Despite what you may think Antony Elworthy assures me he does not have the patience of a saint.

"A lot of people assume that when you are a stop motion animator you have to have a lot of patience," he says from his homebase in Christchurch. "Not so much really."

As lead animator on Wes Anderson's new film Isle of Dogs, Elworthy was responsible for bringing life to the hundreds of puppets - both canine and human - that make up its cast.

This appears to be pain-staking and precise work. The craft of stop-motion animation requiring the animators to make miniscule manipulations and minute adjustments to purpose built puppets in order to fill them with life, movement and soul.


It feels like incredibly disciplined work. But Elworthy says that in animation terms it's pleasingly quick. And that's what appealed to him.

"Contrary to what people think you get instant results from your work. If you stand there and animate for two or three hours than you've got a second of two of finished animation," he explains. "You don't get that in computer animation. It's never finished. You can keep going back and tweaking and improving ad nauseum. Dealing with notes from a director, if you're a CG animator, that's what would require patience."

Elworthy, who has been working in stop motion animation for around 15 years, has a hugely impressive CV. His credits include the dark fantasy Coraline, the Bafta-winning Kubo and the Two Strings and Tim Burton's Academy Award-nominated movies Corpse Bride and Frankenweenie.

But his start was much more humble and epitomises the classic Kiwi 'give it a go' mentality.

"I decided I'd like to try animation so I made a short film," he says. "I wanted to experiment so I tried a few different media within that. I found stop motion was the most immediate. I got instant results. I found drawing frame by frame too slow and tedious."

This got him noticed in the small world of stop motion animation and was the first step of a journey that's taken him from his garage and into the whimsical world of Wes Anderson, which has been a long held ambition for the animator.

"The first time I met Wes was very informal," he recalls. "He came down to the studios for a bit of a look around and to meet everybody."

"I love his films, particularly Fantastic Mr Fox," he continues, referring to Anderson's first stop motion film. "I was always disappointed that I didn't have the chance to work on that one. So I jumped on the chance to work on Isle of Dogs."

He's one of the most idiosyncratic and brilliant directors around, with a signature style that is instantly identifiable, so how does Wes Anderson work? It turns out it's a little different than his human pictures.

"He prefers to do his directing and discussion of the film and specific shots via email," Elworthy says. "He lays it down and there will be backwards and forwards. It's easier for him if he's at a remove as he can have a lot of things going on at once. This way he's not tied down too much."

Elworthy says that Anderson would check in on set occasionally to discuss various scenes and shots but because of the time involved it makes sense for him to be a little removed from the day-to-day.

How did this compare with his work for Tim Burton?

"Tim Burton is like Wes in that he prefers to be off-site. He has an animation director who is familiar with the nuts and bolts of animation and is an intermediary between us and him. Tim is amazingly removed from it. He gives that animation director a long leash and then towards the end of the film he'll come in and tighten everything up. Whereas Wes is involved in every shot. He has a strong idea of what he wants. We'd send video and images and he'd get out a digital pen and move things around and say to an infinitesimal degree what changes he'd like. He's very explicit in that way."

This removed yet hands on approach ensured Isle of Dogs retains all of the director's established quirk, pacing and trademark style. And that, Elworthy says, was the biggest difference between working on this project.

"Wes has his own unique way of doing things, his own visual language. It's a graphic sort of style. I like that interesting way of telling stories. It's completely fresh. That's the big difference is that he has own view of everything."

He contrasts it with his work on Kubo and the Two Strings where they strived to make the movement and action as smooth and realistic as possible.

"If Wes wants a character to turn and speak to another character they turn their heads completely in profile while not moving the rest of the body. They go into this awkward position which a body can't do in the real world," he laughs. "But that's what he likes."

Elworthy spent roughly 18 months working on the film and led a team of around 30 animators. He says his role as lead animator was not "fundamentally different from being any old animator," but that his work set the style and standard of the animation.

"The leads come on early and find things like the walk cycle for the dogs and we do a lot of animation tests. We try to make sure the quality is as high as we can get it so when the animators come on the project the bar has been set."

With the movie being hailed as another Wes Anderson classic and the animation being roundly applauded it's fair to say Elworthy's work has been a resounding success. Right now he's taking a well deserved break with his family.

Isle of Dogs will be a hard act to top, but if he could choose his dream project what would it be?

"I don't know if there is one," he grins. "I feel that having worked with Wes I've got that ambition out of the way really."