Have you ever wondered what life is like as a Tsum? Besides being irresistibly cute and fawned over by fans all around the world? Well, the creators of Tsum Tsum Kingdom, a live-action video series about these cuddly plush toys, have answered that question. Through innovative methods such as puppet fabrication, they have given new life to these already beloved plush toys.
Each Tsum Tsum Kingdom episode, told in a nature documentary style, explores the personalities and lifestyles of Tsum Tsum in their natural habitats, whether it be a home or a Disney Store. We talked to Gino Guzzardo, Producer and Co-Director of the series, and Bill Bergen, Co-Director and Visual Effects Supervisor of the series, about Tsum Tsum Kingdom and their experiences creating the videos:
How did the project come about?
GG: Despite being wildly popular all over the world, no one really knows much about Tsum Tsum as actual creatures. How do they behave, where do they live, what do they eat? We wanted to start answering those questions, so creating a series of short films masquerading as a nature documentary felt like the funniest approach–informative, yet completely bonkers. When the concept was ready to move forward, I pulled together my co-directors, Bill Bergen, who’s also our visual effects supervisor, and Dan Siegel, who’s also our writer. From there, we started experimenting with different approaches to make the Tsum move, eventually landing on a visual style we honestly hope confuses viewers with how real it feels.
What types of techniques were used to capture the footage?
GG: There’s never been anything that looks quite like this, that I’m aware of, so we innovated new methods to create the performance. We had our puppet fabricator rig the actual Tsum plushes with green rods, turning them into tabletop puppets, which were controlled by puppeteers. Depending on the movement needed for the shot, we used one of several different types of riggings. My favorite rig is a Winnie The Pooh that’s meant to roll across the floor, which is basically a poor little Tsum stuck onto a green paint roller.
BB: Other visual effects artists and I have to go frame by frame throughout the entire episode and erase the rods. It can be a very time-consuming process, but when the job is complete, we are able to give the illusion that the Tsum Tsum are alive and moving all on their own. The facial animations are done by motion tracking the characters’ eyes and head and then manipulating those featuring in post production. It’s important to make the face animation cartoony, but not too over the top. If the animation is exaggerated, the character stops looking like a real puppet and resembles a cartoon and we like to keep the show grounded in reality.
How long does it take to make a video?
GG: It’s a 10-12 week journey from development, scripting, storyboarding, puppet fabrication, filming, animation and post-production. The team’s thankful we like each other.
What are some fun things you learned about “playing” with Tsum Tsums?
GG: The most surprising thing I’ve learned handling Tsum Tsum is how much they bite. Just kidding. They’re docile creatures and consummate professionals on set. And they don’t have teeth.
BB: This is kind of weird to say, but I have noticed that when the Tsum are puppeteered successfully, they have the articulation of squirrels. They both bound and hop instead of walking, and they have fast micro movements that often make them appear curious and playful. They also look very funny when they walk on their hind legs. The Tsum Tsum, not squirrels! You can tell I think about Tsum too much! (laughs).
How has the public reacted to the new videos?
GG: The show has been warmly received, quickly netting millions of views and gaining tens of thousands of views daily, which is nice after the team’s contributed so much of themselves. Fans have been asking for more episodes in the comments and debating how we make the show. We should point them to this article! We’ll hopefully reach more people as the series is being localized for other countries right now.
What other Tsum Tsum Kingdom videos are in the works?
BB: We are currently well underway in post production of episode 3. I don’t want to give away too much, but I can say this episode is our biggest and most fun one yet. It features more Tsum Tsum then we have ever shown before, all new visual effects techniques, and a surprise ending you will never see coming!
GG: These little creatures have a few more tricks up their sleeves, so stay tuned!
There you have it, folks! The Tsum Tsum Kingdom videos are a real treat to watch, especially if you collect Tsum of your own. Watch the latest episode featuring Finding Dory Tsum below: