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FANTASTIC MR. FOX

Puppets
To flesh out Lowry's team's character designs into fully realized three-dimensional creations, the production approached acclaimed puppet makers Ian MacKinnon and Peter Saunders whose credits include CORPSE BRIDE as well as countless television shows and commercials. Based in Manchester, England, MacKinnon and Saunders were charged with creating a series of puppets in what is termed "hero scale”, which is the standard puppet size used by stop-motion animators because of its versatility of movement and ability to handle the largest variety of facial expressions. Ranging in size from a couple of inches (in the case of Rickety the mouse), up to eighteen inches (for Rat), these "hero scale” puppets were sculpted over armatures — movable metal skeletons made typically from steel or aluminium with ball and socket joints — that allow the animators to position them as required.

Once MacKinnon and Saunders had completed their work, this first batch of puppets became the subject of further design changes as Anderson and the animators then set about refining and, in some cases, redesigning the characters based on their look or animatability. 

"It's still evolving heavily at that point,” says puppet fabrication supervisor Andy Gent, who worked on CORPSE BRIDE and CORALINE. "We had to change the shapes on the puppets, on the shoulders and some of their profiles, and then redo the costumes because none of the costumes would work. So there was an awful lot of redesigning and finding new materials.”

Unlike most stop-motion puppets which are normally made from silicon or plasticine over a ball and socket armature, a large number of the characters in FANTASTIC MR. FOX, by virtue of being animals, needed to be covered in fur. 

As with props, every item of clothing for the puppets had to be manufactured to Anderson's precise instructions. The corduroy and tweed suits worn by Mr. Fox were based on suits that Anderson wears himself. "We got swatch samples from his tailor so we could match the color,” Abbate reveals. 

Mrs. Fox's dress took a little more time to get right. "Unlike most animated movies where you sketch the characters and the dress would be part of the sculpt, here Wes designed the clothes like you would for an actress or a model,” recalls Abbate. "But the first dress we made didn't look that great on her. It was fine as a drawing but it didn't work with the puppet's hips, shoulders and torso, and so the puppet costumers had to become like costume designers and go, how can we fit this dress on her? She's Meryl Streep after all. She needs something beautiful.”

For Rat, Anderson wanted a striped, knitted sweater. A simple enough request you might think, except someone not only has to actually knit it, but has to knit it with knitting needles of an appropriate size. 

"You have to make the knitting needles to start with before you can actually fabricate the material you're going to make the sweater out of,” notes Gent of the immense amount of worked involved in bringing FANTASTIC MR. FOX to life. "We made a tiny little badge for the jumper which went through a few versions, but in the end Wes was absolutely keen to get a hand-embroidered badge where the letters were two-and-a-half millimeters high. It's that incredible detail that gives us all the richness. So there's an awful lot of work to get to that stage.”

Once Anderson and the animators signed off on the "hero scale” puppets, Gent's team then moved on to making smaller versions of each character in a variety of scales. In addition to "hero scale”, puppets were made in three sizes, "half scale”, "mini” and "micro-mini”, with the latter only 12-20 millimetres in height. "The small ones were the revelation,” says Abbate. "They rocked our world a little bit.” 

"They've been able to give us the really big

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