Arts and Crafts on Film: A DIY Hall of Fame


Film is a big-budget industry, but sometimes even multi-million-dollar projects can use a dose of DIY ingenuity. Usually featured in movies where fantasy or dreams play a major role, arts and crafts can introduce surrealism into a narrative and lighten even the darkest of tales through cut-paper sets, felt sculptures, and cardboard cities. While some directors get their craft on through creative characters that fashion homemade treasures of their own, others incorporate it into their production design. Check out some of our favorite films that boast an arts-and-crafts aesthetic, from such auteurs as Michel Gondry, Miranda July, Spike Jonze, and Wes Anderson, after the jump.

The Science of Sleep

From the set design to the characters’ extracurricular activities, Michel Gondry’s masterpiece is chock full of arts and crafts. Throughout the film — which follows graphic designer Stéphane Miroux as he tries to gain the affection of his mother’s neighbor, while constantly reverting back to his imagination and dreams — we see trains, faux TV sets, and automobiles fashioned out of cardboard, a pop-up book-style city, whimsical sculptures that come to life, and unique inventions like a one-second time machine. Gondry also recruited artist Lauri Faggioni to mastermind some of the film’s most recognizable soft sculptures, including Golden the Pony Boy and the Forest Inside the Boat.

Bunny and the Bull

Director Paul King of BBC’s The Mighty Boosh fame seamlessly intertwines a DIY aesthetic along with real life in this dark love story. Sets are fashioned out of drawings, newspaper, felt, and models, providing a background for cut-paper race horses and a menacing, steampunk-style bull composed of cutlery and a steam iron. Although King’s choice to create a visually stunning film that offsets some pretty heavy subject matter with sweet, childlike animation made for a huge project — even with the aid of volunteers from Nottingham Art School, the set designs still took an insane amount of time — Bunny and the Bull was well worth the long hours of hard work.

Me and You and Everyone We Know

It’s not a secret that the multi-talented Miranda July is an über-creative lady. Along with publishing a collection of short stories and directing, writing, and starring in films, July also makes visual art, creating conceptual installations and sculptures that encourage onlooker participation. So it only makes sense that arts and crafts would find their way into her quirky films (this year’s The Future features a cat puppet). In her amazing 2005 flick, Me and You and Everyone We Know, July’s character puts together an art series inspired by her loneliness and, yeah, she doodles on her shoes, too.

Where the Wild Things Are

Instead of jumping on the CGI bandwagon, Spike Jonze decided to embark on a six-year-long endeavor to properly honor Maurice Sendak’s beloved children’s book — through enormous puppets. Although it should be noted that some computer imagery was used to finish off the creatures, the gorgeous characters we see on screen are mainly the creations of Sonny Gerasimowicz and the puppeteers behind Jim Henson’s Creature Shop. Gerasimowicz reinterpreted Sendak’s magnificent illustrations for the film, and the puppeteers brought his work to life using clay maquettes that served as a blueprint of sorts for the full-body suits performers wore.

Fantastic Mr. Fox

When the director behind The Royal Tenenbaums and Rushmore set out to use stop-motion animation in Roald Dahl’s Fantastic Mr. Fox, he had a specific vision in mind — for the film to have an expertly-crafted feel. To that end, Wes Anderson set up a workshop of sorts, where a fleet of artists created everything — from sculpting multiple versions of characters’ puppets to building and painting the farm-based sets to creating each and every prop — completely by hand.

Edward Scissorhands

Since he’s also a visual artist, it’s only natural that Tim Burton’s films use crafts as a medium to represent his work’s dark themes. Edward Scissorhandsis no exception, boasting not only a fantastical set designed by Stan Winston, but also a main character with the ability to create gorgeous works of art by hand-crafting greenery, hair, and ice into sculptures — briefly transforming an affliction into a miracle. And Edward’s iconic scissorhands weren’t only worn by Depp. Winston also created a mechanical pair of hands that were maneuvered by five puppeteers for the film’s sculpting scenes. The idea for the scissor-handed character, meanwhile, goes all the way back to Burton’s youth — he sketched out the designs for Edward’s character and costume as a teenager.

Dinner For Schmucks

“Mouseterpieces” run rampant in this Steve Carell comedy. Along with being the socially awkward guy Paul Rudd’s character brings to a dinner party whose purpose is to mock its freaky guests of honor, Barry (Carell) has a… er… unique, crafty hobby: creating elaborate taxidermy mice dioramas. The character poses his mice as famous artists and their works — yes, there is a “Mouse-a-Lisa” display — and depicts them going on fun excursions, to picnics and carnivals. The creepy-yet-cute creations were assembled by Team America: World Police puppeteers the Chiodo brothers, who sculpted over 100 model mice for the project. (Thankfully, no real mice were harmed.)

Art School Confidential

Considering the film’s title and setting, it makes sense that we’d get some arts-and-crafts action in this Terry Zwigoff-directed indie. Illustrations, paintings, ceramics, and other projects the fictional students are working on make an appearance in the 2006 movie, which was based on a Daniel Clowes comic by the same name. In order to get a realistic feel, it was filmed at Los Angeles’ Otis College of Art and Design, where professor Gary Geraths served as a consultant. Under the guidance of art director Peter Borck, all of the creations we see the students making on-screen were fashioned by the movie’s art department — from finished works hung in on-campus galleries to a unfinished pottery.

It’s Kind of a Funny Story

If you’ve ever wondered who created the animation and artwork that fills Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck’s adaptation of Ned Vizzini’s anxiety-ridden teen novel, we’ve got your back. Brooklyn-based illustrator and animator Brian Drucker was the creative force behind the film’s homemade aesthetic. Along with creating a replica of New York City that appears to boast hand-drawn detailing, Drucker — who has also lent his artistic abilities to Nickelodeon and HBO — is the artist who gave shape to the main character’s elaborate architectural creations.