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Production Designer Paul Harrod’s Journey to Isle of Dogs

April 9, 2018 | By

 

Isle of Dogs Poster

As a teen, Paul Harrod felt destined to enter the world of animation. A co-production designer along with Adam Stockhausen on Wes Anderson’s stop motion feature, Isle of Dogs, Harrod’s youthful Super 8 vignettes led him to a career in prop building and miniature-making. “I tried my hand as an animator,” said Harrod. “But I was not good; I just liked making things.”

Early career ventures included prop building for Pee Wee’s Playhouse and art directing the miniature segments in live action projects. Ultimately, Harrod landed a director role at Will Vinton Studios (now Laika Studios), working on projects including Eddie Murphy’s stop motion sitcom, “The PJ’s.”  Years later, while working independently on a segment for A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas, Harrod’s longing to reconnect with the production design world was rekindled.

Paul Harrod

Isle of Dogs co-production designer Paul Harrod is helping build props while on set. Photo by Valerie Sadoun, 2018 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation, All Rights Reserved.

Fortunately, a past connection to Will Vinton would aid in that wish. Nelson Lowry, the production designer on Anderson’s inaugural stop motion foray, Fantastic Mr. Fox, was committed to Kubo and the Two Strings and recommended Harrod to Wes Anderson. Anderson had brought on Stockhausen, a frequent collaborator (The Grand Budapest Hotel, Moonrise Kingdom, The Darjeeling Limited) to launch designs. Stockhausen was on board for five months before transitioning to his commitment on Ready Player One. Before leaving, he not only shared the project’s design principles, but also his shorthand on Anderson’s expectations. This greatly aided Harrod in the second five-month phase of pre-production, and the 18 months of production, where sets continued to be realized while cameras rolled. One difference in approach Harrod encountered was Anderson’s dedication to hand-made elements.

Isle of Dogs

Isle of Dogs is a stop-motion-animated film that takes place in a dystopian near-future Japan.

“I had thirty years of experience (in stop motion) with established patterns of working, of certain do’s and don’ts. Wes loves the medium and wants to turn it on its ear. You can bet his response is ‘Yeah, we’re not going to do it that way,’” added Harrod.

 

Isle of Dogs

This scene from Isle of Dogs shows the warm color palate and the texture used for the sets in Trash Island.

Water, fog and smoke, commonly added as a VFX composite, were all made with real material.  For example, the plume of smoke resulting from an explosion on Trash Island was crafted with cotton and wool, enhanced with lighting effects.

Isle of Dogs

Some of the many materials used in Isle of Dogs include cotton and wool.

While creating the Trash Island sets, Harrod and his team ensured each story beat had a unique color palette and textures to enhance a sense of chaotic, hellish beauty. During the introduction of the hero pack, the set is drenched in rust tones– a reference pulled from director Sergio Leoni’s Italian Spaghetti Westerns. For the Drone Beach/robotic dog catcher sequence, Anderson wanted a black set to offset a primarily white set that preceded it. Harrod and his team built the beach out of models of old batteries and cathode ray tubes: a representation of the future as viewed from a discarded past.

While team members including paint department head, Roy Bell, and Chris Jordan, a plastics molder, were instrumental in researching and creating accurate trash aesthetics, there were certain elements in the miniature world that simply had to be made out of the item’s authentic material.  The sake bar drinkware and science lab test tubes and beakers, for example, were constructed of real glass. However, for the set piece of the sake bottle cave, a wide variety of material was used to support the structure’s unique design. It was conceived as if the dogs had dug out a hallow den in its center. Aided by graphics designer and research assistant, Chinami Narikawa, lead graphic designer Erica Dorn (who grew up in Japan), crafted each individual label that accurately portrays Japanese graphic design. The details become apparent when the structure was backlit, displaying colors similar to a Christmas tree.

Isle of Dogs

“I’ve looked at stop motion through a very different lens now, and I’ll take that new way with me,” concluded Harrod.

 

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