From its earliest stages of development more than 15 years ago, “Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio” was envisioned as a stop-motion production. The director explained, “It was clear to me that the film needed to be done in stop-motion to serve up a story about a puppeteer who lives in a world populated by other puppeteers who think they are not puppets.”

He also knew that the principal members of the cast were to be created by a British studio. McKinnon and Saunders, “They are the best in the world,” he said in a recent video interview. “The starring roles of the film needed to be crafted by him.” As creator Lisa Henson said, “They do things that other puppeteers don’t have the patience or expertise to do.”

“Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio” is the latest example of the flourishing of stop-motion animation. For decades, the technique was overshadowed by more expressive drawn animation and, later, computer-generated imagery. But new techniques have allowed artists to create vivid performances that rival other media.

McKinnon and Saunders’ artists and technicians pushed the stop-motion technique “in an entirely new direction forcorpse Bride(2005) by inventing systems of tiny gears that fit inside the puppets’ heads. Animators adjusted gear between frames to create subtle expressions: Victor, the title character’s groom, might raise an eyebrow at the start of a smile or lift the edge of his lip. also brought this technique to life.fantastic mr fox(2009) and “frankenweenie(2012).

“Tim Burton or Guillermo del Toro would bring us the story, then give us the space to say, ‘What can we do with these puppet characters? Let’s find something new to do,'” said firm founder Ian McKinnon.

He compared the mechanics inside the puppet’s head to the components of a Swiss watch. “Those heads aren’t much bigger than a ping-pong ball or a walnut,” he said, explaining that the animator spins the gear by placing a small device over the character’s ear or on top of his head. “Gears are attached to the puppet’s silicone skin, enabling the animator to create the nuances seen on a large cinema screen,” he said.

The introduction of geared ends was part of a series of overlapping waves of innovation in stop-motion that brought scenes to the screen that had never been possible before. Nick Park and the cast in the British Aardman Animations Carved new subtleties in clay animation in “Creature Comforts” (1989) and “The Wrong Trousers” (1993). Meanwhile, Disney’s “The Nightmare Before Christmas” (1993) showcased new facial replacement techniques. A library of three-dimensional expressions was fabricated and molded for each character; An animator removed part of the face and replaced it with a slightly different one between exposures. Then the Portland, Ore.-based Lyca Studio Beginning with “Coraline” (2009) the technique was taken further, using 3-D printing to create the faces.

For “Pinocchio,” which debuted on Netflix a few months after Disney released a partially animated version of the Robert Zemeckis story, most of the puppets were created shadow machine in Portland, where most of the film was shot. Candlewick, the human boy Pinocchio befriends in the film, “has threads set in the corners of his mouth that are connected to a double-barreled gear system,” explained Georgina Haynes, an alumna of McKinnon and Saunders who served as director of character creation. were. Shadow Machine. “If you turn the gear clockwise on the inside of the ear, it pulls up the upper thread and creates a smile. If you turn it counterclockwise, it pulls up a lower thread that creates a pucker. It’s really amazing.”

It was the result of a process that began in 2008, when the McKinnon and Saunders team built some early prototypes. “By the time Netflix greenlit the film in 2018, we were ready and waiting,” McKinnon said. “If we had tried to do ‘Pinocchio’ 10 or 15 years ago, the technology would not have been there.”

Although mechanical heads are used for most of the film’s principal characters, Pinocchio himself was animated with replacement faces. Because he has to look like he is made of wood, he needs a hard surface, said animation supervisor Brian Leaf Hansen, explaining that 3,000 faces were printed. “His emotions are strong; Mechanical faces look softer and more fluid than Pinocchio. They are made differently and animated to differentiate themselves.

The character is the first metal 3-D-printed puppet, Hansen said. Because he’s skinny, “the only way they could make him stronger was to cast the puppet in metal. He’s a strong little guy, pretty hard to break. The animators loved animating him.

Thanks to a team of engineers and puppet designer Richard Pickersgill, “we’ve advanced the replacement technology a bit,” McKinnon said. The designer “gave Pinocchio slender limbs and joints that look like Geppetto hand-carved them.”

The studio spent a year and a half working on the Pinocchio prototype before creating the first production model. Eventually over 20 puppets were built to ensure the animators had enough.

The studio has made figures as large as the “life-size” Martians in “Mars Attacks” (1996), but most stop-motion puppets are about the size of Barbie dolls — Pinocchio is 9.5 inches tall. The refined productions meant del Toro and his co-director, Mark Gustafson, could get the performances they needed. He looked to the films of Hayao Miyazaki for inspiration, whose characters think, pause, and change their minds as they go along.

Del Toro explained, “I had a Road to Damascus moment watching ‘My Neighbor Totoro’ where the father tries to put on his shoe: He misses it twice, then gets it on the third try.” “Miyazaki says that if you animate the ordinary, it will be extraordinary. So we went for failed acts because we wanted to breathe life into these characters.”

He estimated that 35 shots had to be re-done because “we said, ‘The character is moving, but I’m not thinking or feeling the character.’ Small unsuccessful gestures or hesitations before movement tell you, ‘It’s a living character.’

Gustafsson said that failed gestures were particularly difficult “because the intent must be visible – it’s not really a mistake. I think our brains are really wired to recognize when a gesture is somehow False, so we tried really hard to make those things feel as natural as possible.

Artists can change or rework computer-generated and 2-D animation during production, but once stop-motion animators begin moving a puppet, they must continue until the end of the scene—or Have to start again. They can’t change what they’ve already filmed, any more than an actor can stop in the middle, take a few steps back and go through the set differently.

Del Toro said, “Stop-motion animation has an art form that’s very similar to live-action, because you’re doing actual movement from point A to point B.” “You can’t edit. You’re working with real sets and real props, lit by real lighting. Stop-motion is to live-action what Ginger Rogers is to Fred Astaire: We take the same steps.” Back in heels.

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