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Animation Magazine - - Features -

Wes An­der­son’s amaz­ing new an­i­mated fea­ture Isle of Dogs de­liv­ers won­der­ful vi­su­als, a clever cast of ca­nine pup­pets and a thought­ful homage to Ja­pa­nese cul­ture. By Ramin Za­hed

perspective and ap­proach to each project. What strikes me is that the movie doesn’t even look like Mr. Fox or an­other stop-mo­tion an­i­mated movie. Wes was re­ally push­ing him­self to come up with some­thing that worked for him. He’s never lazy, or rests on his lau­rels. He has these am­bi­tious ideas that may seem im­possi- ble or dif­fi­cult to achieve. He never milks the sit­u­a­tion for laughs, and the movie has its very own unique look. We ac­tu­ally had only one sto­ry­board artist for the en­tire movie!’

The pro­ducer men­tions one spe­cific scene that has made a big im­pact on him. “There’s but it’s such a charm­ing scene.”

For Daw­son, who grew up lov­ing Rankin/ Bass hol­i­day spe­cials, work­ing with An­der­son has been a hugely re­ward­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. “I loved all the Satur­day morn­ing car­toons and the Miyazaki movies. To­toro is one of my fa­vor- ite movies of all time. His movies con­vey so much heart and feel­ings. We were go­ing for the same thing as we ex­plored this clas­sic re­la­tion­ship be­tween a boy and his dog.”

An­i­ma­tion di­rec­tor Mark War­ing, whose cred­its in­clude Tim Bur­ton’s Corpse Bride, Fan­tas­tic Mr. Fox and Franken­wee­nie, says when he was first con­tacted to work on the movie, he knew it was go­ing to be a great ex­pe­ri­ence to work with An­der­son again. “The screen­play was a great page-turner, but on each page, there were so many com­plex­i­ties in­volv­ing nu­mer­ous char­ac­ters and lo­ca­tions,” he ex­plains. “I knew Wes wanted to shoot ev­ery­thing in cam­era rather than us­ing CG. I be­lieve we had over 1,105 pup­pets made for the pro­duc­tion. We had over a hun­dred main char­ac­ters. The film at­tracted many an­i­ma­tors and artist who came to Lon­don to work on the film at 3 Mills Stu­dios. I be­lieve we had about 250

Head of pup­pets Andy Gent is no stranger to chal­leng­ing pup­pet-an­i­mated projects. He has worked on features such as Corpse Bride, Fan­tas­tic Mr. Fox, Franken­wee­nie and The Grand Bu­dapest Ho­tel. To get him pre­pared for Isle of Dogs, which ended up with 1,105 pup­pets (half of them were dogs and half were hu­man char­ac­ters), An­der­son sent him a video of Ja­pa­nese taiko drum­mers.

“We watched this tra­di­tional drum cer­e­mony on stage, and it was so pow­er­ful and in­spir­ing,” says Gent. “Stop-mo­tion is as much as test of stam­ina as it is of skill, and this re­ally pre­pared us for the task. We had a range of pup­pets made for each in­di­vid­ual char­ac­ter — over­sized, large, medium, small and ex­tra small. Each hero pup­pet took about 16 weeks to build!”

Gent says work­ing in a stop-mo­tion film is like work­ing in a world that’s 12 times smaller than any­thing you’ve seen, but 200 times more com­plex than any­thing you’ve ever done. “We had to make not just the dogs and hu­mans in dif­fer­ent scales, but ev­ery test tube in three scales, ev­ery wing in three scales … it got pretty crazy.”

The pup­pet team cre­ated more tac­tile clay sculp­tures in the be­gin­ning so that An­der­son could look at ev­ery an­gle of the dog or hu­man char­ac­ter. Once he ap­proved the de­sign, the build­ing of the metal­lic ar­ma­ture or skele­ton in­side the pup­pet be­gan. “When you’re build­ing, you have to think about all the pup­pet’s be­ing asked to do in the script,” notes Gent. “Has it got to jump, has it got to run, has it got to stretch, has it got to lie down, has it got to bite some­thing, and all of those things. From there, we work out the var­i­ous pro­cesses of how we mold and ar­ma­ture it and what choice of sil­i­con or foams we use. The dogs had to be able to lie down and run around. We made adapt­able ar­ma­ture so that they could stretch and scratch. Some of the pup­pets were so small they could ac­tu­ally sit on your thumb­nail. Be­cause of the mas­sive land­scape scenes, we had to scale the pup­pets down.”

