The Pinocchio Exhibit at MOMA: The Making of Pinocchio

I admit to seeing the Pinocchio exhibit at MOMA before seeing the movie. I wish I did the reverse, but the exhibit really brought home how much work went into the movie-making and I think I watched it (in awe) the next night.

While you’d think the puppets in the movie were wood, most of them were actually made of silicone. Pinocchio was 3D printed in resin and steel. The heads were astounding – almost 900 of them with different expressions and interchangeable eyes and noses. These heads were stored in pizza boxes, which you see as you enter the exhibit. Personally I don’t think the heads looked wooden in the movie. I do think they looked like resin.

A few of the almost 900 Pinocchio heads. Copyright Deborah Abrams Kaplan

The puppets were manually animated and they used replacement animation for Pinocchio, replacing the faces to show his expressions.

Pizza box storage of Pinocchio heads. Copyright Deborah Abrams Kaplan

The Pinocchio exhibit at MOMA showed how the shooting was organized. They shot during COVID. The production day would involve up to 38 animation units which could include a director, animator, animation supervisor, animation riggers, assistant directors, electricians, grips, set dressers and puppet doctors. They would be shooting on up to 55 sets with 32 original Pinocchio puppets so each animator had one.

These planning boards have layers of meaning and are several times the size of what is shown in this picture. Copyright Deborah Abrams Kaplan

They use a board like the one shown above at the Pinocchio exhibit at MOMA to schedule the shooting process for each team. Using stop-motion animation, the animator (who the director thinks of as the characters themselves, since they are conveying the emotions), shoots an image, moves the puppet slightly, shoots an image, and then repeats this process until there are enough still images to convey movement if they are strung together sequentially. There’s a good video about how stop-motion animation worked on the Netflix site.

The set for the nearby town. Copyright Deborah Abrams Kaplan

The Pinocchio exhibit at MOMA featured multiple sets along with short videos showing how the shooting was done for each set and how the puppets were moved. The sets were works of art.

Geppetto’s workshop. Copyright Deborah Abrams Kaplan
The stands helped with the animation. They were digitally removed later. Copyright Deborah Abrams Kaplan

Here’s a great story from the Hollywood Reporter on how the movie was made.

Some of the characters in the movie. Copyright Deborah Abrams Kaplan
How to build Pinocchio. Copyright Deborah Abrams Kaplan

The Pinocchio exhibit at MOMA, called the Guillermo Del Toro Crafting Pinocchio exhibit is on display through April 15 at MOMA.