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ISLE OF DOGS

Production Notes (Cont'd)
Puppets - The Dogs

There exists in East London a real "isle of dogs," a thumb of a peninsula that juts into the Thames River and has been known by that moniker since the reign of Henry VIII, though its etymology remains mysterious. Fittingly, the production of ISLE OF DOGS took place just three miles north of this namesake, at 3 Mills Studios, the historical film and television facility where much of the work for FANTASTIC MR. FOX also took place.

It is here that Andy Gent, the film's head puppet maker, started up a workshop in 2015 that was, as Anderson warned him prior to giving him the job, "what you might call puppet-heavy." Says Gent: "The amount of parts on this film was off the scale. These have been the quickest two years of my life." Some 1000 creaturely puppets were handmade for ISLE OF DOGS: 500 dogs and 500 humans. For each individual character, a range of puppets was made in 5 different scales: Oversized, Large, Medium-Small and XS. Each main or "hero" puppet, took about 16 weeks to build.

It is impossible to over-emphasize the exacting nature of building minute stop-motion puppets, which is unlike anything else in moviemaking. "I always say that making a stop-motion film is like working in a world that is 12 times smaller than anything you've ever seen but 200 times more complex than anything you've ever done because we have to make every single thing," explains Gent. "We've got to make not just the dogs and humans in different scales, but every test tube in three scales, every wig in three scales. So, you end up with 12 of each puppet in 5 scales on 20 sets. It can get pretty crazy."

Because the puppets were so small, the model-making was challenging. "We've had to up our model-making game," says animation producer Simon Quinn. "Some of the model-makers have said this is more like jewelry making or watch making because of the small scale of the puppets. We had to really come to grips with how these things would look being blown up huge, trying to keep the relationships and the detail. When I see how big it is on the screen, I'm kind of shocked at what we've accomplished."

The puppet work started with the dogs. Whereas the animals in FANTASTIC MR. FOX were more human in form than animal, this time things were reversed. These dogs are steeped in canine behaviors-they sit, lie down, fetch and do fancy tricks much like their real-world counterparts as well as display a loyalty, tenacity and instinct for affection that often outshine the humans who abandoned them - not to mention the crafting of their hair and fur.

Anderson did not lay out breeds for the puppet makers. Rather, he laid out emotional tones. "It was never 'a Golden Labrador' that Wes was interested in: it was 'a sad dog,'" Gent recalls. "The early sculpts had a character air to them, a sense of dishevelment that he liked and that we built on."

To never lose sight of the target, the puppet team kept plenty of live pups around. "The only difference between the real dogs and the puppets is that the puppets can talk," muses Gent. "I think it was very good form, having real dogs around in the workshop. Dogs can look sorrowful and you can tell when they're really happy, so we mirrored that in the puppets' faces and ears."

Instead of making sketches, Gent's team initially created more tactile clay sculptures they could let Anderson ponder from all angles. Once a design received Anderson's blessing, the rigorous building of the armature - the moveable metal skeleton inside each puppet - began. Each puppet's personal arc and actions were analyzed in depth. "When you're building, you have to think about all the puppet's being asked to do in the script. 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," Gent explains.

The "furring" of the dogs was also a highly-involved procedure. The "fur" was actually harvested alpaca and merino wool used for teddy bear manufacture and re-purposed for the film. The material can be especially tricky in stop-motion because even the slightest ruffling, made by say a human hand lightly touching the puppet, makes for a blurred quality. Yet, this proved to be a boon for ISLE OF DOGS, enhancing the feeling that these are flea-bitten, scruffy, unwashed dogs long separated from soap and grooming tools.

The film's dangerous robot dogs were a creation unto themselves, and the only characters in the film created with 3D printers. Describes Octavia Peissel: "The robot dog has three different forms: its neutral form, its cute-and-friendly form and then its attack mode where spikes pop out of its neck. It seemed fitting and appropriate for the robot dog to be the only 3D printed puppet in the movie."

Puppets - The Humans

To craft the humans, that was of course a very different process. To give the human visages a vibrant warmth, that feeling of blood rushing beneath the skin, the team experimented with translucent resins. Explains Head of Paint in the puppet department, Angela Kiely: "The translucent resin gives you a lovely glow about the face. Wes wanted this sort of ethereal look to some of the characters, so that came directly from him. He wanted us to find a new way of using materials that hadn't really been done before to show this kind of glowy look. You'll see it especially on Atari, as he has that see-through kind of appearance to his skin." Also, the team crafted a handy "face-replacement system." Every time there was a tiny change in expression, even a slyly raised eyebrow, the animators could quickly switch faces frame by frame. One of the most challenging human puppets was Tracy, who sports exactly 320 freckles, each of which travels whenever she smiles. The team designated a "key freckle" around which all the other freckles would move in an established pattern.

