Made in Portland: Behind the scenes with ShadowMachine

Row of stop-motion artists working in two rows in a warehouse space

Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio was made through the collaboration of hundreds of artists right here in Portland at ShadowMachine animation studios. 

ShadowMachine co-founder and 2020 Cinema Unbound Awards honoree Alex Bulkley shares more about who ShadowMachine is, the studio’s deep connection and commitment to Portland artists, and how they maintained connection, “outside-the-box creativity,” and innovation during a time of COVID to bring this storyworld to life.  

Tell us about ShadowMachine—what is it and why is it important to have it here in Portland?

Alex Bulkley: ShadowMachine is an award-winning animation studio that specializes in world-building and comedy-craft. The company’s 2015 expansion into the Pacific Northwest provided the unique opportunity to work within one of the most exciting and powerful animation communities on earth. Portland, Oregon, is home to some of the best stop-motion artists, animators, designers, and technicians working in the format today.

How did you become involved in Pinocchio

In 2012, Lisa Henson from the Jim Henson Company introduced us to Guillermo del Toro. After a brief visit to our Los Angeles-based animation studio, the synergy with Guillermo was clear. His adaptation of Pinocchio was born through an amazing collaboration with The Jim Henson Company, ShadowMachine, and ultimately, Netflix.

What was it like to work with Guillermo and the team, especially during COVID? 

Guillermo’s vision for Pinocchio attracted not only the great talents of Mark Gustafson, but the most incredible crew including world-renowned puppet builder Georgina Hayns, the amazing cinematographer Frank Passingham, award-winning composer Alexandre Desplat, art director Rob DeSue, and production designers Guy Davis and Curt Enderle,
amongst others. 

It was an absolute dream team, which made the process of production that much more exciting and meaningful—it was artistic performance at its highest level. As directors, Guillermo and Mark required 100% from the crew 100% of the time, and the crew delivered. Guillermo is a master filmmaker, and given that this was his first time directing an animated film, his collaboration with Gustafson provided a critical balance in both story and execution. 

What none of us could ever anticipate or had experienced before was the COVID-19 pandemic. Not only did we continue production despite this major disruption, but with the incredible support of Netflix and the sheer will of the crew, I believe the film came out stronger in spite of it. 

This film is a testament to the fortitude, resilience, determination, out-of-the-box creativity, and great camaraderie that blossomed in the face of disaster. I’m not sure who to attribute this quote to, but it became a production mantra on this film and couldn’t be more true of our process: “Extracting beauty from adversity.”

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