‘Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio’ is the reimagining of the classic tale of the little wooden puppet who longs to be a real boy. This version of the story begins with Geppetto living with his son Carlo, long before Pinocchio is created. Carlo lives a happy and carefree life and this is shown through the dappled sunlight that shines through the trees amongst which he plays. In one shot he is seen playing on a swing. Moments later he jumps off to watch the planes overhead, a reminder of the impending war, and foreshadowing the tragedy that will bring Pinocchio to life. As Lighting Camera Operator on Pinocchio, this was one of the scenes that I was responsible for.
Everything is connected
The shots of Carlo on the swing are a perfect example of the collaboration that is required in stop motion animation, as all the departments had to work in combination to get the shot the directors wanted. Carlo swings back and forth as the camera moves with him. The puppet is connected to part of the set, the swing, that’s rigged to the motion control motor, that’s connected to the camera, and then brought to life by the animator. There was even a light rigged to the camera for one of the swing shots as the proximity of the camera (which is a much larger scale than Carlo) meant that a lot of fill light was lost and had to be added back in. I used a small dragoneye light for this.
We knew we wanted to connect the camera and the swing for this shot so we were able to plan ahead. As soon as the set bases were put together, and the set dressing began, I was able to get into the unit and do a bit of a recce. I used Artemis to give me a good idea of the frame I wanted and the distance I needed the camera to be from the puppet. Lars C. Larsen, the rigger for this shot, was then able to work out the rig he would need to build. A lot of this could be built offset and in advance. He worked with Jason Ptaszek to design a rig that the camera could be attached to.
Putting it all together
The rig needed to incorporate a motor as the action was going to move frame by frame. The move had to be repeatable so that we could shoot any plates required. The motion had to feel as though it was coming from the fixed point where the swing was attached to the tree. The swing itself also needed to be attached to the rig and the puppet then had to look as though it was sitting on the swing. Carlo also needed to have a small amount of movement, that was separate to the camera, to allow his body to look as though it was creating the momentum for the swing and allowing Peggy Arel, the animator, to get the performance she wanted. We also needed to work out where to place the bulk of the rig, to create the least amount of shadows, while also giving Peggy the access she needed.
Planning the Lighting
The scene needed to look very idyllic and peaceful. I wanted the light to look very natural. It needed to feel as though Carlo was at the edge of the tree cover as there was about to be a shot where he looks up and sees planes traveling through a clearing in the branches. He also had to raise his hand to shield himself from the light. This was part of the action that had been worked out by Guillermo del Toro and Mark Gustafson as they worked on the animatic (timed storyboard). I also knew the mood that was required for the continuity of lighting throughout the film that had been planned by the Director of Photography Frank Passingham.
Dappled light is the most beautiful light, and lovely to create, but it is not always so straightforward in stop motion. It can move during the shot and this has to be allowed for. You are also creating it within a forest that isn’t real. Some of the trees on this set didn’t have treetops while others didn’t let any light through.This meant not only creating shadows but also adding light to areas that the key light couldn’t reach. I used a mixture of techniques to get the right look.
Creating Dappled Light
This was a lovely set and Sam Levy and Gillian Hunt did an amazing job of putting it all together. They created a wonderful forested landscape but so much of it is seen on camera that we couldn’t remove very many treetops for lighting. Towards the back of the set the trees were very dense and rather than shadowing the key light, I had to add extra light to the areas I wanted it to appear in. To create this light I used mini source fours and made dapple shaped gobos by using a pin to make holes in some black wrap. Where the key light did get through the trees, it wasn’t always the level I wanted. I had to put nets close to the set to cut this light down without affecting any other areas. To do this I had to disguise a few flag corners with the same material as the tree so they couldn’t be seen. In some areas I used it to give an extra layer of shadow to the net.
The area around Carlo is mostly lit by the key light. There are no treetops here as they are out of shot. I have a gobo with a shaped edge that gives darker patches for him to emerge from. The gobo shape is creating quite a distinctive shadow that would look artificial in the background, but in this area you are just seeing the pools of light as Carlo travels through them. I wanted distinct pools so they wouldn’t get lost within the movement. I attached ND to some areas of the gobo to create different light levels. I also had a frame with heatshield so that I could use black wrap to place shadows exactly where I wanted them. I needed to get these flags close enough to the set to create definition, while also leaving room for Peggy.
Working in stop motion means we are all used to working in small spaces, but our work, and our kit, is not usually quite so intertwined. Working together like this was both interesting and enjoyable. Everybody worked in combination for this shot and I think it turned out really well.