The Visual Influences Behind Wes Anderson’s ‘Isle of Dogs’


The heroes of <em&gtIsle of Dogs</em>, standing on Trash Island.
The heroes of Isle of Dogs, standing on Trash Island. Fox Searchlight Pictures

How do you make a pile of trash look artful? From New York’s Treasures in the Trash Collection to the artists-in-residence at the San Francisco dump, people have found all sorts of ways to find beauty and meaning in garbage. For Wes Anderson’s upcoming animated film Isle of Dogs, which takes place largely on an island of trash, the production looked to a diverse array of real-world inspirations to bring a sense of order to its garbage. As it turned out, melding the chaos of detritus with Anderson’s famously ordered aesthetic was no simple task. Mild spoilers ahead!

“That was one of the things that intrigued me from the very start. Knowing Wes’s aesthetic, I thought it was an interesting choice to have two-thirds of the film actually take place on a trash heap,” says Paul Harrod, one of the film’s production designers. Harrod took over the project from Adam Stockhausen, and led the design and creation of the film’s main location, Trash Island, to its finished look in the film.

Isle of Dogs takes place in a semi-future Japan. “The tone we were always going for was ‘20 years in the future,’” says Harrod. “But it’s not 20 years in our future, it’s more like 20 years from about 1964.” In this future, all of the dogs have been exiled to an offshore landfill—Trash Island. When a young boy escapes to the island to find his pet, a pack of scruffy, celebrity-voiced dogs escort him on his journey across the island’s various regions. From color-coded garbage zones to a crumbling animal testing facility, Trash Island has a number of intricately crafted locations.

Much of the overall look of the film was inspired by the films of Japanese masters like Akira Kurosawa, as well as traditional Japanese ukiyo-e art. Produced throughout the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries, ukiyo-e art tends to be defined by its framed tableau look, a design trait that has come to define many of Anderson’s films. “[It’s] the idea of taking these very pastoral landscapes from 19th-century Japan, and applying a different surface to them,” says Harrod.

For the look of the trash…

Sasha Harriet

Sasha Harriet

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Sasha Harriet

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