The Evolution of Disney: Frankenweenie Part II

Last time we explored Frankenweenie’s puppets and animation process behind the scenes. This time it’s all about the overall design — the production and costume design that is, which will give you an idea of just how extensive a stop animation feature is to make.


The look of Frankenweenie, like the story, was inspired by Tim Burton’s childhood, specifically the town of Burbank, CA where he grew up, as well as old horror movies and common Gothic motifs. Frankenweenie takes place in the town of New Holland which shares characteristics of Burbank around the 1970s with its classic cookie cutter idea of suburbia. Executive producer Don Hahn refers to the style as ” Transylvania meets Burbank”.

The production design was spearheaded by Rick Henrichs, who has worked previously with Burton on other films; he and his team studied 1970s architecture of the southwest, featuring tract-house style homes and other post-war periods to bring Burton’s vision of New Holland to life. The designer also based the fictional world on the original live-action short borrowing the expressionistic style and Gothic style of the black and white film to expand upon the look of New Holland.

After massive research, the designing began in November of 2009 in an L.A. studio before moving to the London studio to actually begin the long process of constructing the models, props, sets, and other decor.

The main challenge with stop motion or any feature using miniatures is finding the proper scale for the characters and sets they inhabit.  Out of all the sets, New Holland presented the biggest challenge for designers having to construct a whole town from scratch and Victor’s lab which required a lot mechanical wiring and hand lighting installations.

In total, about 200 sets were created for the film and the overall color scheme was a black and white to grayscale monochromatic look.

While you will notice the film uses many classic horror motifs such as the Windmill on the hill — which also had to be hand engineered — and the cemetery.


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Frankenweenie set (Walt Disney Pictures)
















Costumes and hair are a completely different beast in stop-motion, not only because of the scale but because like the sets — you have to create everything from scratch.  You can’t buy or rent clothes for production and hair can’t be styled or wigs purchased. Instead, it is a highly detailed process done by hand. For example to create the hair for each puppet someone must push individual strands of hair with a special needle into the puppet’s head to create a full wig. While the process of the costumes involves selecting fabrics and then making mockups for approval by the director before being hand sewn to size for each character.



Of course when your working with that many objects on such a small scale repeatedly things are likely to receive some wear and tear between shots. That’s why on set there is a “hospital” where it is someone’s job to make the puppets or sets brand new again. Kind of cool.


Here’s also a look at some of the concept art and sketches from the film.


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For more art and behind the scenes check out the visual companion book

( Images copyright of Walt Disney Pictures)


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 origina wasl story inspired from Burton’s own childhood and lost 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 2 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 with 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 be created. 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)