Starz Animation Creates a Big World for a Small Cast

Starz Animation makes life-like characters out of plaster and plants.
Starz Animation makes life-like characters out of plaster and plants.

Based on the classic Shakespearean tale, the animated feature Gnomeo and Juliet, re-imagined the story of star-crossed lovers in the world of garden gnomes.

Overcoming obstacles such as the balance between a realistic aesthetic and the playfulness of live garden gnomes, Toronto-based Starz Animation gave depth and character to a world so small, it is often overlooked; the world that exists right in your own back yard.

“It takes place in a world that offers so much visual stimulation: flowers, ornaments, colors,” director Kelly Ashbury said. “We had to find a way to focus the eye.”

In addition to establishing focus throughout the film, animators also overcame the challenge of giving the characters the same look they would have in reality.

“I think one of the biggest technical challenges of our film was to deliver these characters in a manner that is honest and faithful to the materials from which they’re made,” producer Baker Bloodworth said. “Gnomeo and Juliet are painted plaster. Featherstone is hollow, pink plastic. We needed to be true to the materials – concrete, ceramic, plastic, rubber, vinyl – but not restrict the characters’ movement.”

In spite of sounding like such a playful, fantastical film, staying grounded in reality was of extreme importance to the film’s creators.

“We pored over tons of reference for the different kinds of vegetation that a suburban English garden might have,” co-producer Igor Khait said. “We wanted to capture a high level of realism in the materials and textures in order to add believability to the fantasy aspect of all these inanimate objects coming to life.”

The film’s production designer and art director, Karen deJong, spent a lot of time on-location studying the gardens that served as inspiration for the film.

“We wanted to make sure that each garden and location had its own identity,” deJong said. “For example, Miss Montague’s blue garden has curved flower beds and a wind theme with whirly gigs and windmills. Mr. Capulet’s red garden is water-themed and has heavier materials and straight lines.”

After animating the inanimate and breathing life into things that, in the everyday world would be considered mere scenery, the film’s creators are thoroughly pleased with the result of all the hard work that went into Gnomeo and Juliet.

“When we set out to make this film, we had high expectations for the quality of the visuals, the impact, the colour, the lighting and the animation quality,” Bloodworth said. “And I have to say, the finished product far exceeds my wildest dreams.”

 

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