Life in stop motion: London’s ‘island of creativity’


Asassy fox, a zombie dog and a corpse bride. These are just some of the characters who have been brought to life at 3 Mills Studios in Newham.

Nestled on the river Lea, this former tidal mill is the place where the stop motion magic happens.

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“This is the largest film and television studio within the city,” said Paul de Carvalho, head of sales and marketing. “I’d like to call 3 Mills ‘London’s island of creativity’.”

This site was a gin distillery in the seventeenth century, but was damaged by a World War II bombing.

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“Around the 1980s, different film companies moved in and merged together,” said Carvalho.


The site as it is today was born in 2004, as part of the 2012 Olympics bid, and the studios have been trying to engage with the community ever since.

“We’re involved in various local projects,” Carvalho said. “The Clock Mill is now leased to the London Science School and we also work with the East London Arts and Music College.”

This converted space has been home to several productions, including animated films such as Tim Burton’s Frankenweenie and Wes Anderson’s  Fantastic Mr. Fox.

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Carvalho explained that foreign production companies are attracted by tax credits but keep coming back for different reasons.

“Although there are smaller studios specific for stop motion, they don’t have stages of the size that production companies want,” explained Carvalho.

“There’s a burgeoning film community supporting this in East London, so we encourage employers on site to work with local crews,” he said.

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Wes Anderson is shooting his new animated film  Isle of Dogs on the heavily guarded Stage C at 3 Mills. Pre-production was announced in 2015, but fans will have to wait until 2018 to see the finished product.

Stop motion- tim burton sparky “For a TV show, it takes seven working days to shoot one episode,” de Carvalho explained.  “With stop motion, instead, you can only shoot a few seconds at a time.”

Max Martin is one of the animators patiently bringing puppets and props to life on Anderson’s set. He has been working at 3 Mills for one and a half years.

“With Wes Anderson, we’re shooting two to three seconds a day,” he said. “I spent the past month working on just one nine-second shot.”

Isle of Dogs is Martin’s first big project.

“It’s really interesting. Wes is very good at noticing the tiny, little detail,” he said. “He definitely has an image in his mind that he does get across well.”

Martin is aware of the appeal of East London when it comes to animation.

“East London has always been a creative community and it has big places to shoot,” he said. “And it’s cheaper.”