From 'Ralph Breaks the Internet' to 'Isle of Dogs,' Production Design Sets the Stage for These Animated Contenders

12:20 PM 12/31/2018

by Carolyn Giardina

'Mirai,' 'Hotel Transylvania 3' and 'Tito and the Birds' are also featured in part one of this two-part series.

Courtesy of Disney

From Ralph's Internet to Isle of Dogs' Trash Island, production designers share the inspiration behind the work on some of this year's animated feature Oscar contenders. In part one of this two-part series, The Hollywood Reporter looks at Ralph Breaks the Internet, Isle of Dogs and Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation, as well as indie films Mirai and Tito and the Birds. (Part two will be appear in Behind the Screen on Jan. 2.)

  • Isle of Dogs


    Courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures

    For much of Wes Anderson’s futuristic Japan-set stop-motion Isle of Dogs, production designers Adam Stockhausen (an Oscar winner for Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel) and Paul Harrod took inspiration from Japanese cinema.

    “Some of the themes echo Kurosawa films, so we looked in particular at The Bad Sleep Well and High and Low, and I also used some ideas from Drunken Angel,” Harrod explains, adding that the pair also looked to the work of Yasujiro Ozu, as well as the  “tokusatsu” (special effects) and “kaiju” (monster) films of Ishiro Honda.

    Most of Isle of Dogs takes place on Trash Island, which is broken into zones, with each part of the story taking place in a different location where the character and color of the trash is also different, Harrod explains. “A lot of the framing and composition of the trash landscapes would be based on Ukiyo-e artists from the 1800s like Hiroshige and Hokusai. We would take what were essentially pastoral landscapes and translate them into trash heaps. And for the composition of the trash itself we looked at a lot of contemporary photography by Edward Burtynsky and Chris Jordan.”

    Beyond Japanese references, the work on Trash Island included some inspiration from Andrei Tarkovsky’s wastelands from Stalker.

  • Ralph Breaks the Internet: Wreck-It Ralph 2


    Courtesy of Disney

    In the sequel to this 2012 hit, Ralph and Vanellope take their adventures to the Internet, in search of eBay. In this image, they are seeing the Internet for the first time. "They're seeing how vast it is. It's also the first time the audience see what we call the Internet. It had to have the scale—feel huge," said Matthias Lechner, art director for environments.

    "You can see the connections between the websites: self-driving cars," he says, adding there are "buildings under construction because the Internet is always evolving."

    The team produced signage, hologram-like elements, short videos and gags such as "Java" coffee stands. There is a section with government information and banking. "It's full of stuff — just like the Internet."

    For inspiration, they visited CoreSite's massive LA1 data center housed at the One Wilshire building in downtown Los Angeles.

  • Tito and the Birds

    Shout! Studios

    Courtesy of Shout! Studios

    This Brazilian animated film, which premiered in competition at this year's Annecy International Animated Film Festival, tells the story of Tito, a shy 10-year-old boy who lives in a world on the brink of pandemic, where fear is crippling people, making them sick and transforming them.

    "This frame brings together in one single shot most of the techniques, strategies and intentions of the film: it has a dark mood, but with bright colors; cut-out characters in the forefront, Photoshop-designed characters in the back mixed with brush strokes to complete the crowd; expressionist distortions in the lines; stop motion with actual oil paint in the smoke and in the atmosphere — all this to express Tito's feelings at this moment in the film, with emergency red lights blinking and green smoke evoking fear. This is the low point of the hero's journey, when Tito is about to lose everything. The only thing he can hang on to are his ideas and his determination not to succumb to the fear disease — and, of course, the loyalty of the pigeons around him," report co-director, co-script writer and producer Gustavo Steinberg; co-director and art director Gabriel Bitar; and co-director Andre Catoto.


  • Mirai


    Courtesy of GKIDS

    This Japanese animated feature is a time-traveling story that follows a boy named Kun, whose life is turned upside down when his baby sister, Mirai, is born. In one key scene, Kun gets lost in Tokyo Station.

    Speaking with a translator, director Mamoru Hosoda says he wanted the design of a future Tokyo station to be "fantasy-like, while also having psychological and labyrinthine elements and keeping it architecturally beautiful by maintaining the domed shape of Tokyo Station."

    He adds that he was inspired by the exterior of the Musee d’Orsay in Paris, "which was revived from a station building into beautiful architecture. We decided to employ these ideas because the repeated pattern compacted on the surface of the walls was well-suited as the background for Kun’s feeling when he gets lost."

  • Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation

    Sony Pictures Animation

    Courtesy of Sony Pictures Animation

    In the third film in Sony Pictures Animation's Hotel Transylvania franchise, Drac and the gang take a monster cruise. "We didn't want to do a floating resort hotel. We wanted to go with something older and grander, especially since there's a lot of retro looks in the Hotel Transylvania movies," explains art director Christian Schellewald. "We looked at transatlantic ships from the '20s or '30s. We went and took pictures of the Queen Mary. So the romance of great Atlantic ocean liners was the main inspiration."

    And since it's a monster cruise, the team came up with a new collection of creatures of all shapes and sizes, which made scale a key challenge. "The monsters all had to be able to move about the ship, but the ship itself couldn't feel too small or too big. There was a lot of small adjustments and design, making sure the scale worked."