Wes Anderson on his new animated hit Isle of Dogs
Known for writing and directing quirky films like Rushmore and The Fantastic Mr Fox, Wes Anderson's latest effort, Isle Of Dogs, is no exception. Georgia Humphreys hears about his return to the world of stop-motion animation, and the inspiration behind the story.
MAKING Isle Of Dogs was no mean feat for Wes Anderson and his crew.
A total of 670 people worked on the film, over 1,000 puppets had to be made, and it took 15 weeks to animate the longest shot.
And then there's the attention to detail to create the human characters' various expressions – you're looking at 53 individually sculpted faces.
"Every aspect of every puppet has so many different options and choices," Texas-born Anderson says of creating the stop-motion animation.
"You're trying to figure out what is going to make the whole world of the movie right – what is right for the story and what is working with the voices. Also, what fun can you have with it."
Anderson (48) is famous for his quirky visual and narrative style – successes include Bafta-winning drama The Grand Budapest Hotel and 2001's The Royal Tenenbaums.
And there's no denying Isle Of Dogs, an original story set on the Japanese Archipelago 20 years into the future, lives up to his reputation.
The fantasy drama follows a 12 year-old boy called Atari, who sets off to rescue his dog, Spots, after Megasaki City's corrupt, cat-loving Mayor Kobayashi orders all canine pets to be exiled.
It's a plot about being banished from society and struggling to survive that star Bryan Cranston calls "very timely".
The poor dogs are sent to a remote island, where Megasaki dumps its residential waste. When the plane Atari has stolen for his mission crash-lands, he finds a group of mangy mutts struggling to fend for themselves.
Together, they embark on a journey that will decide the future of the entire Prefecture.
"I had this idea for some years that I wanted to do a second stop-motion animated film," confides Anderson, whose previous foray into the genre was the acclaimed Fantastic Mr Fox (2009), based on the Roald Dahl classic.
"I wanted to do one that was dogs and I had this thought of a group of alpha dogs named Chief, Duke, Boss and King, that were living on a garbage dump."
He adds candidly: "I don't really know why I thought that was good, but that was my feeling."
The Oscar-nominated filmmaker took the idea to two of his closest friends, Jason Schwartzman and Roman Coppola.
They decided to write it together, and set it in near-future Japan in the grips of a canine crisis and mass anti-dog hysteria.
"We had talked before about wanting to do something in Japan and we sort of smashed these two things together," says Anderson, adding that Japanese movies from the 50s and 60s influenced their work.
"We've made a movie with a Japanese setting without going to Japan. The movie is actually filmed in East London, in a place called Bromley-by-Bow."
Anderson, who lives in Paris with his partner Juman Malouf, a Lebanese writer, goes into great detail when discussing how Atari, the sweet character at the centre of the film, evolved.
"We had an idea for a boy who was extremely determined; defiant but soft spoken and slightly losing his mind," he recalls.
"He'd been in a plane crash, he's been through trauma that I think, in an animated movie like ours, can be treated a bit lightly.
"But then we found Koyu Rankin," he continues of the young Canadian actor who voices Atari.
"The character's 12 in the script. Koyu was actually eight, which is much younger than you would ever cast in a live action movie. It would be like casting a 20-year-old to play a 40-year-old, almost. The years make such a difference at that age.
"He just has a great voice. The puppet we ended up designing is, I think, inspired by his performance, really. It's inspired by the way he played the character. His voice affected every step of what we did, from the moment we recorded him."
The cast Anderson assembled is hugely impressive; as well as Breaking Bad star Cranston, there's Bill Murray, Jeff Goldblum, Frances McDormand, Scarlett Johansson and Tilda Swinton to name a few.
Oh, and the fleeting addition of Yoko Ono, who stars in one scene.
And he really enjoyed bringing together regular collaborators (Murray has been in all of Anderson's films since 1998's Rushmore) with actors he was working with for the first time.
"We had a group of dogs who were all kind of talking at once a lot of the time, and it's great to have them in the room together," enthuses Anderson.
"We had Bryan Cranston, Bill Murray, Edward Norton and Bob Balaban together recording their parts. You're always going to have fun."
Cranston plays the Chief, the leader of the outcast of dogs on Trash Island, and his character has a notably long monologue in the middle of the film.
"Bryan Cranston did a very interesting, memorable telling of this story of what this dog has been through," says Anderson.
"He's told us that he bites, he really doesn't understand why, but he says it might have something to do with this story he tells."
With the experience of Fantastic Mr Fox behind him, Anderson knew the huge levels of craftsmanship and patience involved in an animation like Isle Of Dogs.
And while this was perhaps a more complicated film, as there was no source material, what the film-maker relished was using parts of the actors' rehearsals in the final film.
"Once they say it, in any context, you have it. There's no set, nothing has to be technically ready except that somebody had pressed record," he explains.
"You can use half a sentence of this, you can use anything anybody says, and we edit it and we work with it and we animate to it and we use it. So there's such freedom in the way that you're capturing the performances."
:: Isle Of Dogs is in cinemas now