I’ve been so overwhelmed and deep into projects I’ve barely had time to breathe—but even though there’s light at the end of the tunnel, the burnout is real.
My friend Kristina and I, along with our friend Brigid, had planned a trip into New York City to see the Crafting del Toro’s Pinocchio exhibit this past Saturday, and it turned out to be just what the doctor ordered—there’s nothing like being in the presence of the work of masters. It heals, it fuels, it inspires.
The exhibit closes this coming Saturday, April 15, so if you want to see it, you’ve got just under a week. Here, however, is a look at some of my favorite moments from the exhibit and the day.
If you haven’t yet seen del Toro’s Pinocchio—an incredible artistic achievement in stop-motion and miniatures—and would like to, it is available on Netflix, along with a fascinating documentary on the making of called Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio: Handcarved Cinema.
In the meantime, enjoy!
I met Kristina in Wilton, so it would take us only about an hour and fifteen to get down to the museum.
The tickets were timed, but we were still going to have to wait in a very long line to see the popular exhibit. We decided to visit the MoMA Design Store (translate: giant gift shop) across the street, since we arrived about forty minutes early.
I considered this a good omen for the day! I actually own the ORIGINAL VERSION of this deck. That’s right–an original first edition, which I know was purchased overseas. My set is in a stunning velvet case, with the card edges gilt in gold. It was really a thrill to see this deck now available for purchase, even if it is a re-issue. I can’t really read on them–the energy doesn’t work for me–but I love Dali, but I’m glad to have them as just fine art.
A close-up of one of Pinocchio’s many heads. Each head had a slightly different expression and could be switched out for each shot. Stop motion works by posing the puppet, taking a shot, and then slightly moving the puppet and taking another shot. Everything needs to be done in strict order. When the shots are put together, it creates the illusion of motion. I can’t imagine how many of these heads there had to be to make it look like Pinocchio was saying just one sentence.
There were probably hundreds of these heads, all stored in slotted drawers. I’m assuming they were all in some kind of order, as in some of the blank slots I could clearly see a number.
Here is how the drawers were labeled. It was mind-blowing to think about how much painstaking, accurate work went into this. Passion and perfection are closely linked–at least, I’ve always believed that–and to see this and imagine stacks and stacks of these drawers and having to go find just ONE head for ONE half second only to change the head out again just proves it.
Several Pinocchio puppets on display.
How the puppets were made. Incredible. Such TINY. PARTS. I love the hands in particular. Just sorta creepy.
I found these color palettes so interesting, in that each major environment section had its own color scheme. Any film should, but to see it spelled out in such detail here was just lovely.
In most versions that I’ve seen of Pinocchio (I admit–I grew up with the Disney version), it’s a whale that swallows Pinocchio and crew. In del Toro’s version, it’s a terrifying, nasty dogfish.
I found this so amazing…they used VEGETABLES for the real-life look of the very scary fish
I THINK these are various sea creatures, although a couple of them look like internal organs. I’d have to watch the film again to figure that out, and watch closely. But they’re cool, right?
This dude is definitely not what I’d want to run into…
Now that you know this creature was inspired by vegetables, you can almost FEEL that when you look at the dogfish.
I LOVE when this level of deep detail is put into the design of anything–the reminder that death and birth are connected through the use of the same textures. This is the good stuff right here.
This is the mold of Death’s tail that was referred to in the placard.
Several of the puppets that peopled the world were on display. Of COURSE I liked the plague doctor the best!
A company called ShadowMachine did much of the developing of the miniatures. According to the placard next to the display, this birch branch was fashioned from a cardboard tube, watercolor paper, Xerox copies, tissue paper, brown paper, and craft glue. It’s awe-inspiring to see ordinary stuff turned into something so life-like.
This coffin was also created by ShadowMachine in 2020 and was made out of Gator board foam, tissue paper, hot glue, craft glue, acrylic paint, and PanPastel, according to the placard next to the display case.
Death’s Realm was, for me, the most interesting place in the film.
I believe one set of wings belongs to Death, and the other to her sister, the Wood Sprite, who represents life (and is the equivalent of the Blue Fairy). When you get up close, you realize that although these LOOK like feathers, they’re really not. They’re sculpted.
One of the Death Rabbits. The Death Rabbits are my friend Kristina’s favorite creature in the film (mine too!). They’re cynical, play a lot of cards, and carry the coffins in the world of the dead.
Pinocchio actually does die (a few times) in the film. The Death Rabbits bear his coffin.
In the film, there are four Death Rabbits, which is interesting, because in the Shinto religion, 4 is the number of Death.
A close-up of a Death Rabbit.
Death herself curls among her hourglasses. The hourglasses play an important role in the film, and connect to the thematic statement that time is not to be wasted. That, in essence, we keep “coming back” until we figure out how NOT to. At least, that was what I got out of it.
ShadowMachine created this crab puppet in 2021. It’s created of steel, silicone, paint, and brass.
The fish on a spit was crafted by ShadowMachine in 2020 of Polyurethane resin, silicone, brass, steel, and epoxy.
