Dug Up at Dogster: ‘Isle of Dogs’ Movie Premiere

Isle of Dogs. Photography courtesy Isle of Dogs.
Isle of Dogs. Photography courtesy Isle of Dogs.

Over the next few months, several dog-themed movies premiere, beginning with Isle of Dogs on March 23, 2018, a Wes Anderson picture that should be completely unlike any other dog movie if it follows in the paw steps of other Anderson movies, such as The Grand Budapest Hotel, Fantastic Mr. Fox and Rushmore, to name a few.

What Is Isle of Dogs About?

Isle of Dogs.
Isle of Dogs takes place 20 years in the future on an island where dogs have been abandoned. Photography courtesy Isle of Dogs.

This stop-motion animation film stars a slew of canine puppets. Puppet pups?! You can’t ask for more than that! But there’s more, because Anderson hired a bunch of very familiar names to do the voices, like Scarlett Johansson, Courtney B. Vance, Tilda Swinton, Ken Watanabe, Bryan Cranston, Bill Murray, Edward Norton, Jeff Goldblum, Frances McDormand, Harvey Keitel, Yoko Ono, Liev Schreiber, Fisher Stevens — and the list goes on.

The story is a dog lover’s worst nightmare. It’s 20 years in the future in Japan and an outbreak of Snout-Fever rushes through Megasaki City. Of course, dogs are blamed and cast out to an island with the telling name of Trash Island by the corrupt Mayor Kobayashi. The mayor’s 12-year-old ward refuses to be parted for long from his bodyguard dog Spot, so he flies a Junior-Turbo Prop to the island where he gets help from a pack of abandoned dogs to find his buddy. Adventures ensue and conspiracies are revealed.

Although Isle of Dogs isn’t officially out yet, it currently scores a 97% on the Tomatometer, which is pretty darn good. And better yet, Dogster got a chance to talk to the Head of Puppets — Andy Gent.

Q&A With Isle of Dogs Head of Puppets, Andy Gent

Isle of Dogs.
Puppets modeled after real-life dogs were used in Isle of Dogs. Photography courtesy Isle of Dogs.

DOGSTER: How many puppets and puppet masters were involved in the making of this film?
ANDY GENT: We counted 1,105 puppets, and it took 68 makers to complete the task.

D: What was the most challenging part of shooting the film?
AG: The ambition of the film was unparalleled, so the sheer weight of numbers as much as the technical challenge of scale replacement [for] faces and fur.

D: Did the puppet masters spend time studying dog body language or do any kind of canine prep for the roles?
AG: My dog Charlie was on site all the time to be watched, moved and studied. He liked it as much as the puppet masters needed to study him and, yes, several other dogs helped make the reality come true.

D: What did creation of the dog puppets entail?
AG: The dogs had to start the whole process. They were the deciding factor in the scale of everyone else due to their mechanics, especially in their heads. We studied lots of types and sculpted hundreds of different breeds and shapes. Wes combined, refined and selected “those” dogs to be the ones. We would re-sculpt in a pose that would be good to mold, then from the mold we are able to position the limbs and build the mechanical skeletons we call armatures. That’s the bones, if you like, from which we add silicone and foam latex to make the skin flesh and muscle. Meanwhile, a team is perfecting the fur — its color length and backing to make it stretch. And another team is making eyes and another collars. Then, everything is combined and we hand them over to the animators, who breathe life into the little things. It’s all absolutely magic to see your sculpt come to life and then you eventually, after months of work, see and hear your dog talking back to you. It’s a dream come true.

A final word on Isle of Dogs

I honestly don’t recall another stop-motion animated movie that involved dogs. (Our senior editor Annie tells me that I’m forgetting Wallace and Gromit!) The only television program that even comes to mind is the old television show Davey and Goliath (the dog) from the 1960s. I’m sure there must be others (please feel free to list any you know in the comments). I’m looking forward to seeing this one and to seeing how much the pup puppets remind me of my own dogs. And I know I’ll be rooting for Atari and his doggie cohorts. After all, nobody puts doggie on an island!

Thumbnail: Photography courtesy Isle of Dogs.

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