Shot in Three Mills Studios in East London, Wes Anderson’s new film Isle of Dogs brings metabolist architecture to the big screen, showcasing the works of Kengo Tanze in a furry dystopian future.
HEKKTA got a little excited when we heard there was a new old-school animation film hitting the big screen, and even more excited at the fact it is being directed by Wes Anderson. Our favourite animation of this style would have to be Wallace and Gromit and watching how long these films can take, moving each figurine just a fraction and take thousands of thousands of pictures just for a conversation, you can see why there aren’t as many any more.
But Wes Anderson certainly did not let this take away from his amazing sets for his new film. Inspired by the metabolist architecture movement in Japan, the production designer Paul Harrod looked to architect Kengo Tanze’s futuristic structures as a blueprint for the incredible sets in the animation.
Metabolist architecture is a very intriguing style that we enjoy at HEKKTA. Covering Blachford’s project Nihon Noir previously, we explained the futuristic feel Tokyo has thanks to these remarkable buildings. As Wes Anderson has his new picture in a Japanese dystopian future, the metabolist structures are the perfect inspiration.
Set designer Paul Harrod explains his thoughts behind the film’s 240 sets and 44 stages, which were shot at Three Mills Studios in east London.
“The aesthetic was 20 years in the future, but it’s not 20 years from our future,” Harrod told Dezeen. “It’s 20 years from some past point, like if you tried to think of Japan in 1963 and imagine 20 years from that future or past.”
“There is something distinctly Japanese about it that feels specific to the place, so we tried as much as possible to make those things that were representing this fictitious version of Japan feel Japanese,” Harrod said.
“The metabolists weren’t throwing out the history of Japanese design.”
The film is split between two main areas, Megasaki City and Trash Island, and the story follows a boy on his quest to find his dog Spots, who has been banished from Megasaki City to Trash Island along with the entire dog population of Japan following an outbreak of dog flu.
Harrod continues, “The depiction of Megasaki City is a combination of metabolist and more run-of-the-mill kinds of skyscrapers and buildings”.
“Then we combine that in the wide shots of Megasaki City with Old Town, which is essentially a neighbourhood that you see in the foreground of the establishing shot, and which is relatively unchanged in the last 100 years. It’s old pre-war Japan in its aesthetic.”
Trash City was going to be a very different aesthetic, that of baron wasteland and to in order to make this, they came up with some creative methods. Harrod and his team used materials like plastic screws and old machine parts to form the environment of Trash Island, which was made to look “gritty” and “distorted”.
They also created toxic fumes and clouds using cotton wool, and to make the puddles they would wrap perplex with cling film. These are technique that Harrod says are age-old favourites in animation set design.
“We would superimpose those two very different things on one another and the idea following from the work that they do – we were aestheticising the trash,” he explained.
“We pretty much ran the gambit of model-making techniques there is in this film. You have the contrast between Trash Island, which is very gritty and is a big ruin essentially, with abandoned amusement parks and an animal testing plant which has long been abandoned,” explained Harrod.
“Then you contrast that with Megasaki City, which is very bright and clean. The reason for that is that they’ve decided to take all their waste and dump it on this island. So there’s a bit of futuristic element to Megasaki City.”