Oscar-nominated stop-motion animated short employs a total of 20 sets, 14 puppets, and roughly 1,000 props and costumes, all constructed within a three-month timespan.
Max Porter and Ru Kuwahata are the directors of Negative Space, the stop-motion animated short currently up for an Academy Award against Glen Keane’s Dear Basketball, MoPA’s Garden Party, Pixar’s LOU, and Magic Light Pictures’ Revolting Rhymes.
Depicting a father-and-son relationship through the act of packing a suitcase, Negative Space was produced by Ikki Films and Manuel Cam Studio in France. It’s the fourth professional short film from the Baltimore, MD-based filmmakers, who have collaborated for more than a decade as Tiny Inventions. Based on a 150-word prose poem by Ron Koertge, the five-and-a-half-minute adaptation employs handmade stop-motion animation to bring visual metaphor and subtext to the original words.
Here’s a behind-the-scenes look at the intricately designed short, which comprises a total of 20 sets, 14 puppets -- including four tiny puppets employed for a wide shot, and a giant hand -- and roughly 1,000 props and costumes, all constructed within a three-month timespan.
Read AWN’s Q&A with the filmmakers on the making of Negative Space, below, and take a look at the nearly 30 stills and behind-the scenes images in the carousel above.
How many sets were created?
There were 20 sets in total and we only had three months to construct sets, props and puppets fabrication. We also had to consider the way that the sets would break down, as we knew that we’d be moving several times during the production. The exterior city scene, for example, was designed with large interlocking jigsaw puzzle pieces that could be easily assembled and disassembled.
How long did it take to build each set?
It ranged from three days to two weeks depending on the scale and detail of the set, and we had between three and four people working at any given time. Often we made an assembly line to maximize efficiency; we had to make thousands and thousands of wood floorboards, and each one was fabricated and distressed by hand. Set decorators, Marion Lacourt and Victoria Tanto, introduced us to French podcasts that were helpful for those types of tasks.
How many puppets were created?
We made a total of 14 puppets, 4 tiny puppets for a wide shot, and one enormous hand. To save time and money, we actually reused the ball & socket armature of the main character and the father, just swapping out the heads and clothing. The puppet heads were sculpted out of air-dry clay and then resin casted for durability. The arms and legs of the characters were made out of foam latex and lead wire. Because of the toxicity, lead isn’t used very often anymore in stop-motion, but it’s still the favored material of Satoru Yoshida, a Japanese puppet maker, who created the main character. Yoshida-san also shared words of wisdom at the beginning of the production, “Always do what you love to do.”
How many costumes were created?
I tried to count by watching the film but I couldn’t quite figure this out. We had a template for a sock, a shirt and pants, and with menswear, there aren’t a lot of options so everything is variation of those three patterns. Some of the props were made at three or four different sizes and the largest props were real world scale. It was a fun challenge to create something large enough to wear that still had the feel of a hand-crafted miniature. In order to control the scale differences, we dyed or painted all the fabric by hand and meticulously created identical patterns. We only purchased white cotton & linen as our raw material; this way we could control the exact color and texture for every scene.
After dying the larger pieces, we laid the fabric out to dry in the field in front of Ciclic Animation in Vendôme where we prepared all the props, sets and puppets. People passing by were interested in what we were doing and we had the sense that local people were interested in animation.
How many props were created?
That’s tough to say. For the funeral scene, we made a total of 60 chairs, but it’s listed as just a single piece in our prop list. I’d estimate between 500 and 1,000 individual pieces in the film.
How many frames were shot?
The final animation is very close to our animatic. Of course, there are additional frames that were tossed out in the final edit and we ended up cutting one shot entirely.
With our schedule, we didn’t have any wiggle room for reshoots and tried to be efficient in planning, preparing, and communication so as to not have any wasted footage.
Ron Koertge’s original poem was efficient in its economy of words, and we tried to apply those principles in our storytelling and production.
How long did it take to produce each second of animation?
This changed depending on the complexity of the shot, but we average three seconds per day.
It often took about a few hours to dress the sets, then another half a day to a full day for our cinematographer, Nadine Buss and Simon Gesrel, to finalize the lighting and atmosphere. We usually spent a full day setting up rigging and planning the animation with pop-tests and x-sheets. Then, the animation itself took between 1-5 days to animate depending on the complexity of the shot. It was interesting to see the different approaches of the animators: Our lead animator, Sylvain Derosne was very careful with research, planning and rigging. He stuck carefully to what was planned in the blocking.
Our second animator, Eric Montchaud, was more spontaneous and preferred to animate without as much planning. It was good reminder that animators are actors, after all, and each has a different method to get into character.