To dress the puppets in an array of looks, from Mayor Kobayashi's tailored suit to Professor Watanabe's kimono lab coat to Tracy's sailor suit, Anderson worked with costume designer Maggie Haden, who has specialized in crafting miniature clothing for decades, and also worked on FANTASTIC MR. FOX. Still, she was unprepared for the sheer volume of costumes required for ISLE OF DOGS.

"I have to say I wasn't prepared for the amount of puppets we were actually going to have to make. I assumed, wrongly it turns out, that it would be a similar amount of puppets as we used on FOX. But there are masses of puppets, because there are huge crowd scenes. You can't just get 'puppet extras' in for the day," she points out, "so we had to make and dress all of them. Which was amazing, really. In 30 years of doing this, I've never seen so many puppets all together, which was very exciting."

For Mayor Kobayashi's square-shouldered, Mid Century suit, Haden approached a Savile Rowtrained tailor. "That suit had to be sharp and beautifully tailored, which is very difficult to achieve on that scale," she says. "We had loads of film references for that sort of cool, slightly gangster look, so we knew what we were trying to achieve. But it nearly broke the tailor. It took nearly three months to get it right."

Haden's favorite costume of the prodigious collection is Atari Kobayashi's shiny, retro flight-suit, which seemed to reflect back both Atari's poignant childishness and his courage to venture outside his known world. She recalls that she thought she heard Anderson use the word silver early on for Atari and somehow that translated to her as "space suit," which somewhat surprised Anderson. Hayden continues: "I found all these beautiful tech fabrics, which are fairly new. I think they might have even originated in Japan, actually. They're a very, very fine synthetic weave. And they're incredibly strong. I was a big Bowie fan, so when Wes said, 'He looks a bit like Ziggy Stardust,' I was thinking, 'Yeah!'"

Once all the puppets are built and dressed, that's when their spirits are conjured physically by the animators. Explains head animator Jason Stalman of how chunks of metal, cloth and resin morph into beings whose minute mannerisms can make you giggle or break your heart: "I describe it as sculpting a performance. It's about feeling the form of the character in three-dimensional space."

Adds lead animator Kim Keukeleire: "Animating is like internal performing. And you have the voice track to help carry you, which gives you lots of inspiration. There are a lot of comic moments in this film, but they're not slapstick like in so many animated films. It's more about the rhythms of these characters. When the pack is together, they seem a bit to me like a bunch of old ladies bantering."

Waring understood the essence of what Anderson sought. "In our conversations, Wes was very insistent about keeping that handmade feel. He wants you to see the craft-don't disguise it, embrace it," he explains. "Even with the face replacement, he wanted a sense that these are not super-smooth changes. He likes to feel the pops and crackles in the animation. He wanted to see the crawl in the fur of the animals. He wanted to see the movement in the costumes and embrace all of that."

Senior Visual Effects Supervisor Tim Ledbury and his team honed in the rest of the stark but richly textured physical design, using almost zero CG. Floating clouds are cotton fluff, drifting rivers are made to flow with miniature conveyer belts of sandwich wrapping. "It's actually harder to do it this way than to use CG because with CG you can completely control everything," he admits. "This film was more of an old-fashioned sort of challenge rather than generating things in the computer, which Wes hates."

Even beyond eschewing the digital, Anderson tends to prefer designs that are structural. "At one point, we explored the idea of doing glass matte paintings for the skies," notes Ledbury, "but Wes always wanted a physical model. He wants to know something has been built." Photography & Set Design

Though he was often working remotely from other countries via arrays of monitors, Anderson was as creatively hands-on as ever with his crew. He eyeballed and explored every visual and tactile element of ISLE OF DOGS, down to each speck of sand in Trash Island's windswept dunes, each splinter in the bamboo bridges, each creaking wall of each rusted-out factory, each fluttering blade of grass.

Anderson and director of photography Tristan Oliver re-united on ISLE OF DOGS for the first time since FANTASTIC MR. FOX. Oliver, a stop-motion specialist who worked on the original, classic Claymation WALLACE & GROMIT shorts and shot such stop-motion features as CHICKEN RUN and PARANORMAN, knew Anderson has his own approach to lighting, hue, framing and composition. But ISLE OF DOGS would prove to be unusually cinematic, even for a Wes Anderson animated film, involving such non-standard techniques as long tracking shots and variations on the pan-focus shots (in which every character is in focus) Kurosawa favored. Notes Oliver: "I didn't take references from other animated movies because we didn't make any concessions to the fact that this movie is animated."

