The Evolution of Disney: Frankenweenie Part I




Disney has a wealth of films that are specifically Disney or Pixar, but every now and then Disney partakes in a new film relationship with a big producer or director from outside the fold . One of the best re-established relationships is with former Disney alum Tim Burton, who created films like The Nightmare Before Christmas, Sleepy Hollow, Batman Returns, Big Fish, and most recently Frankenweenie.

Frankenweenie — for those of you unfamiliar with its history — comes from an early live-action attempt by Tim Burton in 1984(link to film on youtube) when he was working for Disney, that was originally rejected. The basis of the story was about a boy bringing his beloved dog back to life; the original story inspired from Burton’s own childhood and loss of his pet Pepe and Universal’s 1931 film Frankenstein. However, the dog featured is of course a different breed. While overall the film cost Disney about $1 million dollars to make and was 30 minutes long. At the time Tim Burton was only 25 years old.

Moving forward Burton expanded on his original short turning it into an stop motion 3D full-length feature with a richer storyline, featuring 1930s horror classic homages.

The updated story itself follows the story of Victor, who would rather explore his passion for science and shooting his dog Sparky on Super 8 films than make friends.  Until one day Sparky dies unexpectedly and Victor turns all his attention to bring his dog back to life, which he manages to do only to unleash new horrors upon the town of New Holland when others learn his secret of reanimation.



Animation and Puppetry

Frankenweenie took about two years to create and approximately 400 crew members and relied on many of Burton’s original drawings and concepts from his original live-action short. While also borrowing from 1930s horror classics using the style and names of many of the characters.





The film was created using Burton’s signature medium of stop-motion animation, which is a very long and painstaking process using highly detailed, hand art methods that create animation by moving each character or object by hand to create a shot, which is 24fps and amounts to about one shot per a week.

The total team of animators altogether consisted of 33 people led by Trey Thomas and relied on the Disney approach of extensive research through studying the dogs and locations in person or by bringing them into the London studio to capture everything accurately.

Overall more than 200 puppets were created and multiple duplicates and parts of all the characters were created so that animators could work simultaneously on scenes. The process for each puppet or character basically began with a sketch that was turned into a maquette(clay-mockup), which was then caste to create a mold from which an armature could then be created for. In simple terms — they basically created a skin from clay and skeleton from metal and wire parts and gears to animate the figures.





To give you an idea it takes about 3 days to create Sparky once designs are approved and most of the details on Sparky are then hand painted on.

You can watch a video here for a more detailed look at and I’ll showcase more behind the scenes hopefully next week featuring the production design and costumes from the film.

(Images copyright of Disney)