The effort of making the characters, sets and props and properly staging them so far now comes to life thanks to the magic hands of the animation team, led by master Hirokazu Minegishi. While making movies today may seem faster with the widespread adoption of digital technology, the art of stop animation revels in a process dedicated to an attention to detail. As you’d expect, the days tend to be long and it may seem like little if any progress is made because the precise movements and adjustments by the animator on the puppets are so subtle and slight. In fact, we may not even wholly appreciate the work until a whole day’s footage is rendered. To give an average measure, it takes about one full week of work to complete thirty seconds of animated footage.
While animating, the director, camera and light crews as well as set designers are involved in ensuring all the elements of a shot come together perfectly. Within each team at dwarf, each animator has their own assistant and usually works with one puppet and one camera operator at at time. So even though it looks as if one character stars in an episode, the workload is actually divided between different stages and animators to speed up production.
To bring each and every precise move cohesively together, Minegishi relies on two main tools- a surface gauge, which is a needle-like pointer that rests on character surfaces to track the slightest movements, and a frame grabbing computer like Lunchbox so the previously shot frame can be reviewed for reference. For some of the more complicated shots which include simultaneous movement of props or other characters, a number of surface gauges are used to coordinate some of the hardest shots in the business. Let’s not forget the characters occasionally speak to each other too so mastering the lip synch is another minute action the animators and sound team must keep in mind.
In other words, stop-animation is a meticulous step-by-step process of finding the most proper gestures which most clearly accentuate the movement or expression of a character. It takes a lot of concentration and any given scene can take from a few hours to a day or a week to complete. And while progress may seem invisible to the human eye if you’re watching an animator work, somehow in the end something of a miracle is being created.
The puppets which Goda creates tend to have rather simplified bodies faces with few body parts. This makes animating expressions a challenge but for the expert animators like Minegishi, eyebrows or drops of sweat are some of the ways the dwarf artists can relate the emotions and expressions of their characters. For Plug, the New World, animating the new characters, which Goda and the team had had developed proved a bit of a challenge. For example, a large and hairy character like Taiyo weighed about three kilograms so keeping all the hair still for each shot nearly stumped Minegishi. To complete the longer movie, at ten minutes, it took dwarf’s three animation teams two months of straight shooting. Once all of the scenes have been shot and annotated, the next stop for making the animation is post-production.