorded in Gorilla Post Production in Dublin with sound engineer Mark Fitzpatrick. 

The screenplay for the film by Sara Daddy was translated by Olena Velyka, a Ukrainian national who previously took part in Screen Skills Pathways programme and worked on the Preschool series Silly Sundays.

Pictures Brian McEvoy

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