When the director of BUNRAKU came across the short film Tyger by Guilherme Marcondes, he was captivated by the combination of puppetry and animation used in the piece. He knew that Marcondes could tackle the challenge of making a storytelling sequence that could set the stage for his new movie. Marcondes was given the creative autonomy to direct a title sequence that used elements of live action puppetry, 2D and 3D animation to explain the backstory of the universe in which BUNRAKU takes place.
The opening title sequence for BUNRAKU serves as a timeline for this fictional world, starting before the dawn of man when pre-historic animals were fighting for survival and against each other. We move through the timeline of the history of violence in mankind and find ourselves knee deep into a third world war. With a complete collapse of power, the countries eventually decide to ban all weapons and we emerge with a new world order for this action packed thriller starring Josh Hartnett, Woody Harrelson, Demi Moore and Japanese star Gackt.
The title sequence was entirely fabricated and shot at the Hornet Workshop in Brooklyn.
Set building, puppet tests and puppeteering
Guilherme Marcondes: One of the producers of the film, I believe it was Nava Levin, came across my work online. Tyger had gotten great exposure and it featured Bunraku-style puppetry. Guy Moshe, Bunraku’s director, invited me for a chat and we got along well. He showed me what he had already developed for it and I thought it was really interesting, but it’s not the most exciting thing in the world to be invited to recreate something, so I was a little uncertain. I said, “I’m interested in doing this if you let me do some story-telling as well—I don’t just want to be a technical guy, accomplishing your vision.” I mean, of course it is his vision but I wanted to bring something to the table myself as well. I wanted to know how much creative freedom I would have so I wouldn’t be stuck repeating my short film all over again. He was very happy to let me do it. He was very receptive and that meeting went really well.
This was early 2008. We started working on the opening before he had even started shooting the film! It probably wasn’t the smartest thing to do but at the time we were all thinking of it as a part of the bigger picture—he didn’t want it to be just titles. Guy treated it more like an opening short film before the film. Initially, we didn’t even have the names of the actors or anything in there—he wanted it to be just an animation piece explaining the back story—because the concept was this crazy post-WWIII world where guns are banned and you know, there are all these things that you have to understand before the film starts. He wanted that to bring you into the movie.
They had lots of overall research. They had research of the architecture, painting, origami photographs, and of course they had stills from films that were very theatrical. The film itself is shot with minimal backgrounds with a lot of stuff composed on top of it so it’s very gaudy, the colors are really strong. It’s a highly stylized movie and the action sequences are choreographed almost like dance acts. So, it was very unusual. They had their ideas for the whole world set up and then I developed the opening from that concept.
The style partly came from Tyger but also some of that mix of origami and German expressionism which is very wacky but it was also what really sold me on the project. It wasn’t like I created that marriage of origami and expressionism—that’s something that came from their production designer Alex McDowell. But they seemed to be made to work together because if you look at German expressionism it’s all about straight lines and folds and the images are cut along different axes and when you look at origami it visually makes a lot of sense although culturally it’s so far apart. That was the main concept.
I wanted the puppeteering parts to be non-human, so when the narration talks about death, violence, the primordial drive, and things like that. When it gets to human beings, the evolution of civilizations and the development of weapons, I wanted to shift over to 2D animation. Then when we got to the present time I wanted it to be all 3D, which didn’t end up happening. They were starting to get a little worried that there was too much technical showing-off which was detracting from the story. I wasn’t happy at the time, but eventually I thought it worked better—it forced me to tell the story with more clarity, so that was good.
CAST for Opening Animation Sequence
Director: Guilherme Marcondes
Executive Producer: Michael Feder
Producer: Hana Shimizu
Producer: Jan Wohrle
Lead Compositor: John Harrison
Compositors: Yussef Cole, Julien Koetsch, Arthur Hur
Storyboard Artists: Tom Lintern, Carlos Ancalmo
Character Design: Rafael Grampá, Mike Luzzi
Background Design: Morgan Schweitzer
Character Animation: Mike Luzzi
Additional Animation: Frank Summers, Keng-Ming Liu
Editor: Joe Suslak