Isle of Dogs (2018) is a stop-motion film, set in a retro-futuristic Japan, that follows a gang of dogs exiled from Megasaki City to Trash Island, where they help a young boy track down his lost dog.
After the story was scripted, director Wes Anderson sketched each shot on loose paper, referencing Japanese filmmaker Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai (1954) and Yojimbo (1961), as well as Utagawa Hiroshige’s woodblock prints (in the ukiyo-e style), which storyboard artist Jay Clarke found naturally represented camera movements and merged into the storyboard style.
Clarke’s storyboards were then turned into a basic animation to help determine the rhythm of scenes, which guided the hundreds of animators who brought the stop-motion characters to life.
Wes Anderson’s films are known for their meticulous design and precise aesthetic. It’s not surprising, then, that he pays the same attention to detail in the style of design of his storyboards.
Isle of Dogs is Anderson’s second collaboration with Jay Clarke, following The Grand Exotic Budapest Hotel (2014). Clarke worked towards Anderson’s vision of Ukiyo-e woodblock prints by studying original works in the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum. He also re-storyboarded existing Kurosawa films to get a feel for how to capture their pace and tone.
Once completed, Jay Clarke’s storyboards were edited together by Edward Bursch into a type of video called an animatic, matching the storyboards to the voice actors’ dialogue. The animatic was crucial for perfecting the precise timing of the film before puppeteers began animating the film. As stop-motion animation can be a painstakingly slow process, it was vital to ensure every shot was planned with split-second timing.
You can see comparisons between some of the Kurosawa shots Anderson referenced, the storyboard by Jay Clarke, and the finished shot. The journey from influence, to design, to execution is strikingly clear.
The line between homage and theft can be blurry. When the film was released, Anderson faced strong criticisms of cultural appropriation for his use of Japanese cultural iconography and white saviour narratives.
– Assistant Curator Jim Fishwick