Skip to main content

How Stop-Motion Animators Created Guillermo del Toro's Pinocchio

"Guillermo really wanted it to be a sort of Frankenstein-eqsue creation story." Guillermo del Toro's Pinocchio's puppet fabrication supervisor Georgina Hayns shows us how she make puppets for stop-motion animated films. How do you show the animated evolution of the wooden boy who has never learned to walk? From 3D printed joints to animated face replacement, Georgina takes us through her process of creating practical stop-motion puppetry for the animated Netflix film.

GUILLERMO DEL TORO’S PINOCCHIO is available to stream now on Netflix,

Director: Jackie Phillips
Director of Photography: Paul Ramsey
Editor: Mana Tagami
Talent: Puppeteer: Georgina Hayns
Producer: Ashley Hall
Line Producer: Jen Santos
Associate Producer: Emebeit Beyene
Production Manager: Natasha Soto-Albors
Production Coordinator: Jamal Colvin
Director of Director of Talent: Lauren Mendoza
Camera Operator(s): Collin Lyons, Richard Lyons
Sound: John Gurney
Production Assistant(s): Chad Saddler
Post Production Supervisor: Edward Taylor
Post Production Coordinator: Jovan James
Supervising Editor: Kameron Key
Assistant Editor: Billy Ward

Released on 03/02/2023


You always hope, of course, that nobody is thinking

about what's going on inside the coat.

There's all of these ball and socket joints

and wires articulating it.

All of this is to really trick the viewer

into believing that the puppet has got a weighted real coat,

and that it's moving just how you would expect it to.

My name is Georgina Hayns.

I'm the Puppet Fabrication Supervisor

at On Guillermo del Toro's Pinocchio.

What I'm gonna talk to you about today is how

do you make puppets for a stop motion animated film?

They love me, they accept me!

Ah, enough of this.

In design and concept,

it came from this amazing illustrator, Gris Grimly.

And you know, in our version of the story,

when Geppetto is actually creating him,

he's actually been drinking a little too much.

And so half of him is almost perfectly carved,

and the other half is just sort of left half carved.

When he first comes into being,

Guillermo really wanted it to be

a kind of Frankenstein-esque sort of creation story.

So when you first see Pinocchio walking,

he doesn't know how to walk.

He's a wooden boy that's never walked before.

So he evolves as a character and he becomes more humanistic

in his characteristics, but he never becomes human,

and he never wants to become a boy.

[dramatic music]

There was different puppet makings groups

that came together.

The two main groups was Shadow Machine in Portland

and MacKinnon and Saunders in England,

and MacKinnon and Saunders had been working

with 3D printed metal.

This back plate of the puppet is all 3D printed in metal.

All of the wood grain, the nails on the back,

that all comes out of the metal printer.

And then the internal sort of spine structure,

this is all for rigging because Pinocchio is so active,

he's jumping, he's flying

he's doing all these crazy things.

He's dancing.

The rigging department would use

all of these square sections,

and we'd have separate sort of extra plates

that we could put on with a hole on the side.

And then from that we made metal armature parts

for the arms and the legs and the feet,

which then had ball and socket joints, or 3D printed joints.

So all of his sort of shoulder and hip joints

which were actually part of his design,

we used, again, the 3D metal printing technique

to create this perfectly engineered

kind of like ball and socket joint that didn't look like

one of our standard ball and socket joints

that were used for puppets,

but looks like the design of Pinocchio.

Most of the characters in our movie,

most of the human characters,

we use silicon and tiny head mechanics

to articulate their heads.

But with Pinocchio, because he's a wooden boy

and because he's got wood grain,

we actually did an early test

and the silicon looked like rubber.

It didn't read as wood at all.

You got the detail of the wood grain,

but it just the minute it moved, it didn't read as wood.

So we decided to do him,

and he's like the only full replacement puppet on the show

One which belonged to a very special boy.


Replacement animation is where you're

literally moving the mouth shapes and the eyes

frame by frame by taking masks off.

So each mask has a different shaped mouth and eyes.

So we 3D printed all of these masks.

So you model the face in the computer,

and you then animate, you sort of meld that face

into the shapes you want and then you print it out.

I think that's what makes him really believable

as a wooden boy next to all these human characters.

When we're doing replacement faces,

we generally cut the face in half

so that we can get eyebrow expression

and mouth expression in separate parts,

and then we'll just erase the line

with a computer afterwards.

But our little Pinocchio has got wood grain

crossing where that line would go,

and he hasn't really got eyes.

You know, the design of him is the eyes are a negative.

They're actually tiny little holes.

We were just racking our brains.

How are we going to give him eye expression

as well as mouth expression

without having to print thousands and thousands of faces?

We noticed the original design on the face,

his eyes essentially are held within wooden knots.

So the knot that you would get when you cut into some wood.

We went to Guillermo and said

well if we can kind of join the outer shape of the knot,

we could actually have those as another replacement part.

So rather than separating it from top to bottom

as a face and and having a straight line,

why don't we use the wood grain,

the wood grain of the knots.

And we ended up having replacement plug-in eyes,

with the replacement masks of the face.

And then of course the nose has to animate as well

because his nose grows and turns into branches and things.

So that was another separate part.

