×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

‘Isle of Dogs’ Production Team Dove Into Japanese Art and Culture

Every design element of Wes Anderson’s “Isle of Dogs,” his second stop-motion animated film after 2009’s “Fantastic Mr. Fox,” started with an authentic reference point.

Set in a dystopian Japan, the Fox Searchlight picture, to be released March 23, imagines a world in which flu-stricken canines have been quarantined on a remote island. A boy, Atari (voiced by Koyu Rankin), travels there to search for his pet, Spots (Liev Schreiber).

Co-production designers Adam Stockhausen and Paul Harrod scoured Japanese artifacts — from clothing to light switches to sink faucets — for inspiration. While the film pays homage to Japanese art and culture, the designers allowed themselves some latitude to convey Anderson’s vision.

“For me,” says Harrod, a veteran stop-motion guru with extensive work in sculpting and modeling, “the main design touchstone was [director Yasujirō] Ozu, whose films [“Tokyo Story,” “Late Spring”] I’ve always loved. I’m not alone in seeing a kinship between his and Wes’ work. Ozu’s use of set design and architecture served as a huge inspiration for a lot of our interiors and domestic scenes.”

Early on, Stockhausen, who designed Steven Spielberg’s upcoming “Ready Player One” and also worked on Anderson’s “Moonrise Kingdom” and “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” for which he won an Oscar (shared with set decorator Anna Pinnock), dug into ukiyo-e prints — Japanese genre art that was popular beginning in the 17th century.

“It was wonderful and overwhelming to see so many at one time,” says Stockhausen, referring to the visit he and Anderson paid to the Met archive. “We started categorizing our favorites and tagging them for sequences or moments. Often it was the [whole] composition that Wes wanted to bring from the print to the film, but also details, like rain or water.”

Trash Island is where most of the film takes place, while the pic’s beginning and end are set in Megasaki City, a fictional metropolis. A different Japanese auteur was the inspiration there. “Two of Wes’ principal references were Akira Kurosawa’s noirs from the early ’60s, ‘The Bad Sleep Well’ and ‘High and Low,’” says Harrod. “For Megasaki City, our task was to project a futuristic Japan while avoiding a lot of what have become retro-futuristic clichés.”

With stop-motion, every element has to be designed and fabricated. And when artists design handheld props for a character that is 10 inches tall, minute details become challenging.

“Often in stop-motion, when you have a close-up of a prop, you overscale it with a larger hand so you can capture all the detail,” explains Harrod, who works on stop-motion features produced out of London. “Wes wanted to keep things within three basic scales we were working in, so our model-making team, led by Roddy MacDonald, and our painters, led by Roy Bell, had to come up with tiny, detailed props.”

Harrod and Stockhausen both had some sleepless nights as they tried to make sure they weren’t compromising Anderson’s vision. When they sent the director progress images, they put their money where their art was: They placed a one-pound coin next to the images to show just how exquisitely precise they were for their size

More Artisans

  • Ad Astra

    How 'Ad Astra' Production Crew Created Authentic Look for Brad Pitt Space Drama

    In “Ad Astra,” Brad Pitt’s astronaut Roy McBride crosses the solar system to find and confront his long-lost father, requiring the movie crew to create an authentic-looking future that conveys the theme of traveling long distances to learn the lesson that it’s where you started from that has the most value. “Visually, the aim was [...]

  • Women in Animation Logo

    WIA Partners With Animation Mentor, Toon Boom to Expand Scholarship Program

    Women in Animation has partnered with Animation Mentor and Toon Boom to expand the organization’s WIA Scholarship Program with workshops and software packages. WIA scholarships are given to animation students with a financial need and who demonstrate talent and passion for animation that will lead to a promising career in the field. The Animation Mentor [...]

  • Steven Poster ICG National President

    DP Steven Poster to Receive SOC Lifetime Achievement Award

    Stephen Poster, cinematographer on such classics as “Donnie Darko” and Madonna’s “Like a Prayer,” will receive the Lifetime Achievement Distinguished Service Award from the Society of Camera Operators at a ceremony on Jan. 18, 2020. SOC grants the award to an Individual who has served the community at large and/or the Society through outstanding service [...]

  • Swedes Call for Incentives to Keep

    Swedes Call for Incentives to Keep Potential Runaways at Home

    Horror film “Midsommar” did it last year. A new adaptation of the Swedish classic “The Emigrants” will do it next year. Prestigious productions that could have taken advantage of beautiful Swedish locations and craft expertise continue to run away to foreign locations for lower costs and tax incentives. Despite having a strong film industry creatively [...]

  • Game of Thrones

    Ireland Lures Filmmakers With Locations, Expertise and a 37% Tax Credit

    Few locations on earth can match Ireland’s proverbial 40 shades of green. In addition to its restful hues, the island nation also boasts alluring lakes, rugged windswept coasts, small charming hamlets, rustic farmhouses of aged stone, hilltop castles and breathtaking expanses of wild scrubland. Bustling and modern Dublin, Ireland’s capital, will be the largest English-speaking [...]

  • UNDONE Animated Series Amazon

    How Animated Series 'Undone' Used a Mix of Techniques to Tell the Mind-Bending Tale

    When Kate Purdy wanted to tell a story about the nature of reality, she knew she wanted to play with perception and time, fade in and out of memories and give voice to visions that only her main character could see. And it wasn’t long before the executive producer and co-creator of Amazon’s new series, “Undone,” [...]

  • John Wick: Chapter 3

    James Cameron, Keanu Reeves Starring in '2nd Unit: Invisible Action Stars' (EXCLUSIVE)

    Rootbeer Films has completed “2nd Unit: Invisible Action Stars” with James Cameron, Keanu Reeves, Mark Wahlberg and Halle Berry, Variety has learned exclusively. The film explores relationships between actors and stunt performers — a topic at the heart of Quentin Tarantino’s recent “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.” Joe Mantegna narrates “2nd Unit: Invisible Action [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content