Monday, March 26, 2018

Isle of Dogs

Making the Dogs of ‘Isle of Dogs’

A closer look at the process of designing four of the dogs that populate the director Wes Anderson’s new film.
A scene from the stop-motion animated “Isle of Dogs,” directed by Wes Anderson.CreditFox Searchlight Pictures
Dog lovers and design lovers, perk up. Wes Anderson has a movie for you. The director, no stranger to the meticulous crafting of worlds, has created a canine-filled universe for the stop-motion animated “Isle of Dogs.”

The movie takes place in the fictional Japanese city Megasaki, where a dog flu has broken out. Fear sets in, and the humans exile all dogs to Trash Island. Though people are integral to the story, dogs of all colors, shapes and sizes really rule the movie.

Mr. Anderson wanted to put on screen dogs that look somewhat familiar to us but have heightened qualities beyond reality. That’s why, for instance, his dogs don’t have traditional hind legs, but instead walk on what seems like two sets of front legs, akin to a table. “Finding that balance of dog anatomy versus what was more of a caricature,” Mr. Anderson said, “that was not preconceived. You sort of had to try it and see. Then try again and adjust.”

He worked closely with Andy Gent, the head of the puppets department, who, instead of sketching ideas, used clay to sculpt sample dogs. Those would be analyzed and refined into what became the final characters. Mr. Gent had more than 70 artists on his puppet team, building (and sometimes rebuilding) these models. While some 500 dog puppets were made for the movie, here is a closer look at how four key canines came to life.


Jupiter was modeled on, among other sources, the actor Charles Laughton.CreditFox Searchlight Pictures
This dark-maned St. Bernard voiced by F. Murray Abraham has an air of wisdom and is respected for it. The filmmakers mostly used other dogs for reference, bringing them on set to watch their mannerisms and movements, then designing and animating the characters. Mr. Gent even brought in his own pup, Charlie, as a model. But Mr. Anderson had a human in mind when it came to Jupiter. “We talked about Charles Laughton,” he said, the British film and stage actor with a larger-than-life screen presence. Mr. Gent built wisdom and authority into Jupiter’s face with pronounced jowls. And he put folds in his skin and a degree of sagginess to suggest the gravitas of age. The team gave him gray fur for prestige, and a glass eye, which makes him stand out even more.
The folds and sags in Jupiter's skin were meant to be signs of age.CreditFox Searchlight Pictures


With such wide-set eyes, Oracle watches television in the movie to keep her comrades up to date.CreditFox Searchlight Pictures
Scale plays an important part in the film’s design concept, and the differences in size between Jupiter and the tiny pug often by his side, Oracle, voiced by Tilda Swinton, make for an interesting contrast. The filmmakers used the pug’s big, wide-set eyes and stare-y look as a plot point, making Oracle the dog that could watch television and keep the others informed about impending threats. Each puppet has an armature — a metal, skeletal structure underneath — for movement. “The trickiest thing with the design with her is the fact that she is the littlest thing you’ve ever seen,” Mr. Gent said. “So it was a real challenge for the makers to get the mechanics inside her head to give her range and expression.” Oracle was first conceived as more of a cream-colored animal, but they changed her to a silvery white to balance against the darkness of Jupiter. When Ms. Swinton posed for publicity photos for the film, Mr. Gent said, she liked to wear Oracle on her shoulder like a little bird.
Each dog puppet has a metal armature inside.CreditFox Searchlight Pictures


Nutmeg's hue was inspired by the color scheme of a Gucci store.CreditFox Searchlight Pictures
One of the film’s most alluring characters, Nutmeg (voiced by Scarlett Johansson) is a show dog with golden locks that somehow remain spotless on Trash Island. Her fur, and that of many of the dogs, was generated from alpaca and merino wool, the kind often used for teddy bears. The designers spent the longest time on this character, something like 30 weeks, to get her right. Her coloring was inspired by a Gucci store that Mr. Anderson had come across. He liked the range of hues in its decorations and clothing, and sent Mr. Gent’s team a photo, asking them to generate that tonal mood in the fur.
The fur for Nutmeg and the other dogs is made of merino wool and alpaca.CreditFox Searchlight Pictures


Boss wears a jersey as a nod to a tradition, baseball, that is shared by Japan and the United States.CreditFox Searchlight Pictures
Bill Murray provides the voice for this pinstripe-jersey-clad dog. “We wanted to have one dog who was a baseball team mascot,” Mr. Anderson said, explaining his thought process: The dogs speak in English mostly with American accents, so this was a nod to a tradition, baseball, that the United States and Japan share. Mr. Gent and his team first sculpted Boss as a scrappy, small bull-terrier type, but then decided to mix things up. “We ended up pulling the head off of a different dog and putting it on a chunkier dog’s body,” Mr. Gent said. “So he became sort of a Frankenstein evolution.” The more barrel-styled body turned out to be better one to fill out Boss’s Dragons jersey.
Andy Gent, head of the puppet department, with one of the real-life inspirations for the film, his dog Charlie.CreditFox Searchlight Pictures
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Isle of Dogs review – Wes Anderson's scintillating stop-motion has bite

Marooning a pack of dogs on a dystopian Japanese island, the auteur’s new animation is an inspiringly detailed and surprisingly rough-edged treat  

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