Melanie Coombs helps to give Aussies a chance to work on Guillermo del Toro’s ‘Pinocchio’

Melanie Coombs. 

For Melanie Coombs, producer of Mary and Max and Oscar-winning short Harvie Krumpet, stop-motion animation has a magical quality – at once real, but not real – that touches audiences profoundly.

“When you see Meryl Streep in a TV or film role, you go: there’s Meryl Streep, she’s a playing a nun, or she’s playing an evil grandmother who’s trying to steal the kids away or whatever. But it’s Meryl Streep. There is a suspension of disbelief on one level.

“But when it’s a puppet, and you know the puppet isn’t alive, it’s like this second level suspension of disbelief. When you make that second leap, there’s something that happens with the emotional connection that is really powerful. I still meet people who passionately talk to me about Mary and Max, all the time. People who have Harvie Crumpet tattoos. Mary and Max was 10 years ago. Harvie‘s 15,” she tells IF.

Coombs’ current project continues her passion for the medium; she’s the production supervisor on Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio.

Produced by del Toro, The Jim Henson Company, and ShadowMachine for Netflix, the feature-length stop-motion musical retells the classic tale, setting it in Italy during the 1930s and the rise of Mussolini.

Del Toro wrote the script with Patrick McHale, with Mark Gustafson to co-direct. The producers are del Toro, Lisa Henson, ShadowMachine’s Alex Bulkley, Corey Campodonico, and Gary Ungar of Exile Entertainment.

Coombs was brought onto the project by ShadowMachine, who is housing the production in Portland, Oregon – she previously served as line producer on the company’s The Shivering Truth for Adult Swim.

Working with del Toro has been a delight. Pinocchio is the Oscar-winning director’s lifelong passion project, but Coombs notes he doesn’t “stand ceremony” and is passionate and receptive to other creatives.

“One of the absolutely spectacular things about him is how confident he is. In a way, that means he’s really open other people, ideas and suggestions because he’s made so many films now. He doesn’t have a particular barrow to push; he doesn’t have to prove himself. He’s so charming and so appreciative of all the people here.”

Everything in Pinocchio will be built, with the puppets crafted by Mackinnon and Saunders (Corpse Bride). Guy Davis is the co-production designer, taking inspiration from Gris Grimly’s original design for the Pinocchio character. The shoot will span some 65 weeks and total production 127.

“There’s a visceral nature to everything, and that kind of groundness is one of the reasons stop-motion is so special,” says Coombs.

“Guillermo has given us a catchphrase: ‘everything will be perfectly imperfect’. It’s going to look like a stop-motion film; it’s going to be beautiful, but it’s not going to have the edges shined off. It’s not going to look like a computer [animated] film.”

Via Screen Australia, Coombs has brokered two six-month placements for Aussie creatives on the film; one for a puppet fabricator and one for an animator.

The candidate chosen to work in puppet fabrication will work alongside the puppet creative supervisor Georgina Hayns (Kubo and the Two Strings), getting an overview of the puppet production process including character designs, creation of puppet armatures, mould-making, rapid prototyping, facial animation and puppet wrangling on shooting stages.

The person chosen to work in animation will work alongside animation supervisor Brian Leif Hansen (Fantastic Mr. Fox, Corpse Bride) and a team of animators and riggers.

Coombs, who will review candidates alongside Hayns and Hansen, says the placements will be learning-focused and designed in partnership with participants.

“They’re going to be in a position to forge friendships and collegial relationships that will serve them for the rest of their careers. They’ll have access to the cutting edge of knowledge and technology.”

Each placement will begin in January 2020 and to $AUD50,000 each is available to cover costs such as US visa requirements, travel, accommodation, transport and other living expenses.

Applications for the placements close this Friday August 23. More info here.