The fur on the film’s dogs is ac­tu­ally har­vested al­paca and merino wool used to man­u­fac­ture teddy bears. For the hu­man dolls, the artists used sil­i­cone re­place­ment skin to cre­ate more tonal range than seen in pup­pet faces be­fore. “It took a lot of tests to make the re­place­ment faces look just right,” says Gent. “Our lead char­ac­ter Atari has over a hun­dred faces. We got this semi-translu­cent skin, which works re­ally well when it comes to show­ing freck­les or bruises. You can’t use 3D print­ers to cre­ate that spe­cial bruised qual­ity. You have to hand-paint that across the faces.”

How­ever, 3D print­ers were used to pro­duce the film’s dan­ger­ous ro­bot dogs, which have three dif­fer­ent forms: a neu­tral form, a cute-and-friendly form, and then the at­tack mode where spikes pop out of their necks.

“Look­ing back, I am re­ally proud of what the team was able to do,” says Gent. “It was a huge chal­lenge. I can’t say which one of the pup­pets I like best. Atari was one of the first ones we made, and I like Chief very much, too. There are mo­ments where each one of them re­ally shines in dif­fer­ent parts of the


you’ve got a glass char­ac­ter that will move a cer­tain way, or you’ve got a wooden char­ac­ter who is go­ing to move a cer­tain way. But that wasn’t the in­trigu­ing part of this film. It was re­ally about per­for­mance choices that you would make be­ing this char­ac­ter with these life ex­pe­ri­ences and made of cer­tain ma­te­ri­als. That was what was so unique about this film.” Spot­light on Ac­tion Holmes

Like the first fea­ture, the movie is CG-an­i­mated (us­ing Maya) and stays close to the style of an­i­ma­tion used for the orig­i­nal gnome ad­ven­ture to pre­serve a sense of con­ti­nu­ity. Over­all, 60 per­cent of the an­i­ma­tion crew was in Lon­don, and 40 per­cent worked in Paris. Dur­ing peak pro­duc­tion, there were be­tween 80 and 100 an­i­ma­tors work­ing on the project.

“It’s very dif­fer­ent from the first film, which is a small lit­tle ro­man­tic com­edy that takes place in a cou­ple of back­yards and a park and an al­ley,” says Leighton. “Our film is a big, ac­tion-ad­ven­ture Sher­lock Holmes movie. So ob­vi­ously, the set pieces are larger, there’s a lot more move­ment and jeop­ardy for our char­ac­ters. The an­i­ma­tors had to work with a lot of con­trast.”

Leighton wanted to make sure the move­ment of the gnomes, who come to life when­ever hu­mans aren’t around to catch them, made some kind of in­ter­nal sense. He was in­spired by Ge­orge Pal’s Pup­petoons, which used re­place­ment an­i­ma­tion in­volv­ing dif­fer­ent hand­carved pup­pets each time the pup­pet makes a new ex­pres­sion, as op­posed to ac­tu­ally mov­ing the orig­i­nal pup­pet as is the case with stop-mo­tion an­i­ma­tion.

The an­i­ma­tion di­rec­tor says his an­i­ma­tors were ex­cited to work with so many dif­fer­ent ma­te­ri­als and find ways for the char­ac­ters to still give mean­ing­ful, emo­tional per­for­mances that would hit home with au­di­ences. They were at­tuned to the physics of their char­ac­ters and to the stakes for them in the film.

