Sunday, June 25, 2017

Wes Anderson's Next Film Will Be Stop Motion "Isle of Dogs"

Wes Anderson, the director and writer of the outstanding 2009 stop motion film, Fantastic Mr. Fox, as well as several highly revered live action films such as The Royal Tenenbaums, The Grand Budapest Hotel, and Moonrise Kingdom (among others), has announced his newest film, entitled Isle of Dogs, which will be his ninth feature film to direct and his second stop motion movie.

Not much has been released explaining many of the details of the story of Isle of Dogs, although a synopsis of the film was released via the Isle of Dogs Twitter account:
Set in Japan, Isle of Dogs follows a boy’s odyssey in search of his dog.

From this, combined with the original concept art, the frustratingly few details Wes releases in his video announcing the film, and the new poster for the film, we can conclude several things: one, the film will have a Japanese-element to it. (Further evidence for this comes from the fact that several of the voice actors credited for the film are Japanese actors.) Secondly, many of the main characters in the movie will be dogs and they will most likely be anthropomorphic canines (as actors have been slated to play dog characters). Thirdly, something else we can also count on is that the film will contain the same Wes Anderson humor and trademark directorial style. Although other than these few givens, there is little else we can be certain of, which leaves plenty of room for us to be amazed in the upcoming months as more material gets released as we get closer to the release date of the film, which is currently set to come to North American theaters April 20, 2018.

Several a-list actors have also been announced to voice characters in the film, including: Bryan Cranston, Bill Murray, Jeff Goldblum, Scarlett Johansson, F. Murray Abraham, and Tilda Swinton (among others).

Now this film was announced during my recent, two-year long hiatus from writing the blog, back in February. Wes announced this film via participating in a sweepstakes through the site Crowdrise, with the prize being that you could potentially voice one of the characters in the Isle of Dogs film and visit the set and workshops in London to see the animation in-progress – a unique and a very Wes Anderson way of announcing such a project. The proceeds to the campaign will go towards Martin Scorsese’s non-profit organization, The Film Foundation, whose cause is to work to protect and preserve motion picture history. You can learn more about the sweepstakes and the organization by going here.

What I found the most interesting in this announcement was the video in which Wes announced the film and the sweepstakes. During the video, actor Edward Norton pokes his head out from behind a wall in the background, framed in the shot in a style that is very familiar to anyone who has seen any of Wes Anderson’s films. A dialogue soon ensues between Wes and Edward, during which Wes reveals a sneak-peak clip of the design of the puppet of Edward Norton’s character in the film, a dog named Rex.

A Brief History of Wes’s Stop Motion Work

Even before beginning pre-production on Fantastic Mr. Fox, Wes was no stranger to the craft of stop motion. He elaborates a little on his earliest impression of stop motion in “The Making of Fantastic Mr. Fox” book, “The thing I’ve always loved with stop-motion, more than anything else, is puppets that have fur, and actually not only that. I also like the fighting skeletons in, maybe it’s Jason and the Argonauts, or maybe it’s one of the Sinbad movies where they have fighting skeletons. But I have always liked – I love the way King Kong, the old King King, looked, with his fur – the animators call it ‘boiling.’ And for some reason, the whole magical aspect of stop-motion was one of those things where you can see the trick…that magical effect where you can see how it is accomplished – where at one and the same time you are enchanted by the trick to the effect and by the story itself. I have no idea why this concept means so much to me.”

Reading this and several other quotes throughout the interview with him in the making-of book, one really gets the feel that Wes has a true love for stop motion which comes from the feeling that comes with the authenticity of handmade, stop motion scenes, which throws in sharp contrast the very sleek appeal of the majority of CGI effects. Wes’s passion is something which the general attitude in Hollywood would at least seem to consider too old-fashioned, giving those of us who love the craft of stop motion someone so fortunately highly esteemed inside of the film business who shares our same passion for the craft.

According to this Huffington Post article, as well as “The Making of Fantastic Mr. Fox” book, Wes’s first use of stop motion in one of his films can be seen in the climax of The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou, where a jaguar shark – who earlier in the film kills the best friend and companion of the title character of the film (portrayed by Bill Murray) – swims by Steve Zissou and his companions while they watch the undersea creature from a deep-dive submarine. According to the Huffington Post, Anderson had this to say about the stop motion elements of the scene, “The puppet of the shark — it’s a stop-motion puppet — was very big. Henry Selick, who was doing the animation, said it was and is the largest stop-motion puppet anybody ever made,” Although the article goes on to say that Wes apparently had no idea what happened to the puppet after the scene was shot.

Life Aquatic was not Wes’s only live action film that employed the use of stop motion effects. His latest film to date, The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014), included a thrilling chase scene on a ski slope that was made using stop motion. The blog on the site of the professional frame-grabbing software Dragonframe published an article several years ago, around the time of the film’s release, that included an exclusive making-of video, numerous behind-the-scenes pictures of the sets and puppets used for the scene, and an interview with the puppet fabricator for the stop motion scene – Andy Gent (who worked on Fantastic Mr. Fox with Wes), and Andy Biddle – the scene’s lead animator, who were both working at London’s Clapham Road Studios at the time to produce the scene for the film. The interview goes into the designers’ experiences working with Wes, down to adapting to his very particular eye for a scene which he communicated to them over email.

