How the Astonishing Sushi Scene in Wes Anderson’s Isle of Dogs Was Animated: A Time-Lapse of the Month-Long Shoot

Since the moviego­ing pub­lic first start­ed hear­ing it twen­ty years ago, Wes Ander­son­’s name has been a byword for cin­e­mat­ic metic­u­lous­ness. The asso­ci­a­tion has only grown stronger with each film he’s made, as the live-action ones have fea­tured increas­ing­ly com­plex ships, trains, and grand hotels — to say noth­ing of the cos­tumes worn and accou­trements pos­sessed by the char­ac­ters who inhab­it them — and the stop-motion ani­mat­ed ones have demand­ed a super­hu­man atten­tion to detail by their very nature. It made per­fect sense when it was revealed that Isle of Dogs, Ander­son­’s sec­ond ani­mat­ed pic­ture, would take place in Japan: not only because of Japan­ese film, which opens up a vast field of new cin­e­mat­ic ref­er­ences to make, but also because of tra­di­tion­al Japan­ese cul­ture, whose metic­u­lous­ness match­es, indeed exceeds, Ander­son­’s own.

Most of us first expe­ri­ence that tra­di­tion­al Japan­ese metic­u­lous­ness through food. And so most of us will rec­og­nize the form of the ben­to, or meal in a box, pre­pared step-by-step before our eyes in Isle of Dogs, though we may nev­er before have wit­nessed the actu­al process of carv­ing up the wrig­gling, scur­ry­ing sea crea­tures that fill it.

One view­ing of this 45-sec­ond shot is enough to sug­gest how much work must have gone into it, but this time-lapse of its 32-day-long shoot (with­in a longer sev­en-month process to make the entire sequence) reveals the extent of the labor involved. In it you can see ani­ma­tors Andy Bid­dle (who’d pre­vi­ous­ly worked on Ander­son­’s The Grand Budapest Hotel, and before that his ani­mat­ed The Fan­tas­tic Mr. Fox) and Tony Far­quhar-Smith painstak­ing­ly posi­tion­ing and repo­si­tion­ing each and every one of the ben­to’s ingre­di­ents — all of which had to be spe­cial­ly made to look right even when chopped up and sliced open — as well as the dis­em­bod­ied hands of the sushi mas­ter prepar­ing them.

Shoot­ing stop-motion ani­ma­tion takes a huge amount of time, and so does mak­ing sushi, as any­one who has tried to do either at home knows. Per­form­ing the for­mer to Ander­son­ian stan­dards and the lat­ter to Japan­ese stan­dards hard­ly makes the tasks any eas­i­er. But just as a well craft­ed ben­to pro­vides an enjoy­able and uni­fied aes­thet­ic expe­ri­ence, one that would­n’t dare to remind the con­sumer of how much time and effort went into it, a movie like Isle of Dogs pro­vides thrills and laughs to its view­ers who only lat­er con­sid­er what it must have tak­en to bring such an elab­o­rate vision to life on screen. If you want to hear more about the demands it made on its ani­ma­tors, have a look at the Vari­ety video above, in which Andy Gent, head of Isle of Dogs’ pup­pet depart­ment, explains the process and its con­se­quences. “It took three ani­ma­tors, because it broke quite a few peo­ple to get it through the shot,” he says. “Sev­en months lat­er, we end up with one minute of ani­ma­tion.” But that minute would do even the most exact­ing sushi mas­ter proud.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Watch the New Trail­er for Wes Anderson’s Stop Motion Film, Isle of Dogs, Inspired by Aki­ra Kuro­sawa

The Geo­met­ric Beau­ty of Aki­ra Kuro­sawa and Wes Anderson’s Films

Wes Ander­son & Yasu­jiro Ozu: New Video Essay Reveals the Unex­pect­ed Par­al­lels Between Two Great Film­mak­ers

The His­to­ry of Stop-Motion Films: 39 Films, Span­ning 116 Years, Revis­it­ed in a 3‑Minute Video

How to Make Sushi: Free Video Lessons from a Mas­ter Sushi Chef

The Right and Wrong Way to Eat Sushi: A Primer

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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