Passion's Mark Waring on Working with Wes Anderson for Isle of Dogs
Newly-signed director Mark Waring sheds light on the stop-frame animation process, imparts lessons learnt from the Greats and shares his thoughts on why stop motion is having its moment.
Following the success of Wes Anderson's Isle of Dogs film, out in cinemas now, shots caught up with the award-winning animation director Mark Waring - who's just signed to Passion Pictures - to discuss what it was like working on the intricately put together film; compares commericals to cinema; and talks in length about bringing authenticity and magic onto the big screen.
Congratulations on the release and success (92% on Rotten Tomatoes) of Isle of Dogs, which is currently out in cinemas. What was it like working with Wes Anderson again following your contribution on his film, Fantastic Mr Fox?
It was great to work with Wes again. Having previously learnt the processes and meticulous requirements that Wes demands in his films on Fantastic Mr Fox, it was a very smooth transition for me into the production of Isle of Dogs as the Animation Director. There was a key core of the Fox crew that had developed a specific animation language and dialogue with Wes, and this certainly helped with the intimate understanding of what Wes was trying to achieve in this, his second stop frame animated feature.
You’ve also worked with legendary director Tim Burton, on his films Frankenweenie and Corpse Bride. What have you learnt from these stylistic directors?
Both Wes and Tim are auteurs - their films are instantly recognisable and have a look and feel all of their own. This comes through immense amounts of work and amazing attention to detail that always sets the bar high. When it comes to creating their animated visions there is no way of avoiding this focus and dedication with either of these directors. You have to go all the way in providing your best work - there is nowhere to hide and you have to be fully committed to their exacting standards. They both push you to your limits and beyond, sometimes into places you would never have dared to venture, but when you do there is always something rewarding that comes from it.
And how does your feature film work inform your commercial work and vice versa?
The disciplines are very different in terms of time frame, perhaps a few weeks compared to a couple of years, but it is a huge advantage to have an understanding of both. The intensity of a commercial is obviously compressed into a shorter time frame, but it is nonetheless an advantage to know the level of detail and production values that are achievable on a feature, so that you can then bring them into your commercial game. Conversely it is great to know that the speed and progress that is made in a commercial timeframe can be bought into the feature arena, thereby helping the schedule. If you have both these strings to your bow it is a huge plus.
Features are a marathon compared to the commercial's sprint, and you have to go into both with the correct mindset.
Away from feature films, you’ve built up your commercial reel thanks to your animation and stop motion skills – do you approach commercials and feature films differently, and if so, how?
Features are a marathon compared to the commercial's sprint, and you have to go into both with the correct mindset. Of course you always have to be fully focused and believe in what you are doing in both disciplines, but there is definitely a different approach to each. For example, in getting the right animation team together for the specific project, or giving the correct and relevant briefings to your crew will help steer that production in the right direction. There is no point in setting up a feature production like a sprint as people will burn out, conversely treating a commercial like a marathon will never get the job finished. You have to tailor your requirements to the specific job in hand.
According to a review of Isle of Dogs, Wes Anderson told you that he “wanted to make sure [viewers] knew they were definitely watching a stop-frame film and not a CG film;” how did you go about making this distinction?
I worked with Wes on this idea at the initial stages of Isle of Dogs as he was keen to help create a world where the audience would see the craft and 'handmadeness' of the production. Wes didn't want to hide anything, and almost encouraged mistakes and make the most of the natural inherent textures of the materials show, such as using cotton wool for smoke (above) or cling film for water. The animation itself was kept honest, as much as possible was done for real in front of the camera, and we shot the animation with a mixture of single frames and double frames to give it a sense of movement and energy. We also kept things like the fur moving on the dogs to help give it life. All of these natural elements capture something that CGI finds very difficult to achieve, and so rather than trying to emulate the slickness of CGI we deliberately created something different that still somehow feels pleasing to watch, as if real objects or your toys have suddenly sprung to life. It gives it a magical quality.
Which do you prefer working on; commercials or feature films?
I am lucky as I am happy and comfortable working on both. Each has its merits and rewards, and it's great to be able to jump from one to the other.
Money Supermarket: Epic Action Man
You also worked on the popular Money Supermarket Epic Action Man spot, why do you think there is currently a trend for stop motion in advertising?
Again, I think it has a simple honesty. Stop frame has an inherent feeling of magic and wonder that can successfully be bought into the commercial arena. The Action Man spot is a prime example of this - capturing that idea that your toys have come to life. This one comes with a twist, but there is an honesty and an integrity in the stop frame presentation that captures a mood and feeling that perhaps CGI just wouldn't have realised.