One of the most important venues that coincides with the film festival is the Berlinale Talents (formerly known as Berlinale Talent Campus), which takes a selection of young people in the film industry and helps them learn the skills that will further their forthcoming projects. Lectures are also open to the public from visiting professionals in the field.
This year I had the chance to listen to the discussion of Bow Wow: Storyboarding Isle of Dogs. British storyboard artist Jay Clarke worked on the storyboard with Wes Anderson. Interesting to note is that at the press conference, Wes Anderson expresses how he embraced the traditional form of clay figure models and stop-motion camera work to tell his story, since it had to do with cinema history. It seemed to be a natural to choose Jay Clarke’s work, since he has worked on comics, storyboards, and models with such success.
Clarke has an amazing portfolio, telling us that he worked on Wallace & Gromit and the Curse of the Were-Rabbit. He had a hand in the making of Shaun the Sheep as well as Alice in Wonderland through the Looking Glass. He has illustrated the Beonu comic books and had worked on a previous film with Wes Anderson, The Grand Budapest Hotel, winner of several awards.
At this lecture, he kindly opened his computer and began displaying one file after another of the various projects he had worked on while at the same time telling us tricks of the trade, such as keeping things simple and avoiding too many characters. It is like a jigsaw puzzle and important to get the rhythm; the storyboarding helps achieve this. Another important factor is the deadline. First, storyboard, and then go into the details later.
He also explained what a joy it was for him to work with Wes Anderson because this director has a clear vision exactly how the story will go and has already done some preliminary storyboards for Clarke to look at. He showed the process of how The Grand Budapest Hotel evolved and how some actors did exactly what they were told, whereas others, e.g., Liam Nielson, ad-libbed to act the way they thought best. He used the main character and made old fashion posters that were like a slogan for the hotel.
Wes Anderson wanted ISLE OF DOGS to have a Japanese theme that related to Akira Kurosawa’s work and would have a woodblock print look. He also broke up the animation spaces into what looked like a three panel, old Japanese screen and wanted it kept simple. He also had the camera movement already integrated into the storyboards by the time they were ready to shoot the film. The models were handmade puppets; the special effects were hand-tinted to provide the mood, as in the old silent films. He watched Citizen Kane and Django for inspiration, and also for the characterization of the dogs, e.g., Lauren Bacall as Nutmeg and Humphrey Bogart as Chief.
Clarke also said that this occupation was not one you could learn at a university. The crowning moment in the lecture was when someone asked if he could make Wes Anderson into a dog – and within minutes accomplished exactly that. What a great lecture with such a kind and generous artist.
Don’t miss this film. It was the best I saw this year.
Isle of Dogs
Wes Anderson, USA/Germany
Director Wes Anderson uses Japanese haiku and ancient historical screens to cover 10 centuries of canine history and domestication by Japanese dynasties to serve as loyal guard dogs and pets to the Japanese households. Alas, the cat-loving Kobayashi clan has come up with the ultimate plan to eliminate the canine population: spreading viruses that make dogs ill with snout fever. Soon the dogs must be quarantined on Trash Island before the humans are contaminated. People split into factions: some try to find a cure, while others join the strongest political party.
The political clan leader Kobayashi is the first to expel their dog Spots in order to appear as fine examples to the rest of the community. Before long, 12-year-old Atari the nephew of the Kobayashi family crashes onto the island in a stolen ‘puddle-jumper’ to search for his dog Spots. Atari soon accompanied by a group of wild alpha dogs who are willing to support this quest. Perhaps they too will escape this island which is virtually a prison. This marvellous story-telling comes straight from the dog’s mouth and has you laughing while at the same time makes you think about the politics in today’s world. The best part was to hear all of these famous, timeless voices coming out of the mouths of the characters such as Bill Murray, Jeff Goldblum and Scarlett Johansson. At the press conference, Anderson said that the best thing was that when he asked the actors to play these roles, he knew they couldn’t say that they weren’t available – because this type of work can be done any time of the day. Absolutely brilliant!