Guillermo del Toro Pinocchio Interview: Oscar-worthy stop-motion craft

“We need to achieve the same level of precision and realism, but in miniature,” the director said of the stop-motion process that brought his Best Picture contender and Best Animated Feature Contender to life.

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With Guillermo del Toro’s stop-motion Pinocchio becoming Netflix’s best hope for a Best Picture Oscar nomination (in addition to its status as Best Animated Feature), there could also be a spillover to the craft races. It would be a historic breakthrough for the tactile, handcrafted technique that has so far only garnered a sci-tech Oscar (for Laika’s innovative 3D character animation printing system) and visual effects nominations (for Laika’s Kubo and the Two Strings and Disney’s The Nightmare Before Christmas) and original score (for Alexandre Desplat’s work on Wes Anderson’s Isle of Dogs and Fantastic Mr. Fox).

But the unveiling of del Toro’s masterful version of Carlo Collodi’s fable – which the Oscar-winning director recasts of The Shape of Water as a tale of rebellion against the backdrop of Mussolini’s Fascist Italy – may finally put an end to the Academy’s interest . Movement achievements in production design, costume design, cinematography, sound and original songs. That’s important to del Toro, who strived to make “Pinocchio” like a live-action film, following the puppets with the camera and lighting them like he would actors.

“I think the beauty of stop motion and why it has such a demanding and fragile state as a production and storytelling method is that [requires] basically the same rigor and delivery as a live-action film,” del Toro told IndieWire. “You design and build a set, age the walls and craft each prop. It not only has to fit the world, but also the ‘handhelds’.”

product design

Pinocchio production designers Guy Davis (The Shape of Water concept designer) and Curt Enderle (Isle of Dogs) and art director Robert DeSue (Kubo and the Two Strings) chose a handcrafted design from the Old World not only evoked 1930s Italy, but also added the look of wood to complement the title character (Gregory Mann), whose appearance here is inspired by Gris Grimly’s wild conception for an edition of The Adventures of Pinocchio inspired by the year 2003. At the same time they chose warm gold and amber tones for the village setting, orange and green for the traveling carnival, red for the fascist camp and cool blue and purple tones for the underworld of Limbo. Many of the sets were constructed with removable walls or other access points to allow the animators better access and manipulation of the puppets.

“As Ginger Rogers used to say, ‘I did everything Fred Astaire did, but I did it backwards and in heels,'” del Toro said. “I can say the same about stop motion. We must execute the same level of precision and realism, but in miniature. We had to perform multiple tests to simulate carving a piece of wood, reproducing abrasion marks and paying particular attention to staining, stains and worn areas.”

Guillermo del Toros Pinocchio - (LR) Pinocchio (voiced by Gregory Mann) and Count Volpe (voiced by Christoph Waltz). Cr: Netflix © 2022

“Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio”

Netflix

costume design

Georgina Hayns, the legendary director of character creation and veteran of Laika and Tim Burton productions, not only worked with England’s Mackinnon & Saunders to build the puppets, but also oversaw the costume design. Geppetto (David Bradley), the weatherbeaten woodcarver, is a gruff, down-to-earth guy who wears a simple wool shirt, pants and sweater. Count Volpe (Christoph Waltz), the sophisticated carnival conductor, on the other hand resembles a fox and looks much more extravagant in his woolen ensemble of beige shirt, brown tie, ornate green waistcoat, striped trousers and fur coat.

“We needed to find a fabric that simulated full-size and monster-size wool,” del Toro said. “The patterns, the texturing, the weaving had to be scaled down; and we had to age this fabric. And one of the most important things that’s exquisite about stop-motion is when you put that fabric over a puppet in a way that animators know that a crease in a shirt or in a pair of pants not only stays that way, but it will be analogous and precise as if it were a full-size figure.”

cinematography

Acclaimed cinematographer Frank Passingham (“Kubo and the Two Strings”) developed new live-action lighting techniques for stop-motion that he dubbed “layered lighting.” This consisted of lighting certain scenes in a hyper-real way for emotional impact, but still within the overall naturalistic style. He also made sure his light sources were visible within the frame, which is another live-action convention. The idea was to keep the light moving all the time. For example, during a church scene, in a flashback, Passingham casts Geppetto’s son Carlo (also voiced by Mann) in an angelic light as he gazes up at a wooden statue of a crucified Christ.

