The Manchester puppeteers responsible for Pinocchio's stars in Guillermo del Toro's film

Model of Pinocchio in the workshop of Mackinnon and Saunders

The studio where the stars of one of this year's hotly tipped Oscar contenders were born is concealed in an unremarkable low-level building tucked off a suburban street in Greater Manchester.

An elderly man with a bushy white beard is getting fitted for a dinner jacket in a small room inside an unassuming industrial building in preparation for the Bafta Awards red carpet.

As a designer feels and pins the fit of his sharp new suit, there appears to be some unease in his wide eyes.

One of the directors of the studio where this fitting is taking place, Peter Saunders, comments, "He doesn't look comfortable in it.". "You see, he's not used to being all trussed up like that. ".

Geppetto, a lowly woodworker from Italy, is more accustomed to dressing in his worn-out carpenter's attire. But he had no input into his new attire.

Geppetto and Pinocchio in Guillermo del Toro's Pinocchio
Pinocchio, directed by Guillermo del Toro, has won every award available in the animated feature category this year.

He is one of the puppets used in the most recent stop-motion Pinocchio adaptation directed by Guillermo del Toro, and he stands about 35 cm tall.

Geppetto creates the wooden boy in the traditional tale whose nose grows when he lies.

In actuality, Altrincham, Greater Manchester-based animation studio Mackinnon and Saunders created both characters for the movie, along with the rest of the main cast.

Geppetto received his miniature custom suit in the company's costume division, and he later joined the other A-listers of this year's awards season at the Baftas in London last weekend, where the movie won best animated feature.

Pinocchio and Geppetto on the Bafta Awards red carpet
While Pinocchio was sporting a bow tie, Geppetto was sporting his new suit on the Baftas red carpet.

The odds-on favorite to win best animated feature at the Oscars in two weeks, it has also won a Golden Globe and a Critics Choice award.

Del Toro commended the British puppet studio behind the scenes at the Baftas. The best at doing this, he told reporters, are Mackinnon and Saunders in Manchester, England. "They are unmatched. ".

This understated mainstay of the British animation sector has established roots in a slightly run-down structure eight miles south of the city center.

As he looks over the messy parking lot that backs up to a canal, Saunders acknowledges, "It's not exactly Hollywood.

Pinocchio model in the Mackinnon and Saunders workshop
Model of Pinocchio in the workshop of Mackinnon and Saunders.
Pinocchio fabric samples in the Mackinnon and Saunders workshop
Fabric samples for the characters' attire.

Back in the costume section, the desks are strewn with toothpicks, cotton, fabric, glue bottles, and scissors. Geppetto's suit still needs some tiny buttons and belt buckles.

Samples of the costumes from the movie are displayed on the wall, along with a single micro fingerless glove that one of the costume designers painstakingly knit for Geppetto using pins. In the end, Del Toro decided against including it in the movie.

Model-makers in another workshop create metal skeletons for the characters in a top-secret new children's program. Similar amounts of small screwdrivers, chisels, files, clamps, and brushes are scattered across each of their workstations. It will take several days to construct one steel foot fixture.

Model maker in the Mackinnon and Saunders workshop
Model maker in the Mackinnon and Saunders workshop
The metal framework for the puppets is made by highly skilled model makers.

Pinocchio is joined by Postman Pat, Pingu, and other characters the company has worked on on shelves in an unattractive meeting space upstairs.

Aliens were also created for Tim Burton's Mars Attacks, Mackinnon and Saunders' entry into the Hollywood industry in 1996. The company impressed Burton, who ultimately was unable to use stop-motion animation.

Wes Anderson called on them for The Fantastic Mr. Fox, and he returned to them for The Corpse Bride and Frankenweenie.

Models from those movies and children's television programs like Bob the Builder, Ra Ra the Noisy Lion, Twirly Woos, and The Clangers are on display in a nearby Sale exhibition of the company's work.

Bob the Builder model at Mackinnon and Saunders exhibition at Sale Waterside
Pinocchio model at Mackinnon and Saunders exhibition at Sale Waterside
A Greater Manchester exhibition in Sale features models of Bob the Builder, Pinocchio, and other characters.

According to Saunders, it took 62 people four years and tens of thousands of hours to create the models for Pinocchio.

Although the final designs for the movie were developed through numerous emails exchanged between Del Toro and his team, Mackinnon, and Saunders, the characters are based on drawings by US artist Gris Grimly.

The Mexican director was meticulous in his attention to detail, even down to Geppetto's hands as an example.

Guillermo was adamant that they should resemble workers' hands, according to Saunders. "The dirt under the fingernails was what he was worried about. It was the calluses on his hands' palms.

"Do you want two calluses, ten calluses, bloodshot, milky white, or whatever, calluses?

It continued for weeks. Several months seemed to have passed. However, trying to realize that level of detail is enjoyable. ".

Geppetto models on a shelf
In Mackinnon and Saunders' workshop, extra heads with different hairstyles are used as Geppetto models.

The speaker continues, "We love that process of trying to get things right for people. Guillermo had a very clear idea of what he wanted and he pushed and pushed and pushed until it was just right. ".

I must watch it once more and concentrate especially on Geppetto's hands. Saunders chuckles, "I doubt you'll notice. However, it is present.

For Pinocchio, the business created a method of 3D printing Pinocchio's body parts in metal, allowing multiple identical versions to be made, as opposed to the typical steel skeleton covered in foam and silicone.

There were even more replicas of his face produced, each with a slightly different expression that was simple to put on and take off and held in place by magnets.

In Portland, Oregon, and Guadalajara, Mexico, the models were painstakingly created until they were finished to Del Toro's satisfaction.

Pinocchio model and Peter Saunders in the Mackinnon and Saunders workshop
Pinocchio's breast plate being exposed by Peter Saunders.

After Cosgrove Hall, the renowned Manchester-based animation studio that Saunders and Ian Mackinnon worked for, went out of business in the early 1990s, they decided to start their own business.

Currently, their company employs about 110 people, but due to competition from other nations that offer more generous tax breaks, there have been concerns raised about the future of the British animation industry.

According to Saunders, this is a "really difficult" time for British animation.

"With the type of work we've done, we've always experienced highs and lows. We've experienced some incredible highs in terms of feature films and children's TV shows, and we're very proud to be associated with them.

However, there might be no work for a year following those successes. The highs and lows have always been like a rollercoaster, but I believe that now more than ever because of these tax credits.

The British animation industry is reportedly dying slowly, which is a cause for concern. The pressure from these nations, where there are such generous tax breaks, may be exaggerated, but it is unquestionably present. ".

Mars Attacks models at Mackinnon and Saunders exhibition at Sale Waterside
In the 1990s, the company first collaborated on Mars Attacks with director Tim Burton.

The government just finished a consultation on proposals to reform the UK's TV and film tax credits.

The Wallace and Gromit creators Aardman Animations told the Guardian earlier this month that British businesses might have to leave the country to compete. Saunders isn't taking that into account, though.

"Both Ian and I have roots in the northwest. My home is Rochdale. From Warrington is Ian. We enjoy having a home base in Altrincham. This is a fantastic business.

We have a large number of employees from the north west, but we also draw people and work from all over the world, so we are in a very privileged position.

"The structure might not look like much, but what goes on inside still amazes me. ".

Making Pinocchio and Geppetto, as well as his dinner jacket, which may be seen in Hollywood when the Oscars roll around.

Netflix has Pinocchio by Guillermo del Toro. Up until March 11th, the Waterside Arts Center in Sale is hosting the Mackinnon and Saunders - 30 Years and Beyond exhibition.

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