Part Three: Staging Riverdance

Musical extravaganza Riverdance: The Animated Adventure, features spectacular Irish dancing to a new score by Grammy winner Bill Whelan, along with dancing deer, flying sheep, exploding frogs, raucous hurling, fiery flamenco and lots of fun!

The original Riverdance show has been seen by over 27 million theatre audiences across six continents and by over 300 billion TV audiences worldwide. 25 years since its first production, Riverdance: The Animated Adventure appeals to a whole new generation of audiences experiencing the power of Riverdance for the very first time.

From the sweeping panoramas of the river, lighthouse and village at River’s End to the Devil’s Causeway and into a magical realm, the settings of Riverdance: The Animated Adventure evoke both a real and mythical sense of Ireland. This final of a three-part series, explores the challenges of staging Riverdance in an animated world.



Anyone who has seen the stage show Riverdance, or who is old enough to have seen the original spectacular performance as interval act for the Eurovision Song Contest in 1994, will have experienced the power of the dance.

Director Eamonn Butler marvels, “There’s a huge scope when you first see it in person. It’s very impressive to see 30-40 dancers, perfectly in sync, doing something technically incredibly complex. It’s very uplifting.” It was this sense of scale and spectacle that the filmmakers wanted to capture in the movie, whilst referencing its origins as a stage show.

Transposing the show into an animated format afforded great creative potential for using the language of cinema to give the audience a new perspective on Riverdance.

Eamonn observes, “Until now, viewers have been restricted by the stage show experience, which has always seen the dancing from one viewpoint. In this movie, we could put the camera anywhere we wanted. We could even give audiences access to a close up on a dancer’s feet, so they can really appreciate the technicality of the movement. There’s even a moment where one of the deer delivers a cheeky wink in the middle of a dance. That’s the kind of detail you wouldn’t pick up on a stage. We’re taking it to new places.”

Camera and Layout
The layout team, led by Director of Production for Layout, Olaf Skjenna, created long takes of the performances from a range of angles, which were passed to editorial so that the directors could select their preferred perspectives and camera movements.

Skjenna affirms that, “This helped editorial and the directors by providing them with choices. It also gave us creative freedom in terms of the look of scenes, how the camera flowed and so forth. I was there when the motion capture was shot of the dancers in the UK, and at that early stage I began devising virtual cameras, which ultimately inspired the final look of some of those scenes.

“In the iconic sequence with the deer dancing on top of the hill, we had a 360-degree environment to explore. It was a creative challenge to decide where the camera might travel and sit most effectively to complement the dynamics of the performance. The tight relationship between camera, director and performance was critical to the success of staging the dance.”

Lighting and Colour
Lighting is also an essential aspect of animation. Choices made set the overall visual language and mood, which guides the audience in how they should be feeling and reacting to what they are seeing. Director of Photography for Lighting, Adel Abada, explains how lighting supported the narrative.

“Lighting was key for setting the tone. When Keegan’s grandfather dies early in the story, at the top of the lighthouse, the music and acting were supported by our lighting and colour choices. We used subtle saturation, pushing the colour variations to enhance an impression of sunset, with beautiful golden light shining into the lighthouse. We supported the poetic and emotional tone.”

Many of the most important environments in the film are outdoors. This created challenges for the lighting team, who often draw upon devices like windows and other directional lighting to create mood. They needed to be particularly inventive, working with sunsets, sunrises and a range of light qualities, with trees, rocks and environmental features to create interesting compositions. In addition, they drew inspiration from theatrical lighting, particularly for sequences set in the magical realm, where bolder choices were made.

Adel explains how lighting was used to support the narrative arc of the story. “The real world is seen twice in the film, before Keegan sets out on his journey, and later, after his transformation. Initially, the record store had well defined shadows and contrast, but when it’s seen again later on, we introduced softer shadows and brightened the sequences generally.”

Colour goes hand in hand with lighting choices. The fact that so much of the action in the film is set outdoors brought similar challenges with colour choices as to lighting, as Eamonn observes. “Have you ever been to Ireland? It’s green everywhere. So we tried to break that up, finding interesting ways to separate the magical kingdom visually from the real world. Even in the real world it was a challenge to not have green on screen all the time, but we found other ways to describe the environments.”

Creative use of colour was explored in other ways too, with the colour red used throughout the film to signal danger. The bad guy in the story, the Hunter, wears a red coat and the colour is used subtly throughout one of the most exciting sequences in the film, where he’s chasing deer, to build intensity and to convey danger.

Riverdance: The Animated Adventure re-imagines the stage show for a whole new generation of audience. Director Dave Rosenbaum declares, “Riverdance: The Animated Adventure honours the stage phenomenon that has captivated millions while introducing it to a brand-new generation. It celebrates the power of music and dance in new, unexpected ways. It illustrates the richness of Ireland’s history, nature and people. And it brings to the screen an original world full of comedy and drama, drawn from our imagination.”

If you missed the first two articles in this series, you can find out more about Riverdance’s development and animation.