Wes Anderson’s stop-motion animation venture after Fantastic Mr Fox is a story about a young boy who goes in search for his dog which has been banished to an island after an illness outbreak. An ode to 1960s Japanese cinema, Isle of Dogs, with a star-studded cast, 1,000 puppets and 240 micro sets, is truly a sight for sore eyes. Say the title fast enough and you’ll hear ‘I love dogs’.
The movie is set in the fictional city of Megasaki where a dog flu has broken out, therefore, all canines are banished to Trash Island. Although the film stars a 12-year-old boy, Atari, who sets out on an adventure to find his dog, Spots, it is the dogs that truly steal the show.
Creating the Dogs
The dogs initially started as clay sculptures before amaratures were produced. Wes Anderson wanted to keep the dogs authentic, hence, he had dog handlers come into the studio where the pups were filmed by attaching GoPros to their backs in order to analyse the way they walked, moved, behaved and reacted to certain situations.
Unlike Fantastic Mr. Fox where the animals were humanised, Anderson wanted them to act simply like dogs. “They had a mechanical head underneath the fur that allowed us to get quite a lot of expression out of the dogs in terms of raising eyebrows, cheeks and snarling, and being able to show fear, excitement and sadness,” says Mark Waring, Isle of Dog’s animation director, “The idea was to make the dogs very expressive characters, more so than maybe the humans actually were.”
The dog’s fur, made out of repurposed alpaca and merino wool, was created so that it would naturally move by stop-motion when the puppet is moved and adjusted between frames. As such, the position of the fur was not methodically placed. However, with hairspray and hair gel, the fur was made to lightly shimmer and so that the stiffened clumps could be manipulated, even if the puppet-dog was not moving.
Meet the cast
Voiced by F. Murray Abraham, the obsidian St Bernard is wise and respected for it. While for the other dogs, filmmakers referenced their own pups and their mannerisms, Jupiter was inspired by a human—Charles Laughton.
Andy Gent, the head of the puppets department, intentionally crafted Jupiter’s facial features to reflect his personality. His pronounced jowls, folds in his skin and how saggy it was suggested how aged the dog was. Completing this look is Jupiter’s greying fur for prestige and a glass eye, which emphasises the dog’s status and wisdom.
Often by Jupiter’s side is the tiny Pug, Oracle. Scale is integral when designing a film’s concept, hence, the tiny Pug voiced by Tilda Swinton, was intentionally created to contrast the ebony-haired, wise Jupiter. The filmmakers used Oracle’s big, wide-set eyes and often staring look as a plot point, making Oracle the dog that watched television and kept the others informed about potential threats.
Creating Oracle was no easy feat, however. Being a Pug, the dog was tiny, and so became a challenge for the makers to get the mechanics to give her range and expression. Initially a cream-coloured pooch, Oracle was eventually given a more silvery-coat to create a more striking contrast to Jupiter’s deep ebony colour.
A show dog with golden locks, Nutmeg — voiced by Scarlett Johansson — is one of the movie’s most captivating characters. Even though she’s on an island full of trash, Nutmeg somehow manages to keep herself looking in perfect condition.
Nutmeg was the longest character to design, taking 30 weeks to get her right. Her colouring was inspired by a Gucci store Wes Anderson had come across — he liked the range of hues in its decorations and clothing and sent Andy Gent’s team a photo, asking that Nutmeg’s coat be modelled after it.
First sculpted as a scrappy, small bull-terrier type, Boss—voiced by Bill Murray—was eventually changed. “We ended up pulling the head off of a different dog and putting it on a chunkier dog’s body,” Andy Gent says. So Boss eventually became a sort of ‘Frankenstein evolution’.
But it was all for purpose, Boss is seen wearing a pinstripe baseball jersey throughout the film, which is a sport that both Americans and the Japanese share. The more barrel-styled body was better suited to fill out Boss’s Dragons jersey.
To celebrate the release of Isle of Dogs, a San Francisco theatre had announced a “Bring Your Own Dog (BYOD)” screening of the film on 19 March, Monday. There has also been a string of releases to build up anticipation for the film, including a behind-the-scenes featurette on how the film was made and a cast interview where the voice-actors are replaced with their characters.
The film releases officially on 10 May 2018 in Singapore.