The bugaboo of stop-action is that photographing tiny objects in close proximity drastically narrows your options. This became the mother of invention at times. "There's a lot to consider when photographing small things. Forget the art; the general physics of the lens comes into play," Oliver explains. "Focus is intensely difficult. I think Wes wishes he could have all the focus he gets in live action. But in stop-motion animation, we have an inch of depth of field, so we work with that reality." Lighting the dogs' fur the way that Anderson likes was another challenge for Oliver. "Fur, in and of itself, isn't difficult, but it's an issue when you want a very flat look as Wes does. Hair has a certain refractive quality, no manner how flat you light it. It's slightly incandescent because it's got that very high, defined radius to it. It splits the light. So, we've softened the fur beyond soft sometimes."

Taking place as it does during a societal crisis, reels of news footage line ISLE OF DOGS. The decision was made that all on-air footage would appear in a different animation style: a 2D, hand-drawn look. Gwenn Germain, the 25-year-old French animator who headed the small, 12-person 2D department , was inspired by Japanese Anime: "Our team did something very different from what is usually done in 2- D animation. It's not broad, Disney-style animation; it's a quite restrained, 'Wes Anderson-style' 2-D. I don't think it's ever been done like this, where a 2-D animation department is working so closely with stop-motion."

ISLE OF DOGS involved the creation of 240 eye-catching sets-from the red lacquered Municipal Dome to the monochromatic science labs to the ashen ruins of Trash Island with its overhead trash tram-a massive task overseen by the production designers - Oscar winner Adam Stockhausen and Paul Harrod. Even all the natural phenomena that saturates the film-waves, clouds, smoke, fire, toxic fumes, sweat and tears-had to be made of physical stuff.

Harrod immersed himself in Japanese cinema as preparation. "I got very, very steeped in Japanese movies and it was a regular reference point," Harrod says. "Early on, Wes and I talked about how some of the themes echo Kurosawa films, so we looked in particular at THE BAD SLEEP WELL and HIGH AND LOW, and I also used some ideas from DRUNKEN ANGEL."

He looked beyond Kurosawa as well, to the "tokusatsu" (special effects) and "kaiju" (monster) films of director Ishiro Honda, a friend of Kurosawa's, who directed the original GODZILLA as well as RODAN, MOTHRA and THE WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS, among others. "We have robot dogs. We have drones. There's a bit of Honda's THE MYSTERIANS in there. We've also referenced some lesser-known films of Honda such as GORATH and MONSTER ZERO," says Harrod. "Our televisions are taken from kaiju movies because they always have scenes of someone freaking out in a control room."

The grandmaster of Japanese cinema, Yasujiro Ozu, whose rigorous style and stirring portraits of Japanese families in a changing post-war era have made his films among the most influential of all time, was also on Harrod's mind. "Architecturally, I would say Ozu is the biggest influence on the sets. I'm not the first person to say there is a certain similarity between Ozu and Wes: that precision, the use of symmetry, the very, very structured placement of characters-they're both very ceremonial."

Beyond Japanese references, Harrod cites Kubrick, Bond films and a touch of Tarkovsky's bleakly alluring wastelands from STALKER in the look of Trash Island. "There's some 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY referenced-the very, very white lab is an homage to Kubrick," he points out. "I was also happy to pay homage to production designer Ken Adam with the DR. STRANGELOVE-ian control room. Ken has probably been the biggest influence on me. And since he passed away during the production of this film, to be able to add that little homage to him seemed very poignant."

Harrod continues: "I thought a lot about STALKER when we were doing the animal testing plant. Tarkovsky's films are important references for creating worlds out of discarded objects. Wes is not a filmmaker known to the public for neutrals, grays and blacks, so it's fascinating to see him play with that."

To assure he incorporated a broader Japanese point of view, Harrod also brought in two key consultants: "I knew right from the beginning that I had to get some good Japanese advisors. Hiring Erica Dorn as our graphic designer and Chinami Narikawa as a graphic artist was a real coup. They were really, really valuable for making sure things were accurate and well researched."

Dorn points out that the film is not intended to replicate any real time period in Japanese history, that it exists suspended in imagination, but still there was a desire to honor the core principles of Japanese aesthetics and culture within that. "The aim was not so much to make a film that's 100% authentically Japanese as a film that's authentically Wes Anderson," Dorn says. "So, when those two things clashed, sometimes it might fall one way, sometimes it falls the other, and there is a balance." Music

ISLE OF DOGS marks the 4th feature film collaboration between Oscar nominated filmmaker Wes Anderson and Oscar-winning composer Alexandre Desplat, who worked together for the very first time on FANTASTIC MR. FOX (Desplat went on to win the Academy Award for his work on THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL). Desplat once again expanded his horizons with a score that, like the film, brings in elements of Japanese culture but creates its own original sonic presence.