I am not lying!

Each of Pinocchio's noses has a square hole

that is actually printed into the nose

and the head core of Pinocchio has a square peg,

a metal square peg that is projecting

out of the front of the face.

So essentially it allowed us to literally

slide any nose shape over the steel square peg.

And that's what allowed us to replace the noses

for the nose growing into the twig,

the nose growing into the tree sequence.

Because it was a steel square peg and it was attached firmly

into the core of the head of the puppet,

it actually allowed for quite a lot of weight

to go onto that face before we had to then rig it from,

you know sort of externally rig the puppet.

And then if you need to take the face plate off

and change it with another expression,

again you have to take the nose off.

And then you literally take the whole face plate.

The eyes are separate plugins,

so they come out, and then you slide a new face,

and the nose helps locate where that face is going to be.

And then you get whichever eyes go with that sequence,

and you plug your eyes in.


Guillermo's version of Pinocchio is very Geppetto heavy.

Guillermo wanted him to be the most expressive

of the human characters.

Traditionally, most puppets that I myself have worked on,

and MacKinnon and Saunders especially have worked on

are more sort of humanoid head mechanic puppets.

So head mechanics is where you have a silicon skin

that sits over what looks a little bit like a skull,

but instead of having muscles moving the skin,

there's tiny little articulated

ball and socket joints and gears.

So the strings sometimes that are cast

into the corners of the mouths,

which are then sort of they go into the head

into a little gear system

which has cranks and Allen key accesses through the ear.

We were really lucky with him,

that he has a beard and a mustache and he's older.

So when you're sculpting characters like that,

and you've got creases already embedded

into the structure of the face,

that helps silicon skin sort of crease in the right place.

But underneath his skin is this elaborate

sort of like collection of lip paddles.

So he's got four lip paddles in that sit into his mustache.

So he has two outer lip paddles that can move his mustache

you know, and sort of smile and frown.

And then he has two inner lip paddles

that can get the ooh expression of the top lip.

And then on the bottom jaw he's got, again,

four lip paddles that sit in the bottom lip.

Once you've got the skin sitting over the mechanics,

and you've got the articulation of the face working,

all of these characters have some kind of hair,

whether it be facial hair or whether it be,

sort of hair on their head or wigs or whatever.

So we decided it was gonna be a hybrid between sculpted hair

and then fine strands of like a mohair.

I don't have time or patience enough

to explain that to you.

I think the most challenging part

of all of the characters across the board was the eyes.

It's not just solely the eyes,

it's the way that the eyes interact with the eyebrows.

We wanted the eyeballs themselves to have depth,

to feel almost human.

We made most of our eyeballs with rapid prototype

3D printed core, which we then put an iris pupil graphic on,

and then dropped the whole thing into a mold

and embedded it in clear resin to get the lens quality.

So this is the scary sharp tool that the animators

would go in with to animate and move the eyes.

So each movement of the puppet,

each frame that the animator is gonna take,

they're moving the eyeball and the pupil and the iris

literally sort of a couple of millimeters

and you know, an eighth of an inch at a time.

And then they're also having to go in and move the blink.

So I'm moving the lower blink here,

and each movement take a frame of film,

then move the eye blink down, take a frame of film.

Only day that our cacophonous carnival will-

All our puppets, of course have a wardrobe, have costumes.

So with a character like Count Volpe

that has this long flowing coat,

with all the fabrics, we have to think about

the scale of the weave and what is the fabric

that's gonna sort of cheat the human eye,

so that you believe with Count Volpe

he's wearing a tweed coat.

You can see here if I move his coat without intention,

it springs back.

And that's because it has wires which are laced into it

all the way around the outside.

They also link into the sort of the body of the puppet.

So we call it grounding those wires,

so that the wires have something to move from.

And this is really how the animator frame by frame

gets that feel of flow of fabrics.

As I see it, you were charged with a terrible burden.

We wanted these puppets to be

practical stop motion puppets.

So we figured out the scale

of how large can we make the creatures

so that an animator can actually still move them

frame by frame.

The nice thing with Guillermo's designs

for his creatures is that they're stylized.

There's a lot going on, but they are quite stylized.

So we were able to sculpt all of the wings

on the front surfaces, and then on the back surfaces

we actually chose a fur fabric we found

which was almost scale like that was inspired

by the bark that we were using as well.

It was early days that some tests with cardboard,

sort of layering of cardboard were done for bark

and shingles and things like that.

And they were very inspiring

to how we ended up doing the scales and the the fur

and the feathers on the creatures.

[water crashing] [creature bellowing]

What was lovely about the dogfish is when when we made her

she was perfect for foam latex.

So foam latex is something that we often just use

on the inside of a puppet,

and we don't use it for skin anymore

because it has a wrinkly quality.

And turns out when you are making a dogfish for Pinocchio,

that wrinkly quality is perfect.

What we are able to do when we're building the creatures

is embrace all of the techniques that we'd learned

throughout our careers

and used the best technique depending on

which creature we were working on.

It was about making these creatures as believable

and as lightweight and as animatable as possible.

So we really did pull

all of our knowledge together on those.

And they were fun, they were super fun to make.

You will stay here with me a little longer

each time you cross, until the end of time.