In 2022, animated features used many different techniques and looks to tells their stories, such as stop motion for “Marcel the Shell With Shoes On,” “Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio” and Henry Selick’s “Wendell & Wild.” There were more mainstream CGI features and 2D made a bit of a splash as well. Variety talked to some of the animators behind these films about their artistry.


When Fleischer-Camp first began to design his main character for “Marcel the Shell With Shoes On,” he did in-depth research on the science of cuteness and came across the idea that baby mammals often have wide set eyes and heads that are disproportionately large in relation to their bodies. 

“I thought there’s no more wide-set eye than just one eye by itself,” says Fleischer-Camp. “We did a little bit of a redesign for the feature and made it a little chunkier but it’s basically stayed the same.”

The helmer’s tale of an outsider in search of a home seemed a perfect fit for stop motion, with all its quirky, unique charm. He could never imagine telling it in another medium.

 “(Stop motion) is such an old craft and so much has stayed the same for so long,” says Fleisher-Camp. “I think that for whatever reason, it has been one of the last things to get disrupted and reconsidered in the digital age of special effects and visual effects. Now we have really easy and low lift access to things like rig removal and things that are that making the process easier, but also increase all kinds of applications and opportunities for stop motion. Doing ‘Marcel’ we were doing a ton of research and figuring stuff out. That was kind of unprecedented because the last time something like this had been attempted in a feature I think was ‘Monkeybone,’ which was way before people were growing up on After Effects and editing software. It made me feel like there are tons of really cool possibilities out there for not just stop motion, but also merging stop motion techniques with other types of techniques. And In ‘Robin Robin,’ I think that was the first time that I saw a use of layers. Basically, each shot in that movie, I think is 15 layers. So, I think it is an indicator of what’s to come and I hope it is a new revolution in stop motion.”


Del Toro has talked many times about his relationship with her father and how it has percolated through the films he loves and the films he makes. “Pinocchio” wasn’t completed until five years after his father’s death, but the influence is still there, deep in the storytelling.

“For a lot of people who look at what you do, you’re a director and there is a filmography but, for you, you’re a human being and it’s a biography,” says del Toro. “We really have family albums for the world to see. Some people say, ‘This is how I spent my vacation in Yosemite.’ We say this is how we spent the last decade and a half. This is how I spent the last 1,000 days shared with an incredible group of artists. I think when you tackle a movie with artists that understand how profound it is for you, you make it profound for them. Directing is making the experience profound for everyone. That’s really it. People rely on you to be an inspiration or a traffic cop. You say more magenta or less magenta, more cyan or move these over here. You say this is what the scene is about and this is what the puppet should be feeling. How are you going to show it? Tell me a little about it. And you take the time to talk to the animators like artists. 

“So, I think that when my father was kidnapped, and we rescued him in 1998, Something changed. He came out very fragile. All of a sudden I saw him like a human being, not my dad.

“The second big moment was in his final days, when I was able to sit by his side without him seeming like a giant, but just a person, and I understood things at an instinctual level. And these are things that you ask yourself and of yourself in public, with films like [“Pinocchio”], you know, and as one of the great mysteries of the universe, it’s the capacity we have to see each other and love each other.”


As a helmer, choreographer, screenwriter and dancer, Holmes worked on “The Pirate Fairy,” “Secret of the Wings” and “Mickey’s Twice Upon a Christmas” before “Luck.” It’s inside Skydance Animation that she found the opportunities to learn from fellow artists and refine her own work.

“I’ve been lucky enough to be at companies where I genuinely get to work on and develop stories with the people there,” says Holmes. “I think is what’s unique to animation is you create a studio where there are lots of artists and you start to create stories within that studio. You have different artists working on different stories possibly. It’s a great opportunity for more people to tell their stories. And that’s the idea that in animation, which is that you want to create an animation studio and a community of artists, that grow and develop over time, and you get that chance to be part of that community. Maybe that’s really where there’s a big difference in animation. You get a lot of guidance as you’re developing stories within the company. The studio is investing in artists and bringing creative teams together and investing in artists to see what can come from writing or developing an idea or being attached to a project. That’s where it really allows artists to flourish.”

Holmes also loves the opportunity to work with teams of artists who exchange feedback on work. She feels she’s learned from watching others grow their projects and the daily discussions on how story and animation are coming together.

“You’re seeing other artists’ work and you’re seeing their films and progress and it’s not always easy,” says Holmes. “I find it’s much easier to learn something when you’re looking at someone else’s film than your own, because it’s very hard to detach from what you’ve what you’re doing.”


Irish animation helmer and co-founder Cartoon Saloon, Twomey produced the lauded “Wolfwalkers” and her latest work as a director is “My Father’s Dragon,” a 2D animated adventure. As someone who took to animation early in her life, she thinks the medium appeals to a certain kind of artist.

