Del Toro’s Netflix feature “Pinocchio” was first conceptualised back in 2008, when he approached puppet-making company Mackinnon and Saunders with ideas for an unconventional type of stop-motion film.
The kind of fully mobile, highly detailed puppet Del Toro envisioned wasn’t possible at the time given technology limitations.
12 years later, Mackinnon and Saunders approached LPE about utilising recent advancements in metal printing to finally create the kind of puppet needed for the film. The result: the first ever use of metal printing in a stop-motion picture.
… and an Oscar.
The challenge with stop-motion animation is to make inanimate, essentially lifeless puppets come to life.
Rather than the traditional method of using thousands of casted puppet iterations and changing them for each shot, del Toro believed that a single figure with moveable joints would enable more organic, free-flowing movement. This would hopefully result in a more expansive and convincing range of expressions. The arduous filming process however would likely mean multiple versions of the puppet would be required.
Since all would be used on-screen, each version had to be exactly the same, down to the finest details. There was then the problem of Pinocchio’s body shape – given the thinness of his legs and the comparative thickness of his body and head, it was unlikely a casted puppet would be able to support its own weight.
The puppet therefore would have to be made of particularly strong, durable material for consistent use throughout years of filming, and constant manoeuvring by animators. However, given Pinocchio’s limber structure and his quick, supple movements, it was also important the puppet not be too rigid. Its limbs would have to move through various ranges of motion with ease.
On top of all this, the many features of the highly detailed puppet would have to be clearly-defined, so as to be easily visible when magnified onscreen.
– Richard Pickersgill, lead on the project at Mackinnon and Saunders.
Following consultation between LPE and the puppet-makers, it was decided that the only way to achieve both the strength and mobility the puppet needed would be to print multiple components in metal to then be fit together.
The inside of the torso would be hollowed out, to enable inner mechanical features that would allow for functional movement of the limbs. Design analysis was carried out for all the parts to be printed: the main spine, rear torso shell, hip clamps, hip joints, feet, ankle clamps, lower legs, knees, thighs, lower arms, upper arms, and shoulder clamps.
Orientation and support structure was agreed and for some parts, CAD files were modified by LPE to optimise the key properties needed in the soon-to-be printed parts. Prototypes were printed to be tested by Mackinnon and Saunders for their interconnectability and aesthetic accuracy.
LPE also made the decision following prototyping, to create custom supports for the largest part: the rear torso, to ensure support material didn’t compromise the wood effect surface. The final parts were printed in stainless steel; a strong, durable metal which was also soft enough for drilling of the many fine threads and holes that would be needed to fit the components together.
Printing was done on a hi-res Mlab machine, so the unique details of the puppet, such as the nails in his back, would be clearly defined despite his small size. The parts could also be printed with the very fine-featured surface texture needed for the painting of the final puppet. This machine achieves perfect repeatability, so 32 exact iterations of each part of the armature were printed.
A team of 5 finished the parts, smoothing the surfaces of threads and holes to enable more fluid movement of the joints. Some printed holes were as fine as 1mm. The other part surfaces were also smoothed, so that once painted, the colour of the puppet would look consistent and natural. The parts were then assembled and fitted with a plastic-printed front torso to complete the puppet’s body.
1) INITIAL CONSULTATION
“It doesn’t look like any animated film you’ve seen
before,” said actor Christopher Waltz.
This was in part, because of the fluid, human-like
expression and movements of the main character, who
graces every scene.
Following the assembly of the armatures to be used,
thousands of iterations of connectable heads were used
to change Pinocchio’s facial expression.
He walks, talks, runs, and dances with an authenticity
and fluidity never-before achieved in stop-motion