×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

‘Isle of Dogs’ Called for a Thousand Sophisticated Puppets

Andy Gent says it was clear as soon as he read Wes Anderson’s script for “Isle of Dogs” that the project was very ambitious. It just took a while to understand exactly how ambitious.

For example, it was originally estimated the animated movie would require between 300 and 400 puppets, the same number needed for Anderson’s previous stop-motion feature, “Fantastic Mr. Fox.” But giving the movie the scale and look Anderson wanted quickly inflated that number to more than 1,100.

”He pushes you to levels that are amazing levels,” says Gent, who was head of the puppet department on both “Isle of Dogs” and “Fantastic Mr. Fox.” “Out of that push to do something new, new things would eventually pop out and they could be very happy accidents.”

Anderson wanted his canines to have a bit of humanity in their faces, but aside from more expressive eyes and the ability to talk, the puppets were to mimic canine anatomy and motion. The dogs all were intended to be mutts instead of specific breeds. “We sculpted hundreds of different versions and we would pick and choose between them,” Gent says.

Building the puppets starts with a mechanical armature made of a variety of metals from brass to titanium alloys, with ball-and-socket joints. Fiberglass skulls and modeling clay-silicon tongues are added, along with silicon muscle and flesh. Mohair and alpaca fur of the type used for teddy bears is cut and glued onto stretchable nylon fabric using medical adhesive.

Fur has always been a challenge for stop-motion. ”You avoid it like the plague because it’s just difficult to do,” says Gent. “We tested all manner of gels in the fur to stabilize it, but of course Wes would want it to flutter and move around so we had to learn ways to animate the fur.”

For example, the puppet for Nutmeg has long fur anchored to her head that goes down past her chest. “The animators have to learn this technique of placing their finger on the same place every time, pushing it back and then moving the puppet,” says Gent. “It takes an incredible amount of patience.”

The process from an approved sculpt to finished, animatable dog puppet took about 15 weeks for most characters, though some, like Nutmeg, took as long as 20 to 30 weeks to get right. Dogs were built in five scales, from a one small enough to fit entirely on a thumbnail to a mouth needed for a closeup that was large enough for someone to climb into, Gent says.

For the human characters, Anderson wanted a new look and the production quickly focused in on using a translucent resin to replicate the glow of real skin. A face-replacement system was used, but each face had to made by hand in a laborious process that required multiple molds to get the final face. A mistake anywhere along the process meant starting over
“Every face you see in the film has been done two or three times to get to the one that actually made it on screen, and there are thousands of them,” he says.

Gent says the film tested his expertise in just about every way possible. ”Over 20 years of making puppets and working in stop motion … it was all put to play on this film.”

More Film

  • Miramax Developing 'I Won't Be Home

    Film News Roundup: Miramax Developing 'I Won't Be Home for Christmas'

    In today’s film news roundup, “I Won’t Be Home for Christmas” is in the works, the NFL has made a documentary about female team owners and D Street Pictures has signed Kenny Gage and Devon Downs to direct the dance feature “Move.” HOLIDAY PROJECT Miramax has acquired film rights to Lauren Iungerich’s holiday-themed screenplay “I [...]

  • Michael B. Jordan arrives at the

    Michael B. Jordan to Star in Warner Bros.' 'Methuselah' Movie

    Michael B. Jordan will produce and star in a “Methuselah” movie for Warner Bros., based on the Biblical story of a man who lived to be 969 years old. Jordan will produce through his Outlier Society production company along with Heyday’s David Heyman and Jeffrey Clifford. Warner Bros. has been developing the project for many [...]

  • Davids Chief Piera Detassis on Revamping

    Davids Chief Piera Detassis on Revamping Italy's Top Film Awards

    Piera Detassis recently became the first woman to head the David di Donatello Awards, Italy’s equivalent of the Oscars. Since then she’s been busy overhauling the inner workings of the prizes that will be awarded on Wednesday. Detassis, also the editor of Italian film publication Ciak, spoke exclusively to Variety about the challenges she’s faced [...]

  • Matteo Garrone's 'Dogman' Leads Davids Awards

    Matteo Garrone's 'Dogman' Leads Davids Awards Race

    With 15 nominations Matteo Garrone’s “Dogman” leads the pack of contenders for Italy’s David di Donatello Awards in a watershed year for the country’s top film nods that sees highbrow auteur titles reaping most of the David love just as local box-office grosses hit an all-time low. Garrone’s gritty revenge drama is followed closely with [...]

  • steven spielberg Apple TV Plus

    Steven Spielberg's Apple Appearance Riles Up Social Media: 'Big Old Mixed Message'

    Many Hollywood heavyweights flocked to Apple’s Cupertino, Calif. headquarters to help reveal the tech giant’s revamped steaming service Apple TV+ on Monday — but one such legend was so polarizing he became a national trending topic on Twitter for simply showing his face. Steven Spielberg was the first to appear in a dramatic short film [...]

  • Michael Lynne

    Former New Line Co-Chairman Michael Lynne Dies at 77

    Michael Lynne, the former co-chairman of New Line Cinema who played a key role in shepherding the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, has died at his New York home. He was 77. Lynne’s death was confirmed Monday by longtime business partner Robert Shaye, who told Variety that Lynne’s family had informed him of Lynne’s passing [...]

  • Marisa Liston

    Sony Veteran Marisa Liston to Lead Lionsgate Movie Publicity

    Lionsgate has named Sony Pictures veteran executive Marisa Liston to lead all feature film and motion picture group publicity and communications strategy. Liston, who departed Sony in late 2018 after 17 years, has been assigned the newly created title of head of global earned media and communications. She will oversee domestic and international feature film [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content