ApocalypseA Bow Wow
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