Making the dogs of Isle Of Dogs

The fur of many of the dogs was generated from alpaca and merino wool, the kind often used for teddy bears.
The fur of many of the dogs was generated from alpaca and merino wool, the kind often used for teddy bears.PHOTO: FOX SEARCHLIGHT PICTURES
NEW YORK • Wes Anderson, a director who is no stranger to the meticulous crafting of worlds, has created a canine-filled universe for the stop-motion animated comedy Isle Of Dogs. Some 500 dog puppets were made for the movie, which takes place in the fictional Japanese city of Megasaki. Here is a closer look at how four key characters came to life.


This dark-maned St Bernard voiced by F. Murray Abraham has an air of wisdom and is respected for it. The film-makers mostly used other dogs for reference, bringing them on set to watch their mannerisms and movements, then designing and animating the characters. Andy Gent, head of the puppets department, even brought in his own pup, Charlie, as a model.

But Anderson had a human in mind when it came to Jupiter. "We talked about Charles Laughton," he said, referring to the late British film and stage actor with a larger-than-life screen presence.

Gent built wisdom and authority into Jupiter's face with pronounced jowls. And he put folds in his skin and a degree of sagginess to suggest the gravitas of age. The team gave him grey fur for prestige and a glass eye, which makes him stand out even more.


Scale plays an important part in the film's design concept and the difference in size between Jupiter and the tiny pug often by his side, Oracle, voiced by Tilda Swinton, makes for an interesting contrast. The film-makers used the pug's big, wide-set eyes and stare-y look as a plot point, making Oracle the dog that could watch television and keep the others informed about impending threats.


One of the film's most alluring characters, Nutmeg, voiced by Scarlett Johansson, is a show dog with golden locks that somehow remain spotless on Trash Island. Her fur, and that of many of the dogs, was generated from alpaca and merino wool, the kind often used for teddy bears. The designers spent the longest time - about 30 weeks - on this character to get her right. Her colouring was inspired by a Gucci store Anderson had come across. He liked the range of hues in its decorations and clothing and sent Gent's team a photo, asking them to generate that tonal mood in the fur.


Bill Murray provides the voice for this pinstripe-jersey-clad dog. "We wanted to have one dog who was a baseball team mascot," Anderson said, explaining his thought process: The dogs speak in English mostly with American accents, so this was a nod to a tradition, baseball, that the United States and Japan share.


•Isle Of Dogs opens in Singapore on May 10.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 26, 2018, with the headline 'Making the dogs of Isle Of Dogs'. Print Edition | Subscribe