Now we only have to wait and see when the next tidbit from this wonderful project will be released, and we have little under a year before it will grace our screens. Until then, stayed tuned for updates.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Phil Tippett's "Mad God: Part 3" Fully Funded on Kickstarter!

The stop motion legend, Phil Tippet, has launched – and has now successfully funded – the third chapter in his beautiful and weird dystopian series of stop motion short films entitled Mad God, via crowdfunding the project through Kickstarter.

The project’s initial goal of raising $40,000 has been met and surpassed by financial backers with a final tally of $45,845 from the Kickstarter campaign, which ended yesterday. As Mr. Tippett explains in his Kickstarter video, the money will go towards feeding the crew working on the project out of Tippett studio in Berkeley, as well as to buy materials and to help “keep the adventure going,” as he explains in his Kickstarter video.

Phil is a master of the craft of stop motion, which he's helped pioneer since the earliest work of his career.  Starting in 1975 with his employment at Industrial Light & Magic, he worked alongside George Lucas to create the stop motion effects seen in Star Wars, Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi. Among many other things, Phil is responsible for creating and animating the creatures on the holographic chess board that Chewbacca and R2-D2 play in the Millennium Falcon Star Wars. He went on to found his visual effects company Tippett Studio in 1991 to create the effects seen in Jurassic Park.
His latest passion project, Mad God, is a very personal film that has been baking in Phil’s mind ever since the 1980s. He describes his original conception for the project in his Kickstarterfor part one as a means to use “all of the tricks in the book that were available at that time [1990]” to create the experimental short film that became Mad God. He began principle photography on the first chapter of Mad God back in 1990, of which he produced “maybe five or six minutes of footage all on 35mm film” before shelving the project for over two decades after the beginning of the digital age of special effects sparked with the CGI work done on Jurassic Park. (Although it is interesting to note that Phil, who was on the special effects team for Jurassic, actually animated a few pre-vis scenes for the film using a variant of stop motion called “go-motion” to bring the dinosaurs in the film to life which can be seen here. Sadly, the use of traditional effects such as stop motion on the film were scrapped in favor of CGI in order to bring to life the prehistoric beasts seen in the film. This was a decision made by the heads of the film after they watched some of the pre-vis CGI tests done for Jurassic. You can read more about go-motion here.) The project was revived in the 2000s when a few of Tippett’s collaborators working at Tippett Studios discovered Mad God and encouraged Phil to recommence work on it, offering to contribute to the project.

“The idea is to make a certain kind of cinematic product, if you will, that is unlike anything that has ever been done,” Phil explains in his first Kickstarter video. In the Kickstart video for Mad God: Part 3, Tippett explains his hope for the project in the future, “I always had this fantasy that – should I get hit by a bus – the team that’s involved in making Mad God can keep Mad God going as an entity…it may never be done.” It would seem that the only way for this project to keep going and to fulfill Phil’s vision in the future will be for fans of unconventional special effects and films to raise the money to allow the film’s crew to continue to work on it. Although we have at least another year to wait for the Kickstarter for Mad God: Part 4, as Phil imagines that part three will at least take until December of this year to finish. However, while we’re waiting for part three, you can go buy and watch the first two chapters on the Mad God website for an affordable $12.

Note to reader:
Firstly, as you may have noticed, this post is the first published in a very long while. I have been almost completely silent for nearly two and a half years now, excepting a few sporadic posts in 2016. I do not intend to remain silent any longer. Starting now, I intend to write one post a week – give or take a day or two depending on when news appears – until things change. You can expect to hear more from me shortly.

Secondly, you might see some changes to the Stop Motion Geek website and previously published content in the future. It is too early to make any other predictions, other than that I will provide notices before updates are made on the website.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

"Anomalisa" and Why "Adult" Stop Motion is Killing the Art Form

With the Oscars® so close (tonight if you are reading this on the day which it's coming out) and all the hype surrounding the award ceremony, I think there's no better time to consider one of this year's nominees in the Animated Feature Films category, which is also the second Stop Motion film nominated: Anomalisa.

Anomalisa is a film directed by Charlie Kaufman (Being John Malkovich, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind), based off a 2005 play he wrote. Now in this post I want to take a different angle that's not coming from a story standpoint, or quality. I have yet to see the film for myself so I cannot argue for or against it on those standpoints. (Although it should be said that even from what we see from the trailers and the featurettes that the production value on Anomalisa is stunning and incredible.) But what I would like to consider in this thought experiment is what this film means to the Stop Motion industry and why this and other R-rated Stop Motion films might just be killing other Stop Motion projects in the future. And yes, if you are unfamiliar with the more recent history, there have been other R-rated Stop Motion films who have well achieved their rating. The 2009 film $9.99 directed by  Tatia Rosenthal and featuring the voice of Geoffrey Rush. Consider as well the upcoming Hell & Back, a raunchy R-rated Stop Motion film directed and made by the minds behind Adult Swim's Robot Chicken.