Guillermo del Toro‘s stop-motion feature adaptation of the famed children’s novel Pinocchio has been a passion project for at least a decade in the making.
The director co-wrote the animated musical and produced for Netflix with The Jim Henson Company and ShadowMachine (Robot Chicken, BoJack Horseman). Featuring the voices of Ewan McGregor, Christoph Waltz and Tilda Swinton, Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio relocates Carlo Collodi’s 1883 story to an Italy simmering with fascism in the first half of the twentieth century.
Pre-production began in earnest in 2018 with production shooting for 1,000 days and involving 40 animators working across 60 stages, the majority of which were at ShadowMachine’s studio in Portland, Oregon. Puppet fabrication was led by the UK’s Mackinnon & Saunders. Animators working expressly on the Black Rabbit sequences were based out of Guadalajara, Mexico. The director of photography is stop-motion expert Frank Passingham (Kubo and the Two Strings), and the film’s co-director is Mark Gustafson.
While computer-generated animation proved itself far more resilient to lockdown than live-action production because artists could carry on their work at home without much disruption, that’s not the case with stop motion. This very physical form of filmmaking still requires animators to collaborate together on stages. Under strict Covid protocols, ShadowMachine’s animators continued to create shots in Portland, but other members of the production were forced to go remote.
Crucially, this included the entire editorial team who still needed to run dailies and send off reviews and special cuts to the directors. Editorial needed to share files with the VFX department which in turn also needed to review with the directors as well as share with external VFX vendors.
“The problem we faced was that the streaming solution we were using wasn’t good enough for the job we needed it to be doing 24/7,” explained Don Schwarz, the show’s pipeline technical director. “It just went down too often.”Del Toro was busy all over the world working on and promoting multiple projects including his 2021 directorial feature Nightmare Alley. Nonetheless he made it a priority to be hands-on in reviewing and approving material.
“When you are in the midst of a production that is ‘go, go, go,’ then time is money,” said Schwarz. “It is the producer’s job to watch the money and when something doesn’t happen on time then they rightly get frustrated. Guillermo is always remarkably busy so when he is scheduled for a session and it doesn’t work the way we expect, then that’s not good enough. We just had to move to something more stable.”
Schwarz said, “I knew from previous research that we should switch from our current streaming provider to ClearView.”
“There’s a misconception that stop motion production is slow but in fact we’ll be constantly shooting on stages and constantly shots are being delivered,” explained Schwarz. “The editors are going to want the directors to review shots as quickly as possible to know if they get approved.
“In our pipeline we would publish from the stage and run through an AWS Deadline render farm which would make all the different media. Editorial got their AAF version for Media Composer; a DNxHR version was created for viewing in 4K in a theatre. Editorial would then run the dailies session on a regular basis so that people around the studio and remote could jump on, see it, and make notes.
“What drove that was the pandemic more than anything else but since we’ve been allowed back in person, people have gotten used to not having to run to the screening room. The editorial team didn’t want to come back in the building but to continue working remotely. They proved that they could so that’s why it kept going that way.”
Schwarz commends the ease with which users can create and log onto sessions in ClearView Flex particularly for less tech-savvy team members running the sessions. “Our previous tool was much more finnicky and required more technical hoops to go through. In contrast, ClearView has just a really straight forward setup.”
Shortly after taking possession of the system, Sohonet introduced annotation and drawing tools for ClearView Flex. “Guillermo loves to mark-up because he finds it a lot easier to draw a circle on an image than trying to explain, say, ‘lighten the left-hand corner’,” Schwarz observed.
A major improvement was in streaming performance. “Instead of a software encoded streaming service where performance depends on the machine you are on, ClearView is a hardware-based system and the difference in quality was instantaneous. We didn’t need to make a ton of adjustments to the stream. You have more bandwidth, more processing power, greater image fidelity and all round just greater confidence in the session. That’s what gives ClearView a major upper hand.”
After the film’s world premiere at the BFI London Film Festival in October, ShadowMachine used ClearView Flex for final tweaks ahead of a Christmas release on Netflix.
“We’re under the gun to get it ready and will be using ClearView right to the end. If our next production is remote in any way, then we’ll be sure to use ClearView for editorial tool”