News Latin America Inside the animation workshop where ‘Pinocchio’ came to life in Mexico

Inside the animation workshop where ‘Pinocchio’ came to life in Mexico

El Taller del Chucho is a living organism with a skeleton of more than 7,000 square meters that breathes through noisy turbines. Fresh air passes from one room to another and inside some thirty animators work in interconnected areas to bring the system to life: carpentry, painting, hair and clothing, molding, 3D printing. In this industrial estate in Guadalajara, a team of 40 people worked for almost two years to animate six minutes of pinocchioGuillermo del Toro’s most recent film, which he reinvents in stop motion the story of the most famous puppet in cinema. The bowels of the studios open up at the end of the path indicated by a pug with a rogue gesture.

After the door that the animal goes through in front of the group of journalists, there are warehouses with black walls. Near the ceiling, more than three meters high, circuits pass like veins that transport digital files throughout the workshop, and from there curtains come down that delimit dark and hermetic filming areas. Inside, is where the magic happens. This Friday, an animator gave life to three 26-centimeter dolls sitting in front of a miniature milpa. Several led lamps illuminated it from above and the air entered to cool the environment; noise is not a problem when rolling on stop motion. In sets how this was created part of pinocchio in Mexico.

Luis Tellez, Director of Animation, and Rita Basulto, Coordinator of Lighting and Camera in Mexico.Roberto Antillon

The Mexican filmmaker Guillermo del Toro first thought of adapting the Italian Carlo Collodi’s tale for cinema when he was a teenager and began developing the film 14 years ago – he is 58 today. “I wanted to make a movie that moved, but also take one of the most delicate and handcrafted forms of animation and push it as far as possible,” he said during the promotion for the feature film, which opens in theaters in Mexico this Thursday and on Netflix on December 9.

The stop motion, or frame-by-frame animation, is a technique that allows you to create the illusion of movement from elements that are still. “We have an expression that several of us resort to,” explains Rita Basulto, who was coordinator of Lighting and Chamber of pinocchio in Mexico, and talks with EL PAIS in the warehouse where the movie was filmed in Guadalajara. The photographer begins to explain that the technique consists of “providing an inanimate being with a soul” and she immediately backtracks and laughs: “After a while we have our doubts! I think the characters animate themselves and we are their puppets”.

The film is almost two hours long and is set in the early 20th century, during the rise of fascism in Italy. Del Toro, Oscar winner for the shape of watersaid in June, when he presented a preview of the film in France: “Everyone has a goal, and pinocchio It is mine, one of the most important stories of my life that I want to turn around”. To make his first animated feature, the filmmaker and the film’s co-director, Mark Gustafson, coordinated stunt teams in Portland (United States), where most of the film was produced, in Manchester (England) and in Guadalajara (Mexico). .

Limbo in concept art by Guy Davis.
Limbo in concept art by Guy Davis.Guy Davis

“We immediately understood what they were looking for,” says Basulto. Production in Mexico had two stages. In the first, which took a year, the local team recreated Limbo, a kind of underworld where Pinocchio arrives in the film. The model that Basulto has behind him, a stack of 300 coffins illuminated with purple filters, was created for those shots and is the only thing that can be photographed inside the facilities. Del Toro also commissioned the animator Leon Fernandez to build the Black Rabbits, four characters with elongated faces, exposed ribs and skeletal hands that Pinocchio finds in the antechamber of Limbo. With the same characters, the credits were also shot in a second stage that lasted four months. In total, 33 plans and 3,443 plans were made in Mexico. frames. But now there are almost no traces of the shooting.

Aranza Engle, Production Manager of El Taller del Chucho, says that “those scenes were chosen because they went with the mood from the workshop”, but also because they were independent sequences that did not have to have continuity with what was being shot in the sets of Portland. “The scenes we did have nothing to ask of foreign films. That was Guillermo’s bet [del Toro]”, says Engle, and explains: “Mexico cannot compete against Pixar, which is a gigantic studio of [animacion] 3D. Mexico can compete with stop motion”.

Guadalajara has a long tradition of stop-motion animation. which promoted, above all, a group of seven animators (Basulto, Juan Medina, Luis Tellez, Karla Castaneda, Sofia Carrillo, Rene Castillo and Leon Fernandez), who are part of El Taller del Chucho. The studios were founded by the University of Guadalajara in 2019 at the initiative of Del Toro to promote local talent. The facilities have the capacity to house three complete productions simultaneously. In addition, they are a training space where some 300 people have participated in workshops since January. A year ago, they adopted Chilaquil, the pug with the exposed lower jaw who moves like a lookout around the facility. “No way we didn’t have a pooch [perro] at El Taller del Chucho,” says Engle.

The concept art of the Black Rabbits.
The concept art of the Black Rabbits.Guy Davis

The animation bible

To make pinocchio, the teams located in the United States, England and Mexico had “a complete Bible” so that the work between the different units was homogeneous, says Luis Tellez, animation director of the film. The commandments of those documents established, for example, that one had to “encourage silence” or “encourage the errors” of the characters, such as hesitation when opening a door or putting on a shoe. “There is a tendency to homogenize animation, to make it very cartoonvery exaggerated, and here what Guillermo wanted [del Toro] It was capturing life, capturing true emotions and that’s what we focused on,” Tellez told EL PAIS.

“The Black Rabbits were animated by direct animation,” says the filmmaker, and explains: “It’s when a character has a mechanical head and you move it with your fingers.” The Pinocchio puppet, on the other hand, was animated “by replacements”, that is, the Mexican team had 150 faces of the character sent from Portland with different gestures to make the wooden boy speak and sing in Guadalajara. “It is very common to outsource 3D or 2D to different studios, but I had not heard of this, to make an animation and have it work so well. This was a risk that was taken and we got away with it,” says Tellez, who believes that pinocchio it is “a brave film” that could compete for Best Feature at the Oscars.

Del Toro stressed several times during the promotion of the film that animation has to be “a little more technically and thematically daring” in order to “break the barrier” of the genre and be “an art form recognized as cinema.” “pinocchio It’s that kind of story,” said the filmmaker. “What was clear to him was that Pinocchio should never become a real boy nor would that be his goal,” said the director. El Grillo, that character who accompanies and advises Gepetto’s son, had already warned in the previews of the film that the film would be a different adaptation. “I want to tell you a story”, the insect narrated, “perhaps you think you know this story but you don’t”.

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