Desplat foresaw from the moment he started talking with Anderson about ISLE OF DOGS that this one would set him off on a musical exploration. "I knew the music would have to be something that we've never heard before to help create this island that is something strange and unexpected," the composer explains. "I also knew from MR. FOX that stop-motion is a very long process but along the way, I saw a lot of the animatics and was chatting with Wes about Japanese artists, about instruments, about the characters. Even as I was working on other films, this was always sizzling in the background."

As the score came into the foreground, Desplat found the seed of his approach in a revered Japanese instrument: the taiko drums, which have been played since the 6th Century CE (in Japanese myth, taiko drums were born when a goddess danced on an upside-down sake barrel, producing that rumbling vibe), and are an essential component of Kabuki theatre. But rather than harken back to traditional taiko compositions, Desplat instead began mixing the drums with surprising and unexpected partners, such as saxophones and clarinets, creating a sound as unusual and inviting as Trash Island itself.

"I like that you could not really anticipate the matches between the drums and the horns that we use. The idea was to have these clear elements from Japanese music but without really referencing Japanese history or films because we did not want the music to feel like a pastiche. It had to come organically from the story," Desplat says. "The drums are very adaptable because they have such a huge range of dynamics. They can be so deep in sound and so powerful in volume but they can also play so softly. They can feel modern but they also have a very ancient kind of beauty to them. I have used them before but never in this way where they are the lead instrument."

The emotional tone of the film was perhaps as deep an influence as the drums. "The film's characters have such a melancholy and a tenderness to them so the music is always aiming to never directly go to the sentiment and it has a gentleness to it," he elucidates. "I wanted the music to sort of gently brush against the characters but not really touch them. The music never comes too close so that you have that space around their emotions."

Desplat notes that composing for a Wes Anderson stop-motion film populated with verbose canines is not particularly different from composing for a live-action film, outside of the extended production time. "The main characters might be dogs, but they exist in a zone between animals and humans. They have all the dog behaviors we know and recognize but we connect to them through their very human emotions, through their excitement, sadness, anger, hope and their love for one another and their friends," he says. "And then we also have the marvelous voices of all these actors we are already familiar with and that creates it own very warm human feeling."

As he always does with Anderson, Desplat recorded the score one instrument at a time, rather than as a full band. "By doing it this way, Wes and I can reorganize the tracks in the mix as we wish," he explains. "It was also really necessary with this movie because there is a lot of dialogue and a lot of very precise sound effects so we needed to really be able to mold and tailor the score around those elements."

Further adding to the film's soundscapes are dreamy acoustic songs by the 1960s psychedelic rock group West Coast Experimental Pop Art Band and an opening taiko drum sequence composed by Kaoru Watanabe. Brooklyn-based Watanabe, a specialist in both taiko drums and shinobue flutes, is renown for moving fluidly between East and West, traditional forms and contemporary forms. One day he got a call saying Anderson would like to meet him.

He takes up the story: "So Wes shows up, and within about five minutes of him walking through the door, we were jamming. He'd probably be the first to say he's not a trained musician. He's definitely not a drummer. But he is a very intuitive musician. I handed him the sticks, and he started coming up with these little figures and riffs, and I started riffing with him. I didn't know he was working on a movie, but after jamming, he says, 'So when can you come to the studio?' It was a really wonderful kind of meeting and musically, we were able to just kind of fall right into each other's groove, if you will."

Watanabe believes that the taiko drums add a folkloric feeling. "Taiko drums were traditionally used to convey important stories or to communicate with other people, gods or ancestors. So using them as storytelling device is just going back to the roots of what the drums are about."

The music becomes another layer of a film that, not unlike Trash Island, is piled high with bits and pieces that, when combined, seem to alchemically forge a world that feels lived-in and alive in its fantasia. If any single word seems to define the movie that word might be scale, both for the tiny scale of the intricate stop-motion work and the enormous scale of the story of how the Trash Island pack unites in their trek towards freedom and to discover the potential in themselves.

Says Anderson, "In animation you can keep adding things, keep revising. As you make the movie, you mock up the movie, edit it so you can see how it works. And, in this case - with many of the voices not being actors - with drawings, which is sort of a simulation of the movie, which is sometimes a complicated thing to make, which is why it takes a long time to do it."

Sums up Jeremy Dawson: "ISLE OF DOGS has comedy, drama - but also the vast sweep of an epic journey. We wanted that kind of scope, the scope of Samurai movies and adventure. It's a big movie in every way, but with simple basic themes that anyone can relate to."

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