It really is a shame. It would have been wonderful if all of you could have squeezed into my pocket and journeyed with me to merry olde England to the amazing set of Tim Burton’s new film Frankenweenie. Sure, it might have been a bit dark and uncomfortable in there, but it would have been worth it. While you may be in awe once you see the finished results of Burton’s newest masterpiece, it pales in comparison to the amount of artistry, effort, creativity and sheer patience that went into the making of this new stop-motion animated epic by the king of, well, stop-motion animated epics.
The result will look effortless, you won’t see the meticulous details that are involved in every single aspect, in every single second of the film, in every single character, prop and location. From the greenery artisan fine turning minature blades of glass (in the form of re-purposed astroturf) to the 20 to 30 different “blinks” used to create one single fluid eye movement of a character’s glance, to the tiny lamps and toys in Weird Girls’ room, it’s all extremely well thought out and awesome…
All this magic is happening in the non-descript buildings of the 3 Mills studios in the East End of London. The studio was once home to the productions of such films as 28 Days Later and Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. But also was the spot where Wes Anderson’s Fantastic Mr. Fox was shot and where Burton’s Corpse Bride was brought to life.
But before we move forward into future Frankenweenie production, let’s step back a bit. Back to 1984 when “When Doves Cry” by Prince was number one on the charts, The Killing Fields won the Oscar and Ronald Reagan was President. In 1984 a bright-eyed 26-year-filmmaker made a short live-action film about a boy named Victor who brings his beloved dog Sparky back to life via some very Frankensteinian efforts. It was called, yes, you guessed it, Frankenweenie. With a slew of blockbusters under his belt like Edward Scissorhands, Batman, and Alice in Wonderland (which grossed over a billion dollars), he was able to – no pun intended- bring back to life this old pet project.
Okay, now to the new incarnation of Frankenweenie. The film that originally was to be in stop motion is finally being done the way Burton originally wanted. And an epic undertaking it is. This film is being shot over thirty small sets (six of those are of the attic – which is pivotal to the plot). Over many stages, all separated by dark black curtains, a crews of very talented animators are at work carefully moving – and shooting – the intricate movements of the puppets.
And the puppets? They are museum quality works of art. We were able to peek into the Puppet Hospital where craftsmen and craftwomen were meticiously at work on the various characters and animals. And there are many, many puppets to attend to. For example there are 18 Victors, since he’s the star of the show, he gets lots of wear and tear. Some details about these puppets. The hair? Human. Number of joints? 40 to 45. And inside a character like Sparky? There are about 300 parts, so the most minute of movements can be accomplished. The puppets themselves are a Frankenstein like undertaking with watch parts and elements of eye glasses being used to create the skeletons.
And the sets? They’re epically awesome in their own tight. The many sets show an “oppressively boring” suburb in the era of about 1965 – 1975. A setting that Tim Burton knows well since he grew up in Burbank. It, as one of the art director said, harkens “back to Tim’s childhood, a slightly kooky version of that world.” The sets are mostly black and white, since the finish project will be devoid of color (but not character) but in instances like Weird Girl’s very girly room, the items are pink because Burton wanted the pink – somehow – to come through.
The school classrooms, the tract housing, the bland exteriors really capture the place, the time, this certain era of suburban America. But in true Tim Burton fashion, things are not what they seem, and anything – be it crazy, kooky and just downright weird – can happen.
At the end of the tour we got to see seven stunning minutes of the work in progress. Just a taste, but left us wanting more but we, like you, will have to wait. The film won’t be out until October 5, 2012.
Stay turned over the coming months for more behind the scenes reports from the set including insights about the film from Tim Burton himself.
Images: Walt Disney Company
Full Disclosure: The author participated in a press junket for the above coverage and was the guest of the Walt Disney Company while attending. Any opinions presented here are purely held by its author and do not reflect those held by Pixar Animation Studios or the Walt Disney Company.