Brian Leif Hansen and Georgiana Hayns interview: ‘Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio’ VFX team
“We tried not to make it too perfect,” reveals animation supervisor Brian Leif Hansen about “Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio.” Joining Hansen for our recent webchat was Georgiana Hayns, director of character fabrication, who adds, “It was perfectly imperfect, that was the creative philosophy” Watch our exclusive video interview above.
The film retells the classic Italian tale of a wooden puppet who is brought to life. It is directed by two-time Oscar winner Guillermo del Toro (“The Shape of Water”). The film is made with stop-motion animation where wooden puppets were moved and filmed. Hayns says, “What makes a good stop motion animation is a good story. I think that’s what shines through with ‘Pinocchio.’ Yes we’ve made a beautiful looking film, but it holds up because there is a great story behind it.”
Hansen has previously worked on animated films that have received Oscar nominations including “Fantastic Mr. Fox” (2009) and “Missing Link” (2019). He explains, “Guillermo does know animation, but he’s still a live action director more. If you don’t know the rules and what you are supposed to do, you make different choices… Like moving a lot of puppets around at the same time is difficult and complicated. Guillermo asked us to have a camp of 20 kids running round. I was thinking, ‘I don’t know if that’s what stop motion is best at here.’ If you look at it from the beginning and think, ‘I have to do all this,’ you would run away screaming. But when it comes in small bits it’s easier.”
Hayns recounts, “he wanted the animators to be able to act through the puppets. We’d never been asked for that before. Animators are always acting through the puppets but it was directed in a different way. We pushed the puppets more than we’d ever pushed stop motion puppets before to get those performances.”
For a story about a puppet who is brought to life, it’s fitting that Hayns brought all the characters to life through puppetry. She reveals, “Knowing it was a stop motion puppet version of ‘Pinocchio’ was a really good feeling. When we made the marionettes, we had to make stop motion animatable versions of string puppets. Try and animate string! We made fully joined armature puppets which then we faked the string with elastic. It looks like string, but it’s just following the metal skeleton movements.”
The film mixes humor and heart with dark themes. Hayns reflects, “Puppetry has been an age of storytelling art form before cinema even existed. Puppetry is a way to overcome fear. If you can tell stories which makes the things that you are scared of seem less scary, then it’s a wonderful thing.” Hansen continues, “with animation you can transplant your own mind into these characters because they are not whole humans. Therefore you can fit into it. Some of the stuff that works really well with Pinocchio is because he is so simple. His face is very simple, so you sort of make up the rest. An animated character is a blank sheet you can put all of your emotion into.”