Art Production

From the two dimensional world of sketches to the three dimensional world of constructed sets and characters, frequent dialog between departmentshelps guarantee a smooth transition but before the animators can really bring the sketches to life, they need to be actually built first. Everything in a stop animation production must be built, so in that sense there’s a lot resting on the shoulders of the Art Production team at Dwarf. Prop Maker Shinji Yabe along with Puppet Makers Satoshi Yoshida and Yoshiko Abiko construct the sets, props and characters in a collaborative process which can last up to three months depending on the production. Even though there’s a bit of pressure to reproduce Goda’s original vision as accurately as possible, there’s still a lot of freedom and this is where all the magic really starts to happen.

One of the most important considerations for Yoshida and Abiko to think about when reviewing the storyboard with Goda is to think about what kind of movements each particular character is supposed to perform. From here, the Puppet Makers can start designing and constructing the micro framework for each character, or armature as it’s commonly referred to in the stop animation world. Underneath all that cute and fuzzy material, these characters actually do have a kind of skeleton, Essentially, armature is the endoskeleton which allows the puppets to stand up right and engage in a variety of poses. With several tiny parts held by intricate joints made from brass or aluminum, these microstructures are not only precisely shaved to achieve the right balance, they’re also built to last since the will be taking on quite a bit of damage over the course of shooting. If they can withstand some abuse and hold the poses required, they’ll do just fine.

Proceeding with selected materials, the team produces not only one puppet, but a number of replicas so multiple scenes can be shot simultaneously. For the shooting of the 51 minute feature stop-animation film, Komaneko- "The Curious Cat," four puppets were used to speed up production. So characters not only need to move physically but how they will actually express their emotions is up to the department as well. A character like Domo-kun has lots of curiousity and his emotions often take control, so finding a way to clearly demonstrate such a simplistically designed character’s feelings can be a challenge. But in the end, solid state armature is one of the keys to making us believe tat these character puppets are really alive! Once the armature is completed, the team get ready to place the mini metallic skeleton into a mold to have it casted.

And just as detailed as the armature and appearance, are the sets and props the characters interact with in the story. Props are made just like usual films but Shinji Yabe makes his props incredibly miniature yet mind-bogglingly convincing. These miniprop have to be convincing with just the right sense of scale or else the scenes won’t make much sense. Upto hundreds of props are made for characters to use and interact with. At the same time, the art department is constructing the unique worlds which the characters will interact in. On the sets, which of course vary in size from one square foot to several, what you see isn’t always what you get. Sets in most stop animation productions appear real but they’re actually made of materials like foam and thin plastered canvas and a lot smaller than we think although sometimes, sets aren’t built and the crew relies on a blue screen like in Plug’s World.

Even though the production of Plug’s World saw Dwarf involve more CGI than ever, new challenges arose just as in every production. With the CGI handling backgrounds, the team took three months to construct ten different sets and eight new original characters which each demanded materials and required movements. Plug’s head was made of hard polyester plastic, his eyes of clear epoxy and his body of foam latex while Taiyo was made with balsa wood, iron, aluminum and lots of cloth. A character like Runner does just that, so placing the joints in the right places is the key to a natural looking stride.

It’s safe to say there are no accidents when the final art department finishes its work because everything has been done intentionally and in close contact with Goda. Shinji, Satoshi and Yoshiko have made sure the characters look the way they do and move the way they do all in all, enriching Goda’s vision one detail at a time. Now, the characters and stage are set and it’s time to turn on the lights and camera.