Can you tell us how the project began?
Since the start of S4C people have been asking them to animate the Mabinogi, it's obviously the most famous Welsh text. And I think Chris Grace, who's been doing a lot of animated cultural projects e.g. Shakespeare, Opera, the Bible, has been working his way up to this, but it was a very hard story to tell because, as you know, there are Four Branches and Four Branches don't go well into one film. We could have done four half-hour episodes, or 1/4 hour episodes for school, we thought about that but in the end we decided to try and make it a piece of entertainment rather than education.
What kinds of problems did you encounter whilst working on this project?
There are Four Branches of the Mabinogi and in each branch there are different protagonists and antagonists. When you try to put that together in one film you have a huge problem so we decided that the first thing we had to do was try and make a story "arc" within the stories that we had there. We therefore had to concentrate on Rhiannon's story because she appears in the First Brach and then reappears in the Third Branch, and then her son gets friendly with the protagonists of the Second Branch so we tried to link the First, Second and Third Branches together. But what we found was there was nothing we could do with the Fourth Branch, which is Lleu's story, and it's probably the most exciting but didn't fit into it at all, so then we had to think of some unifying structure that would somehow make it seem like a single film. That's when we came up with the idea of having a live action opening and ending with three teenagers who go into the otherworld and become three of the protagonists of three of the Branches.
What advantages and disadvantages did that offer to you?
To have live action protagonists gave us the ability to give them modern day problems. Rhiannon has had unprotected sex the night before she goes into the otherworld, and could become pregnant in the next couple of days. She thinks she can handle pregnancy, she's only 18 and the father isn't going to be around, but she can handle it. Now you take her into the Mabinogi and in her story she has a lot of trouble conceiving a child, her child is then stolen from her, she's accused of its murder, reunited with her child, then he goes off to war. Generally in her story in the Mabinogi she learns both the pain and the joy of motherhood and realises that a pregnancy is not something to be taken lightly. That's the sort of thing we tried to do with our live action protagonists i.e. give them a modern day problem, get it solved somehow during the Mabinogi so that when they come out of the otherworld they were slightly wiser than before they went in.
Derek has described the style as "Welsh Manga". Did that in any way inform the way you thought about it?
I know why Derek describes it as "Welsh Manga". I think it's because there's so much sex and violence. We had difficulty adapting this for a younger school age audience which had been one of the early plans, and as we got to grips with the material we realised that it was going to have to be for a "12+" audience and possibly even targeted at young 20's.
Is that then the audience you had in mind?
I think the key audience for this film is anybody who's interested in the problems of a teenage protagonist. All of our three live action heroes are 18 - in fact they're celebrating Lleu's 18th birthday when they take this boat trip out off the coast of Pembrokeshire. But anybody who's interested in the problems that they face i.e. Lleu learns on the morning of his 18th birthday that he's adopted, his adoptive parents haven't dared to tell him, and I think that is a problem that anyone could identify with.
How do you feel as the project comes to fruition?
To inspire us in the writing of this film we embarked on a research trip of all the sites. We live in Tenby, Pembrokeshire, which is quite close to Narberth, where the court of Arberth was and from there we found that we could see the view that Pwyll noticed when Rhiannon was riding her horse down below. We travelled to North Wales to see where Branwen might have died and we took photographs which we gave to Derek, he then went back with much better cameras and used a lot of live action photography in his work. It's very exciting to see that coming through. I think Martyn and I are both very keen to try and use this film to advertise Wales because we're very aware that internationally, Ireland and Scotland are the places that everybody thinks are beautiful and yet when we tour Wales we find that Wales has an awful lot to offer and particularly with this story so closely linked to all the places - that's what inspired us and what we're seeing Derek carry out.