“I often wonder about animation in general as to whether the type of people that attracts,” says Twomey. “To draw, you have to be able to listen. You have to be able to see properly you and you have to be able to make space in your in your in your brain for the for the unpredictable and the things that are not normal, things that are not what you would expect. I think in animation, there’s more of an openness. Not to say that’s always been the case at all. Even when I started out over 25 years ago, I think I was one of four women in my year in college. I think I’m the only one of those four that is still working in animation, but I’ve seen that over the years change. Now if I walk into a university classroom, it’s often mostly women that are that are there. My crew on my film were mostly women and a lot of the high-ranking jobs within that film like art director and head of animation were women. This would not typically be what you have had around 10 or 15 years ago. And it’s so much so that I started to take it for granted. I always wanted to have that be part of stories that are just that little bit different, and I think that by having a crew who aren’t all at a particular age or a particular gender or coming from a particular background, you have more voices and more interesting storytelling.”


As an iconic voice in stop motion, Selick has been dedicated to the medium for decades. With his latest “Wendell & Wild,” he partnered with Jordan Peele to create a story about grief and loss and parent/child relationships, punctuated by what he calls select “needle drops” from the Afropunk catalog. The film is just the latest unique story in a long line of quirky, specific tales.

“I was an animator at Disney drawing lots of cute little things,” says Selick. “But I’ve been involved in stop motion for a very, very long time and I was always drawn to stop motion. For ‘Wendell & Wild,’ we right up front got a PG13 rating, which is important. We asked for that in our deal because we wanted to be able to explore things a little bit further than what happens in most American animated films. There are lots of animated films out there where the parent is absent or the kid is an orphan but they don’t go as far as we did — where the kid carries this guilt and feels responsible for the parents’ death. This was new. It was tough to deal with in the story but it needed to be there. I think lots of people think kids can’t handle something like this in a story but very often they can. They see the world as it is so we should give them stories that reach them where they are. And animation isn’t just for nice kids stories that always have a happy ending where everything is wrapped up at the end. You can tell stories that are complicated, that don’t have stereotypical happy ending, that are complex. Stop motion is really good for that, too. It’s a medium that has a lot of imperfections built into it. The movements aren’t smooth like in CG. It’s very organic and really has the handprints of each artist on it.”


Japanese animation helmer and co-founder of the animation studio Science SARU, Yuasa has worked in both film and television through his career. His most recent work, “Inu-Oh,” was based on the novel “Tales of the Heike: Inu-Oh” by Hideo Furukawa and follows the friendship between a dancer and a blind musician. Yuasa spoke with Variety through a translator to discuss his perspective on animation.

“I’m in animation because the first job that I got was animation,” says Yuasa. “It’s true that it’s a place of endless possibility but it’s not easy to make. It’s not easy to do everything when you make an animation film or show, so there are some limits in what you as a person can do but I would like to keep on directing animation with an eye on that endless possibility. I hope to make more animation features and make them even better than before. I also want to get into different media as well like YouTube and I want to try to do projects for a kind of planetarium-style theater. Here [in Japan] everything is about surrounding yourself with the image. I’m also interested in VR. So, I will continue making like movies and TV but I also want to like get into trying to challenge myself with those different media. If there are some new ways for me to be able to entertain people, it could be streaming or movies, or more innovative ways to entertain people, that seems more interesting to me.”

Though he has an eye on working in new mediums, the challenge of telling an ancient story in “Inu-Oh” still fascinated him.

“I wanted to depict the how the lives were back then and 600 years ago, and because of animation that we could do that like a lot more realistically, in a way,” says Yuasa.  “I wanted people in the current world to understand so in order to do that I needed to have a more exaggerated art form to give the similar feeling that people back then had.”


Gustafson’s work in stop motion was legendary from the beginning. Early in his career he worked on commercials featuring the California Raisins. He later began working in features starting with Wes Anderson’s “Fantastic Mr. Fox.” He’s now co-director of “Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio,” where he collaborated with Guillermo del Toro during much of the pandemic on a feature that took 10 years to make.

“You can’t be objective immediately about the film you’re making and you have to know it’s really going to take time to be objective about what you’re working on,” says Gustafson. “You try and maintain your distance as much as possible when you’re making it because you have to make so many choices that have nothing to do with making the film. Practical decisions about scheduling and budgeting. That’s part of the discipline of making a film like this is understanding that your ideas must serve the story as opposed to some instant gratification for you. You have these moments of, ‘Oh, that’s a great idea!’ You get that all the time. And then you realize, I just can’t do that because I have this bigger thing that I have to honor.

“The pandemic was, actually, in some ways, a blessing for us because we’re able to refocus on the story without the weight of the production just driving forward on our backs. It all slowed down enough that we took a breath and Guillermo said, “Alright, let’s look at what we’re making.”

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