Design is Going to the Dogs
Anyone who is familiar with Wes Anderson’s work knows that his eye for design is one of the key components of his unique style, setting his films apart into a class of their own. His heavily stylized aesthetic is imbued in every detail of every shot; composition, set, costume all work synergistically to create a special universe for his films to exist within.
So it’s no surprise that Anderson’s highly anticipated ninth feature-length film, “Isle of Dogs,” is chock-full of fun and well-executed design work. What surprised me about the film, however, was how much my particular domain as a graphic designer who works primarily in the static, two-dimensional world of branding, overlapped with Hollywood design work in this case. Obviously, design concepts fluidly transcend mediums and disciplines, uniting disparate art forms such as architecture and fashion with ease—there’s an element of design in any work of art and visa versa—but this film is real treat for graphic designers in particular. It was fun and refreshing for me to see typography, branding and packaging design playing an integral role in the overall look and style of a work of fiction like this.
The fact that “Isle of Dogs” is a stop-motion animation film rather than live action obviously opened wide the door for custom graphic design to enter into the equation, seeing as all of the elements seen on screen were actually miniature models rather than real life objects. However, Anderson has a history of bringing graphic design into the forefront of his work; his last feature, “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” prominently featured a range of design elements, from government documents and currency for a fictitious country to the iconic pink packaging for Mendl’s bakery.
Given the bilingual nature of “Isle of Dogs,” which is set in a fictional, futuristic Japanese city, the beautiful pictorial characters of the Japanese language played a large part in the film’s bold typography-centric style. Beyond the language duality, the entire film functions as an homage of sorts to Japanese culture and cinematic history (leading to some debate about cultural appropriation among critics). Lead graphic designer Erica Dorn grew up in Japan and speaks both Japanese and English fluently, so her unique background and skillset perfectly positioned her for the job. And what a job it was. She has said in interviews that she estimates that she designed many thousands of set pieces for the visually rich film during her more than two years devoted to the project. Check out Erica’s website here to see more of her great work and go see “Isle of Dogs” for an eye-popping cinematic intersection of art, storytelling and design.