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Creating seamless synergy between traditional stop-motion animation and cutting-edge VFX – computer graphics world

Ameena Adil
Jan 17, 2023
5 min read


Academy Award-winning filmmaker Guillermo del Toro joined forces with Emmy Award-winning stop-motion veteran Mark Gustafson to direct a stunning new reimagining of Pinocchio set in Mussolini-era Italy. Based on Carlo Collodi’s classic tale of a wooden doll that comes to life, the film is a breathtaking adventure that explores the depths of grief and the transcendent power of love. Created in a richly-detailed stop-motion style with a stellar ensemble voice cast, the production creates a seamless synergy between classic handcrafted animation and cutting-edge visual effects.


Production designer Guy Davis, a frequent del Toro creative collaborator, designed expressive character puppets that would meet the demands of a stop-motion animation workflow. Director of character fabrication Georgina Hayns worked closely with Mackinnon & Saunders, an industry leader in stop-motion puppet production, to transform Davis’ designs into workable figures with robust attributes. “Throughout the process, Guillermo was heavily involved in the look of the puppets on all levels,” Hayns recalls. Centro Internacional de Animación, a Guadalajara-based animation studio founded by del Toro, also functioned as a second unit puppet department.

Each character began as a clay maquette, which evolved into a full working puppet sculpt with detailed features and costume elements. The fabrication team referenced painters from around the turn of the 20th century, particularly the work of Norman Rockwell and Andrew Wyeth. Animation supervisor Brian Leif Hansen began developing the puppets’ movements with a series of preliminary tests of Geppetto’s hands on ball-and-socket rigs interacting with props. “I think it really opened Guillermo’s mind about what this might be,” he recalls.


et maker Richard Pickersgill led the development of Pinocchio’s unique design. “His body is his armature,” Hayns explains. The puppet’s construction combines ball-and-socket joints first developed for King Kong (1933), modern 3D-printed metal joints and plates, and a painted plastic shell. “With him being just a skeleton, there are lots of things that you normally would hide underneath,” Hansen notes. “I would say that what Richard did with Pinocchio was an engineering masterpiece,” Hayns adds.

The faces of the film’s puppets were primarily constructed with complex systems of interlocking paddles and gears beneath a layer of silicone skin, allowing animators to manipulate their features with meticulous precision. The Pinocchio puppet, however, utilized a “rapid prototyping” expression system rather than mechanical elements. A collection of swappable 3D-printed plastic facial plates allowed the character to appear as if carved from wood… READ ON

Sohonet ClearView Flex enables real-time audio reviews and collaborative feedback in 5.1 surround sound. To see how it works, contact us to book a demo.

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