SOMETHING FOR WRITERS!
The exhibit included information on all aspects of the film. One of the most interesting things for me, as a writer, was this huge board tracking Pinocchio’s inner life. This is a character-driven story; the arc had to be done just right (which all of us, as writers, should be doing). It’s interesting to note that all of these were thumb-tacked. Which means that, at some point, they were probably moved around to ensure that eventually they were in an order that made sense.
THE SETS: THE TOWN
Earlier in the exhibit, there was a whole timeline of history of Pinocchio’s town, and in the documentary, del Toro talks about ensuring that the town’s buildings not only look old but reflect its long and storied history through the centuries. This is one of the buildings in the town, and it certainly wears its history well.
THE SETS: GEPPETTO’S WORKSHOP
Geppetto’s workshop. It’s amazing how these sets fill up the entire screen in the film. To see how tiny they actually are, and to know that people were creating on them, was kind of mind-blowing.
This is in the film, and yet we never noticed it. It’s a “death rabbit” toy–an interesting detail–in Geppetto’s workshop. But Kristina said, “isn’t that interesting. It’s like not really dead, but it’s not really alive either.” I’m sure that its similar but not-quite-death-rabbit-appearance makes some kind of statement supporting one of the film’s themes. I’ll have to think on that.
THE SETS: THE CHURCH
Of all the sets, this was the one I was most excited to see–the church. Hauntingly beautiful. In the Netflix Making of documentary, it’s noted that all of these sets had to be made so they could be pulled apart, so that the actors (the puppeteers) could have access to different parts of it to create the scenes. I’m sure this is only one section, and that some of the artifacts aren’t in the same positions they’re in in the film, because in the movie, the doors are at the back of the sanctuary.
This is my favorite quote from the film, at the end. YES I cried.
Kristina and Brigid during a quick snack/coffee break at the outdoor cafe. It was a beautiful spring day in the city, but there was still a nip in the air.
Other areas of the museum had Pinocchio displays. These copies of the tops of the stained glass windows in the church had Easter eggs.
EXHIBIT PART 2
A second part of the exhibit was down in the film center. The exhibit focused on Pinocchio’s score, songs, and del Toro’s other films.
This draft of song lyrics written on notebook paper was appealing to me. It looks like a lot of my handwritten drafts. The song lyrics were written by del Toro.
A page from the conductor’s score.
THE ORPHANAGE and MAMA are my two top favorite del Toro films (honestly, you HAVE to have a dead mother to appreciate MAMA on the level it should be; I think that’s why a lot of people didn’t care for it–because they just couldn’t get it). And I had no idea he produced ANTLERS, but that explains why I love that. I saw THE ORPHANAGE in NYC when it opened, with Nathan and my friends Rob and Jen. That remains one of my most magical memories.
An alternate Pinocchio poster.
CRIMSON PEAK is high on my list of del Toro favorites.
I believe this is art from the cover of a book about THE SHAPE OF WATER. I like this as opposed to the poster art; this one shows passion between them, like she’s clinging to him for dear life. The poster art looks more like she’s holding onto him because she can’t swim.
I LOVED this. You probably can’t see it well here, but they’re in an abandoned theater underwater. Sunken abandoned buildings are my JAM!
Brigid pointed out to me that if you stand to the side of the painting, you can see the depth that’s created by the layers of paint. STARRY NIGHT is brilliant, but prints and copies and photos of it just don’t do it justice. You really have to see the real thing to appreciate it.
Having never seen PERSISTENCE OF MEMORY in person, I was blown away by how small it was. I had a poster in my foyer years ago of this–that eventually faded in the sun so I chucked it–but it was five times the size of this original.
Here’s a piece of art I just discovered–Peter Blume’s THE ETERNAL CITY. Creepy and disorienting. But what struck me about it is the fact that if we don’t understand history, we’re doomed to repeat it.
I ALMOST bought this in the gift shop because it was so interesting. But then I knew it was just going to be another book laying around that would make for a fun party game, but not much else. So I just looked up my birthday and took a picture instead.
Interesting, because I’d say this is pretty accurate.
And what’s a visit to New York City without getting one of those wonderful pretzels as big as my head?
My gift shop haul. I was SO EXCITED they had a bag with that quote on it I couldn’t stand it. And it was only ten bucks!!! WIN!!!
A ghost story writer who still sleeps with the lights on, Kristi Petersen Schoonover’s fiction has appeared in many magazines and anthologies; her traditionally published books include a short story collection, THE SHADOWS BEHIND. She was the recipient of three Norman Mailer Writers Colony Residencies and holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Goddard College. She serves as co-host of the DARK DISCUSSIONS podcast, as founding editor of the dark literary journal 34 ORCHARD, and is a member of both the New England Horror Writers and the Horror Writers Association. Follow her adventures at kristipetersenschoonover.com.
Wow, the exhibit is amazing, and that dogfish, eek!
RIGHT??? I personally thought that interpretation of the “whale” that swallowed Pinocchio was absolutely brilliant and terrifying. And I loved seeing how they’d brought it to life.