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 Part I: Maleficent


By now we’ve seen the stories that made us cry, that shaped who we are, that made us laugh. We have seen the impossible become possible; that dreams really do come true; that there is always something bigger or better; and that some, yes, live happily ever after. This is the magic of Disney, that brings us back every time.

The magic that found its roots in traditional animation, learned to embrace 3D animation, and changed fairy tales into live-action adventures; quite unlike anything ever seen before.

Over the next few months, I will explore the evolution of Disney, providing a closer look inside the films — from present to past — and possibly what else Walt Disney Studios has in store for the future.



Enchanted(Walt Disney Pictures)


PART I: Live Action

The Walt Disney Studios has a long history with live action films, which began in 1950 with Treasure Island, followed by the beloved classic Mary Poppins, and other features like Honey I Shrunk the Kids, The Mighty Ducks, and recently Pirates of the Caribbean. So venturing into live-action features is nothing new for the studio. However, adapting their animated classics into live-action films is relatively new and it all began with the success of the film Enchanted.

Enchanted, was a new endeavor by Disney released in 2007, based on the idea of happily ever after crossing from fantasy to real-life. The success of Enchanted allowed Disney to explore other fairytale adaptations for a new generation, leading to the current slate of upcoming films for release including: Into the Woods, Maleficent, and Cinderella.

For this part 1 series I will focus on Maleficent, which hits theater May 30, so be sure to see it!






Everyone knows and possibly loves the story of Sleeping Beauty, but what about the story of one of Disney’s greatest villains Maleficent. Was she really evil? If so, what turned her heart to stone? This is what the new film will hopefully finally answer for curious fans craving a twist on the beloved tale.

But alas we must wait …so until all is revealed on May 30, I will focus on the costumes which in my opinion are just as iconic as Michelle Pfeiffer’s Catwoman or Charlize Theron’s queen in Snow White and the Huntsman.

The costumes designed by Oscar nominated Anna B. Sheppard, who has worked on such films as Schindler’s List and The Pianist, based the costumes on medieval and renaissance period history and art, in addition to the original Disney designs by animator Marc Davis from the animated classic. From there Sheppard and Angelina Jolie, who plays Maleficent, created the look of the character alongside a brilliant team of designers.

You may notice that the costumes for Maleficent are very sculptural and reminiscent of Lady Gaga — one of the designers actually created pieces for the artist in the past.

As for the fabrics, they are a combination of “floaty” and heavier textiles including some furs, leathers, and feathers.

In short, this was a massive collaboration by a very talented group of designers, including Justin Smith, Rob Goodwin, and Manuel Albarran. The headwear was designed by milliner Justin Smith, with Jolie’s input and was inspired by turban or head wrap styles, animalistic elements, and rope knotting. Altogether there are six different headpieces seen throughout the film.

While the footwear was constructed by Rob Goodwin, who added reptilian and scale like influences into the designs. As for the accessories, collars, and final fight scene costume they were designed by Manuel Albarran who designed the spines you will see on Jolie’s character in the film.

Their work collectively created the dark, yet hauntingly beautiful, and elegant Maleficent, that will surely be remembered for years to come.






Recreating ‘Gravity’: How Innovation Paved the Way to Oscar

Sandra Bullock in Light Box

Dr. Stone(Bullock) in Light Box;Warner Bros

In honor of the 86th Academy Awards I am highlighting ‘Gravity’ 10 time nominee and winner of 7 Oscars. As a film of technological wonder and monumental undertaking that has redefined the craft of filmmaking and probably will for years to come. Sadly, I missed the opportunity to see its greatness on the big screen, but hey there’s always Redbox.

Nevertheless, a glance through the images and video online quickly drew this beautiful space story into perspective and its not surprising that it has taken the world and Hollywood by storm.

This Oscar winning film was made possible by the ingenious collaboration of director Alfonso Cuaron (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban), Cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki (Children of Men, Tree of Life), and Visual Effects Supervisor Tim Webber (Framestore), who together revolutionized the process of filmmaking. Something they managed to accomplish by inventing and combining new and old technologies. The first, a light box, which essentially was a large LED projection cube that helped to realistically recreate the environment for the actors, while helping to properly illuminate the scene. The idea was inspired by similar technology used in concerts.


George Clooney and Sandra Bullock with director


LED Light Box made of panels

In addition they created robotic rigs that enabled them to recreate the feeling of zero gravity and create the illusion of the actors moving in space; most of which was controlled by a team of puppeteers. While the sequences actually involved only the camera moving.


Robotic rig that tilted Sandra Bullock up to 45


wireframe rendering of shuttle interior


Shaded CG rendering- stereo camera rig

However, the most amazing thing about ‘Gravity’ is the way it was created by merging live action and CG animation. Most of the film, probably unknown to audiences, was hand-animated in the computer from the beginning through the completion of the film. Unlike most films which are post-effects only.

This process was only made possible by pre-visualizing the whole film prior to any actual production taking place and for those unfamiliar with the process it’s basically a pre-planning, 3D storyboard tool used to plan out the shots, timing, and animation before production begins, giving one a sense of what it might look like. It is also a great tool to see what technical problems might arise. Interestingly too ‘Gravity’ doesn’t use a green screen at all, as it would affect the light quality and composite.

On the whole the visual effects shots were primarily handled by Framestore in London whose work is featured in such films as the Harry Potter Films, Children of Men, and Iron Man 3. While in addition effects companies Prime Focus, Third Floor, and Rising Sun also contributed to the final VFX shots.

Overall the project was a massive undertaking taking four to six years to make, but it all paid off in the end. Not only with accolades, but by advancing the art and technology of filmmaking.

For a more detailed breakdown or look at how Gravity was created check out the links below.




(Images Warner Bros.)