“It has to be done in layers,” added del Toro. “You have one frame exposure for the key light, one frame exposure for the fill light, one frame exposure for each moving light. And then you sandwich everything together and the contrast has to be preserved in that sandwich. And you need to move that light in sync with a motion control rig. The fact that such a craft exists in cinematography and has gone unrecognized for decades is amazing to me.”

Visual effects

Fire and water are key elements of Pinocchio, which is overseen by MPC Toronto’s VFX supervisor Aaron Weintraub (“West Side Story”, “Pacific Rim”). The biggest challenge with water was creating an environment that supported the tactile imperfections and whims of stop motion. The ocean had to fall into this world naturally, but still function and interact like real water during the turbulent dogfish sequence. The basis for the ocean was a traditional dynamic water FX simulation, which was then heavily post-processed to remove lateral flow, essentially making it more static and rubbery when not interacting with a character or environment. Displacement and bump map textures were applied to create the sharp wave crests and a layer of foam was applied, designed to look like it was made from stacks of tiny crystalline structures.

The digital approach to fire was always rooted in a practical stop-motion test done early in pre-production that made it into the final film as the only practical stop-motion fire shot. This creative approach—whether striking a match or bombing a church—used strips of gauze held in place by anchor wire, creative lighting effects, and a homemade paint filter on the lens to give it a warm, misty look. Rather than a typical digital pyrosim, the fire was designed to reproduce this hands-on approach, with simulated cheesecloth lit to look like fire and combined with glows and filters to blend into the scenes.

sound

The biggest challenge for supervising sound editor Scott Martin Gershin (“Pacific Rim”) and re-recording mixers Jon Taylor (“Bardo”) and Frank A. Montaño (“Bardo”) was finding a subtle use of sound from scratch to create anew that was suitable stop motion. “I told Scott that we couldn’t make this movie like a live-action movie,” del Toro said. “If the sound design is too realistic, it will sound bigger than the images. We need to find the simplicity of a 10 track mix with your tracks. One of the things I was adamant about was that you never lost the beautiful miniature proportions of the sets and the dolls. It was a streamlined approach, and I was surprised that he was reluctant to overdo it.

To tonally capture Pinocchio’s physicality, Gershin experimented with the sound of wood, working with PRS Guitars, who provided 50 pounds of guitar wood – including figured maple, Brazilian rosewood and other exotic species – to help the team get the precise tones to find wanted to capture. At a wood and metal shop in Taylor’s house, the team cut the wood into pieces like a xylophone and also tried different metal parts to recreate the rusty, hinge-like squeak for the nails in Pinocchio’s body. They tracked the wooden boy’s emotional development through the use of atmos and changed the tonality of the wood they used for him throughout the story.

score

In keeping with the wood theme associated with Pinocchio, Alexandre Desplat’s haunting score drew exclusively on instruments made of wood, including piano, guitar, mandolin, marimba, flutes and oboe. However, the composer found a gap with the French horn, since in France it is considered part of the woodwind group.

“And with that caveat, paradoxically, we were freed,” added del Toro. “We found the film’s sound within this group of instruments and added a subtle layer to the compositions. And we’ve themed it for each character, citing it in unexpected moments of great terror and great tenderness. We also looked for themes that have the simplicity of a lullaby, that are not only hummable but also have a primal emotion. I asked Alexandre to add a descending note to the Pinocchio theme to make it a bit more colloquial and not so exquisite. He’s not afraid of melody or sadness and his guitar work on Geppetto reminds me of the theme of The Deer Hunter.

original songs

This is del Toro’s first musical and his debut as a songwriter, contributing lyrics with Roeban Katz to accompany Desplat’s music. The first song, “My Son,” is a lyrical lullaby that Geppetto sings to Carlo. The Oscar-qualifying song “Ciao Papa” marks Pinocchio’s sad farewell to his father and becomes a much deeper ode to loss later in the film.

Del Toro told IndieWire that singing in the place of a pro was important to Mann “because his fragile voice suits stop motion so well.”

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https://www.indiewire.com/2022/12/guillermo-del-toro-pinocchio-interview-oscars-1234785987/ Guillermo del Toro Pinocchio Interview: Oscar-worthy stop-motion craft

Lindsay Lowe

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