“What I re­ally love about gar­den gnomes is that they look like what they are,” says Leighton. “They’ve been sculpted, glazed and fired and they have an ap­pear­ance that says that’s what hap­pened to them. What you re­ally want is for the au­di­ence to have em­pa­thy for them in their own en­vi­ron­ment. These are char­ac­ters who are made of clay who — if they fall — can be­come chipped or break. They’re also in a much big­ger en­vi­ron­ment where there are more risks. All of these chal­lenges are re­ally ap­peal­ing to an­i­ma­tors who want to do some­thing interesting, that’s not like what they’ve al­ready done be­fore this story.” Para­mount re­leases Sher­lock Gnomes on March 23 in the­aters na­tion­wide.

Af­ter a suc­cess­ful run on the fes­ti­val cir­cuit, the Chi­nese fea­ture Big Fish & Be­go­nia by Xuan Liang and Chun Zhang will re­ceive a the­atri­cal re­lease in the U.S. this April. The lav­ish and of­ten beau­ti­ful film is a sprawl­ing fairy tale that draws in­spi­ra­tion from var­i­ous sources, in­clud­ing the work of Hans Chris­tian An­der­sen, the films of Hayao Miyazaki and the an­cient Taoist text Wan­der­ing at Ease in the Zhuangzi.

As a rite of pas­sage, Chun, a girl from the world of the spir­its who con­trol the weather, tides and other nat­u­ral phe­nom­ena, vis­its the hu­man world as a dol­phin. She breaks her peo­ple’s rules and gets in­volved with a hu­man boy, who drowns res­cu­ing her from a net. To atone, she defies taboos to bring him back to life in her world, which un­leashes dis­as­trous con­se­quences.

“In the his­tory of Chi­nese an­i­ma­tion, there has never been a film like Big Fish & Be­go­nia,” writes Va­ri­ety critic Peter DeBruge. “Cer­tainly, prece­dents ex­ist in Amer­i­can and Ja­pa­nese car­toons (at its core, the film could be a cross be­tween Dis­ney’s The Lit­tle Mer­maid and Stu­dio Ghi­bli’s Spirited Away), but as far as the Chi­nese in­dus­try goes, this bold and breath-

ducted through email. Zhang and Liang met at Bei­jing’s pres­ti­gious Ts­inghua Univer­sity. Zhang was study­ing art; Liang was ma­jor­ing in ther­mo­dy­nam­ics, which he found un­in­ter­est­ing. He quit go­ing to class, then dropped out. The young men rented a house to­gether and be­gan en­ter­ing com­mer­cial an­i­ma­tion com­pe­ti­tions to pay the rent.

The road to the fea­ture be­gan in 2004, when Liang had a vivid dream. “I dreamt about a small fish grow­ing big­ger and big­ger. It fi­nally be­came an enor­mous fish that was so big that there was no place to hold it. When I woke up, I told Zhang Chun about this dream. He un­til only the sky is big enough to hold it. We won first place in that com­pe­ti­tion, and in March 2005, we founded our com­pany B&T. Our goal was to make the best an­i­mated films in China.”

Over the next sev­eral years, the part­ners strug­gled fi­nan­cially while they col­lab­o­rated on test footage for a fea­ture-length ver­sion of Big Fish & Be­go­nia. They en­tered con­tests, tried work­ing on games and sought in­vestors. Af­ter meet­ing with no suc­cess, Liang says, “I posted an open let­ter to in­vestors on Weibo in 2013. A crowd­fund­ing site found us, and we started a cam­paign that raised 1.58 mil­lion

The Bravest Knight is a ground­break­ing LGBTQ+ chil­dren’s se­ries. The show cen­ters around Cedric, a multi-di­men­sional, openly gay pro­tag­o­nist, as he goes from hero to fa­ther of his adopted daugh­ter, Nia. Quick Pitch: “The show is about rec­og­niz­ing the strength that it takes to be true to your­self,” says Shab­nam Rezaei, co-founder and pres­i­dent of Big Bad Boo. “Cedric’s jour­ney rep­re­sents the op­po­si­tion we may face when try­ing to find our place in the world and the won­der­ful courage that can be found along the way.” De­liv­ery Date: Sept. 2018 www.big­bad­boo.com Je Suis Bien Roger is bring­ing

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